Monday, January 31, 2011

Beethoven

A thought I had today:

What if Beethoven lived today? What if he'd been born in, say, 1993? He would be 17 and looking at college.

He showed musical promise early, though it wasn't until his early twenties that he showed his true musical abilities and his incredible abilities for composition. He was frequently depressed, and had massive mood swings, possibly brought on by his increasing deafness. Today, he would probably be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

He would be an angsty teenager. Locally respected for his musical abilities, but not nationally known, because far more students are taught music now than were three centuries ago. Trouble respecting authority, and struggling to find his faith.

But there's a lot I don't know.

Would his talent win out; would he be applying to Julliard or another prestigious university? In a world devoid of royalty, would he have a patron? Or would be struggle with life in a broken home, with his mother dead and his father an alcoholic by the time he reached age seventeen?

His mood swings would be beginning to make themselves clear. Would he see a doctor and be medicated? Would he be diagnosed with ADD, or bipolar, or depression? Would medication make him saner, or would the calmness mask the brilliance, prevent him from truly creating?

If he did manage to compose, what would he write? The same classical music as he did in the seventeenth century, now relegated to NPR and the occasional professional orchestra? Would he adopt modern instruments, going from violins and brass to electric guitars and a drum set, in the Neoclassical style (as is done by groups like TSO with his music)? Or would he create something entirely different?

(Another interesting thought experiment: what if he were transported to modern times, as an adult? Would he be thrilled by the power of amplifiers and synthesizers, the ability to add a new depth to his music, or would he be horrified by the perversion of the purity of his compositions?)

It's a lot more questions than answers, and we cannot truly know much of it. But it's a real interesting thought experiment.

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