While watching The Beauty of Diagrams: Vitruvian Man (because that’s the kind of guy I am; the kind who enjoys BBC4 documentaries about great historical diagrams) the urge took me to study the classics, to look closely at the notebooks and sketches of Da Vinci, to break out the biographies of Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes, to read Don Quixote and The Canterbury Tales, and with greatest immediacy to listen to Beethoven. First thing is first... Eroica, Beethoven’s Symphony Number three. Oh em gee! I wish I knew how to express feelings for music of this kind. I’ve rarely listened to it, or read about it, and wasn’t aware of the majesty, artistry and insanity of Beethoven until the Mark Steel Lectures a few years ago.
What do I do or say about this; I really can’t think. One moment I am vanquished, another I am conqueror; time passes and I am bloodthirsty, then I am bruised and battle-weary. The musical terms mean little to me, and the Italian and/(perhaps) or Latin confuses and frightens my uneducated brain. Besides a vague idea about Beethoven’s admiration for Napoleon and the principals of the French Revolution, turning into wild rage upon hearing the news of Napoleon declaring himself Emperor, I know nothing about the time and place this music speaks of. Basically what I’m saying, in the most word-clogged strung-out way available to me, is I don’t know much about music but I know what I like.
But the thing is, I had no idea how much I liked this until this evening. I have known for a long time that I should like, nay love, Beethoven. I had also decided, thanks to advice from Mark Steel, when I do finally get around to dipping my toe in, that Eroica was where I would begin. It is a musical tale of Revolution, Enlightenment, Renaissance, of war, devastation, treachery and death.
The glorious journey of the first movement, the Allegro con brio, reaches its conclusion and with baited breath I await the second movement, the Marcia funedre, but what does spotify toss my way instead? “YOU’RE SHOPPING ONLINE... BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE CAN YOU FIND THAT VOUCHER CODE? WELL NOW YOU DO: SAVE.CO.UK JUST CLICK ON THE LOGO NOW.... NO FUCK OFF, YOU EVIL MARKETING BASTARDS, YOU ARE WORSE THAN NAPOLEON WHO DECLARES HIMSELF EMPEROR. HE IS NO MORE THAN A COMMON MORTAL! NOW TOO, HE WILL TREAD UNDER FOOT ALL THE RIGHTS OF MAN, INDULGE ONLY HIS AMBITION; NOW HE WILL THINK HIMSELF SUPERIOR TO ALL MEN, BECOME A TYRANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Beethoven scratched out the dedication to Napoleon on Eroica’s title page with such ferocity that he tore a hole through the page. When adverts for stupid websites and British Gas interrupt the world the music creates I want to scratch out spotify with a screwdriver, showering the bed sheets with shattered shards of screen glass. Logic dictates that instead of harpooning my laptop I should download some CDs. Honesty and integrity dictate I sign up for a spotify Unlimited account. I wonder which will win.
I want to ride into battle ahead of my troops swinging my sword and screaming charge, down the valley and across the plain, crashing headlong into the enemy, smashing skulls and killing husbands and fathers. I want the day to end with smouldering fires and men dying alone in shallow muddy graves, yet surrounded by so many others dying. I want my bones to be left untouched on the battlefield as the seasons change and the bleaching sun turns into the rains that wash away the blood of the slain. I want my victories and defeats to inspire the art and music, the hearts and minds, and the dreams and desires of generations to come. Men will want to be me, women will want to be with me, scholars will want to know me, kings and leaders will crave my association, children will hear tales about my deeds, and historians will never ever let anyone forget me.
That is what listening to Beethoven does to you.