On August 19th, 2015, Alongsideyour78s published its first post. Nearly two years later, over 150 posts have been published, all dealing in some way with music. In those posts, much can be gleaned as to the type of music I enjoy – my predilections and my disdains, my biases and my blind spots.
Yet in all those posts, there is little evidence of one of my favorite types of music. A genre, if that word can be applied here, that I’ve given but scant reference, because it doesn’t fit the major tenant of Alongsideyour78s – which is (as if I had to tell you) to help build a bridge connecting music of all generations. This musical genre sits outside the realm of generations – loved or disdained in equal measure by all, regardless of age group affiliation.
Classical music. Yes, I am a fan. And owing to my talent for the trivial and unmarketable, I have a pretty clear recollection of how it all came about.
My father inherited a love of classical music from his mother, and he would occasionally spin a disc of Beethoven or Hayden. So from a young age, I was exposed to classical music, and I had absolutely no use for it. It was complicated and overbearing and held no allure for childhood me.
That all changed one night during my junior high days, when I found myself in the passenger’s seat of my uncle’s car. It was a long trip – the purpose of which is long since forgotten – on a lonely stretch of highway. Enveloped in darkness, save for a few feet of headlight-illuminated highway outside, and the soft glow from the dashboard inside, making for an odd feeling of peaceful eeriness. The awkward but pleasant conversation soon waned, giving way to an awkward but pleasant silence.
All these things combined to make me quite sleepy. My uncle pushed the play button on Beethoven’s 6th symphony, thereby pronouncing the conversation officially dead. Perhaps I was too fatigued to raise my teenage defenses, or maybe I had just “grown into it,” but for the first time, I let the sound wash over me and it was glorious.
A few days later, back in my own home, I was curious to discover if this newfound appreciation was real, or just a stupor-induced fluke. I flipped through my dad’s vinyls, found his recording of Beethoven’s 6th and gave it a spin on the stereo. And it was glorious.
Since then, I’ve discovered several other composers. Works from Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Vivaldi and others have all emanated from my stereo speakers. Mozart is delightful. Bach, majestic. But Beethoven held, and continues to hold, a particular fascination for me.
As I waded through his works, I focused mainly on his symphonies. The 6th, 7th and 9th all took turns as my favorite. I explored some of his other works: The Emperor Concerto, the Egmont and Leonore overtures. But there was one Opus that I intentionally avoided – his 5th symphony.
dit dit dit dah… dit dit dit dah…
That musical phrase had become so commonplace – TV and radio ads, comedy sketches, etc. It had become trite, cheesy and even laughable. So for many years, I put off listening.
When I finally did find motivation to give it a chance, it was came when I was a young adult and from the oddest of sources. I had just discovered P.D.Q. Bach and was listening to a recording of a skit (? what do you call a performance by P.D.Q. Bach?) in which the first movement of the 5th symphony was presented as a sports competition pitting the conductor against the orchestra, complete with a referee and announcers.
I found it funny and listened two or three times through. And though the intent was humor, the movement was actually played in its entirety (eventually) and I became fascinated with the very thing that had kept me away: dit dit dit dah. That phrase is not just the beginning notes, it is repeated in a myriad of variations throughout. In fact, that phrase – in some form – makes up nearly the entire first movement.
And it continues. That phrase is woven into the fabric of nearly the entire symphony. It just takes the careful attention of the listener to discover it. I was fascinated at how that same pattern could be used to produce such a variety of effects.
Now, thirty-some years after finally giving it a real listen, Beethoven’s 5th has become my favorite piece of classical music. In fact, I can be a little geeky-obsessive over it. This is how bad it is:
A couple of years ago, the local philharmonic performed Beethoven’s 5th. Of course, I had to go, and I drug my wife along with me. And of course, I loved it. The following week, ran into a friend at church and discovered that he had also been at that concert. The more we talked, the more excited we both became: how great this was, how great that was, and of course, that transition from the third to the fourth movement was mind-blowing! We were like two ’70s teenagers after their first Who concert.
I do get excited over classical music, especially Beethoven. Think about this: written over two hundred years ago and still drawing crowds when it is performed. Talk about a bridge between generations. I said at the beginning that classical music doesn’t get much mention here because it doesn’t fit the theme. On reflection, that is not the case – it fits the theme too perfectly. It doesn’t get mentioned because it doesn’t need to be.
- Not sure if my uncle played that on his car stereo or a portable cassette player. If my faulty memory serves, this took place a few years before car cassette players were commonplace.
- Dad, if you’re looking for that recording of the sixth, you can quit. I’ve got it. It’s pretty beat up, the inner sleeve is missing and the album cover is nearly split down one edge. But you’re not getting it back.
- My dad had a recording of Beethoven’s 7th on 78s. There were five or six discs that had to be stacked on the spindle and dropped one at a time, interrupting the music at odd times. Halfway through, you had to pick them all up and flip them over to finish the piece. Can you imagine?
- The Morse code representation for the letter ‘V’ is taken from the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th: dot dot dot dash. Because ‘V’ is the Roman Numeral symbol for 5, and the 5th is sometimes referred to as the ‘Victory Symphony.’
Here’s Beethoven’s 5th on Spotify