Friday, 8 January 2016

Pleading the Fifth

Yesterday a lone muslim with a machete sang out 'god is great' in Arabic and the French Police shot him dead. Okay, he had to threaten them first, then continue to advance after he had been issued a warning, but it’s a step in the right direction. It turned out that he had also worn a fake suicide vest; best guess, he was intent on suicide by cop, but hey, any way we can cull them... Chanting allahu akbar (literal translation “Oi, oi, saveloy!”) in a Parisian street might in future carry the death penalty even if weapons aren’t involved.

Elsewhere the mood music is less cheerful with the twice in a week suspension of trading in Chinese stocks sending ripples through the fantastic money markets of the world. Fantastic because these are disconnected, made-up numbers in the ether and it stretches the bounds of credulity to even begin to imagine counting it all. Maybe one day – not now, but one day long after I’m gone – there could come a time when the pooling of Monopoly money in ephemeral, on-paper fortunes is consigned to history and world trade reverts to one-on-one barter via the internet. But for now the chances of us singing from the one song-sheet seem as remote as ever.

And who could write such music, that all the world’s voices could combine in unison? The days of the great composers came, sadly, long before the world-wide-web. But then, would such universal reach dilute or distract those great talents? Giants such as Beethoven created such enduring scores that modern classical music seems one-dimensional in comparison. From whence came their inspiration? From the divine, yes, but that no longer holds humanity in the same way it once did. Beethoven suffered from great enervation after each of his major works, as if a part of his soul had been stripped away and the muse deserted him.

Following his Fourth Symphony, premiered in 1807 he spent several weeks deep in introspection, but being a mercurial soul he would also embark on great bouts of ranting and Heinrich, his faithful manservant, often took the brunt of it. His great Fifth Symphony, begun in 1804 but still incomplete, existed in fragments strewn about his study and his frustrations tormented him. He had the main movements; if only he could now work out how to begin the piece. Heinrich had been a faithful retainer but as 1807 dragged itself into 1808 his master’s moods eventually became too much and early in the new year he tendered his resignation.


Ludwig was horrified: "Heinrich! Whatever will I do without you? You have been my rock while I have floundered in stormy seas. You have been a faithful friend, a most efficient and versatile factotum and more, so much more. Why, I owe my finest works to your inspiration!” Heinrich was not to be deterred. He replied "My master is surely jesting. What, a genius like him who has already written four of the most divine symphonies ever to grace the ear? The great Ludwig Van Beethoven inspired by a tuneless clod like me?” Beethoven looked distraught as Heinrich continued, “That is the funniest thing I ever heard! Ha-ha-ha-haaa! Ha-ha-ha-haaa!"

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