Turn, Turn, Turn…to Beethoven 6

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes is the high point of the Bible, precisely because of shit like that quote. It’s not a religious text as much as it’s just a dude’s (and not just any dude, but the legendarily wise King Solomon, though that is the subject of some controversy) thoughts on the way the world is. There’s some God or G-d in there, but it’s only a part of the larger narrative. The verses excerpted above, from Chapter 3, are pretty well-known, especially because of that one song that you know. Why am I bringing this up?

It wasn’t that long ago that I shared a dirty secret on this blog: I think Beethoven 6 is boring and terrible. I followed that up by saying that perhaps it was just that I needed a spectacularly exciting performance to do the trick, which Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra provided with their acclaimed cycle. And then the Pastoral disappeared from my consciousness again for two years.

I’ve already written ad nauseam about my breakup, the music that I thought I’d be turning to, and the music I actually have been turning to. And wouldn’t you know it, a funny thing happened on my entertaining journey through misery and loneliness, and that funny thing is the sudden discovery of the magic of the Pastoral. I can’t get enough of it. And not just the Vanska recording, but all kinds of interpretations, not the least of which is an absolutely brilliant take by my boy Otmar Suitner that’s available for fairly cheap and paired with an equally sweet performance of the 8th.

I don’t entirely know what it is that’s triggered this sudden interest in a piece that I was passionately disinterested in for so long. It’s not like I’m spending more time awakening good feelings on arriving in the countryside or chilling by a brook. I don’t know any shepherds and it’s been awhile since we had a good thunderstorm. Regardless, something clicked in me and I’m suddenly on board.

If I had to hazard a guess? I’d say there’s something about the pseudo-minimalist simplicity that’s appealing to my inner self in a time of instability and the relaxing nature of the great majority of the work is providing a sense of calm during turbulent emotional times. But that’s just something I probably absorbed from a book somewhere or an episode of Hoarders or something. In truth, I think it just speaks to a larger idea that exists in all our lives and in everything we do, and King Solomon or whoever the fuck actually wrote Ecclesiastes was right on the money. Circumstances dictate so much of how we feel, about ourselves, about others, about everything. There really is a time for everything, and when the timing is off it can take something that should be good and fuck it up.

There are countless examples of this. Having the first pick in the most recent NBA draft netted the Cleveland Cavaliers Anthony Bennett, an undeniably skilled but questionable prospect whose range of probable outcomes as a player is enormous, from complete flameout to potential All-Star. Having the first pick in NEXT year’s NBA draft will net whoever lands it Andrew Wiggins, a can’t-miss superstar who is the best prospect in the draft since Lebron James. They’ll both be paid the same, and really all it has to with is whose Canadian parents boned each other first.

You can meet someone with whom you connect and fall in love and they can be married or in the Peace Corps and shipped off to Africa or a pre-op transsexual or any number of things. You can be a real estate speculator who buys some great properties right before the bottom falls out of the entire economy. You can be President of the United States at a time when being fairly reasonable and cool will lead to blind obstructionism. You can be gay at a time when we shamefully watched you wither away at the hands of AIDS rather than at a time when you’re on the path towards equality.

These are all heady examples compared to “oh shit, NOW I get Beethoven 6,” but this is a microcosm of life as we know it. I wanted to settle down, have a house, maybe have some kids. I was pretty damn close. But fuck it all if there isn’t a time for embracing and a time to refrain from embracing, and it’s pretty clear it was “refrain from” time. The future holds many possibilities, but they all involve timing. We’ll see what’s next.

Thanks for sticking with me, Beethoven 6. It took me a hell of a lot longer than it perhaps should have, but I’m here now and it was worth the wait.

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10 thoughts on “Turn, Turn, Turn…to Beethoven 6

  1. Wow! I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog for the past couple of years. I’ve never left a comment, but this blog is really timely. After abandoning Beet6 for a few years, I returned today when I started an undergrad orchestration class I teach with the 4th movement. It led to a great discussion and a “rediscovery” for me. I wish you had published this article 9 hours ago — i would have used it :)

  2. What are the odds? That’s pretty awesome. I must say, I stopped by your website and thoroughly enjoyed it. It proved the old “small world” adage true. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. If I could get DHS to agree to letting me write during work hours, I could have had this ready for your class! ;-)

  3. “Thanks for sticking with me. It took me a hell of a lot longer than it perhaps should have, but I’m here now and it was worth the wait”. This speaks volumes about the incredible caliber of who you are. Welcome to the rest of your life. Keep listening, keep up the introspection, and don’t look back, except to increase in wisdom.

  4. My orchestra just played this last season and, like you, I was finally able to appreciate it. Even the boring parts! (I’m a cellist. There are always boring parts.)

  5. I followed your blog the other day and this is beautiful. My boyfriend just broke up with me and although I’m interested in Britten, I struggle with some of his work, but coming home to get away has turned into the time to read and listen to him and I’m beginning to see. Thank you for this!

  6. Thanks! That’s my mom everybody!

  7. As a horn player, AKA the cello of the winds, I agree and endorse your position. Glad to hear it’s making the rounds!

  8. I’m glad it did something for you. Sorry to hear about the end of your relationship. It sucks, but I’ll be damned if I’m not learning a bunch of shit about myself that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s hard to find positives, but that’s the one that jumps out to me. And Beethoven 6! Happy to hear you connecting with Britten…a hell of a gent to connect with. Brilliant stuff. I enjoyed your writing immensely, by the way!

  9. To the cellist and “hornist”: Boring parts? Not me! This is why I play piano…Melodic lines, incredible improvised/altered chords/harmonies, and rhythms of my choice! Woohoo! Unless, of course, I am playing Stan Kenton music…

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