Guerrieri’s section on Beethoven’s possible African ancestry covers many aspects and opinions on the subject. He begins with discussing Ralph Ellison, a writer and past musician. Ellison grew up with music and dreamed of being a jazz trumpeter, in addition to a “great Negro composer, bringing black American vernacular sounds into the temples of European high art.” He attempted to pursue both jazz and classical styles however he became confused and caught between the different genres. Pursuing his writing career to the fullest, he wrote Invisible Man, a novel about a black man’s life in America. In the book he wrote a passage about the man who wakes up in a hospital after a factory accident, and is being operated on by a group of white people. The passage is descriptive and poetic, and relates greatly to the movement and story of Beethoven’s Fifth. Moving further, the discussion of Beethoven having African ancestry arrises. Once the possibility of Beethoven being even one sixteenth or less black appeared, people used that in civil rights movements. Malcom X said in an interview, “…the most successful general that ever lived, was a black man. So was Beethoven;” People were so desperately “claiming” Beethoven as black to promote equality, raise awareness, and for personal reasons. There was even an incident at Stanford University with two white students arguing with a black one about whether or not Beethoven was black, which resulted in a racist action of the white students adding stereotypical, offensive features to a poster of Beethoven and placed it on the black student’s door. The very idea that Beethoven could be black became such a heated topic, Guerrieri wrote, “The idea of a black Beethoven ends up as something like the Fifth Symphony:a convenient screen onto which anyone can project their own concerns.” So just as the Fifth, which everyone used to support their own ideas and thoughts, Beethoven himself now is the root of that. It has turned from his music to him as an icon or hero. Although race was an extreme issue in America at the time, the fact the Beethoven may or may not have been black seems irrelevant and blown out of proportion. It wasn’t Beethoven that gave him popularity or praise, it was his music that everyone loved. He didn’t appear to be the most charming person according to history, so he individually was never brought into the mix until questions about his race arrived. Whether or not Beethoven was indeed black matters not. He is a composer, a creator, who’s passion was simply making music, his race or where he was from had no effect in that matter, what is on the inside is what made the magic.

Theodore Adorno a musician and professional philosopher from Germany. He lived a sickeningly sheltered childhood, as Guerrier stated, “A friend remembered Adorno enjoying ‘an existence you just had to love–if you were not dying with jealously of this beautiful, protected life.'” He was quite well educated, and attempted to compose an opera based on Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, however with little encouragement he gave up after two numbers. Philosophy was his stronger passion, and contemplated things with a “negative dialectic” which helped to clear the way to “achieve identity”. Adorno is infamously remembered for his critique on jazz, as it is considered remarkable wrong. He writes that jazz is very structured with no sensation of freedom, which encourages obedience and not rebellion. Examined in many different lights, his analysis could be considered correct although a majority of critiques disagree wholeheartedly. Adorno’s real success, or positively-for the most part-remembered thought was about Beethoven’s Fifth. He concluded the Fifth, the famous four notes that was easily recognizable yet not many deeply understood or had a “real connection” with it, was simply nothing. In the words of Hegel, “Being is indeed nothing at all, but within becoming is no longer simply being; and nothing, through its oneness with being, is no longer simply nothing.” Therefore the “nothing” in the Fifth is everything. Adorno believes that this “nothing” allow and is “freedom”, which he assures is the “key to Beethoven’s music”. Finally, Guerrieri concludes the section, and novel, with Adorno’s thoughts on Beethoven’s achievements. he believes that, “Beethoven achieved in music what the world forever tries and fails to achieve: the better society.” Adorno’s apparent naivety lead him to believe that the Fifth has become almost a symbol of this “reality” that society strives for, a thing that different people throughout history have attempted to claim, the “better society” created from both the spirit and hands of Beethoven himself.

The question, “Could Beethoven make it in the music business today?” can be answered in many ways, however there are some unchanging factors that would affect his success not matter how optimistic of an outlook one has. To begin, classical music isn’t as popular as it once was, to say the least. Studies show that a majority of symphony-goers are seniors, supporting the idea that classical music performances typically attract the older end of the population. During Beethoven’s time, instrumental music was the norm, and most enjoyed it, therefore giving him the appropriate window to express his compositions. If someone of his skill, or any skill, were to compose symphonies and perform them in concert halls, the world would be no different-there are talented composers sending out music constantly but no recognition takes place because it is not a part of the big music scene anymore. There wouldn’t be any change in listening habits if a new composer published a symphony that was supposed to create a worldwide impact, because the only people listening are stereotypically elders. Therefore Beethoven wouldn’t make the same “splash” in the music industry as he once did in Vienna.

Beethoven today is simply a German composer known for his triumph and Fifth. Throughout history he made a worldwide impact, influencing and inspiring several movements and wars, creating common ground, evoking deep emotion to the point of tears, and forming into an icon, or sort of commodity, in today’s life. Just one man completed so before an after his death, however as the years go by, he is slowly fading away. His music will, without a doubt, live on for centuries more, however possibly only his music will be remembered and not him himself. Being a young adult in today’s modern society with complete access to extensive libraries of music, I had never listened to any of Beethoven’s compositions. The only thing I knew about him was that he was a composer and wrote the, “dun dun dun duuuun”, I was even unaware that he was the creator of the Ode to Joy tune, which I had been performing on piano for years. The knowledge I had received about Beethoven and all 1800s composers was extremely limited. Had I lived in my grandparent’s time, my Beethovian education would have been greater because of the constant exposure to his music due to his popularity. However, in the current society we live in, exposure to Beethoven is surprisingly small. The image and memory of Beethoven has differed throughout the decades, beginning with the world loving him for his music, then when the “claiming” phase happened: the world was loving him simply for him, and now as we reach present times he is remembered for only his music. The pattern of Beethoven’s memory being music-man-music could repeat, however with current music tastes and decline of classical music, ironically, the world is slowly becoming more and more deaf to his creations.

Finally, as asked in Guerrieri’s book, if the opening of Beethoven’s fifth is now a ringtone, and somebody picks up after the second note, is it still Beethoven’s fifth? It is, indeed. If Beethoven conducts his Fifth in a concert hall but stops after the second note to sneeze, would it not still be the Fifth? The following phrase of the composition is still their, it has simply just been interrupted.

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  1. This is a lovely summary sentence, Hattie: “Whether or not Beethoven was indeed black matters not. He is a composer, a creator, who’s passion was simply making music, his race or where he was from had no effect in that matter, what is on the inside is what made the magic.” (whose, BTW, not who’s).

    Wow, Adorno is hard; you’ve summarized him well.

    Of course, my question could Beethoven make it today was a silly question, since it isn’t as if “Beethoven” could exist without the culture that created him. But a genius the size of Beethoven today? Hard to say what he would have become, or the kind of music he might have written.

    Learning that you knew almost nothing about Beethoven prior to this class is very interesting to me, since you are clearly a smart and perceptive person! I guess that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make him the subject of an E-Sem — he’s at the status of Shakespeare or Da Vinci, but classical musicians seem to be fading a bit from most peoples consciousness.

    I love the notion of a conductor sneezing before they orchestra finishes the first four notes! Great image.

    Hattie, I’ve been very impressed with your posts, and I see that you’ve responded to every assignment. You’re doing very well in the class, and I look forward to working with you on your thesis.

    So far, excellent work!!

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