Being easily distracted, I have always tended to write in silence. My brain doesn’t seem to be capable of doing two things at once—I am slightly dyslexic so thinking and typing is sometimes a comedy of errors. (You would laugh yourself silly if you saw of the pages of my manuscript before I go back and correct the gibberish.) So I have always worried that thinking and listening might not be a wise idea.
But recently I was chatting with a friend about music. He had been listening to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony the night before and we began to muse about art, and its forms in sound, image and the written word. It was a fascinating conversation—he’s far more knowledgeable about music than I am—and it got me to thinking . . . and listening.
I immediately went out bought the complete symphonies of Beethoven. That the composer was perhaps the most important musical influence on the Regency era only piqued my interest in seeing whether I could listen to music as I wrote. (Hey, my heroes and heroines are pretty emotional and angst-y, so it seemed a perfect fit.) So I brought up i-Tunes, opened my Word doc, doubled clicked on Eroica, also known as Symphony #3 in E Flat, Op. 55, and hunched over my keyboard . . .
But before I get to the result, allow me to digress a little on the symphony’s creation. I will not embarrass myself by trying to wax eloquent on Beethoven’s life or complex personality, but highlighting few details about one of the most important pieces of Regency music might be fun, so let’s take a quick dance through the score.
Beethoven started composing the symphony in late 1803 and intended to dedicate his work in progress to Napoleon Bonaparte, for he greatly admired the revolutionary ideas of the new French Republic. The decision would cost him financially—dedicating it to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowitz would have earned him a handsome fee. But he stuck to his guns and called it “Bonaparte. ” However, in May 1804, Napoleon had himself proclaimed Emperor of France, and when Beethoven heard the news, he was both disillusioned and furious, feeling his idealism had been betrayed. His assistant and pupil, Ferdinand Ries described the scene in his memoir:
I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So 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 went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title “Sinfonia eroica.”(Eroica means “heroic” in Italian.)
So, did playing Eroica—a masterpiece which is considered to mark the beginning of the Romantic era in music—inspire me to greatness? Well I am at the stage in a book where I, like Beethoven, feel like seizing the pages, tearing them in half and throwing them on the floor. (Unlike the Maestro, I’d also jump up and down on them. Except I have a deadline looming, so I will refrain from such childish urges.) But that said, I discovered to my delight that music has proven to be a very lovely addition to my writing routine. Eroica is a marvelous work of genius, and I hope I absorbed a touch of brilliant creativity by osmosis. The long hours at the computer certainly were more harmonious than usual.
I also love Symphony #5 and #6, which is named “Pastoral.” Beethoven, like many of the artists who pioneered the Romantic era, was a great lover of nature, and often left Vienna to work on his music in the countryside. He said of “Pastoral”, which was written in 1802, that it was “more the expression of feeling than painting . . ."
So what about you? Do you enjoy Beethoven’s music? And do you listen to music while you write or do other tasks? If so, what are some of your favorite pieces?