Would Beethoven have appreciated the music of Coldplay?
A ridiculous notion, I know. But just follow me here for a moment. Pretend Beethoven was your very same age, and he was seated next to you at this concert. Pretend you were able to strike up a conversation with him.
I ask you to engage in this exercise because that is where my thinking took me when writing Beethoven V. Coldplay, for I realized shortly after beginning that I was the exact same age Beethoven was when he wrote the Eroica symphony. This had a startling and ultimately revelatory effect on me. As I was rewriting the very same notes he had written- at the very same point in our lives- I found myself thinking of him as an actual person. This closeness went far beyond any biographical study I had done before. So I began to wonder- what if I knew him? What would he be like? Could we possibly have had anything in common?
And eventually, of course: what we have thought of Coldplay?
Beethoven confronted broad, universal and humanist themes in his music- would he have found affinity with a band that did the same? His music was deeply personal; he connected his emotional state directly and without encumbrance to the notes he wrote- is there any doubt, when listening to Chris Martin sing and play the piano, that he does the same?
The Eroica symphony is now mentioned among only a handful of pieces that changed the course of music forever, and Beethoven was certain of its brilliance; yet the premiere was met with ambivalence, with some critics calling it ‘unintelligible’. Would Beethoven have felt empathy with the Coldplay line, ‘Nobody said it was easy… no one ever said it would be this hard’?
Beethoven had a coarse and unpleasant personality and therefore found sanctuary from the outside world in his music. Would he have appreciated the lyric, 'I turn my music up... I shut the world outside... I hear my heart start beating to my favorite song…'?
Or, 'When you love someone and it goes to waste, could it be worse?’- would those lines have meant something to the composer who struggled at romance and was often tortured by unrequited love?
And can you imagine the 34 year-old composer- who had recently battled depression to the extent of considering suicide owing to the realization that he was irreversibly going deaf- not being overcome by the lyric, ‘Tears stream down your face… when you lose something you cannot replace…and I will try to fix you’?
I chose to pair Beethoven and Coldplay because of their shared universality- that feeling they evoke that this is what music should sound like. Only upon finishing the piece did I begin thinking of all these serendipitous connections. At first they startled me. How was I so lucky? How is it possible that these lyrics could relate so much to Beethoven’s life?
But then I realized- we love Coldplay because we feel they are speaking just to us- their songs seem to tell our own stories. So why shouldn’t they tell Beethoven’s? If he was once a person the same age as us, desperate for recognition of his genius, battling his health and depression, longing for love, and ‘dreaming of paradise,’ who is to say he wouldn’t have found escape in a song of Coldplay? Or a moment of peace knowing that someone had been through exactly what he was going through and had found a way to perfectly articulate it through song?
So what is the point of an exercise of this sort? Will changing the lens through which we view these artists and composers provide a new perspective? Will finding connections between them offer a new context? Isn't it just a little too far-fetched to even think that Beethoven would EVER have listened to Coldplay? And even if he had- what is the point in combining his music with theirs?
I know my answer. You're about to hear it.
-Steve Hackman, October 2015