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Don’t diss the potboiler

If you imagine that old, deaf Ludwig van Beethoven spent his days in whispered dialogue with the Almighty, I refer you to “The Glorious Moment.”

“Moment” is an oratorio Beethoven composed to celebrate the Congress of Vienna in 1814. Biographer Maynard Solomon called it “the nadir of Beethoven’s artistic career.” As he reached this low point, Ludwig was also putting finishing touches on his opera, “Fidelio,” and had just published his Eighth Symphony. At its first performance, the oratorio shared the program with the Seventh Symphony, surely the opposite of a “nadir!”

That premiere packed the hall with bejeweled kings, tsars, and princes. The second performance played to a half-empty house and the third…was canceled. But the piece had fulfilled its mission on opening night. Ludwig knew a spotlight when he saw one. As another biographer, Jan Swafford, notes, “when the occasion calls for bombastic hosannas to the ruling class, he is ready to oblige.”

He could also smell a payday. A decade later, while crafting the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemnis, Beethoven was simultaneously working on piano/voice arrangements of dozens of English, Irish and Welsh folk songs. He had a publisher, you see, offering good money.

I like the image of Beethoven as working stiff, a guy who knew how to put his butt in a chair and get the work done. Not everyone—in fact, hardly anyone, ever—can reach the heights he reached. But there’s something to be said for just getting the work done, right?

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