Musicians are often asked, “Who’s your favorite composer?” The stock answers range from “Too many to say,” and “Whosever music I’m working on at the time,” to “I can’t do that! That’s like naming your favorite child.” Whenever pressed for an answer, I’ve often resorted to the following: “I don’t have a favorite composer per se, but Beethoven is the composer I feel the closest to. I feel like he is my friend.”
As a musician, I am in awe of and worship Beethoven like deity, and I consider myself his humble servant for life. For a conductor especially, his symphonic works are the Bible. They are the beginning and end of our life’s work, as well as a constant companion. But what endears him so much to me to a point where I feel like I know him as a person, and as a peer or an equal – a sacrilege considering his god-like status?
His music is open and fair. It has a sense of egalitarianism that is so unique even among great composers whose music is considered “universal.” It has the ability to be great and relatable at the same time. And his music has so much love; it knows to simply embrace and marvel at the humanity and the world. He makes me feel included, even while admiring him.
His music is loyal and true. It is consistently sincere, direct and pure in heart. It is independent and individual, with a searing focus that penetrates all superficiality and shuts out unnecessary external influences. And because I’ve experienced these qualities in multiple pieces by him over many years, I have come to count on him, like a good friend.
Last but not least, his music is multidimensional. He has a sense of humor and knows how to entertain and surprise us, yet all within a powerfully logical and persuasive structure that keeps us on a straight path. And even at its stormiest points, his music is elegant and at times even regal, never losing a sense of dignity.
However, all the qualities that make him a great friend can also make him difficult to deal with because he expects the same out of you, and at times, his standards are oppressive. The virtuosity required by his music doesn’t cut you any slack. I often describe his music as his pushing you up against a wall. The fierce intensity in his music sometimes reaches the point of being relentless and stubborn, even defiance. It can certainly be exhausting to be close with someone so uncompromising.
And boy, is he worth it. He gets me like nobody else does, and he gives me the kind of strength that I need to keep going, to get up after I fall, and to find joy and beauty even in the midst of a storm. You are a great friend, Beethoven, and you’ll always, always be in my life. Happy 250th birthday! I love you.