Beethoven, Above Ground and Underground

It breaks my heart a little to write this new blog post and knock the Museworthy Art Show off the top spot of the home page :sob, sniffle: But it was a great success! One last time I’d like to say thank you to everyone to participated and to all of you who generously linked to the post on your blogs, Facebooks, Twitters, and shared it with friends through email. I think we may have to do it again next year 🙂

Friday night my brother and I went on one of our concert dates to Lincoln Center. Our superb hometown orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, performed Strauss’ “Don Quixote” and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, “Pastoral”. Both Chris and I are tremendous – and I do mean tremendous – Beethoven fans, so “Pastoral” was the main reason we chose this particular concert. Although “Don Quixote” was phenomenal.

As if mine and Chris’ lifelong adoration of Beethoven weren’t enough, New York’s classical music radio station WQXR is has been sponsoring Beethoven Awareness Month in November. They’ve been spreading the word around the city with this fantastic poster designed purposely to emulate the style of Shepard Fairey. I totally love this. Only in New York could a classical radio station be so badass:

After the performance at Avery Fisher Hall, Chris and I went our separate ways. He headed home uptown and I went into the subway to catch the downtown 1 train. There, under the city streets, in the tunnels of our transit system, this happened. It. Was. Awesome. When I first got to the platform, the sax player was still licking his lips preparing to play something. In typical blasé New Yorker fashion, I just strolled past him. Then, with his saxophone case open at his feet and a cap on his head, the musician began to play his song. Echoing throughout the underground tunnel, the sweet notes reverberated luxuriously in the confined urban space of concrete, metal, tile, and asphalt. It was “Pastoral”. It stopped me in my tracks and I made a 180 degree turn. All of us concertgoers, still clutching our Playbills, shared beaming smiles and delighted surprise. In an instant, dollar bills started dropping into the saxophonist’s instrument case. You gotta love a subway musician who knows that evening’s program at Avery Fisher Hall. Bless him 🙂

So on Friday night, two quintessential urban settings that are a study in contrasts if there ever was one – an elegant, sparkling, multi-million dollar cultural institution like Lincoln Center, and the everyday, utilitarian, not-so-glamorous grimy transit system – were each imbued with the music of Beethoven. And his music, albeit in extremely disparate renditions, soared in both.

But an even greater irony exists in my little story. The musical composition I discuss here, the “Pastoral”, is a paean to country life and the joys of nature, not the city. Beethoven’s symphonic works are often described as ferocious, intense, swarming with the impassioned drama of Romanticism. While that is frequently true, it is not applicable to “Pastoral”. Beethoven often sought refuge and solace in the woods, mountains, and suburban parks outside of Vienna. He loved nature and animals, and was clearly inspired by it. He composed, after all, an entire symphony to the delights of earthly beauty, its rhythms, harmonies, movements, and the spiritual uplift they unceasingly provide. Beethoven was not all fire and torment. He was both a man and a composer of immense range and profound sensitivities. He was a man tragically isolated in his deafness but still miraculously, stunningly, deeply engaged with the world around him, deafness be dammed.

The concert Playbill quoted from a letter Beethoven wrote to Therese Malfatti in anticipation of his visit to the country. He said, “How delighted I shall be to ramble for a while through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.”  Yes, they do. I wonder if Beethoven would be surprised to know that the 1 train subway platform at 66th and Broadway produces an interesting echo as well 🙂

For those of you unfamiliar with the Pastoral melody, shame on you!  I will slap you silly! :just kidding: So here it is, for Music Monday. In all its buoyant and cheerful joy, this is the first nine minutes of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony “Pastoral”, performed by The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Take note of Beethoven’s brilliant melodic structure and instrumentation.

5 thoughts on “Beethoven, Above Ground and Underground

  1. CHRIS HAJIAN says:

    Terrific Post Claudia!
    It was a wonderful “NYC” evening.

  2. Dave Rudin says:

    Hey, Claudia. I wonder if that sax player was the same guy who played “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” from Donizetti’s opera “L’Elisir d’Amore,” on the Lincoln Center downtown subway platform after I saw that opera that night. I told him that I’d never heard “Una Furtiva Lagrima” played on a saxophone, and he said to me, “Well, now you will.”

    Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony is indeed wonderful, but it’s not all peaceful countryside relaxation and fun. There is, after all, the fury of the storm which interrupts the idyll. Don’t you remember seeing it in “Fantasia”??? LOL


    • artmodel says:


      That has to be the same sax player, don’t you think? Cool!

      Yes, there is that storm section in Pastoral. Beethoven can’t resist throwing in a little uproar. It’s exciting.

      Thanks for your comments!


  3. violinhunter says:

    Strange things happen. 25 years ago I heard a Mexican harp player playing solo in Munich in the most unlikely venue but there he was.

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