Sunday, June 09, 2013

The First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth and the Human Imagination
by Matthew Guerrieri
-I saw Guerrieri on the Colbert Report (you can watch his appearance here), and this book sounded like it was right up my alley -- I'm working on my 5th Ganges symphony, I'm obsessed with formalism and abstractions and "organic wholeness," and I had literally been thinking about the concept of a "hall of mirrors" as one of the formal organizing ideas for Ganges 5. So when he talks on Colbert about how the Romantics and esp. ETA Hoffmann adopt the Fifth as their anthem because it fit their ideas about achieving an organic unity of life, after passing through a "hall of mirrors" of repetition, twinning, doppelgangers, etc., I was very excited to read this. And it's pretty good. It wasn't as heady a read as I was expecting, it's more written at a magazine article level. Sometimes he draws connections that seem pretty forced, but that goes with the territory. It reminded me at times of Nicholson Baker's "Lumber" essay (which I recently read), where the forced connections between disparate echoing forms is the logic of the writing, both the form and the content of the writing, which creates an exhilarating hall of mirrors effect, and points to the hall of mirrors of nature that writing itself is. I'm guessing this was the original impulse for writing this way about the Fifth in the first place, but the effect is not as evident or intense as "Lumber." I enjoyed the short but sweet discussions of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Adorno, and also the use of the Fifth in WW2, which I didn't know anything about. Also there's Charles Ives, EM Forster and Ralph Ellison, the whole Beethoven was black thing, commercial jingles, etc.