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Beethoven’s 8th Symphony, 4th Movement Narrative

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    Classical music has many purposes: it can move the listener with different emotions, it can relate to an occasion, or tell a story. For Beethoven, having a storyline in musical pieces was significant, through the chords and notes he conveyed struggles that related to him and could be linked to the general public. Whether it was a physical struggle or a social struggle, most of Beethoven’s earlier pieces evoke a protagonist that had to overcome an obstacle, which through persistence and determination became victorious, but we see that changing as Beethoven moves to his later period.

    Instead of having a protagonist struggling to achieve heroism, the struggle becomes more about whether fate was already predestined or decided by free will. The final movement of Beethoven’s eighth symphony enacts the same drama of overcoming a struggle, but in a more comical way. As in the third symphony, serious greeting of the fourth movement of the eight symphony has brought narratives of human actions and human characters, including bodies that are struggling or threatened with falling, and a c-sharp puts those narratives in motion in both pieces.

    That the same c-sharp is the tonal problem, or the antagonist, in both works implies a relationship between them. Indeed, in its treatment of struggling, the eighth symphony final can be heard more humorous and ironic than Eroica’s heroism. Just like the eighth symphony, most of the protagonists that are portrayed in Beethoven’s musical pieces reflect who he is. Explaining why most of what Beethoven defines heroism to be, are things that he has dealt with himself before or has overcome.

    For instance, death is something that Beethoven had to deal with from a very early age, and for him a hero must be able to overcome death in order to be contemplated as a hero like the third symphony suggests. As for the eighth symphony, the constant struggle between free will and predestination that most of his late work show, is present in the fourth movement but in a more humorous approach. In this case the protagonist is the first theme that starts very quiet and unsure of itself similar to the first theme of Eroica. In this movement, the first theme is interrupted by the second theme’s loud c-sharp.

    Coming forth as an antagonistic shocking surprise- a fortissimo outburst among the quiet surrounding of the first theme- and is not resolved, or musically acknowledged in any way. It is clearly felt as an interpolation, the music would move smoothly if it were simply removed, and has been generally been assumed as a expression of abrupt humor, or an awkward block, thus foregrounding the idea of loss of physical balance and the possibility of a fall, instead of the threat of tragedy implicit in Eroica, the c-sharp suggests something more like a trip, a tumble, a pratfall.

    Almost as if Beethoven was mocking the tragedy of a character falling, showing his decline of importance in heroism. The c-sharp is felt more of an annoyance in this movement than in the third symphony, a description that Burnham says it this way: “I prefer to hear the initial c-sharp less as a important irritant and more as a musical pratfall, the suddenness both of its start and its disappearance renders the c-sharp more a potentially comic interjection than a real threat, although one could make a case for the reactive strength of the statement of the theme that immediately follows”.

    Possibly a mixture of both views comes out about right: brutal humor. Throughout the whole movement it is the c-sharp that evokes some of the crude humor usually associated with people who are hard of hearing. It can be seen as someone who is in both unable to hear or someone screaming at another in order to be heard. Like a nearly deaf man reacting with irritation to a conversation that has fallen out of his range of hearing: “What!? ” Or a person being infuriated with a deaf man by the constant repeating of words: “Hey! ” Whatever it may be, there seems to be a constant communication skirmish between the two themes.

    It would be as if the second theme was screaming or calling at the first theme, but the first theme is unable to hear In light of Beethoven’s own deafness, there is obviously considerable irony here. The c-sharp may be taken as an indication of deafness, more specifically, of Beethoven’s own deafness, just like the c-sharp in the Eroica symphony. Rather than a potential tragedy to be heroically overcome by the protagonist, an interaction conflict is taken here as a source of humor and Beethoven shows the first glimpse of the continuous mocking this movement will have against heroism.

    At this point we are still puzzled of the irrelevant roaring of the c-sharp. Finally after much irritating battles the pushy c-sharp leads eventually to the f-sharp minor in the coda. The unconfident first theme that we hear in the exposition gradually becomes more heard and self-assured which ultimately becomes the F-major we see in the coda. The start of gradual unification of the two themes shown in the beginning of the development shows the gradual merging between heroism and divinity.

    In the coda the themes are unified and instead of sounding like two different themes competing against one another, they now sound like one continuous theme. This F-major resembles the storyline of the skilled, crippled alienated god of fire. Being so similar, it is practical to assume that the protagonist can also be the fallen god Hephaestus in the fourth movement of the eighth symphony. Being thrown from mount Olympus by his mother for being crippled, the god avenged himself by imprisoning her and later being pleaded to return to Olympus by the other gods in order to free the imprisoned mother.

    Hephaestus, just like Beethoven, had a talent that made him unique. He was a craftsman, but due to his unpleasant appearance and physical disability he never found a spouse on his own, much like Beethoven. In this description, the c-sharp can be seen as the annoying and constant yelling of the gods to Hephaestus to return back. The f-sharp minor finale of the coda emphasizes the comic effect. In particular, he imagines an outburst of laughter among the gods as they see Hephaestus walking about: the main theme reaches that c-sharp; and now it suddenly appears that Beethoven has held that note, out bursts the theme, then, in F-sharp minor.

    Then, E-sharp becomes the leading note of this new key, and upon E-sharp the trumpets pounce and hammer away at it until they have thoroughly convinced Hephaestus to return back to Olympus. When this is settled, in sails the radian second subject again, now Ganymede is all very well; but the original cupbearer of the gods is Hephaestus, who is lame, and grimy with his crafts in the depths of the earth, however, he will not be overthrown; and so the basses sing the theme too. Immediately greedy laughter arises among the blessed gods as they look at him waking up in his house.

    The laughter of the gods has all of mount Olympus where to scatter itself, and to gather again into the last long series of joyous shouts. Beethoven may or may not have used this movement to represent Hephaestus’ banishment, but for a fictional character that shared the same isolation, lack of a spouse, and uniqueness I definitely think so. Through all of the persistence and struggle that Hephaestus went through, the gods awarded him with Aphrodite, something that I see Beethoven admired and wished would get the same fortune.

    Conflict is the source of humor in this work, either a hearing deficiency or mobility. As in the Eroica, a narrative involving disability is set in motion by a “tonal problem,” specifically a c-sharp that can be associated either with a mobility impairment or deafness. But the shared narrative is inflected very differently in the two symphonies. One can imagine the last movement of the 8th symphony as an ironic inversion of the 1st movement of the 3rd symphony: what was once treated as potential tragedy now returns as something akin to farce and the abnormal is normalized amid “unquenchable laughter. In artistic representations, people with disabilities are generally forced to conform to a small number of familiar stereotypes, “cultural scripts. ” One of the most widely known of these scripts is the heroic overcomer- the person with a disability is the protagonist of an inspirational tale of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. If we were to imagine the third symphony as a person with a disability, the cultural stereotype it would be understood to enact.

    Another involves the role of what norden calls the comic misadventure: “ a disabled person victimized by one of more able-bodies people, and a disabled person whose impairment leads to trouble, whether self-directed, other-directed, or both. All in the name of comedy, of course. ” There is a long tradition, in literature and film, or treating certain disabilities, including hearing impairments, as a source of comedy. In this sense, were we to imagine the Finale of Beethoven’s eight symphony as a person with a disability, it would be a comic misadventure. In sum up, Beethoven uses this movement to mock Eroica’s heroism.

    In what is a serious exchange of two themes in the third symphony fully represents heroism with an unconfident first theme arising and prevailing against the second theme the fourth movement mimics that heroism to make it seem that the struggle is nothing more than a petty clash between the two themes. Adding his deafness into the movement just add to the comical view Beethoven saw himself. The motive why I think is behind Beethoven’s reasoning for having such a comical movement would be to ease the unsettling internal struggle that he was going through when he was writing the eighth symphony.

    To look back of what one used to believe can be humorous if those believes have changed over time. One can see the fourth movement as the struggle that Beethoven was having during his late period. Still unsure of what view to take in life: Heroism and free will versus divinity and predestination. At the beginning of the movement, just like the beginning of Beethoven’s heroic period, the notion of a constant struggle had to be always present with Beethoven, which explains why the first theme starts as feeble going against the second theme and continuously trying to exceed its “rivalry”- representing the predestined notion.

    As these two clashes progress through the development, the difference between one another begins to vanish. Beethoven might have seen that through the years his confusion of viewpoints started to become clearer, but not yet perfect. The constant confusion state of the ending that Beethoven gives us the fourth movement emphasizes his notion of understanding the gap between divine and heroism.

    It seems just when you think the movement is over, he begins a coda, and then when you think that’s over there another section or another coda until eventually, when you do reach the end, he gives you no less than twenty-three measures of final chords that seals the final resolution, but with no final chord but fifteen of them. As if to say, “Yes! It is finally over! No its not! Okay, now it is! Again no! Now it is definitely over! That’s it! Done! ” Once again, Beethoven is playing with us. The fourth movement of Beethoven’s eighth movement truly is an incredible masterpiece.

    Through it Beethoven is able to communicate to the listener his on going struggle to find a meaning to life. As Solomon puts it, Beethoven “permitted aggressive and disintegrative forces to enter musical form. ” He fuses comedy and tragedy into a “concept of heroism” that “encompasses the full range of human experience—birth, struggle, death, and resurrection. ” In which each and every one of us can relate to. In the eighth symphony, Beethoven has mixed fantasy, comedy, struggle, and divinity to convey what it means to be a human.

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