Since the purpose of this essay is to compare two pieces of music to a literature passage, I decided to apply the following methodology to this assignment - Compare essay introduction. First of all, I carefully chose the two musical pieces that I found appealing and inspirational. Both of them are authored by Beethoven — the genius among the classic composers and the man I truly and wholeheartedly admire.
The first piece of music that was chosen is The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, op. 73, composed between 1809 and 1811, also known as Emperor Concerto. Since it was his last piano concerto, it is widely believed to represent the peak of his mastery of this genre. The piece consists of classical three movements, namely allegro, adagio un poco mosso, and rondo (allegro ma non troppo). The second piece chosen for the analysis is the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 ‘Choral’ written in 1824. It is Beethoven’s last complete symphony, and the tragic mark of finiteness and demise is characteristic of this work, yet coupled with deep wisdom and strong intellectual touch.
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By the time Beethoven composed this symphony, he was almost completely deaf. However, he kept his unique vision and feeling of the music, and hearing impairment only enhanced his tragic genius.
The symphony features the use of human voice in the forth movement when soloists and a chorus sing Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ That was unusual of symphonic musical pieces of that time; yet it is one of the reasons why the Symphony No. 9 is considered one of the most prominent masterpieces in the history of world music and was made the official anthem of the European Union.
The symphony consists of four movements, namely allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso; molto vivace; adagio molto e cantabile; and recitative. Another innovation by Beethoven, apart from the use of human voice, was placing scherzo movement before the slow movement. Thus, while the symphony follows the classical pattern, it is revolutionary and novel at the same time.
Comparing The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major and the Symphony No. 9, it is hard not to notice some obvious differences. It would be a mistake to attribute them to the mere fact that the composer’s hearing abilities were different at the time he composed these two pieces. The Piano Concerto No. 5 does not break away from the musical tradition of those times; Beethoven conveys his message using the traditional means and within the conventional framework. This piece of music makes listeners contemplate about their everyday lives and the simple rhythm of all the natural process, like the coming of spring after long and cold wintered, followed by a good summer for the crops and contemplative, meditative autumn.
The Symphony No. 9 is different; it is full of tragic, larger-than-life passions. It makes listeners think about life as a miracle and grandeur that is hard to comprehend for the earthy living beings. It calls upon listeners to think of life as a struggle, full of dilemmas and complexities. Yet this struggle is the only thing in the world that can give a sense of living the life to its full extent and pushing the limits of the human nature.
Listening to these two pieces makes me think of one of my favorite stories by O. Henry, ‘The Gift of the Magi.’ The story opens with the following lines:
‘One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas’ (O. Henry, 1997, p. 191).
While it is obvious that Della is in a very desperate situation and has no money to buy a present for her significant other, the mood of the story is not hysterical. It has strong associations with the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 5 and calls for a visualization of snow falling in the windows and Della sitting there by a fireplace and thinking about her life and her love. Her beloved one, James, also does not have the money to buy a present for her. As they start wondering what they should do and looking for a solution, the story reminds of the last two movements of the Piano Concerto No. 5.
As the story approaches it climax, it starts reminding the Symphony No. 9; just like the symphony, it is full of unexpected twists and passages. Della sells her hair to buy a beautiful chain for James’s watch, while James’s sells his watch to buy a set of combs for her girlfriend. As tragic as it may seem, the story still celebrates life with all its challenges and complexities, just like the Symphony No. 9 does. The scene when the loving couple realizes the misfortunate turn of events but still reassure each other of everlasting love carries strong associations with ‘Ode to Joy’ from the Symphony No. 9.
O. Henry. The Gift of the Magi. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.