Mack Williams column: Beethoven live

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 1, 2020

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post

Whenever Beethoven’s music is heard in person, on TV, radio or recordings, he lives again.

My son, Jeremy, plays oboe in the Danville Symphony, and they performed an all-Beethoven concert on Oct. 25 for the public in an open-air (as amphitheaters generally are) amphitheater. In its open-airness, it was like Pops at the Post. Beethoven isn’t “pop,” but he’s very popular.

Distancing and masks were observed by concertgoers. However, the woodwind and brass instruments didn’t have mutes, or water keys (spit valves) catheterized and connected to something resembling urine bags. Gosh, memories of my hip replacement surgery days do stick with me.

Beethoven’s music was reflected off of a grassy knoll, nearby buildings, the waters of the Dan River, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it faintly reached the clouds. That famous “dot,dot,dot,dash” of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony might feebly touch space itself, where its sound will end, as we know from the movie “Alien” (1979): “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Although, that statement might seem more applicable to Richard Wagner’s music than Beethoven’s.

But most importantly, Beethoven’s music was bouncing off the concert audience’s ears and entering their brains. The last time our local symphony performed publicly was in February, and even then, when I afterwards tried to shake the conductor’s hand, he chose to bump elbows with me.

Symphony conductors often mention little-known, interesting things about the composers, such as literally translated, “Ludwig van Beethoven” means “Ludwig from the beet garden.” When Beethoven’s and Schubert’s remains were exhumed in 1888 for removal to Vienna’s main cemetery, the composer Anton Bruckner made sure to be there. Bruckner had a morbid bent, and after handling and kissing Beethoven’s and Schubert’s skulls, he was asked to set them down. Our conductor didn’t mention this strange fact, although I would have, but that’s just me.

My mother, Lorraine Williams, bought me a vinyl collection of Beethoven’s nine symphonies sometime after my father Bernard Williams’ passing. Late at night, in my room of my boyhood home on Old Concord Road, I would listen to, and direct them (after a fashion); so, I know many of them from beginning to end.

Beethoven’s Fifth was on the program; and when first performed in 1808, someone was overwhelmed by its novelty and had to be carried out of the concert hall. I was sitting with my daughter, Rachel, (six feet away) at our local concert. During the performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, I didn’t become hysterical, but if I began humming along and flailing my arms like a conductor, Rachel would have had to give me a gentle kick.

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