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This is day 21 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

bauble_small.jpgIf there’s one nationality Beethoven simply couldn’t be, it’s Australian. Nothing and no-one could be further than him from the warm, down-to earth, tell-it-like-it is nature of the Australians. So I was really shocked to find that one of my favourite Australians Gilly Cornish was just mad about Beethoven. (Australians are my favourite people, though Gilly pointed out that I shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from that – since all the ones I liked had left Australia).

Although there are a few bits of his music that I quite like, 95% of it annoys me. Maybe it’s the baggage it comes with: it’s ‘Beethoven’ rather than Beethoven that I don’t like, as Richard Taruskin would put it. Even when I was a teenager in the 1970s, you couldn’t escape the overwhelming, overbearing presence of Beethoven in musicology and music training: popular music was crap because it didn’t have Beethoven’s grammatical and discursive surface, and every composer after him was considered as an aberration or poor relation of this thundering, nitpicking, teutonic pedant. There was only one approach to studying Beethoven’s music, and that was mindless, uncritical adulation. He was God, and you weren’t allowed to ask why he made you suffer.

Nonetheless, I used to warm-up on Beethoven sonatas before classes (he’s useful for some things) and sometimes Gilly would come and sit in the studio to listen, enraptured and transported instantly by his music in a way which I am not. And since playing for class is about playing music that moves other people, I taught myself through Gilly to like Beethoven, so I could play something as a special treat for her when she did John O’Brien‘s classes on a Saturday afternoon.

Almost nothing he wrote is any use for ballet classes – there’s something too cerebral, too fast, too wordy, too unyielding about it (I think he must have been like Dr Alan Statham from Green Wing in real life). However, the last movement of the Emperor concerto is almost perfect music for medium allegro or batterie, and it also happens to be one of the bits of Beethoven that I truly like, having grown up listening to a recording of it as a child, before the Beethovenists had a chance to spoil him for me. And even if didn’t like it, the memory of the look on Gilly’s face as the opening notes sounded would be enough to make me love it.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist