The Winter Celebration
[Editors Note: Last year, I reposted this as an antedote to Bush. Well, this year we have Obama who, by not being Bush, was awarded the Nodel peace prize. Upon being told this, he immediately set to work devising a way to emulate Bush by escalating in Afghanistan (Iraq would be plagarism, after all). Anyway, there does not seem to be as much Christmas "Cheer" this year, but there is still a need for the reminder. Also, at least one radio station, streaming online, will spend all of next week playing nothing but Beethoven. That's right, in Blagojevitch's home town. At least there is something to look forward to.)
This time of the year, especially this year, leaves less and less to celebrate. In fact, there is hardly and reason to celebrate anything anymore. There may be a few happy moments here and there, but the senseless killing that continues leaves no ritualistic period untouched. This particular week, we have seen only stock market reports and airline delays as well as major highway shutdowns and deaths on our interstate highway system, all precipitated by a few days off for those fortunate enough to still remain employed during which they are obligated out of habit to spend money they do not have to send things to people they have no real use for and whom they would just as soon never see again.
One wonders how many Beethovens, or potential Beethovens, or great artists have either been killed by war or aborted by poverty or economics. This winter solstice is the anniversary of Beethovin's premire performance of his fifth symphony, and his sixth, as well as his fourth piano concerto, all at the same concert, with Beethoven as conductor and pianist. How often in the history of the universe does a phenomenon such as that occur? Yet I know of no mass celebration of what is clearly one of the greatest accomplishments of humanity. Beethoven spent his life yearning for international peace and brotherhood and eventually expressed in in his 9th symphony which you may hear this season, complete with the text of Schiller's "Ode to Joy". I shudder to think how many people may sit through a performance of it out of a sense of duty.
Is it too much to believe that such accomplishments can be paralled? In 1595, in England alone, perhaps 100,000 people were able to read and write English, and this is being generous. Out of this came Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Nash, Greene, Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon, and many others whose literature survives and lives to this day. Imagine any city or town with a population of 100,000 and imagine what would come out of it today? In addition, at that time, 95% of everything written was written in Latin, the remaining 5% in the various "living languages." The King James version of the Bible was to follow as was John Milton.
And it was not a matter of these people, these great artists, being unrecognized in their own time. Beethoven himself was widely praised, most prominently by Haydn who had also praised Mozart. However, Goethe and Beethoven were reportedly walking together down a street and passersby would wave. Goethe lightly ovserved that these people should stop flattering him with the recognition and Beethoven reportedly asked "How do you know they are not waving at me?" There was no contradiction.
So we can think of Goethe and Beethoven, Shakespeare and Spenser, and look for our modern parallels. Perhaps Nietzsche was right when he said that Darwin had it wrong, that "survival of the mediocre" is the rule. Even more of a warning is the thought that they both were right -- the fittest are the mediocre.