A Faith Lesson From A Symphony

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Today I am excited to be having one of my older sisters, Mary, guest post on Fullness of Joy! Do not forget to close the music playlist at the bottom of the page before playing the music videos in this post :). Enjoy!
via Pinterest
Hello everyone, I’m so glad to be writing to you on my dear sister’s, Joy’s, blog. I recently finished a Theory of Music exam. It’s amazing how much I learned from and enjoyed the material that I studied. The first two movements of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony were one of the things that I had to study and make an analysis of. I enjoyed it so much, and learned a lot too. So please play the tracks as you read about the great background and history behind the composing of one of the greatest Symphonies in history.

In the early 1800s, the great composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, became aware that he was going deaf. He struggled with feelings of isolation and despair. At times, only his art sustained him. Around the same time, he spoke of searching for a “new way” of expressing himself in his compositions. Shortly after these events, he began work on his 3rd Symphony, which he eventually named Sinfonia Eroica (Heroic Symphony). The title suggests that the Symphony has a subject – the celebration of a hero – and expresses in music the ideal of heroic greatness. It was originally to be titled Sinfonia Bonaparte in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Beethoven at first considered to be the ideal and hero of the French Revolution. But according to his student Ferdinand Ries, when Beethoven heard that Napoleon had crowned Himself Emperor, he angrily tore up the title page, disillusioned when his idol proved to be an ambitious ruler on the way to become a tyrant, and exclaimed, “He is nothing more than an ordinary being! Now even he will trample over human rights, to serve his own vanity; he will now place himself above all others and become a tyrant!”  It has been said that the heroism that this symphony depicts is Beethoven’s own: that it represents his experience of being almost overpowered by affliction, fighting against despair, and winning back his will to create. The symphony has no real precedent in terms of its length, intensity, thematic richness, and “obstinate assertion of individual imagination”.
The first movement encapsulates this story of challenge, struggle, and final victory. The main theme serves as a protagonist, denoting a heroic character. In its first appearance, it trails off, or sinks down in doubt and insecurity suggesting an inner weakness. Over the course of the movement, the theme undergoes a number of transformations, as it strives upwards, tumbling back down, and by the end achieving a new form that’s no longer falling at the end but sustained in its high note as a sign of final triumph . Like Beethoven, in his personal crisis, the theme emerges from its struggle triumphant but changed by the experience.
The second movement is a funeral march with slow tempo and sombre mood. It has strong links to France during the Republic, with which Beethoven had great sympathy. France and Austria were invaded by Napoleon. So there was war and strife, turmoil and grief. This makes the funeral march very appropriate and personal. The main theme which reoccurs frequently throughout the movement is very sorrowful and sombre. The double bass often has triplets and ornamental notes which depict the roll of a muffled drum used in the Revolutionary processions that accompanied heroes to their final resting place, or perhaps resembles the tread of many feet stepping forward at a cruelly slow speed. Beethoven offers some consolation amidst the grief with a second theme that’s warmer and less intense. There is also a section that has the character of a Revolutionary hymn. The movement also reflects the inner turmoil Beethoven felt with the knowledge of his growing deafness.

As I was thinking about this symphony, and  looked at it and the history behind it, some things just struck me and I’d like to share them with you.

Let’s try to place ourselves in Beethoven’s place at that particular time of his life. Here he was, a great musician, and realizing and having to come to terms with the devastating fact the he was growing deaf. You can imagine the depth of his despair, hopelessness, and isolation. He could have just given up, and said what point is there in going on and composing? But he didn’t. He instead chose to hear his music with his inner ear and in his heart and was sustained by his art and made it a new way to express himself.

Even more so, when we look at the political circumstances of his time- Revolutions, wars, invasions, bloodshed, inhumanity and uncertainty. It was a time of strife, turmoil and grief. These events were definitely very upsetting to him and his ideals of liberty and his intolerance to injustice. Yet these were the very conditions and circumstances that influenced, inspired and became the means for the composing of one of the greatest and unprecedented Symphonies in history  

I’m sure we can all draw a faith lesson from all this. Just like Beethoven, we all find ourselves in circumstances that seem despairing and hopeless. We too are often surrounded by turmoil, disappointment, grief, and conflict. Or we might be facing spiritual struggles or conflicts in our own daily walk with the Lord. When God allows such circumstances to come our way, we have two choices - to give up hope, despair and question God’s providence, or choose to take hold of his promises and press on and by His grace emerge through triumphant and stronger through our experiences. Let us take our troubles to the Lord, let us cast them all on Him. Let us believe that He is at work in the world and in each of our lives. He can take whatever the circumstances and transform them, use them and even make them the means to the wonderful and glorious work that He has planned for our lives. He is the Master Creator, Master Craftsman, Master Redeemer, Master Healer and Provider, He is our great and wonderful Master, our Lord Jesus Christ. We may not always see His plan or purpose or even His work at all, but just as Beethoven wrote this great Symphony one note at a time, God’s purpose and work is done one step at a time. He is faithful who promised. He who began a good work in us will complete it. It may not be big and dramatic, but even the seemingly small and insignificant things of our everyday life are as important in the light of eternity. So I pray that listening to the Eroica Symphony and reading behind the scene would be a source of blessing to you as it has been to me. God bless you. 


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About Mary:
I'm the second eldest of four girls (Sarah, Joy and Grace), living in Queensland, Australia with my dear family. I am a homeschool graduate and am currently studying music (piano and theory) by correspondence and enjoy it very much. I love the Lord Jesus so much and long to glorify Him in my life and grow in Him; He has saved me by His precious blood and made me His own! I'm trusting the Lord to guide me in my future, wherever it will lead. I really love playing the piano, and other instruments such as violin and flute as well as studying theory. When I'm not doing a music related activity, I enjoy home-making, cooking/baking, sewing, needlework, listening to audio dramas and watching wholesome movies with my sisters and spending time with my family and with sisters in Christ.

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