Beethoven And the Introvert
Celebrating our internal landscapes through the music of Beethoven.
Posted Dec 01, 2013
Introversion is a gift. For many, one’s internal landscape can echo with sounds of self-doubt and even shame. We all marvel at those who can make decisions quickly, live out loud, and by doing so seem to be rewarded. Many extroverts loathe an aural vacuum. They often make friends easily, are picked early in the lineup by kickball captains (or are captains themselves), and seem to suck the marrow out of every party, conversation, and relationship.
Introverts have fewer of these advantages. Their thoughts take time. Their friendships take time. For introverts, Time takes time, and marrow stays snugly where it belongs. Opinions are cupped gently and held close, as are emotions. Uncupped, they could be held up to scrutiny, or worse, ignored.
For the musician, or the dedicated listener, Beethoven teaches the value of alone-ness. He teaches this through the lens of self-reflection, as we come to a greater understanding of ourselves, the world, and our position in it.
My earliest memory was (oddly), the first of the opus 59 quartets. I say oddly, as this is a piece of tremendous depth, a piece a young boy really isn’t equipped to handle. A work that through its highly evolved sense of pacing and nuance was far beyond my 13 years. Nonetheless, I had a recording, and a score, and a willingness.
Opus 59 #1 was mine.
Beethoven invites us indoors. Where other composers put on a scarf and announce that we’re heading out, Beethoven sits us in our chair, shows us where we hurt, and reminds us that when the world fails, we have his voice. When we wonder if it’s all worth it, we can listen to the opus 74 quartet (the harp). We can listen in anticipation for the end of the first movement, a moment when the first violin, like a roman candle bursts through a series of arpeggios, introducing the 2nd violin, who in turn plays an affirming, deeply felt melody. Only, it isn’t really a melody at all, but rather a sentiment, a declaration of triumph, or an affirmation that in our internal spaces there are only easy places to rest.
Introverts can take all the time they need to formulate an opinion, because Beethoven (for the musician) has shown us the value of the long view.
Beethoven didn’t write melodies easily, in fact, unlike Schubert, he struggled with melodic writing. Actually, as often happens in the music of Beethoven, the listener rarely comes away with a singable tune, but rather an impression, a unique understanding of his/her human-ness, a glimpse into the divine. This happens through what are termed motifs, or a small bits of information that stand in for melodies.
Self-diagnosed introverts often define music (or art, or literature), as a companion. They carry these with them, either through an iPod, a E-reader, or some other medium. When faced with a difficult exchange with, say, a customer service rep, the introvert thinks of really clever comebacks long after the “end call” button has been pushed. If this is your experience, you could do worse than to I turn to the last movement of the 7th symphony and feel undefeatable.
For moments of sweet melancholy and intimate reflection, consider the achingly beautiful larghetto from the violin concerto. If you are thinking massive thoughts and have no one to share them with, consider the andante con moto from the 4th piano concerto, or the appassionata sonata for piano op. 57, and feel understood. When thoughts turn toward the ubermensch, can anything really replace the 9th symphony?
Was Beethoven an introvert? It’s difficult to say. He certainly had a keen sense of needing to be alone, as he would take long thoughtful walks through woods around Vienna, scratching in his notebook. By most accounts, he was a difficult man, lacking in social glue. Friendships were hard won. Fools were rarely suffered gladly. Given his loss of hearing, it’s easy to imagine a degree of introversion. He felt misunderstood as a man and as an artist, and although he knew true love (his immortal beloved), he only gave it, and evidently never knew its warm embrace.
The music of Beethoven understands your introversion, and lays a banquet for you, as it does for all man/womankind. Embrace it, relish its fullness, and be very glad that you, unlike many of your extroverted colleagues, have reliable, predictable filters.