Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If your name was Ludwig, what would you do?

I learned something really amazing the other day from a friend of mine who is into music. Oark was not much of a musician. He played for the half time at a few football games. But he never was good enough to like, you know, play for the New York Symphony Orchestra or anything like that. On the theory that those who can't do teach, Oark saw himself as a scholar of music history. That was not the weird part. The weird part was, I saw Oark as a scholar of music history, too. What was even weirder was some of the theories he came up with. He told me about it over an Italian meal.

"Beethoven loathed his name," Oark said. There was a piece of lasagna impaled on the end of his fork which he waved around as he said it.

"Really," I exclaimed.

"Really," said Oark. "That's why he called his greatest piano sonata the Pathetique."

"I've always wondered about that." There was certainly nothing pathetic about the tune. It is one of the greatest musical masterpieces ever composed.

"He called it Pathetique because he couldn't stand his name," Oark continued.

"He did not like being called Ludwig?"

"Would you?"

I had to admit I would have a problem with people calling me Ludwig. That is probably because Ludwig is not my name. If my name was Ludwig that would go a long way toward dealing with any objections I might have.

"That's why he wrote all those symphonies," Oark said.

I was blown away. "Beethoven wrote symphonies because his name was Ludwig?"

"What would you do if your name was Ludwig?"

I hesitated to admit it, it was so embarrassing. "I would write symphonies," I said.

"There you go."

"But I would probably start out with advertising jingles for Madison Avenue," I hesitated to add. "Symphonies are complex. I would start with something simple. Sell chewing gum or something like that."

"That is what Ludwig did. Only he sold newspapers."

"Well, I'll be."

"He wrote the symphonies so he would have something pleasant to listen to."

"What a tragedy. The man hated his name that much," I said.

"He hated those advertising jingles for newspapers, too."

I felt sorry for him.

"He'd put his hands over his ears every time anyone called him Ludwig and and say 'For Wolf's sake, please don't call me that.'"

"For Wolf's sake?"

"Short for Wolfgang. He was Austrian so he couldn't say 'For Pete's sake.'"

"I can see how that would be a problem," I said. "So what did he want to be called?"

"The best information we have is, he was partial to Percy."

"Beethoven wanted to be called Percy?" I asked. I could not believe it.

"You heard it here first."

I had to walk away from that conversation. Everything I thought I knew about music was turning out to be noise and everything I thought I knew about noise was turning out to be music. I would never listen to The Moonlight Sonata the same way ever again. As a matter of fact, I might not ever listen to it at all.

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