Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Beethoven's Birthday

Beethoven's Birthday?

When I was a standard six student (12 years old), I used to read Dewan Pelajar, an educational Malay magazine published by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka for young students. I enjoyed playing its crossword puzzle and reading the short articles in there. Later as I was older I progressed to the more heavy Dewan Masyarakat and Dewan Sastera, being particularly fond of the latter.

I remember reading an issue of Dewan Pelajar which contained a calendar for December with pictures of famous historical personality corresponding to their birthdays. I was delighted to find out that the picture for December 16 was Ludvig Van Beethoven. As a kid then, I felt rather proud sharing the same birthday with the great German composer.

At that time my knowledge about Beethoven was scant and I wasn't very familiar with his music yet. But I thought his dishevelled hair and gruff demeanour looked pretty cool. I began to read up more about him, and paid particular attention to his compositions.

My earliest introduction to his music came from piano pieces which my neighbours used to practice daily. "Fur Elise" composed by Beethoven was a particularly popular piece. I was also lucky to be able to pick up a bit of piano skills later on myself and was quite fond of playing Beethoven's many Sonatinas.

However years later I was dismayed when I found out from an encyclopedia that his birthdate is actually 17 December 1770. Was Dewan Pelajar wrong? I did not share the same birthday with him after all!

I did not leave the matter to rest. When I was in the university, I dug up all the books I could about Beethoven from the library. At last the mystery cleared: Beethoven was actually baptized in the church on the 17th of December--there are church records to prove that. But that did not indicate that he was born on that day itself. The usual practice then was for babies to be baptized a day after they were born.

So in the end, no one knows for sure when exactly is Beethoven's birthday. In all probability it is 16th of December. The Dewan Pelajar I read when I was 12 wasn't exactly wrong after all!

It didn't really matter. Until today I've always assumed that Beethoven and I share some spiritual bond. In my CD collection are his 9 symphonies--considered a treasure of humanity--and his 32 piano sonatas. I even took the trouble to "read" the musical scores of his symphonies and sonatas to better appreciate them.

Beethoven is a great source of inspiration to me. His deafness--the greatest curse to befall a musician--did not stop him from composing some of his greatest works, including the famous 9th Symphony, also known as Ode to Joy. His music contains great technical innovations and deep sublime beauty. My life has been enriched, inspired and touched in so many ways by his life and works.

Long Live the music and memory of Beethoven!

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