Beethoven (in 1804)
by W.J. Mähler

Notes to Poem:

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: On Friday, March 13, 2009, I attended a Symposium "Evolution, Cognition, and the Arts" at the Stanford Humanities Center. In the afternoon session "Music and the Brain", Professors Jonathan Berger and Daniel Levitin spoke about expectation and surprise in music. Jonathan Berger mentioned a paper by Marvin Minsky citing the opening four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as the most recognizable piece of music. In my poem "Paris Opera", I wrote about Bach's Cantata: Sleepers Awake and "Wake up!" While writing Notes to this poem, it suddenly dawned upon me that Beethoven's opening four notes to his Fifth Symphony was a wake up call to Cosmic Consciousness of Enlightenment. Hence the birth of this poem.

Commentary on "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony"

Most famous four notes
in music: Beethoven's Fifth

Marvin Minsky's paper "Music, Mind, and Meaning" (Computer Music Journal, Fall 1981, Vol. 5) cited Beethoven's opening of his Fifth Symphony as the most famous four notes in music. It's unforgettable once you hear it. Andor Kovach pointed out to Minsky "that composers do not dare use this simple, four-note motive any more. So memorable was Beethoven's treatment that now an accidental hint of it can wreck another piece by unintentionally distracting the Listener." (Listen; YouTube: Toscanni) The Pittsburgh Post Gazette (October 26, 2006) has an interesting article "Fate knocks: Beethoven's Fifth is still up for Interpretation" summarizing how different conductors treat this monumental composition.

the Morse Code for "V"—
Victory in the war!

The Morse code is a type of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a given message. The short and long elements can be formed by sounds, marks, or pulses, in on off keying and are commonly known as "dots" and "dashes" or "dits" and "dahs". The symphony, and the four-note opening motif in particular, are well known worldwide, with the motif appearing frequently in popular culture, from disco to rock and roll, to appearances in film and television. During World War II, the BBC used the four-note motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to announce Prime Minister Winston Churchill's radio news broadcasts because it evoked the Morse code letter "V"
(, "victory").

Fate knocking on the door—
Grim Reaper is calling!

The initial motif of the symphony has sometimes been credited with symbolic significance as a representation of Fate knocking at the door. This idea comes from Beethoven's secretary and factotum Anton Schindler, who wrote, many years after Beethoven's death: The composer himself provided the key to these depths when one day, in this author's presence, he pointed to the beginning of the first movement and expressed in these words the fundamental idea of his work: "Thus Fate knocks at the door!" Schindler's testimony concerning any point of Beethoven's life is disparaged by experts (he is believed to have forged entries in Beethoven's conversation books). Another version on the same motif is from Antony Hopkins's description of the symphony. Karl Czerny (Beethoven's pupil, who premiered the Emperor Concerto) claimed that "the little pattern of notes had come to Beethoven from a yellow-hammer's song, heard as he walked in the Prater-park in Vienna." (Wikipedia)

the four directions of Space
blowing in the wind.

Music is played in time while painting is exhibited in space. The cardinal points, North, South, East, West, shown on the compass, symbolize the four directions of space. These points are invoked by Native Americans in their Prayer to the Great Spirit. Albrecht Dürer has drawn the Four Winds in the corners of a world map in his etchings. Here is a web site "Beethoven in Space": (1) The twin Voyager probes were launched into space in 1977 to study the atmosphere and magnetic fields of planets. They also contained a copper disc containing messages for other civilizations after the probes leave our solar system. Included on the disc is the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (2) On the planet Mercury near its equator is a crater 660 kilometers in diameter that has been given the name Beethoven. (3) On December 16, 1999, the 229th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, a supernova flared up with strong gamma waves of energy. It was given the name "Beethoven Burst" that is 10 million light years away.

the four seasons of Time
sing of the Eternal.

The four seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, symbolize the flow of time as the earth revolve around the sun. This theme has been celebrated in music of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons (1723) and in the Lerner & Loewe's Broadway musical Camelot (1960). Robert Goulet's as Lancelot sang "If Ever I Would Leave You" contrasting the four seasons and concluding that he could never leave. Walter Crane's The Masque of the Four Seasons shows four allegorical women in seasonal attire. In Chapter 21 of The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran writes about Time: "And is not time even as love is, undivided and paceless? But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons, And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future in longing." Because Dante's love for Beatrice was pure and undivided, he was able to soar to paradise beyond time and experience the Eternal. (Dante's Cosmic Vision)

the fourth state chanting
OM— "Be Awake!"

This exhortation of "Wake up!" is not waking up from sleep to our ordinary daytime activities. It is waking up to Buddha (The Awakened One) or Cosmic Consciousness. Mandukya Upanishad (circa 500 B.C.) delineates the four states of consciousness: waking, dream, sleep, turiya. This "fourth state" turiya or Pure Consciousness, symbolized by OM or AUM, is the essence or substratum of the waking, dream, and deep sleep states. It is unchanging and timeless. Beethoven who was familiar with The Upanishads may had this in mind when he composed the opening of his Fifth Symphony with the distinctive four-note "short-short-short-long" motif: "dun-dun-dun-DUN!". I believe the last long and louder note represents the fourth state of consciousness— Beethoven is telling us to "WAKE UP!" to Enlightenment! In Lewis Lockwood's Beethoven: The Music and the Life (2003), Beethoven composed his only song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte" ("To the Distant Beloved") for voice & piano, Op. 98 (1816) based on a poem of Viennese Jewish medical student, Alosis Jeitteles. At one point Jeitteles's poem sounds a strange note:

Denn vor Liebesklang entweichet
Jeder Raum und jede Zeit
For at the sound of love's singing
all space and time vanishes.
It is notable as well that in his Tagebuch of these years (1812-1818), Beethoven copied passages from Eastern religious texts referring to the timelessness of mystical experience. (pp. 344-346, 531). In Beethoven's Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, (J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London & Toronto, 1926, pp. 393-394), Beethoven wrote this document based on The Upanishads published in Jena (1816):
God is immaterial; as he is invisible he can therefore have no form. But from what we are able to see in His Works we conclude that he is eternal, almighty, omniscient and omnipresent. The mighty one alone is free from all desire and passion. There is no greater than He, Brahm: his mind is self-existent. He, the Almighty, is present in every part of space. His omniscience is self-inspired, and His conception includes every other. Omniscience is the greatest of his all-embracing attributes. O God!— you have no threefold being and are independent of everything, you are the true, eternal, blessed, unchangeable light of all time and space. Your wisdom apprehends thousands of laws, but you always act of your own free will and to your honour. You were before everything that we worship. We owe you praise and adoration. You alone are the true Blessed, the best of all laws, the image of all wisdom. You are present throughout the whole world and sustain all things. Sun, Ether, Brahma. [The translator J.S. Shedlock notes that Beethoven drew a line through the last three words.] (See: Beethoven & Indian Philosophy) Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was composed in 1804-1808, when German texts of Hindu philosophy were available [Das brahmanische Religionssystem (The Brahmanic religious system) (1797)] [Maynard Solomon, Beethovens Tagebuch 1812-1818, p. 57]. Whether he had access to Hindu metaphysics or not, Beethoven probably had a direct mystical experience while composing his Eroica Symphony #3 (1804). Thus he climbed out of his suicidal depression (Heiligenstadt Testament, Oct. 6, 1802) and broke new grounds in symphonic music. That's why I believe Beethoven had an awakening experience so he could compose those four shattering opening notes of his Fifth Symphony to wake us up.

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