Ludwig van Beethoven: Marcia Funebre — 1804

spin_beethoven.gifMusic also serves as a type of tool or real-time soundtrack to our lives.

 

 

 

In previous columns of The Spin Room I have put forth the proposition that music, although lovely in its own right, can become all the more meaningful in relation to where we are in our lives and what we are experiencing. For instance, there are songs, albums or artist that are intertwined with certain moments of our lives. Be they in regards to a relationship of yesteryear, a summer of childhood, or of a loved one departed, certain music can serve as a painful reminder or a welcome visit from a time out of our own lives.

In the present, music also serves as a type of tool or real-time soundtrack to our lives. If one is going for a run, the chances of Simon and Garfunkel being the soundtrack music may be a bit low. Conversely, if one is having dinner company over, Iron Maiden might not be the best choice. This past weekend I found myself needing music to listen to while watching the funeral Mass and public mourning of Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Politics aside, this was a meaningful passing for me because Teddy and my father were both diagnosed with terminal cancer around the same time, but my father beat Teddy to the punch by about two months.

With that said, had I been looking for music for individual grief and personal mourning I may have turned to Beethoven as well and gone to his Pathetique Piano Sonata. However, with something on a grander scale and a public mourning (fitting with the lines of people paying their final respects), I immediately found myself going to the Second Movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the "heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man").

The Second Movement, entitled Marcia Funebre, is a funeral march and a terribly moving one at that. With the slow beginning of this piece, you can imagine the crowd of mourners slowly shuffling toward the Mass in their grief under gray skies. The double basses seem to take up the role of the dry snare drums often heard at public or military funerals. They sound to be played with no vibrato, which, instead of helping the sound "sing out," lets it die rather muffled in a sense. High strings and flute enter before a fugue-like section begins, which paints the mourner’s wails spreading from one individual to another; the double basses pick up the mourning and it all builds quite powerfully before ebbing back dramatically, only to flow into another outpouring of grief with all participating. With the arrival of a dominant suspended chord played by strings and flutes, the hearse slowly rolls past those lining the path and a certain sense of relief and awe is felt as the chord resolves. All of this in the first three minutes of the piece.

Beethoven, as great writers know, does not keep up this very heavy pace dripping with sadness for the entire piece. It yields to more light-hearted moments in which one envisages the mourners reflecting upon the life of the deceased and temporarily being consumed with the joy of knowing what they have experienced as opposed to dwelling on what they have lost. As those who have mourned know, the grief does return in waves, although intense and sometimes brief, though with time the waves tend to get smaller and farther apart.

Although Beethoven published this heroic symphony 205 years ago, it is simply overwhelming not only how beautiful this Second Movement is, but how relevant it is as well. We all sadly enough must experience such loss as we live, and sometimes, having the right music there along with us reminds us that we are not alone. There are others like us who have lost and are suffering right beside us; hearing them may help us hear ourselves, and help us heal. | Andy Powell

This article was originally published in The Times-Standard.

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