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A Tribute to Ludwig Van Beethoven; Why He Was a Genius Musician and a Master in Composing

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Ludwig van Beethoven has long been lauded as a master composer and brilliant musician, completely deaf by the end of his life, yet still capable of feats in music surpassing those who came before him, and those that have come since. Very few, if any, would dispute the genius of Beethoven’s music. However, there is definite room for dispute on the portrayal of Beethoven’s genius in Bernard Rose’s Immortal Beloved (1994). The writer/director falls into the mythical archetype trap publicized by mass media, focusing on and magnifying the traits of the socially popular icon of genius without exploring the profile of the true genius in an effort to appease the societal demand for something that the public can recognize, understand, and conceivably identify with.

There are many typical traits that make up the popular perception of genius. He is a mentally unbalanced person and his temperament is easily aroused, often because of mental illness and/or substance abuse. He is lonely and isolated, deemed a social outcast either by the local community or by his own accord, and has troubled personal relationships. The person is born endowed with super-human talents and a natural panache for the selected field, essentially requiring no training. He also has a seemingly ethereal insight that seems to transcend personal experience. These last two notions of genius date back to ancient Greece, when Muses were thought to breathe creativity into men. It was in this manner that the superhuman and sublime characterization of genius was brought about (Daitch and Hoddeson 5). This conception has only been cultivated further in popular iconography by writers such as Mary Shelly and Edgar Allen Poe, and with mainstream movies like Good Will Hunting. Geniuses are characterized as untrained, unprivileged, nonconforming, outrageous, solitary, and emotionally unstable people, possessed by their creative powers rather than endowed with them. Their genius becomes a burden rather than a gift, and ultimately they are consumed and damned by the powers over which they brood.

Beethoven certainly embodies many of these qualities. His increasing deafness was the cause of a mounting isolation; not only was it forcing him into the life of a recluse, about which he was tremendously touchy and fierce, but it also caused him great bouts of depression. In a letter to a friend, Beethoven wrote, “I must confess that I lead a miserable life…as long as I live…I shall be God’s most unhappy creature…” (Jones 58). As for relationships, his were certainly troubled. Beethoven was known to keep the company of many women, though he had a nasty knack of becoming involved with women who were either firmly attached to another man or exhibited little or no feeling for him. Alexander Thayer, when speaking of the pattern in Beethoven’s relationships, said, “One all-absorbing but temporary passion, lasting until its object is married to a more favored lover, is forgotten in another destined to end in like manner, until, at length, all faith in the possibility of a permanent, constant attachment to one person is lost” (Solomon 207). Beethoven ended his life having never married.

Seeing how the aforementioned traits of Beethoven fit the mythical genius mold perfectly, one may have one’s doubts as to what exactly Bernard Rose portrayed inadequately in Immortal Beloved. However, rather than a sin of commission, his was a sin of omission. Though the information presented fitting the mold is historically accurate, it also presents only one half of the story. The characteristics described fulfill the popular stereotype of genius, but what is not addressed is the difference between the mythical archetype and the profile of the true genius, the one that lives, works, and breathes in the real world. The mythical archetype of genius does indeed have merit. It presents to the public a ‘hero,’ someone with whom we may identify or look up to. By classifying the things that mystify us, we are better able to comprehend them, and therefore accept them. However, the archetype alone, without the other side of the story, is only a half-truth, and is not sufficient to portray the true genius of Beethoven. The characteristics presented in Immortal Beloved are not necessarily the only distinctive features of neither genius nor were they necessarily the characteristics that were most evident in his life.

The profile of the true genius contains many additional traits, traits that are more pragmatic and less divine. Intelligence, passion, confidence, focus, and perseverance are just some of them. While Beethoven fulfills the popular archetype, he also, and more importantly, fulfills the profile of the true genius. For example, Beethoven was neither a super human talent, nor did he become what he was without any sort of training or study. His father Johann van Beethoven, a court tenor, was covetous of the success of the recent child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and was determined to produce out of Beethoven another. He drove six year old Ludwig mercilessly, making him stand for hours in front of the clavier, practicing through his tears. Often, when his father came home from the wine house late at night, he would drag Ludwig out of bed, and keep him at the pianoforte until morning (Burk 13, 14). As Benjamin Franklin said, “Genius without education is like silver in the mine” (Franklin sec 8). Like anything else of great value, genius requires hard work and diligence, which Beethoven certainly exemplified.

Beethoven’s intelligence, though the IQ test came about long after his time, can be estimated based upon school rankings, anecdotes, works written, and other such things from his first 26 years of life. After a correction to counter a regression towards the mean, his IQ stands to be a 165 on the Stanford-Binet Scale (Cox sec 7). The minimum IQ on this test to be considered genius is 142, ranking Beethoven 23 points above ‘genius.’ As for passion, it is obvious in his many loves that his emotions ran strong and ardent. In a quote from his letter to the unknown immortal beloved, Beethoven wrote, “Ah, wherever I am, there you are also–What a life!!! Thus!!! Without you . . . I can live only wholly with you or not at all . . . love me–today–yesterday–what tearful longings for you–my life–my all–Oh continue to love me–never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine ever mine ever ours” (Howitt 99, 100). If not passion motivating such statements, one can only wonder what else may.

Of perseverance in genius, Henry Austin wrote, “Genius, that power which dazzles mortal eyes/Is oft but perseverance in disguise” (Page 96 sec 1). When Beethoven was 28 years old, he began to go deaf. In a letter to his two brothers, Beethoven wrote, ” I could not bring myself to say to people, ‘Speak up, shout, for I am deaf.’ Alas! How could I possibly refer to the impairing of a sense which in me should be more perfectly developed than in other people…I was on the point of putting an end to my life – The only thing that held me back was my art” (Davies 45). In this way he showed perseverance – to have that sense which should have been most perfect in him of all people, and yet still march bravely on, if only for the sake of the music he had yet to write. In fact, by committing himself to his life and his music, he showed the confidence he had in his self worth; he felt not that he might have something to contribute, he felt that he did and would have things of great importance to bring to the world.

Having found that Beethoven did indeed fit both the mold of the mythical archetype as well as the true profile of the genius, the question at hand becomes why Rose chose to focus on and magnify those traits of the mythical archetype rather than the true profile. First, archetype should be defined. The word, originally coined by Carl Jung, is from the Greek archetypos, meaning “first of its kind.” Tami Cowden, author, wrote, “the characters whose stories survive from ancient times to the current day are those who ring true to the reader — those who evoke an emotional response. Carl Jung theorized that humans have a collective unconscious, ‘deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity…. a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas….’ This shared memory of experiences has resulted in a resonance of the concepts of hero and heroine that transcends time, place and culture” (Cowden sec 8). So, an archetype appeals to the viewer’s emotions. It represents what it is that the viewer wishes to attain or to identify with. It is an ideal example of a type, a glorified version of reality. This relates back to the appeal of our self-image, needs, and our universal desires, the want to be someone that is envied.

Rose’s portrayal of the mythical archetype is rather common, as well as to be expected. Popular film relies on universal appeal as a means of existence; it has to make a profit and be of some entertainment value to make its survival valid. By relying upon common archetypes it not only gives us a sense of recognition, it makes us comfortable with ourselves and with society as a whole. It gives us something to belong to and identify with. We as a society seek out that which we admire, recognize, and yearn for. Mainstream film has become a means of taking advantage of the basic human necessity for acceptance. We also as a society seek out answers to the things we cannot explain, and the archetype is the answer. It helps us to come to grips with the powers that are beyond our comprehension, the powers that drive existence. It is a cultural symbol, easy to remember and recognize. By creating archetypes according to our varying degrees of desire and perception, we provide classifications that we can personally identify with and belong to. These archetypes are promulgated by mass media, serving only to further entrench these ideas into the societal subconscious. By focusing on the mythical archetype of genius, Rose did nothing more than to follow the collective human unconscious. We are naturally drawn to these portrayals whether we are creating them or viewing them. Myth is what unites us to each other, and ultimately with the obscurity we seek to explore.

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A Tribute To Ludwig Van Beethoven; Why He Was A Genius Musician And A Master In Composing. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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