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Eroica: How I met Beethoven’s Third September 19, 2009

Posted by Matsu in Japan, Music, Random.
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As I was saying, just before I took a break from my blog, Beethoven’s Third Symphony is by far my favorite of all of his symphonies. Why? I’m glad you asked. I want to tell you the story of how I fell in love with the Eroica Symphony.

Title Page of the Eroica Symphony

Title Page of the Eroica Symphony

As some of you know, I grew up in Japan. I was born in America, but my parents took me to Japan when I was only about six months old. Being a native speaker of the English language had its advantages in a land where many of the young professionals aspire to learn to speak English. And, to the advantage of many teenagers in my day, most of the Japanese professionals who studied English had all of the book-learning they needed but they lacked the ability to properly pronounce English words. They needed help with their pronunciation. The best way to do that was to pay an American kid (at kid’s wages) to practice spoken English. So, at approximately $25 per hour, I worked a couple of hours a week with a thirty-something Japanese businessman who struggled to speak English in a way that American’s could understand.

From time to time, I was asked to record a reading of some book or manuscript (usually a presentation of some sort to be delivered at an international conference) so the “student” of mine could then play it over and over while practicing their own pronunciation of the text.

Cassette Tape

Cassette Tape (Side A)

One day, when I was about 16 years old, the person who I was giving English speaking lessons to asked me to read and record the play, Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. That particular play was a favorite of the person I was instructing at the time. And, as often happened, he provided me with a used cassette tape to use for the recording. I had done this many times before, so it all seemed very commonplace to me at that time.

A few days after getting the recording assignment I placed the used cassette tape into my tape recorder and rather than start recording right away, I hit the play button. I’m not sure if it was a matter of curiosity or just a habit from playing so many tapes (at that time all of my music mixes were on cassette tapes, so I was playing them all the time).

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

What surprised me was the sound of an orchestra playing something that I didn’t recognize. After just a few bars, I was hooked. I let it play all the way through, which meant that I listened to the entire first side (side A) and flipped it over to listen to the other side. As it played, I was mesmerized. It just got better and better as it played. And, if you know Beethoven’s Third, it ends strong. That ending really got to me. I took the tape out and made note of the handwritten label that read, “Eroica.”

After listening to the tape a couple more times, I decided to keep the old tape and recorded my reading of the Death of a Salesman on a new cassette tape (something the student didn’t mind since I exchanged a new tape for his old used one). And, that’s how I met Beethoven’s Third.

You must understand, as a teenager I was not “into” classical music. Sure, I’d heard various classical pieces and had even been to the Tokyo Philharmonic Symphony to hear them play (it was required, not my choice). But my preferred type of music at that age was totally contemporary. Some of my favorite bands at the time were bands like America, Genesis, Eagles, Chicago, Boston, and Moody Blues (isn’t it funny that bands took on American cities for their name?). Okay, Dan Sims, I’ll admit that I also had a Bread album or two, but I didn’t listen to them that much! I mostly listened to 70’s rock and roll. So, it was really surprising to me that I actually enjoyed this random piece of classical music.

I can’t explain it, but even to this day when I hear even just a part of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, my ears perk up and I recognize it. If you are not familiar with it, you can listen to the entire 3rd symphony on YouTube. The two embedded videos below are the two halves of the same symphony. If you only listen to one, you might choose the second half (though I really like the opening few bars of the first half – it grabs you with the first note and after that it’s just a wonderful ride). Enjoy!

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Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony – Part 1:

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony – Part 2:

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Comments»

1. Maria - September 21, 2009

I read about Beethoven’s 3rd–apparently, it marks the beginning of a new style for him, and the onset of his deafness. It is beautiful. I’m glad you blogged about it. I also have never been “into” classical music, but being married to Dr. Bacchus, that can’t last. 😉

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