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Roll On, Beethoven

The fate of the famous in this postmodern and even campy time is problematical. The multicultural agenda is not considerate of the distinguished or of distinctions, and "diversity" imposes quotas on what we may be permitted to admire, to enjoy, or even to know. What's more, "the melting of forms" characteristic of the 20th century can hardly play to the benefit of one who was so formally obsessed as Ludwig van Beethoven was. These are only some of the reasons why a topic seemingly so obvious as Beethoven is not so obvious, after all.

And there are other reasons. The trivialization of greatness through overfamiliarity and through the mass production that creates a mass culture leads not only to condescension but to contempt and resentment. Charles Schulz's comic strip character Schroeder, who idolized Beethoven and played him on a toy piano, was a figure not so much of hopeless admiration as of befuddlement before the heroic and embarrassment before the sublime. Words such as universal and even composer are today contested sites. A cultured lady trained in ballet, and whose sister is a violinist, told me the other day that she listens to hip-hop, because classical music is strictly for elevators. Yes, dignity is hard to maintain when your image adorns sweatshirts.

Dignity is also hard to maintain when everyone thinks, thanks to potted history, that he knows your life story. Bad Beethoven! You...

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