There resounds a proverbial question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound as it falls?” Capricious as this query may appear I have had occasion to entertain just such a notion when, as a youth, I found an exploratory journey down a deep wood’s path abruptly halted by the greeting of an enormous fallen tree. The colossal obstacle lay across my path and presented itself a motionless, silent guardian that protected that which lay beyond from my further intrusion. What a monumental disturbance must have been witnessed by the forest as this giant came crashing down! I wondered how the tree came to be there in the first place or what of the countless forms of life that had sprang forth from its protective purview over the decades of the tree’s history. I wondered what might have led to the demise of the strong anchoring system that had so obviously sustained the uprightness of this tower for so long. Not to mention what a scurry for life itself must have taken place by the multitude of creatures that were no doubt within the danger zone as tons of falling wood rushed earthward. Notwithstanding the magnitude of this event and the obvious lasting effects that resulted, I still wondered if “the falling tree had made a sound?”
When the life of Ludwig van Beethoven first encroached upon my path, much the same sensation was experienced. No doubt I had heard of the composer’s name, but then so had I foreknowledge of trees, both fallen as well as standing ones. However, what of this particular composer. Had I ever entertained conversation with him? Had I known of his particular work, achievements, or failures? What difference had been made by this long extinguished life, at least where I was concerned? So here I stood. Yet another fallen giant before me in an apparently posture of complete silence leaving me to contemplate what, if any, true sound had been made as it fell.
Every inquiry has its beginnings and Beethoven’s began in Bonn, Germany on December 16, 1770 (Cross 45). Though he had somewhat of a musical heritage with both his father and grandfather being performers themselves, it appears to have been that the emotion of greed more probably served as the conduit for molding of the youth. Johaan Beethoven, Ludwig’s drunkard father, had become aware that his son possessed musical talent. Though apparently not particular…
…curried for cover and sun-light, no longer blocked out, reached new areas of the forest floor, resulting in a host of new life being brought forth from the decaying carcass of the wooden giant. Until I encountered the tree, no difference had been made to me. Yet now, as I could not pass by, the course I took was now forever altered. From this perspective I can truly say that, though I was not present at the time of the event, either in the case of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven or in the falling of the great tree, I am now aware and thus truly affected by both.
Milton Cross and David Ewen (1962). Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc.
Alessandra Comini (1987). The Changing Image of Beethoven: A Study in Mythmaking. New York, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
Irving Kolodin (1975). The Interior Beethoven: A Biography of the Music. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knope.
Alfred Einstein (1969). A Short History of Music. (4th ed.) New York, New York: Alfred A. Knope.
Felix Greissle, eds. The International Library of Piano Music. (Album 14) New York, New York: The University Society, Inc.