Beethoven is a tough little nut to crack. I remember once reading that you should get through all of Shostakovich’s string quartets before even attempting to understand Beethoven’s. Beethoven is so famous that it’s sort of overwhelming when you first start listening to classical music, because it seems like all of his music should sound amazing right away. And a lot of it doesn’t. I remember it sounding surprisingly… old fashioned. I suspect that at a lot of people claim they think the 9th is the epitome of great music, when in fact they don’t like it that much at all, they’re just playing to its reputation.
I’ve been listening to classical music for just over six years now, and I still only know a small portion of Beethoven’s stuff well. Every couple months I’ll inch into a new (“new”!) one of his pieces, either deliberately or accidentally. The latest incarnation of this was the 24th piano sonata, in particular the second movement:
This came through my headphones halfway up the march up the slope to work. It grabbed my attention because the first few bars instantly made me think of “Rule Brittania” in a somewhat cheesy fashion, and then right as I was about to skip the track it abruptly slipped into that crunchy dissonance. I love that kind of contrast, especially when it was composed such a long time ago. This is the kind of piece that makes me truly appreciate what a pioneer Beethoven was: things like the last movement of the Hammerklavier sonata, and the Grosse Fugue. Not the 9th.