A Beethoven, possible, today?
(Prompted by the wonderful things I am learning in the online course, "Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas," offered by Curtis Institute, taught by Jonathan Bis, pianist, through Coursera.org, the following thoughts.)
The world, today, abounds with many genius minds in all disciplines. However, the climate, artistically, for a poor boy from a struggling family (poorly-paid kapellmeister, alcoholic father, over-burdened mother with several children including deaths of several others, plus, her own ill health) in a country such as ours would not be promising for young Ludwig.
Beethoven, in America, would not be eligible for food stamps, because his father, mostly, would make enough to "get by," nor would his mother be able to get medical help through Medicaid, for the same reason. And, even though there would lean times in the Beethoven household, Beethoven's younger siblings wouldn't be able to qualify for free breakfast or lunch at school. Certainly, with the cuts made in the Congress, his little sister would not be eligible for head start. But, then, she didn't live beyond the age of one, so...
Imagine, there is such a boy or girl with the natural musical genius of Beethoven in America, today: it costs a lot of money for private music lessons, ($35-50-100-150) per lesson). Then, if the youth orchestra is located at a venue distant from home, inaccessible by bus (this is country with poor mass transportation) and if the parents don't have a piano, or a car, or, if they live on a side of town far from where other young musicians in the orchestra live, and thus, can't get rides, and he or she can't afford to buy a piano, a violin, viola, bass, cello, etc., nor the music scores for study....and, maybe, he or she belongs to a minority.....just imagine.
Oh, yes, there are always patrons for special talents. But, what if Beethoven is living in a provincial southern town where classical music is considered elitist, or weird, and he never gets close enough to come to the attention of a wealthy patron. And, what if the wealthy are more interested in golf and football?
What if he never even gets to find out if he has musical talent, because his public school doesn't offer music instruction.
We can be grateful that even a young man of Beethoven's circumstances was able to come to the attention of musically-sophisticated patrons in his hometown of Bonn. And, that he made friends with royalty and aristocrats who mingled more freely with common folk in 18th century Germany than is possible in America, today. Imagine.
Yes, genius is appreciated in America. It is most appreciated, however, where materialism is the motivating factor: technological inventions (not keyboard, like Bach's), financial wizardry, political consultancy, mass entertainment, and so forth. But, our society and our government doesn't honor the arts with adequate support or budgets, nor does the President ever grace the doors of classical music concerts or art museums, nor does he have classical concerts in the White House. Do his children play musical instruments? The NEA doesn't have a chief, at present. Does anyone remember who the last one was? No one of the stature of Yo Yo Ma, or Itzak Perlman is asked to testify to Congress on behalf of the Arts these days.
The Arts are slowly fading from public consciousness, except for a 5 second news "bit" about an orchestra musicians lock-out, or strike, of which there are more and more. So, if Beethoven, somehow, managed to become study music, play viola well enough to perform in his city's orchestra (as he did when as a young boy of 11) or, conduct (as a 14 year old ) that orchestra, would there even be an orchestra for our young Beethoven to play in? Or, to perform one of his compositions?
Thank goodness, Beethoven had the support group he had, and a father, as flawed as he was, who at least exposed him to the world of music, with its intricate network of associates. He was part of a society in Germany and Austria which celebrated exceptional talents because the populace was filled with amateur aristocratic musicians, private orchestras and concerts in the castles of royalty, and a critical network of musically-educated writers to spread the word.
Do yourself a favor, today. Go listen to one of his glorious Piano Sonatas! Lots of them on YouTube by Schnabel, Schiff, and others.
(And, search for the needy, promising, music talents in your town.)