Beethoven Music Videos Unite Fantasy, Funk, and ‘Drop-Dead’ Fun

Beethoven lives in, even in music videos(Photo: http://www.audio-muziek.nl/cd-recensies/cd-aw/beethoven06.htm)
Beethoven lives in, even in music videos(Photo: http://www.audio-muziek.nl/cd-recensies/cd-aw/beethoven06.htm)

Well, you knew it would happen.  The Web has made Beethoven a music video star.

As WOSU gears up for a special day of Beethoven‘s music on his birthday, Dec. 16, I wanted to see just how big a star the master really is.

The answer: Big. One of the world’s most famous composers, Beethoven is an easy target for the exploits of videographers, animators, Web designers and other tech-savvy creative types who like to mix the old with the new.

In the category of “old” are: Beethoven, his music, and the music video genre, which since the days I ran home from school (I won’t say from what grade in school) with a friend to watch the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video has virtually redefined music as something for the eyes as well as the ears.

In the category of “new” are: the Web 2.0 (still kind of new), YouTube (getting less new by the minute), and using today’s tech gizmos (each one never as new as the next) to do stuff with old things like music Beethoven and the genre of music videos.

So easy a target is Beethoven and so easy this tinkering with technology that a whole new subgenre of Beethoven music videos has emerged online. I bring some of these videos to your attention here because I thought you might get a kick out of seeing them.

Quite possibly the newest Beethoven music video out there is Tom Lloyd’s aptly named “Beethoven Music Video,” uploaded on YouTube just days ago.  Against the backdrop of the famous beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the minute-long stop-animation video pits a lone violinist (who produces the sound of a full orchestra!) against a thick-haired conductor.

The one saws away on his little plasticine violin; the other waves his little arms in wide-eyed detachment. And there’s a surprise ending that, when you consider how much work it is for the violinist to sound also like a section of cellos, basses, bassoons, oboes, etc., isn’t really a surprise after all.

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There are several videos out there set to the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and I bring your attention to a few of them. One video, created by Michael Luckman of Luckman Media, is a stream-of-consciousness extravaganza of colorful jumping boxes, dancing trousers (free of bodies), and can-can lines of sheep (are they sheep?).  Watch this video when you need a postmodern whimsy fix:

Another Beethoven’s Ninth Scherzo video takes an altogether darker approach.  This video, actually a promo for the XBox 360 game Gears of War, has all the makings of a total-devastation film (all the makings, that is, except Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, or Will Smith): the smoke and embers of a destroyed city, a lone armor-clad warrior hurtling himself through the streets to battle a fierce arachnid. (Speaking of Bruce Willis, you may remember that the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ran like a leitmotif through the whole Die Hard series.)

My video game-playing days went away with Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, so I can’t comment on the game.  But these images and Beethoven’s grim Scherzo (dark humor if ever there were any) make disturbingly evocative bedfellows:

Contrast these apocalyptic images with those of a video dubbed “Beautiful Music and Nature.” The maker had a sample of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Scherzo on his (her?) hard drive and put it together with images of nature scenes.

Trees in full fall colors, mountains, placid lakes reflecting sunset-hued skies, baby penguins - nature in all its awesome splendor. As unnerving as are the juxtaposition of Beethoven’s music with images of war, the nature scenes with this music are, to me, at least equally destabilizing.

Finally, for fantasy fans, the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata is the soundtrack for a  seven-minute Waterworld-meets-Lord of the Rings saga. The theme of total devastation runs through this flick, too, as a tsunami washes out an entire village.  The themes of love and isolation are also constantly present, played out in hypnotic images by elusive characters who (not to give away the ending) leave us stranded in the No Man’s Land between dreams and reality.

So is classical music dead?  Hardly. Roll over (in your grave) Beethoven? I don’t think so.  Beethoven was, if nothing else, a man at once of his times and brilliantly, if also painfully, ahead of his time. I think he’d like the idea that his music continues to inspire and accompany creativity, or at least that it continues to be heard and felt.

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