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Beethoven as a lover?

Mom with earringsA recent visit from a favorite Taiwanese family of former students reminded me that I learned much more from my students than I ever was able to teach them. Some students studied music — seriously. They had to learn about the lives of famous composers as well as how to play their chosen instruments. While they prepared for their exams, I learned too.

What did I learn? Beautiful music can be produced by people you’d never want as a lover or even a friend. For instance, consider the despicable Wagner,

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

who’d have taken large amounts of money from you and then dropped you like a hotcake, lived as a guest in your home and then thanked you by sleeping with your wife or turning against you without hesitation. I would have preferred to hate his music, but I can’t. The work has little to do with the person who creates it.

Then, how about the great Beethoven, another truly damaged and unpleasant man. If you

Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

met him on the street, you’d have thought him to be a homeless bum and mad as a hatter. You’d not want to be his landlady, maid and certainly not his lover. The brilliant composer was a miserable, physically ugly, rather ill and difficult man. He was rude, prone to physical assaults and would smash anything in sight, including people or pianos.

Beethoven lost his mother, whom he loved, when he was 16. He was terribly abused by his alcoholic father — and developed into a vile-tempered, pathological, manic-depressed adult. Then, the deafness which plagued him from his early 30s and lead to total deafness by age 47 must have been devastating for him. (I wonder if his drunken father’s beatings around the head may have caused this.)

Did he have any lovers? We don’t know of any, although he did manage to contract gonorrhea, but most probably at a house of prostitution, a solution he professed to hate. He did propose to the young, beautiful, talented soprano, Magdalena Willmann, who turned him down because, as she said, he was ‘so ugly and half-crazy’. He never found Mrs. Right, always choosing women way above his station, much too young, and much too beautiful — and longed for love all his life. Beethoven could only see women as Madonnas or whores.

Young Beethoven

A younger Beethoven

The poor guy had pockmarked skin, no manners, spat in company, was terribly clumsy and badly coordinated. (Vestibular Disorder? Related to the beatings around the head?)  All his belongings were damaged because they got knocked over or broken. He was such a terrible tenant, he had to move from one place to another almost every year. Beethoven was just a disaster — in spite of his musical genius, he was unable to dance or even conduct in time to his own magnificent music.

Rossini in 1820

Rossini in 1820

Nonetheless, there were those who understood and admired Beethoven. Rossini, known as a nice guy, was one of them. He was able to see the most appealing qualities in Beethoven and understood the great sadness the brilliant composer lived with.

Would we have such magnificent, beautiful music by Beethoven if he had actually found happiness during his lifetime? I wonder…..

Money-laundering grannies?

photo by Sonja Peacock

photo by Sonja Peacock

‘Are you the Kauffmann that writes that over-the-hill blog?’ the gravel-like voice on the phone sounded like it had recently run over broken glass. Who was it? What did he want? How did he find me?

‘What is this about?’ I asked cautiously.

‘I’ve got something to tell ya, but can’t talk now, it’s too dangerous,’ he continued, hardly above a whisper. ‘We need to meet.’

Meet? This was spooky. I was scared, but intrigued. I hesitated, then made a decision without really thinking it through.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘Let’s meet at Terra’s on 4th. (That was smart…I’d be safe there, they know me.)

‘Naw, too many ears around, let’s meet under the murder of crows. I’ll see you at 10:15 tomorrow morning.’ Click. Dial tone. I stared at the phone in disbelief.

I thought of taking my Samurai sword along... photo by Amy Wang

I thought of taking my Samurai sword along…
(photo by Amy Wang)

The murder of crows? Gasp! That’s a mere couple of blocks away. He knows where I live! What to do? I thought of taking my Samurai sword along, but hadn’t had enough practice wit it yet, so decided on my walking stick instead — in case I need to defend myself. Well, at least at 10:30 a.m. it’s daytime…..

The next morning if I still smoked I’d have been puffing away at cigarettes

A murder of crows

A murder of crows

as I paced up and down under the murder of crows. The minutes dragged. At one point I put my watch up to my remaining good ear to see if it was still working. It was… I shouldn’t have come… This could be dangerous… It was stupid of me! My overactive imagination was overly overacting at triple high speed. After what seemed like an eternity, a man arrived. It was him, in disguise.

It was him, in a disguise

It was him, in a disguise

‘Kauffmann?’ I froze. My feet were glued to the pavement.

‘Yes…’ Why was I whispering?

‘Listen, I’ve got a scoop for ya. This will make your blog the biggest thing on the Internet.’

‘Who are you?’ I wanted to know.

‘Let’s just say — a friend.’

‘Okay…’

‘You know that proposal to build senior housing next to the church across from the school around the corner?’

‘Yeah, I heard about it.’

‘It was turned down because word leaked out.’

‘What word?’

‘Shut up and listen,’ he continued, ‘I don’t have forever. The neighbours were scared those seniors would corrupt their kids! Here’s the deal.’

‘Okay, shoot.’ Well, maybe that was the wrong thing to say, but after all, I was nervous.

‘Them seniors are all part of a crime syndicate.’

‘What?’

‘I told ya to listen, dammit! What do ya think those old grannies are doing when they make cookies for bake sales supposedly for church? It’s a money-laundering scheme, a front for a Colombian drug cartel.’

‘What?’

‘What? What? What are ya, some kind of echo or something? Just listen, there’s more. All those prescriptions they finagle out of their doctors? Ya think they’re really for lowering their cholesterol and blood pressure? No sir. They sell them drugs on the street and make a bundle — and think of all those kids from the school across the street those fakers could have sold that stuff to.’ I was speechless.

‘And all those canes they carry? Ya think they need them because they’re frail? Or dizzy like you?

They use their canes to mug upstanding citizens

They use their canes to mug upstanding citizens

Uh-uh. They’re weapons lady, they use them to mug unsuspecting upright citizens. They whack them, grab their dough and off they run quick as a wink. Those old meanies beat up kindergarten kids just for the fun of it. They’re also cutting into the prostitution racket…’

‘That I don’t believe…’

They can charge less because they collect pensions

They can charge less because they collect pensions

‘Believe it. Believe it. Grannies can sell their fannies for less ‘cause they’re already collecting government pensions! They’re undercutting hard working young hookers. They also had plans to recruit the school kids for the brothel they would’ve set up in the senior housing right there next to the church. Good thing the project didn’t happen. Then there’s the gambling…’

‘Gambling?’ I gulped.

‘C’mon, ya don’t actually think they’re playing pinochle at those senior

You don't think they're playing pinocle, do you?

You think they’re playing pinocle?

centres, do ya? They rake in plenty. I tell ya, these people are dangerous, they got the whole crime industry tied up!’

‘Why are you telling all this to mu-ME?’ I stuttered, ‘I’m not a reporter.’

‘I gotta warn people somehow.’ he answered and walked off — just like that.

Well, what do YOU make of it?