My father had a lot of classical music on cassettes and my older brother had just learnt about the fun of recording over them. He would take me with him, maybe to reduce his charges against the progressive values of The Enlightenment. He would put in a cassette and push the red record bottom; we sang and laughed.
By the age of 5 I was already adept in ruining the cassettes by myself. That same year I remember an evening when I decided to go on mission alone. I have no childhood memory more vivid than that night. I picked this cassette with a green and white sticker on it and put it in the player. I hit the play before pressing the record bottom, but it was too late; the music Ba Ba Ba Bammm had already filled the room and I could never press the record again: It was Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphony no. 5.
The first movement of the symphony was so intoxicating, and still is. I listened to it time after time that night and thousands of times since. I never felt a belonging to land, country, family and culture; but to Beethoven belonged by spirit, my roots, as if I am the embodiment of his 5th: Every note makes perfect sense.
In music I have a taste and patience only for The Three Bs: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms. Bach for the mathematical beauty of its melodies, Beethoven and Brahms for the harmonic complexity of their symphonies. But Beethoven has the place of the supreme Lord in this musical trinity, for in the face of his majesty one can rise above to heavens and shed tears of joy. If I can never say anything that speaks my soul I can say that Beethoven’s 5th speaks it fully and perfectly. It was not much of a surprise to find out later that Beethoven and I were both born on December 17.
Of course, I was also fortunate to have listened to the best recording in my first encounter; it was conducted by Herbert von Karajan, the infamous conductor of Berlin Philharmonic. After all, only a German can understand and properly capture the spirit of another German, especially when it comes to Beethoven, the highest expression of the Romantic era. Karajan resurrects Beethoven through his charismatic presence in front of the orchestra. In his breathtaking performances Karajan dies so that Beethoven lives.
Beethoven’s symphony no. 5 is also known as “Fate knocks at the door.”