Beethoven, the Heavy Metal of the Early 19th Century!: Nicolas Ellis at TEDxYouth@Montreal (Transcript)

Nicolas Ellis at TEDxYouth Montreal

Nicolas Ellis – TRANSCRIPT

(Video )

That was Cellos on Fire, a metal band in which I used to play keyboard when I was in high school and… even during a few years in college. And I remember, you see, how happy I look.

I remember how much I loved to be onstage with the band and sometimes offstage as well. It was for me, as a classically trained musician, a way to disconnect through another kind of music. Today, I spend most of my time being a conductor. I don’t only walk my dog, I also conduct orchestras. And I simply love to work with 60, 70, 80 musicians.

And it truly inspires me to study and work on the great works of the great composers of the past. When I get to study Beethoven, there is something deep inside me that feels the same way. I used to feel when I was with Cellos on Fire, because Beethoven had that raw, direct and kind of thrash way to put music into your face. And with no doubt, he shocked many people around him as a loud and also noisy composer. And with no doubt, he was therefore the heavy metal of the early 19th century.

But why is it that at his time the people could not understand his music, and yet today we consider him one of the great masters of classical music? Well, Beethoven had a very particular life. Before he was even a teen, he was almost beaten to death twice by his alcoholic father. And in his early 30s, he started to have hearing problems, and by the end of his life, he became totally deaf. He never truly had a woman, no girlfriends, really, in his life. He used to move a lot from one apartment to the other; in fact, his apartments were always a huge mess with manuscripts all over the piano and uneaten food that had been hanging on the piano for several days.

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And he also got frustrated and mad at a lot of people around him. In fact, one day, the Prince Lichnowsky, who was one of Beethoven’s sponsors, had threatened to fire him because he would not accept to play piano for French soldiers who were passing by his castle.

So they got into this big argument, this fight, and Beethoven, very frustrated, leaves the room and slams the door. But before he does that, he leaves a little note on a piece of paper on which it said: “Prince what you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been thousands of princes and will be thousands more, but there is only one Beethoven.” How arrogant is that? But that was Beethoven, a man who cried for his independence. And while life could only offer him poverty and misery, his music was about triumph and joy.

So when he started to give his first concert as a composer, people just couldn’t figure out what this loud composer was doing. Because while just before him, Mozart would start a symphony with a beautiful melody like this one. (Playing piano) Beethoven, for instance, started his 3rd Symphony with these 2 massive chords. (Playing piano) And later on in the same piece, he would use even more thunderous chords like these. (Playing piano).

Can you imagine the aristocracy of the time who was hoping for some light concert and ended up with this kind of music, loud music in their face? And people also thought Beethoven had this very annoying way of not really finishing a piece. He would endlessly bang chords over and over, like in the last movement of his 5th Symphony, which goes like this (Playing piano).

People also thought he had very poor talent for writing interesting melodies, and probably the most boring melody he ever wrote comes from his 7th Symphony in the 2nd Movement. (Playing piano) Not very interesting. Three different notes and he uses them in a very repetitive way. Not much more original than maybe one of Lady Gaga’s greatest hits.

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