Beethoven’s red telephone

Something that a lot of people suspect but do not know: Beethoven had a red telephone. A hot line, straight up to heaven.

So sit back, and have a listen to proof: The Pastoral.

They say that Beethoven’s odd numbers were the best. I disagree.

For me, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. I’ve memories of it as a child, watching flying horses dance through clouds in Disney’s Fantasia.

But though the Disney artists did a brilliant job, their artwork never came close to the beautiful colours that form in my mind when I hear this music – the deep sea green of the G chords, and the rich navy blues of C and purply-greys of D, moving up to the bright golden yellow of pure A.

Okay, I’m weird. But music is colour, and every note, every chord, has its own colour and shape and texture. And Beethoven was, along with Van Gogh, one of the greatest masters of the colour and taste and the scent of the world around him that ever lived.

His music is beautiful because it reflects the best of the world back at us, in perfect clarity.

And yes, he wrote beautiful choral music too. Listen to “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” (“Meeresstille und Gluckliche Fahrt”) – one of the few pieces to give me choral orgasms for days on end while singing it, in preparation for a performance at the Sydney Opera House a few years ago – a performance I will never forget.

(I’m going to go kill myself now)

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4 responses to “Beethoven’s red telephone

  1. You associate colours with pitches – you’d have synaesthesia then?

  2. Hi Robbie – Funny you should ask that, because I remember doing an experiment with small group of friends a few years back, when we played different pitches and discussed the colours and shapes they have for us. I don’t think we agreed on most things, although interestingly there was a lot of agreement on a couple of notes (G and D from memory, which were definitely in the blue/green area for people).

    In the mix of musicians were two with absolute pitch (who disagreed with one another!), and a musicologist (who disagreed with everyone!). I don’t think I have proper official synesthesia though, which sounds a bit *special*, I just map notes to colour in my mind / emotion, and always have done – there’s nothing weird or psychic about it.

    Colour helps me find pitches in my head – it’s a cheats way of finding pitches when they’re not given and a useful cheat sheet in my breain ;-) So I can always find A 440 off the top of my head, for example, because i just look for bright yellow in my mind, and A440 is attached to that. (I don’t have absolute pitch).

    Pitches also have definite shapes to them too. C is very round, whereas A is clear and pointy. F sharp is diagonal, if you know what I mean, sort of edgy. And I get really aggro about the different versions of B flat around.

    Hey, don’t most musicians think this way? Or am I just extra weird? ;-)

    • You’re not _that_ weird :-)

      I don’t so much associate individual pitches, it’s more about the tonalities for me. Often it arises because of what’s natural with the instrumental playing style.

      Within the world of the guitar alone:
      – G major and D major go well with folksy open strumming;
      – D major and D minor in particular are very strong in classical guitar with lots of A major and A minor too;
      – E power chord is for stadium rock;
      – E major for blues;
      – D power chord for the heavier rock (dropped D tuning);
      – D major is for Creed (pretty much every song of theirs);
      – C power chord for the serious metallers (dropped D tuning, then everything down two semitones)
      – B power chord for the super-serious metallers who have 7-string guitars.

      And there are a whole lot of associations wider than that… Db is really nice for harps; G, D and A are nice for string instruments; you often hear sitars in C; C and G work for ukuleles; A minor seems very sad piano default…

  3. LOL on Creed, so true. Got a friend (a composer/performer) over in Melbourne (Oz) who jokes about every song of hers being in Am.

    Stadium rock! Ugh, every time I heard the term I think of eyeliner and mullets – the 1980s coming back to haunt me. Did I really have a crush on Iva Davies? (Oh heck yes, I did.)

    Interesting how tonalities are very definitely associated with different musical forums though. Never really though about it, but you’re quite right. Hmmm…must do more varied listening, but am a bit hooked on surf music with lots of Beach Boys and B-52s ATM – must be the weather!

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