By Tom Ehrich
In 1806, Ludwig von Beethoven started his fourth symphony but got stymied.
He was on a “new path,” as he called it, that began with an homage to Napoleon (the “Eroica”) and revolutionary fervor, then two years on the emotionally deep opera “Fidelio,” and now a new symphony.
Frustrated by slow progress, he put the new piece aside and quickly, in a matter of a few months, composed another symphony (named the Fourth) and his violin masterpiece, the Concerto in D (known among violinists as “the Beethoven”).
Last evening, we joined 2,725 others for a breathtaking performance of the Concerto and the Fourth by Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Field.
I knew I wanted to write about it. But where to start. I am not a music critic or a music historian. I just know that, as a child, I listened to my father’s treasured recording by Jascha Heifitz. As a father, I took my son to countless lessons, hoping that one day he could play the Beethoven. And as a fledgling New Yorker, I leapt at the chance to hear Joshua Bell, whom my son considers the greatest violinist performing today.
So that is what I wrote: the human drama leading up to the timpanist’s five soft taps. It poured out of me, as sometimes happens to writers and composers. Here is the piece I wrote: “The Beethoven.”
Beethoven returned to the incomplete symphony, and suddenly it poured out of him and became one of humanity’s crowning musical achievements, the incomparable Fifth.