The ‘Ode to Joy’ theme from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is arguably the most recognisable western classical music tune in the world. Young children taking up an instrument will soon learn to pick out its notes. It has snuck into elevators, hotel lobbies, ringtones and ‘your-call-is-important-to-us’ music. Its music is synonymous with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany in 1989, with “both Germanies” represented in the orchestra and chorus. It has been used in popular culture. One example that comes to mind is the 1988 American action-thriller ‘Die Hard’, where Michael Kamen uses the theme throughout the film in his score, but as a leitmotif for villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) et al. The chorus is heard exulting the ‘Ode to Joy’ when the high-security vault is finally breached. Somehow, I get the feeling that Beethoven wouldn’t have approved.
But it’s worth remembering that this iconic work was only made possible because Beethoven received a commission to write it, from the Philharmonic Society of London, for a sum of £50.
Much as Beethoven chafed at being dependent on patronage, many of his compositions only saw light of day because of their financial support.
Chief among them was Archduke Rudolph, youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, to whom Beethoven dedicated 14 compositions, notably his Piano trio in B flat major, Op 97 (nicknamed ‘Archduke’ trio) and his Missa Solemnis. Another big one was Count Andreas Razumovsky, who commissioned, and therefore whose name is forever tied to the string quartets Op 59, numbers 1-3, the Razumovsky quartets.
It is thanks to Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz that we have Beethoven’s Third, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies, string quartets Op 18, string quartet Op 74, his Triple Concerto and the song cycle ‘An die ferne Geliebte’. There were other patrons in his life as well. Beethoven’s relationship with his patrons may have been stormy at times, but even he had to grudgingly acknowledge his dependence on patronage for his creativity to flourish. And to a greater or lesser extent, this was true for composers before him, and to many that followed, although not as dependently as in the past.
But ironically, those very patrons are remembered today because of their association with the works they commissioned. Would we know or care about Count Razumovksy or Prince Lobkowitz or the others otherwise? They have achieved vicarious immortality because of their generosity towards music.
Patronage and philanthropy have sustained the cause of music beyond the commissioning of music compositions.
If the names Carnegie, Peabody, Curtis, Juilliard or Gulbenkian are familiar to you, it is because of the legacy they left, not merely in the edifices, the concert halls that today bear their name but also in most of these cases, their funding of education programmes and scholarships that have enabled thousands of young people over several generations to pursue their calling in music and the other arts. In fact, George Peabody (1795-1869) is widely regarded as the father of modern philanthropy.
The inspiration for this column came from recent issues of ON Stage magazine, published by the NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) Mumbai. The NCPA completes half-a-century this year. Quite a milestone. It owes its existence to the far-reaching vision of Jamshed Bhabha (younger brother of renowned Indian nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha)and his legacy has enriched the cultural life of not just the city of Mumbai, but the whole nation, in Indian and western classical music, popular and jazz music, theatre, dance and film. It is still the only venue in the subcontinent with world-class symphony-hall acoustics, a matter of justifiable pride for the NCPA but ought to be an embarrassment to the rest of the country.
With the concept of CSR (corporate social responsibility), one hopes that corporate houses and philanthropists in India have additional impetus to leave their imprint on the arts, as Bhabha has so admirably done.
I was made aware of an exciting example of philanthropy tied to music education while listening via the internet to the BBC Proms concerts, currently on at London’s Royal Albert Hall from July to September.
The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) is a surprisingly young ensemble, formed only in 2012; contrast this with the National Orchestra of Great Britain, which was formed decades before, in 1948, and which formed the template for the formation of NYO-USA.
The NYO-USA is organised by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. Each summer, following an application and audition process, about 120 musicians ages 16 to 19 attend a two-week residency (a free programme for all participants) with leading professional orchestral musicians at Purchase College, New York, followed by a national or international tour.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Carnegie Hall involvement in music education. Through its Weill Music Institute, it connects hundreds of thousands of young people, families, aspiring artists, and educators in the country with creative musical experiences, nurturing the finest musical talent at all levels and harnessing the power of the arts to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
We have a crying need for this sort of ‘development’, an investment in people rather than concrete, not just in Goa but all over India. This was brought home recently by a picture shared on social media, of the Goa Symphony Orchestra, in 1962. Every one of the musicians in the photograph was of course a home-grown and trained Goan. Contrast that with today, almost six decades on. Have we progressed or regressed since then? It seems impossible today to cobble together an ensemble with a full complement of strings, woodwind and brass without extraneous help. The reasons for this are many, of course.
Even in middle-class circles, it is difficult to find good-quality teaching across Goa. I know this, as I get queries from anxious parents on almost a daily basis.
The decline of music education (despite all the whooping exultations of a ‘musical renaissance’ and the hoopla around concerts and festivals in exotic locations) is the elephant in the room that few here want to address, still less invest, even in terms of just thought and energy, let alone finance.
A strong pedagogical foundation can only be established through consistent high-quality teaching. But it comes with a price tag, (but at a fraction of the cost of a player in IPL or ISL, mind you). What we need are philanthropists who really believe in this idea, and invest in it. The returns will be there to see and hear within less than a decade, if done properly.
Child’s Play’s Endow-A-Chair programme would fund not only a principal player in the Camerata but the musician would also train children and coach aspiring teachers, make chamber music with other faculty and more advanced players in the project and in the community, giving a boost to the state’s cultural life and laying a pedagogical foundation. This is certainly a way to ensure one’s name lives on forever.