Like many of us who came of age in the 80s, I styled my initial pretensions regarding classical music after the Milos Forman flick Amadeus, yes, that Academy Award-winning Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart biopic based on Peter Schaffer’s play of the same title. The film starred Tom Hulce as the titular character, who is now my personal nominee for the “What ever happen to…?” file, having passed on a role in my sci-fi flick FMRL (as an indie, our budget cannot afford an outright Hollywood grudge, so this will have to do).
Later, in my early teens I discovered A Clockwork Orange and became, like alpha-droog Alex, smitten with Beethoven, particularly as rendered electronically on Wendy Carlos’ synthesizers. And yes, everything I know about classical music I learned at the movies — you can thank John Williams for this, who pricked up my five year-old ears with his orchestral Star Wars score (tell me I’m not alone).
A few months ago, on one of those PBS-style braniac shows I chanced upon while channel surfing, I heard a pianist throw down a bracing performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Opus 53 “Waldstein” Allegro Con Brio on piano. It was staggering to me for two reasons: it was the first piece alleged to have been written by Beethoven following his descent into complete deafness (it’s aesthetic departure from his previous works, the pianist explained, can be attributed to the fact that he wrote the piece completely in his mind — imagine such focus: the soundtrack of my mind is awash with ancient pop tunes and commercial jingles); and somehow, in all my 33 and third years, I had managed never to have heard the Waldstein. This was astounding — after all, I had taken the music appreciation courses at the junior college and with the requisite attention needed to tip the balance of the credit/no credit option in my favor. So how is it that I missed such a seminal work in the canon? Because I’m a dilettante, that’s why, and like any worthy dilettante, I went straight to Internet to immediately spackle the gaping hole in my knowledge — an exercise akin to spackling Arizona’s Meteor Crater.
I went to purchase a copy of the Waldstein from iTunes and discovered to my chagrin that, though it was available, it could only be purchased when mixed into a “Greatest Hits” style album and not as a single, which I could buy with the ninety-nine cents left on my credit card. It’s as if the good folks at Apple knew that even Beethoven had a few B-sides and the only way to move them was to attach them to the hit and charge nine bucks for it. Schmucks. So, I went to their competition — Limewire. The file-sharing swap-meet had Beethoven by the bushel, but all the tunes were erroneously labeled by illiterate pirates, and none specifically were the Waldstein. Finally, I had to resort to a midi file of the sonata courtesy of Karadar Classical Music, an Italian online classical music information clearinghouse. It has none of the nuance of the PBS chap’s performance, of course – in fact, it’s rather like the plug-and-play Muzak that serves as the soundtrack on amateur websites. Um, like this one. But it’s the Waldstein nonetheless.