Benedict’s Finale with Beethoven: A “Heroic” Moment | Msgr. Daniel B. Gallagher | Catholic World Report
Pope Benedict’s pontificate comes to a fitting musical conclusion with a performance of Beethoven’s magnificent Eroica Symphony.
The last weeks of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate will be filled with many “lasts.” Ash Wednesday was his last public Mass. February 14 was his last meeting with priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Rome. February 24 will be his last Angelus. His last general audience will take place on February 27 before his final transport to Castel Gandolfo via helicopter on February 28.
February 4 also marked a “last,” perhaps one that will not go down in the annals of history as it should. Everybody knew it would be the last Vatican concert for Giorgio Napolitano, president of the Italian Republic, before he finishes his term as Head of State, but nobody imagined it would be the last concert for Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff.
The Italian Embassy to the Holy See offers the concert each year in commemoration of the Lateran Treaty. The orchestra Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, directed by Zubin Mehta, performed the overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. It is a pity this magnificent concert will forever be overshadowed by the events that followed in its wake. Benedict and Mr. Napolitano, both avid music fans, enjoyed similar occasions in the past, most notably at Castel Gandolfo last July when Daniel Barenboim directed the West-East Divan Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.
As grand as those pieces are, they simply do not match up to Beethoven’s revolutionary Third Symphony in E-flat major, also known as the Eroica (“Heroic”) Symphony.
The “Great Man” and what lies beyond the grave
Too often sensational tales about the composer’s life distract us from his music. For one just getting into Beethoven, it would be best to listen to his symphonies before picking up a biography. Knowing something about his life would certainly help, but if we could go back in time and sit down with him, Beethoven would be much more interested in playing his latest composition than in rattling on about himself.
In no small part, his eagerness to play rather than chat would be motivated by the increasing deafness that began to assail him at the robust age of 30. It eventually prompted him to write a letter to his brothers Karl and Johann now known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.” It is Ludwig’s excruciating apologia for a reclusive lifestyle and the terrible misunderstandings it caused. Ludwig begs his brothers to have his physician publically declare his condition after his death so that the world “may become reconciled to me.”