Looking For the Ground

I wanted to learn how to play Beethoven on the piano, so I hired a music teacher to teach me how to play Beethoven’s piano music. I already had rudimentary piano-playing skills, so, to me, it was all a matter of bringing my piano-playing up to snuff, as they say, developing my chops to really lay the hammer down on those sweet, sweet, piano strings.

“In order to play Beethoven,” she said at our first meeting, “You have to learn how to play Mozart. And in order to play Mozart, you have to play Bach.”

I indicated that I didn’t understand.

“The music of Beethoven is a way-stop in the natural flow of the progression of music theory and practice.”

I shrugged my shoulders, hoping that I could master Bach and Mozart in a hurry so that I could get on with the real exploration of Beethoven. But then it struck me to ask, “Did Bach invent music? Or what?”

“Well,” she said, “he didn’t so much invent music as compile everything Medieval, giving it its recognizable shape, which came forward into Beethoven, which then produced Wagner (but we don’t like to talk about that).”

She handed me a lute. “What the hell is this?!?” I exclaimed.

“Look,” she said. “If you want to learn how to play Beethoven on the piano, you’ve got to start with Bach on the lute. From there you have to learn to play the harp, then the harpsichord, and after that, you can finally take a seat at my luxurious Steinway concert grand piano.”

“Now look here,” I started to say, but she handed me a history book, so I said, “What’s this?”

“A history of the Napoleonic Wars,” she said. “This is the context in which Beethoven wrote his music.” And then she exclaimed, “Oh!”

“What?” I said.

“Do you have a prior knowledge of the effect of secular humanism on the works of J.S. Bach?”

“Well, I’m pretty well-versed in that history, yes.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “You won’t have to read all those books while you’re learning to play the lute. On the other hand, the histories are not entirely in agreement with each other, and I don’t know if you’ve subscribed to the correct reading of the effects of 13th Century Italian Humanism on the arts and culture of 17th Century Leipsig.”

“I spell it Leipzig.”

“Oh, dear.”

It was clear to me that I wasn’t going to learn to play Beethoven’s piano music with this teacher, not anytime in my lifetime, so I fired her, which made me feel bad because it was my mom, and she needed the money, which was the immediate cause of her homelessness, along with all those of hers.

I hired another teacher, describing to her my intentions. She set about her work immediately, devising exercises so that my fingers would strengthen in the manner needed in order to play Beethoven’s music. Indeed, I even read a book about the production of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, “The Heroic,” and its dedication to Napoleon, which deepened my appreciation for the piece, but didn’t do much more than season the emotive value that piece of music has on me and my family.

Speaking of which, I was so impressed with the exercises my piano teacher devised that I was struck with love. I asked her to marry me, and we have made lots of babies together. I play Für Elise for her whenever the mood strikes me, even though her name isn’t Elise, and no one knows who the original Elise is, if such a person ever existed.

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