It was under cover of darkness just before the twinkling growing light from early dawn when I decided to grab my nylon bag filled with hiking necessities and headed out my front door. I tossed the sack of supplies into the passenger seat of my car, which let out a soft thump when the bag hit the fabric-covered chair. I then climbed in behind the flung object, sat in the driver’s seat, and let out a subtle yawn while starting the parked vehicle engine. I allowed the computerized system to find and accept the radio waves emitting from my smartphone so that I could listen to my collection of stored music amplified through the surrounding speakers. As I pulled out of the parking space, the randomized shuffle from the stored music in my iTunes Library spat out a loud and unexpected booming sound that snapped me out of my previously sleepy state and left my heart racing.
I fumbled to turn down the volume that had been left on high, but I immediately recognized the powerful curation of four notes that swirled around the car cabin in an electrifyingly melodic alarm. The deep energetic entrance of three short Gs followed by a long E-flat of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony had blasted through the speakers. The famous German composer and pianist, who later became deaf in life, still holds a firm grasp on popular culture despite being born 250 years ago in December of 1770. Even his ideas about life rang true for me as I made my way to the row of towering mountains tinted in shades of purple and blue that were being illuminated by a rising stream of golden light.
As the symphony of music emanated from the car stereo, I thought about the composer’s recent news coverage and his repertoire, which spanned the transition from the classical period to the romantic era in classical music. A story from NPR titled, “Beethoven’s Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Enlightenment” discussed his work and how it took key components from the ideas of the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment. The news piece drew connections of the philosophy, which inspired the phrase taken from the Declaration of Independence with Beethoven’s works like the “Eroica,” in the famous Fifth Symphony, which led listeners on a journey from darkness to light.
The news piece continued to discuss the composer and how a lack of accessibility, constructed by a majority hearing world, sent Beethoven into solitude. This isolation led him to escape for periods of time by going out for long walks in the woods outside Vienna.
“‘ Beethoven absolutely loved and cherished nature, and thought of nature as a holy thing,’ says conductor Roderick Cox, who led performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastorale,” this fall in Fort Worth, Texas. ‘Those are some of the principles of Enlightenment, of this music, the liberation of the human mind.'”
As my car pulled up to a spot beside a trail sign that sat on the edge of an expansive wilderness, I thought about the age of the Enlightenment and how it focused mainly on the power of human intelligence to grasp and explain the natural world. The Enlightenment era was about discovering natural causes of phenomena previously considered supernatural and demystifying wild elements of nature. Beethoven loved nature. For him, it was a place of relaxation, solitude, and inspiration that you can hear in his Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral,” which musically depicts the harmonious unity between humankind and nature.
These ideas made me wonder whether Beethoven used his time deep inside the canopy of trees that came together to construct the woods to think and work out problems, speculate on mysteries, and to compose beautiful pieces of art. The image of the composer meandering through the forest lingered on the edge of my mind as I grabbed my hiking bag and slid out of my car to meet the cool wind that whipped past my face and rushed into the nearby row of trees. Perhaps, like me, the famous composer walked into the woods with the reverence of an eager nun willing to devote their time to a place that reminded them of creation itself. Imaginably the Beethoven of the woods allowed himself to be freed from the world’s complicated structures using nature to let his mind wander beyond the symphony of foliage and into magnificent new worlds.