GIVEN BEETHOVEN’s forever-beguiling biography, as an artistic genius who endured a profoundly pained life, it seems especially apt how Google is saluting the composer for the ages upon the 245th anniversary of his birth.
To celebrate Ludwig, Google has today unveiled an animated and interactive Doodle, in which Beethoven is trying to keep the charts to some of his masterworks in hand as he treks to a symphony hall. Yet the fates of nature, as in his own tortured life, seem to be against him, from a hellish headwind to even each bedeviling waterway and tree and beast.
To help this ear-trumpeted composer get to his venue, you the viewer are tasked with reordering his charts — from Fur Elise to Moonlight Sonata to Ode to Joy — whenever they’ve been whipped into disarray.
This troubled, trebled journey was created by Leon Hong, who worked with artist Nate Swinehart and engineers Jonathan Shneier and Jordan Thompson. And the California tech titan says this star-crossed obstacle course is indeed intended to reflect the German-born composer’s vexed life — which, as Google writes with winking understatement, “saw more than its share of rotten luck.”
Google’s finely tuned puzzle seems to nod, too, to the ’90s feature film “Immortal Beloved,” in which the deaf composer (as played by Gary Oldman) makes it to the hall to experience (if not hear in his head before the symphonic spectacle) a performance of “Ode to Joy.”
In that way, this Doodle functions as almost its own love letter to Ludwig, upon the anniversary of his baptism. (The precise date of his birth is not confirmed.)
The true-life picture of Beethoven’s upbringing, of course, includes being routinely beaten by his hard-drilling, mediocre musical talent of a father, as little Ludwig was molded to try to become the next court prodigy like Mozart. Beethoven, who struggled with his studies outside of music, was pulled from school prior to adolescence and made to work to support his family, even as two siblings died prematurely.
And somehow out of this crucible emerged a genius who could, after Mozart’s early death, especially bridge Classical and Romantic eras. (Even as romance so often eluded his unrequited heart.)
And then, at the peak of his powers came the deafness that he tried so hard to hide from the public. By the turn into the 19th century, conducting a conversation was becoming difficult, and in 1801, after two especially trying years, he wrote to a friend: “I must confess that I lead a miserable life.”
And yet, between 1803 and 1812, Beethoven had arguably the greatest sustained creative period that any composer has ever known.
Amid his personal demons — his hot temperament and paranoia and penchant for feuding, among them — the deaf maestro could compose music that elevated him to becoming our sonic Shakespeare. And then, during his last days, he borrowed a Latin phrase from the stage, which translates to: “Applaud friends, the comedy is over.”
He died in 1827, in Vienna. He was 56.
Happy birthday, Herr Beethoven. We applaud to this day your music, which stands immortal and beloved.