Dinner With The Dead: Jennifer Higdon's Date With Beethoven

This week, we're asking the fanciful question: "Which composer would you bring back from the dead for dinner and drinks? Tell us your choice in the comments section. Below, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon asks Beethoven to give her some pointers.

Jennifer Higdon i

Composer Jennifer Higdon wonders what Beethoven would think of cell phones and Thai food. J.D. Scott hide caption

itoggle caption J.D. Scott
Jennifer Higdon

Composer Jennifer Higdon wonders what Beethoven would think of cell phones and Thai food.

J.D. Scott

Beethoven!  Oh, to be able to have dinner and talk things through.  Looking at his sketches, it's obvious that composing was a struggle for him.  I find this very comforting, because I don't think that composing is ever easy for anyone. I'd love to ask Ludwig how he managed to work his way through musical ideas that don’t look exceptionally extraordinary, and yet transform them into something that's pure magic.

I’d also ask him to bring the score of the Symphony No. 9 and talk me through the process of composing that work.  What did he do when he got stuck? And how did he handle premieres that didn't go too well (I get the distinct feeling that he had a tremendous number of these)?

  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/131000981/131007025" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125 [2. Molto vivace]

Purchase: Amazon.com/AmazonMP3/iTunes

The intensity of Beethoven's music and what we know about him, as a person, triggers an interesting question for me: what would he think if we were to sit down and eat food with some spice to it — say, Thai or Indian food?  Would the intensity of the taste be too much for someone who is already so intense in his work process?  Sometimes artists want the opposite character of their "art" in their daily lives, to provide balance and contrast.  Or would Ludwig embrace all sorts of spicy and unique foods?  Would he try different dishes, or would he prefer to stick with the familiar?

Beethoven in 1820 i

How would Beethoven handle the 21st century? Wikimedia Commons hide caption

itoggle caption Wikimedia Commons
Beethoven in 1820

How would Beethoven handle the 21st century?

Wikimedia Commons

Over our meal, I'd also ask him what he thinks about all of the noise in our world today, and the unceasing assault of music bombarding us in every restaurant. And what would be his impressions of rap, country, and rock and roll.  Or what about the electric guitar?

Would he see us holding cell phones to our ears and think, "Oh, everyone these days needs a hearing device as well"?

Also, what's really intriguing to me is Beethoven's observations on the current practice (in severe contrast to his lifetime) of repeatedly performing "old" music on concerts, with only a smidgen of music by living composers.  How many of his works would never have seen the light of day had he been writing in our current world?

A meal with Beethoven would be a feast for the soul!

Jennifer Higdon's latest recording features her 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto, performed by Hilary Hahn.

Purchase Featured Music

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Beethoven: 9 Symphonies
John Eliot Gardiner

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.