Friday, October 19, 2007

Beethoven's hair

Tonight I looked at a lock of Beethoven's hair.

I'm not kidding; I went to the symphony to hear the first concert of the Beethoven festival: Beethoven symphonies 1 and 2, plus Stravinsky, Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments played incredibly by talented young pianist Kirill Gerstein, with Gilbert Varga conducting.

We sat in A's new seats: Section C, Row DD, Seats 1 & 2.
That's Center orchestra, row 4, just a little to the left of the conductor's podium. I'm mentioning this because those seats enabled us to watch the pianist's hands as he played, and that was pretty amazing, although as A said, it was actually a little distracting. But there was another wonderful, and for me, totally unexpected, bonus to sitting in those seats: I was able to see Maestro Varga's face as he conducted.

For starters, he so clearly loves the music. I guess all conductors must love the music, but I'm used to seeing their these seats, approximately half the time he was conducting, I could see the expressions on his face. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has a wonderful face (see pic).

Yeah, I admit it, I have a huge crush on this guy. He looked so bright, intense, good natured and energetic...



OK, back to Beethoven's hair. Inside a locket, under glass, the lock of hair was cut from Beethoven's head on March 27, 1827, the day after he died, by a 12-year-old boy, a fan who had come to visit him. It was eventually (in December 1994) sold
at auction at Sotheby's, London, for £3,600 ($7,300 including commission). Recently, this lock of hair has been in the news again, because the results of extensive medical testing of several strands of the hair have revealed that Beethoven died from lead poisoning, and in all probability was accidentally poisoned by his doctor. A movie has been made about his hair, and of course there's a book...

But those things aside, I stood awhile and looked at the lock of hair. I was expecting it to be grey...after all, the man was 57 years old and had been very sick for years when he died, but to my surprise, the lock of hair was a rich, chestnut brown. Color aside, it is absolutely amazing to me to have seen a lock of hair that actually came from Beethoven's head. As I stood gazing at it, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to actually see Beethoven...but although I have an excellent imagination, I couldn't do it. I learned tonight, before the concert began, that it was in 1802, while Beethoven was composing the 2nd symphony, that, at 32 years old, he began to realize that he was going deaf, and yet the 2nd symphony is not somber, it's playful and joyous music.

The lock of his hair is a palpable reminder that the man was, like all of us, flesh and blood and yet, musical genius aside, he must have been an amazing human being...because rather than wallow in the monumental unfairness of his loss, in the next 25 years he went on to write 7 more glorious symphonies, to say nothing of all his other music...

Which is part of the reason why, 180 years after his death, Beethoven still ROCKS...


Lisa :-] said...


I had heard the story about Beethoven dying of lead poisoning, but I didn't realize it was because there was a lock of his hair kicking around for them to test.

This post makes me realize it's been too long since I've been to the symphony...

Gannet Girl said...

Beethoven does rock.

And I need to get to the symphony, too.

Chris said...

Dear Maestro:

Do you like Judi? Check one:
[ ] Yes
[ ] No
[ ] Maybe

Pass this back to me after class!

There.....I took care of it for ya:)

I'm like you, when I visit a historical place, see someone's hand written document from hundreds of years ago, etc, I feel a huge sense of empathy. I deeply imagine being there, in their shoes.

Great entry!

Diane said...

my husband (musician) says Beethoven was nuts. But... he's also fascinated by him.

and loves his music.
lock of hair... amazing.

Jan said...

How amazing about Beethoven's hair. It would be mesmerizing to look at the brown hair. . .and think of it being his from 180 years ago. Somehow hair seems so "alive." Thanks.

Wenda said...

I'm so glad I stopped in to hear the music. Great post!

dreaminglily said...

The maestro looks like my uncle John actually lol Same face shape, same smile. Even the hair is almost the same... Hmm... Maybe he's living a double life lol


Bob said...


Erin said...

Sounds like a fantastic experience!