Beethoven’s time machine

I have often thought about how different the lives of the great composers would have been if they had been connected to the Internet. How they’d probably have been dating online instead of writing music. This is probably a personal reflection on the fact that I have started feeling more and more like a visitor on Planet Earth while You Tube and the Google search engine look more like home. Truly, how can any real life compare with a virtual existence on Facebook?

Then a couple of weeks ago I was invited to play a concert and coach some students at the National Conservatory in Santo Domingo. One of the pieces I was asked to perform was the Piano and Violin Sonata by César Franck. Without leaving my apartment in New York City, I was able to find the score online for free at http://imslp.org/wiki, print it for free, and listen to a variety of great recordings of it on You Tube, also for free. And all of this, instantly (well, I did have to change the ink cartridge).

Now consider that in the autumn of 1705 Johann Sebastian Bach walked 250 miles, all the way from Arnstadt in central Germany to Lübeck in the north, to hear the famed Dieterich Buxtehude perform on organ. True, he probably needed the exercise. Nonetheless, it got me thinking about a different music history.

Facebook status

How Schumann after meeting Brahms for the first time in Düsseldorf would have updated his Facebook status to “Just met the new Beethoven”. Brahms, feeling the pressure, would keep his status for the next 20 years to “Working on my first symphony”. This would not prevent him from ‘liking’ Clara’s new profile pic in which she Photoshopped Schumann (her husband) out of the shot. Chopin would spend countless hours Skyping with relatives back in Poland, only wishing he had gotten a computer with a webcam. Liszt would be the media king. Rarely seen without his iPad. Ruling the radio and TV waves. Multi-million dollar product endorsements. He’d have reached the 5,000 friend-limit and started his own fan page, only later realising his mistake when nobody joined.

Paganini video

A video shot by some random audience member at a Paganini concert would go viral and influence musicians all over the world revolutionising both violin and piano technique forever. Baroque composers, Googling each other, would wonder why all their music sounded oddly similar. They’d blog about it. Support groups would spring up. Vivaldi would be invited as guest speaker. He’d discuss how the initial creative impetus behind his Four Seasons was a reality TV show on the weather he had seen on a recent JetBlue flight. Commenting furthermore, how the pilot kept interrupting the program by giving useless details on the route.

Mendelssohn would have appeared on Oprah’s show featuring “composers who come from wealthy families and is this advantageous or not in the current market economy”. Debussy would make a highly criticized appearance on Jerry Springer where both his wife and several ex-girlfriends would be brought out. Hair-pulling would ensue.

Wikileaks would go public with a conspiracy story on why great composers seem to die after writing nine symphonies, citing such examples as Beethoven, Schubert and Mahler. Shostakovich would make a rare public appearance to counter this. Rachmaninoff would get better press photos. Well, maybe not. He never really liked smiling.

Own reality

We certainly all live in our own reality and when I sit at the piano playing for hours that is most definitely an amazing place to be.

Just as it is fascinating to navigate between worlds while sitting in front of a computer screen. But the joy I witnessed in the eyes of my students in Santo Domingo was priceless. And to get that I had to be there with them. Sitting with them. Working with them. Talking and joking with them. That, the internet won’t do. Nor will it give you a mean Santo Domingo style coffee.

Mostly Julian

Julian Gargiulo is a pianist and composer who divides his time between wishing sabre-toothed tigers weren’t extinct and making paper pirate hats out of his old bios. In between his involvement as fundraiser for and friend of www.diabetes.ky, he also finds time for touring with his new album mostlyjulian, working on his nonprofit 16000children.org, curating the Water Island Music Festival in the US Virgin Islands and Crossing Borders of Hunter College in NY, and endlessly walking the streets of New York in search of people to add as Facebook friends. You can contact him on [email protected]

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