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Beethoven X Coldplay

with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

I started to wonder: what was Beethoven the thirty-five-year-old like? What would it have been like to sit down with him? What would we talk about? And, eventually, I wondered: would he have liked the music of Coldplay?? ”

Steve Hackman, Conductor and Creator

Coldplay may not come up in your suggested listening when you've just played Beethoven's Eroica, but a new program from conductor and creator Steve Hackman places the two unique compositional forces in conversation. Curious yet? Read on for Hackman's extended program note. Experience Beethoven X Coldplay live in Orchestra Hall Sunday, October 22.

Beethoven X Coldplay is a symphonic fusion of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and the music of Coldplay. The latter’s melodies and lyrics are fused with the former’s music in every possible way, turning the Eroica symphony into an oratorio. 

I sought to combine Beethoven and Coldplay because of their shared universality. They both confront broad, humanist themes of the human experience in their music: love, loss, tragedy, triumph, joy, pain. Their treatment of these themes is so elegant and perfect that you do not need to be a fan of classical or alternative rock for their music to speak to you. So their universality is two-fold: in the themes they confront, and the appeal they therefore create. 

Shortly after beginning work on this fusion, I realized I was the exact same age Beethoven was when he wrote the Eroica symphony. This had a curious effect on me. I started to wonder: what was Beethoven the thirty-five-year-old like? What would it have been like to sit down with him? What would we talk about? And, eventually, I wondered: would he have liked the music of Coldplay?? 

It seems quite a preposterous notion, does it not? But that is only because we by default think of Beethoven as the legendary historical figure, the giant that sits atop our Mount Olympus of composers. I ask you to instead consider Beethoven the human being, as I began to do when I realized the similarity in our ages.  

Beethoven X Coldplay

Take the following into account: 

At the time of writing the Eroica, Beethoven was still preoccupied with becoming regarded by all as the preeminent composer of his day. He knew his Eroica would settle this unequivocally. But though the piece is now mentioned among only a handful of pieces that changed the course of music forever, the premiere was met with ambivalence, with some critics calling it ‘unintelligible.’ Would Beethoven have felt empathy with the Coldplay line, ‘Nobody said it was easy…no one ever said it would be this hard?'

Beethoven had a coarse and unpleasant personality and therefore found sanctuary from the outside world in his music. Would he have appreciated the lyric, 'I turn my music up...I shut the world outside...I hear my heart start beating to my favorite song...?' 

The natural world was also a refuge for Beethoven; he sought in his music to approach that perfection God had exhibited in his creation of the Earth. Can we imagine Beethoven in this Coldplay line: ‘Lying underneath the stormy sky… he knows the sun must set to rise… so he dreams of Paradise.’ 

Or, 'When you love someone and it goes to waste, could it be worse?’ Would those lines have meant something to the composer who struggled at romance and was often tortured by unrequited love? 

And can you imagine the 34-year-old composer, who had recently battled depression to the extent of considering taking his own life to the realization that he was irreversibly going deaf, not being overcome by the lyric, ‘Tears stream down your face… when you lose something you cannot replace…and I will try to fix you?'

We love Coldplay because we feel they are speaking just to us—their songs seem to tell our own stories. ”

Steve Hackman, Conductor and Creator

So why shouldn’t they tell Beethoven’s? If he was once a person the same age as us, desperate for recognition of his genius, battling his health and depression, longing for love, and ‘dreaming of paradise,’ who is to say he wouldn’t have found escape in a song of Coldplay? Or a moment of peace knowing that someone had been through exactly what he was going through and had found a way to perfectly articulate it through song? 

So what is the point of an exercise of this sort? Will changing the lens through which we view these artists and composers provide a new perspective? Will finding connections between them offer a new context? Isn't it just a little too far-fetched to even think that Beethoven would EVER have listened to Coldplay? And even if he had: what is the point in combining his music with theirs? 

I know my answer. You're about to hear it. 

Steve Hackman, February 2020 

Beethoven X Coldplay

October 22

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