Beethoven’s Menacing Bust

From First Impressions to the Beethoven Bagatelles


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I sat down and ran my fingers over the keys, and although I liked how smooth they felt, I was not very interested. I just wished Beethoven would stop staring at me so sternly. It must have been his eyes, or lack thereof, that so frightened me. There were no pupils, just carved out lids with indented eye sockets, his long, plastic, wavy hair skimming a high-necked ruffled collar. Unless I kept my head down there was no avoiding him.

I had never heard any classical music in our home. My father loved the songs from jazz singers like Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee and my mother worshiped Frank Sinatra.

Between the humorless teacher and Beethoven’s menacing glare, classical music held zero interest for me.

One afternoon, an elderly woman with wrinkled skin and a black skirt, which fell below her knees, showed up for lessons. This was no replacement for the ball field.

The teacher pulled Thompson’s red beginner book out of her bag and we began. “Every good boy does fine,” she hammered into my head for the treble clef, and “F-A-C-E” for the bass. I learned to read music quickly, but every day after school, when all I wanted to do was roll around the floor with our dog, my mother had to essentially push me towards the piano and the bust.

I endured the lessons a few months longer, making it just past the Thompson classic, “Spinning Song.” Between the humorless teacher and Beethoven’s menacing glare, classical music held zero interest for me. Owing to my refusal to practice and the ensuing battles with my mother, the piano was returned.

The deliverymen removed the piano, but Beethoven endured. He was placed on a living room shelf and served as a constant reminder of how I had disappointed my mother. I was no pianist.

Thirty years later, the bust long gone, the memory of that awful teacher buried in my memory, I decided to take some piano lessons. With several passionate and encouraging teachers, I now find myself, a middle-aged woman, trying to make up for all that lost time. I believe that if I had had a more engaging teacher when I was young, I would have stuck with piano. It would have been a wonderful consolation prize for being excluded from Little League.

And so a few months ago, with my friend’s encouragement, I mustered up the courage to buy the Henle edition of the Complete Beethoven Bagatelles. My teacher selected Number 2 from Opus 119 for me.

The music was loaded with a playful personality, a sound I could never have thought possible with the memory of that awful bust. But now I can’t get enough of it. Like my mother, I still love listening to Sinatra, but perhaps Beethoven wasn’t so frightening after all.

Next on GRAND PIANO PASSION™, Robin Sloane Seibert plays the Beethoven Bagatelle No. 2.

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Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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