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Recovery, Reinvention and Aging: Lessons from Handel and Beethoven

Posted by Thomas Edwards on December 27, 2019 10:45 AM EST
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One of my favorite rites of passage during the holidays is to listen to Handel’s “Messiah”, an amazing feat of classical music…..

….and composing that incredibly combines the specific scriptures that capture key moments in the life of Jesus Christ during three primary phases of his life on Earth.  Two of these three life phases are celebrated as religious holidays his birth (Christmas), his day-to-day life and his death and resurrection (Easter).  “Messiah” is the most performed orchestral piece during the Christmas holiday period in the world.

Surprisingly, the piece was written in about three weeks and Handel was about fifty-six years old.  His age was considered somewhat advanced age during a time in history is which average human life expectancies are about thirty years less than the modern era.  That this work has lasted for such a long time since it’s creation in the mid-1700s is miraculous…perhaps metaphoric for the life it memorializes.

Another great work of classical music composition is Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”.  Beautiful and mesmerizing, this work was created during a time in which Beethoven’s advancing deafness had become complete, so music could only reside in his imagination.  While Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” was written more than sixty years after Handel’s “Messiah”, the impact of old age and his deafness would have led most people to believe his best work would not lay ahead.  Yet, during this period, which was the last decade of his life, Beethoven was able to be prolific and remarkable including the composition of “Missa Solemnis.  According to a recent article written by Arthur C. Brooks and published in The Washington-Post Weekly, many experts believe that Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” is the greatest orchestral pied ever written.  (Beethoven died at the age of fifty-six-ironic, eh?).

So, what are the key lessons to be drawn from these two great composers’ greatest works-written and produced to tumultuous fanfare during times of advanced age and physical liabilities?  Here’s what Arthur Brooks wrote in his recent article in The Washington Post Weekly:

“Deafness freed Beethoven as a composer because he no longer had society’s soundtrack in his ears.  Perhaps therein lies a lesson for each of us. …..”

And, following that, Mr. Brooks writes: 

“Have you lost something that defined your identity?  Maybe it involves your looks.  Or your social prestige.  Or your professional relevance.  How might this loss set you free?  You might finally define yourself in new ways, free from the boundaries you set for yourself based on the expectations of others.”

On Handel’s later life success with “Messiah” and other noteworthy works, Wikipedia has this to say about the respect accorded to him by his contemporary composers, including Beethoven:

Handel has generally been accorded high esteem by fellow composers, both in his own time and since.  Bach attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet Handel while he was visiting Halle.  Mozart is reputed to have said of him, "Handel understands affect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt." To Beethoven, he was "the master of us all... the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb." Beethoven emphasized above all the simplicity and popular appeal of Handel's music when he said, "Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means."

Good words.  Lessons to consider are embedded in them.  After conferring with CareTrek Support Group colleagues, Joe and Chip, here are key lessons we think are applicable to the issues related to Aging, Reinvention and Recovery-all important aspects of living a life of wellbeing in the classic five elements Gallup Inc. has researched and reported on:  career wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, social wellbeing, and community wellbeing.

Lessons for Aging, Reinvention, and Recovery from Handel and Beethoven:

·     Seek new beginnings, perhaps new approaches to the challenges faced in your life

·      Find new approaches to the work you do-perhaps setting a new path for others

·      Look for breakthroughs in what you do, and how you do it, whether it's in your work life, social life, and community engagement

·      Never give up, never, never give up

·      Don’t let the old rules, or others’ rules, define the new rules you can set for yourself


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