How Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Helped My Grief After Losing a Loved One -- Part 1

Beethoven's symphonies can be violent.

In my hurting state, I had trouble acclimating myself to his sonic violence. His symphonies lunge at you. They're swordsmen jabbing at you with angry, ferocious thrusts. The orchestra leaps and whirls with aggressive, chordal stabs. Like this:

That's certainly how the Ninth Symphony starts out in the first movement, once it gets past the opening percolation -- the soft fluttering of eyelids and breaths from the orchestra as if it's a giant slowly waking up from hibernation -- but when it's fully conscious, KABOOM, it lunges for your throat with its giant hand and doesn't let up for the first minute or two.

 (This giant kinda looks like a cross between an angry Keith Green from the '70s and Bob Ross from the '80s.)

(This giant kinda looks like a cross between an angry Keith Green from the '70s and Bob Ross from the '80s.)

But I didn't turn it off. I kept going. I got past the first movement, and once the second movement erupted from my speakers, a sudden elation swept over.

The second movement has this stunning moment where, like a burst of sunshine or fireworks or any other light source you can think of, the violins ignite across the speakers with this sweeping gusto: their notes literally swoop upwards ( a bit of glissando) to the highest note and pinnacle/climax at the main melodic theme for the second movement.

And, in that glorious melodic moment, the joy, the warmth, the pure relish for all things alive, makes you want to bury your face in the sky (see picture above) like a kid burying her face in a pillow case fresh out of the dryer.

That joyous moment in the melody, the grand swoop upwards to the highest, happiest note in the string section, communicated one simple truth to my soul:


Pure, child-like, inexhaustible gratitude -- the youthful, energetic kind of gratitude that never gets tired, like the toddler who seems to have boundless life and energy, able to run around and play for hours at a time.

And the sheer weight of joy that Beethoven loaded onto his symphony at that moment began to tip the scales until my thoughts couldn't help but begin thinking of all the wonderful memories I had with my mom.

Sure, I could just listen to some pop song or CCM song with its oh-so-subtle lyrics that say outright, "Thank you!" The dull, repetitive mantra-like "hook" of pop music is just not sharp enough to cut through grief. Pop music is this:

Symphonies are this:

The purpose of this blog -- The Problem of Pain and Symphonies -- is to offer a measure of comfort, however much possible, to those grieving or depressed for some reason, and to do so using faith and fine arts.

In this case, when Beethoven helped me turn from the acute sorrow, if only for a moment, to think of happy memories and feel overwhelming gratitude, his symphony functioned like a tool that broke through whatever was stopping me from being grateful.

And my faith in God meant I had Someone higher than myself -- Someone beyond my own self-focused orbit -- to thank.

I then saw/felt/understood in my heart (not just my head) how faith and fine arts can be a powerful combination.

(Note: This is the first article under my website's new blog theme called The Problem of Pain and Symphonies. Older blog posts might focus on different topics and be a bit more miscellaneous.)

You can listen to Symphony No. 9 for yourself, right here: