Just days after a friend of mine visited Metz, France, and questioned why the French would ever deface their beautiful, ancient buildings with graffiti, I stumbled across this phrase, barely visible in the dark: “Beethoven is a revolutionary.”
While I didn’t answer my friend at the time, I should have told her that I love thought-provoking graffiti not only because of what is says but also how it says it and where. The combination between images and words, medium and method, never ceases to amaze me.
Here, I imagine some French teenager, in the classic image of rebellion, scampering off with a can of spray paint in the dark, only to paint a statement about classical music and Beethoven’s unorthodox take to it. Alan Woods summarizes: “After Beethoven (1770-1827), it was impossible to go back to the old days when music was regarded as a soporific for wealthy patrons who could doze through a symphony and then go home quietly to bed. After Beethoven, one no longer returned from a concert humming pleasant tunes. This is music that does not calm, but shocks and disturbs. it is music that makes you think and feel.”
In other words, even though Beethoven’s music is now considered standard in classical repertoire, his music in his time was emotional, nuanced, and breaking musical taboo.
Graffiti like this makes me rethink the purpose and the place of public thought. It makes me rethink my typical image of a graffiti artist. It also reminds me that change — even through music — is rarely appreciated until after it manages to happen.