Beethoven

Flash Fiction Friday: Moonlight Sonata

This week’s spark sentence came from Deanne M. Schultz. Make sure to check out her humorous writings after you leave a spark sentence in the comment section for next week’s flash fiction. If you’re confused, read this first.

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Man-in-ShowerThe shower water hissed down, echoing as it splashed in the tub. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata poured from the Kohler shower head, filling the bathroom with brooding tones. Patrick turned off the hot water faucet. There was no need to turn off the cold water — he never used it. He stepped out of the shower, rubbed a stiff, white towel through his hair and then wrapped it around his chest. With the music still playing, he stared at himself in the mirror and prepared himself for the long day to come. Beethoven always got him in the mood for a funeral.

His steel-blue eyes looked back at him, watching him shave, as if those eyes belonged to another person. He often caught sight of himself in the random reflection of a storefront window or a chrome-plated object  and didn’t recognize the refined man he had become. With slicked back, sandy brown hair, he was the spitting image of his father, only taller and more handsome. Patrick smiled at himself in the mirror, knowing how much that would have killed his proud father. If his father were still alive.

It was time to get ready. Patrick kissed the golden cross dangling from his chest, and moved to the bed. His pressed suit rested on top of the crisp, tucked-in sheets. He picked up the blazer, blacker than his irises without any of the sparkle, and placed it back down. What if he didn’t wear the suit today? Would that make him less qualified to bring another soul to his maker? There was no point in questioning that now. He had worn the same suit since his twentieth birthday. It was a symbol of his sacrifice and his wisdom. The others wouldn’t know how to relate to him if he went without it.

He buttoned up his black shirt, pulled up his black socks, and put the suit on. If he were to walk out now, he would look quite fashionable, if not on the dreary side, but there was still one more article he had to put on. He picked up his white collar from the chest of drawers and snapped it into place. The collar was meant to announce to the world that he had the answers, that he understood God’s will, but today that collar felt like a joke. He was no more certain of his faith than the hundreds of mourners who came to him after funerals, crying out “why?” Today he was going to sprinkle holy water on his last living relative, his younger brother, only twenty-seven years of age, and for that, no suit, no schooling, and no book could make him any more certain. All he could tell himself were the words he used so many times before but now seemed hollow: it is all part of God’s plan.

Patrick left his apartment, bible in hand, and walked down to the cemetery. It was a crisp fall day with barren tree branches gray in the horizon. It was a good day as any for a funeral. He hummed Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and tried to think if it as any other day.

On the shoulders of giants

Johannes BrahmsAnyone who’s taken a music history class has probably heard of Brahms. He’s usually listed off with Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Bach as the greatest, most influential composers of all time. But like most great artists, he almost let his self-doubt keep him from sharing his work.

It took Brahms 20 years to write his first symphony. 20 years! Why did it take him so long? He was paralyzed by his adoration of Beethoven. He loved Beethoven’s music so much and thought there was nothing he could add to the canon. He even had a marble bust of Beethoven overlooking his work space. He destroyed much of his early work, thinking it wasn’t good enough to exist in the same world as Beethoven’s music. Beethoven’s influence is obvious in Brahms’ first symphony. Some critics jokingly called it Beethoven’s 10th symphony. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great work of art. And he was able to continue making truly inspiring and unique music for years afterward.

English: Photograph of bust statue of Ludwig v...This is a problem a lot of artists run into; either we’re undermined for being too similar to our influences, or we are too intimidated by “the greats” to make anything original.

At art school, before anyone would discuss your artwork they would ask your influences. Then when they’d look at the actual work they’d say, “This just looks like a bad Debuffet/ Klimpt/Monet.” And if you say you don’t have any influences, you’re considered naive or arrogant. Even an untrained artist is supposed to know that Grandma Moses influenced them…duh. In this case, I don’t think the artist needs to change, it’s the critics that need to get over themselves. Sometimes it seems like they’re just looking for an excuse to name drop.

This is a tip for writers, but it applies to all the arts; stop comparing yourself to the classics: you’re going to fall short. Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway would not have written the same way if they were working today, so it makes no sense to still try and mimic them. When I read Barbara Kingslover I think I have no right to call myself a writer, but when I read a random new release from the bookstore I think, “I can’t believe I paid for this! I could write circles around this piece of …” Painters should go to contemporary galleries rather than museums. Musicians should go to open-mics rather than concerts. Spend some time exposing yourself to attainable art, and boosting your confidence. Sometimes it’s good to say, “hey, I can do that!”

If you have a spark of talent you owe it to yourself to express it. Take your influences and put your own spin on them. As Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Imagine how boring life would be if everyone stopped trying to make art after great work already existed. The radio would only play Beethoven. The libraries would be filled with Shakespeare  and the movie theaters would only be playing The Godfather. We need a little Brahms to spice things up.