Michael Jackson and Beethoven

You might be surprised at the similarities between the two musical geniuses Beethoven and Michael Jackson.

I have previously spoken about Michael Jackson’s relationship to classical music and his use of various classical pieces, in concert, performance and release, including Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna”, Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, Maurice Duruflé’s “Pie Jesu” and Beethoven’s music more than once.

We will take a closer look today and a particular link between the two men’s upbringing and lives.

Michael Jackson’s use of Beethoven’s music

Michael Jackson used the great man’s music in concert and in his 1992 “Dangerous” album. He used Beethoven’s Symphony 9 in D minor (Op. 125) (otherwise known as “Ode to joy”) for the introduction to “Will you be there” and he also used the sections from the same Beethoven Symphony between song’s in his Michael Jackson and Friends concerts in 1999. Michael often spoke about classical artists and how he didn’t listen to a lot of pop music.

Beethoven’s Genius

Ludwig van Beethoven was a musical genius who lived about 200 years ago, in Austria.

I am a big fan of Beethoven’s work. I have read most books written about him, watched, probably, all the documentaries and films made about him and have all of his musical works. The problem is that it’s impossible to get a grasp of every piece because the collection is so large.

For me, his genius comes through most in his Piano sonatas. He wrote 38 and his most famous and my personal favourite, has to be Piano Sonata No. 14 , now known as “Moonlight Sonata”. The piece is divided between 3 movements and it’s important not to just listen to the first (famous) movement.

For me the contrast between the genius and the simplicity of Movement one and Movement 3 is unbelievable … so few people on earth can play this piece in a manner that might be close to how Beethoven might have wanted it. (You can take a listen to Movement 3 here).

Why Beethoven and Michael Jackson?

I was at dinner last night and the topic of conversation came to classical music and as often, the inevitable “Mozart vs Beethoven“. Let me be clear, I am a fan of Mozart’s work. I have all of Mozart’s work too and it’s a pity that one doesn’t have the time to listen to all of it (he has even more than Beethoven!).

That said, only Beethoven can make the listener feel the composers pain and passion. When you listen to Beethoven’s music you cry with him, you sweat with him and you have a physiological change. I feel the same with Michael Jackson’s performance of songs like “Earth Song” and “Stranger in Moscow” … maybe it takes an artist to understand pain and recognise pain in another.

Another point which I made yesterday was that I am fairly certain, that although I love Beethoven’s work, I am happy to admit I am a fan, I am also fairly certain that he would not have liked me and we would not have got on at all! The man was explosive!

When reading about the man, I can relate to his emotion but am well aware that these people are hard to be around when working and living … the time to be around them is during the music and performance!

This is where you separate the man from his art. I have always found this very easy to do. A genius can be an evil person or just a horrible person or even a boring person in his everyday life.

Similarly a great artist like Michael Jackson: I think that the world would be better served, would appreciate his art even more if they separated the man from his art. You can argue that his life was the performance and I agree with this, but his music stands separate to him, remains after he has gone (just as Beethoven’s) and I try to focus on that and enjoy it for what it is – I think he was a great man, I just feel that it doesn’t matter in relation to the music – just as I listen to Beethoven knowing that he would have been hard to be around and live with.

We know how much happiness Michael gave to people on a personal level and he will be loved for that by his fans forever. Too much weight is given to a person’s personal life when it comes to artist’s … fortunately the music outlasts gossip and innuendo with the greats.

Similarities between Michael Jackson and Beethoven

You might be shocked to hear that Michael Jackson and Beethoven had many similarities in upbringing and in life!

I will list a few for you:

1) Beethoven was a “pop star” in his day. He was famous! Very few artists were well known in his time and his musical scores were actually sold on the street, the way albums are sold today. He was also well known for being “eccentric” and a genius (in fact he was known for being “crazy”). Michael Jackson, the biggest pop star of modern times was also known for being an eccentric who’s work transcended any strange behaviour or “crazy” perception. They were very similarly in that sense. Although, if we watch “This is it”, we see Michael being very polite to his crew and musicians … he was so patient! I am sorry to say that they wouldn’t have lasted past the first 3 drum beats of “Wanna be startin something” with Beethoven! 🙂 (Jonathan Moffett might have been safe though … he never makes a mistake and Beethoven would have appreciated the feeling, considering he was going deaf in the latter part of his life and used vibration to compose many works) He was known for his temper and impatience. If anybody talked during a performance he would walk out … he hated authority and would bow to no one … he wanted his music to be played EXACTLY as he wanted and no other way (certainly like the King of Pop).

2) Michael Jackson and Beethoven were similar in a way that they were perceived to be reclusive, have complicated relationships and difficult personal relationships which clashed with their genius and their work. They were also known for strange behaviour which was overlooked due to their genius.

3) Michael Jackson started performing at the age of 6/7 … obviously a very early age and was obviously an amazing talent. Guess what age Beethoven did his first performance? Exactly the same age as Michael Jackson: 7 years old! (although his father pretended he was 6)

4) They both had similar fathers who were harsh on them and pushed them to practice and perform. Johann van Beethoven, Ludwig’s father was known for being harsh on his son and taught him to play. It has been said that his father would make him play even when he was crying. Michael Jackson’s father, Joseph Jackson has admitted beating his children and Michael has often spoken about the abuse at the hands of his father. It was Joseph who first pushed Michael to perform and train and practice and would beat him if he made a mistake. Both artists pain from their personal lives can be heard in the music.

5) Michael Jackson and Beethoven died at around the same ages. Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 years old and Beethoven died at age of 56. It is believed that Beethoven died of Lead poisoning and it is believed that Michael Jackson died of Propofol poisoning.

6) Michael Jackson’s memorial and funeral were watched by millions around the world and thousands of people turned out to pay their respects. Appropriately 20,000 people filled the memorial services arena and it was a news event. When Beethoven died a memorial procession was also held and uncannily similarly to Michael Jackson’s, 20,000 people turned up – you have to remember that this was 200 years with very difficult communication (basically word of mouth and posters). Both funerals were massive events, with thousands paying their respects and showing appreciation.

Beethoven’s funeral (by Franz stober):

7) Michael Jackson and Beethoven was afflicted by illness through their lives. Michael Jackson had the skin disorder virtiligo, as well other medical issues which caused him discomfort in his life and may have contributed to the medication/drugs which finally caused his death. Beethoven was also afflicted by medical conditions all though his life, from small pox, to constant stomach pain to losing his hearing. This caused him constant trouble and he often talked and wrote about it.

The Genius shines through in the music…

I hope you have enjoyed my little look at the similarities between Beethoven and Michael Jackson. Two genius who had a lasting effect on music and will be remembered as long as music is remembered.

By Anthony King (c)


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