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2009-02-23

The classical music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night album

This post will be a little different from most of my posts. There will still be plenty of free music available in it, but the common thread between all of this music is an album that is not freely available (at least not in any legal way). To be honest, I'm really not sure how well this will work out, so I would really appreciate any feedback you might have about it (i.e. if you really don't like it, make sure you say so, or I'll probably just do it again in the future).

The album in question is Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night. Released in 2000, this album is a full-blown rock opera featuring a fictionalized account of the final night in the life of Ludig van Beethoven as its subject matter. To summarize the story very briefly, Beethoven has just finished writing his Tenth Symphony (which was actually never completed in reality) when Mephistopheles (the devil) shows up to claim Beethoven's soul. Mephistopheles offers to let Beethoven keep his soul if the memory of his works is erased from all mankind. Over the next hour, the spirit Fate takes Beethoven back through his life and offers him the chance to make any changes that he wishes. Each time Beethoven requests to have a painful experience changed, he realizes that his music will suffer for it, and he finally informs Fate that he would not change any part of his life. When he tells Mephistopheles that he will not allow his music to be destroyed, Mephistopheles offers to let Beethoven keep his soul in exchange for his Tenth Symphony. When Beethoven refuses this offer as well, Mephistopheles points out the window at a young orphan and describes in graphic detail all the hardships he will inflict upon her if Beethoven will not comply with him.

If you haven't heard the album, I won't spoil the ending for you. It can easily be looked up on the Internet if you really want to know, although I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the album and listening to it and reading the accompanying story for yourself. If you're still not convinced, then perhaps listening to some of the incredible music contained on the album might help. A lot of the songs on the album are based around famous classical pieces, and thanks to Wikipedia and Classic Cat, I've been able to track down free recordings of every one of these pieces. Doing so has given me a new appreciation of the album; I hope that it will do the same for you if you've already heard it, and if you haven't heard it, I hope that you still enjoy the music featured here.

The album's overture features music from Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight", Piano Sonata No. 8 "Pathétique", Symphony No. 9, and Symphony No. 5, and Mozart's Requiem. A few other songs on the album are built around these pieces, while others feature them as brief interludes; for example, "What is Eternal" has a brief section from the 9th Symphony's "Ode to Joy" played on piano. Likewise, Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 makes a brief appearance in "The Moment".

Around the middle of the album, things really begin to get interesting. "Mozart" is a rock version of the overture of Mozart's Le Nozze de Figaro ("The Marriage of Figaro" in English), while "Requiem (The Fifth)" gives Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 a similar treatment, punctuated by a couple of brief sections from Mozart's Requiem.

One of the real highlights of the album is "A Last Illusion". The song starts with an acoustic guitar playing part of Mozart's Sonata No. 15 in C major. The rest of the first half of the song is based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee", which works very well in a metal context. Around the middle of the song, the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony makes an appearance, first on piano, then joined by the rest of the band. The way all these elements work together is very moving, and this song proves to be pivotal to the album's storyline, as this is where Beethoven is given a chance to improvise with musicians from the past and future who were inspired by him; after this, he makes the decision not to change any part of his life.

The album's final lengthy instrumental is "Beethoven", which is mainly a metal version of the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (which, upon closer inspection, is actually not available from Classic Cat; if I manage to find a free version of it somewhere, I will update this post with the link), with a little bit of his Piano Sonata No. 8 "Pathétique" included for good measure. The latter piece also plays a prominent role as part of the backing music in "Mephistopheles' Return". Rounding out the album's classical source music are Beethoven's "Für Elise", an abbreviated version of which is given its own track, and Frédéric Chopin's Op. 68 Mazurka No. 3, which serves as the backing music for much of "The Dreams of Candlelight".

Beethoven's Last Night has long been a favourite album of mine. Hearing where a lot of the music on the album comes from has given me an even deeper appreciation for it. The fact that it is sometimes difficult to tell where the classical music ends and the rock music begins is a true testament to the genius of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I hope that you have been able to take some enjoyment from this post, whether it is as a longtime fan of the band or someone completely new to them. Happy listening!

URLs:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beethoven's_Last_Night (includes full track listing with source music, where appropriate)
http://www.classiccat.net/index.htm
http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/27-2.htm (Piano Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight")
http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/13.htm (Piano Sonata No. 8 "Pathétique")
http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/125.htm (Symphony No. 9 "choral")
http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/67.htm (Symphony No. 5 in C minor)
http://www.classiccat.net/mozart_wa/626.htm (Requiem)
http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/68.htm (Symphony No. 6 "Pastorale")
http://www.classiccat.net/mozart_wa/492.htm (Le Nozze de Figaro)
http://www.classiccat.net/mozart_wa/545.htm (Sonata No. 15 in C major "Sonata semplice")
http://www.classiccat.net/rimsky-korsakov_n/57.htm (Flight of the Bumble Bee)
http://www.classiccat.net/beethoven_l_van/w59.htm (Für Elise)
http://www.classiccat.net/chopin_f/68.htm (4 Mazurkas Op. 68 - the 3rd one is what Trans-Siberian Orchestra used)

2 comments:

RiceBallAttack said...

This comment isn't going to be helpful in the least, but I wanted to express how freaking grateful I am that now I know what the classical songs are behind TSO. Freaking Chopin. I never would've guessed that. So thanks :]

Jeff said...

You're very welcome! Chopin was a big surprise to me too, especially the way it's just used as backing for a vocal song. That makes me wonder if there are any other classical melodies hiding on this album that people haven't just found yet.

I can't wait to hear what they've done with Nightcastle (whenever it ends up getitng released).