David Commanday’s comments to the audience prior to the Heartland Festival Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Symphony Number 3, the “Heroic”, on Saturday, October 27, 2012.
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you for being with us this evening, and with me and my family.
This program was planned long, long ago – far sooner than the seven weeks which have elapsed since the loss of my step-brother, Chris Stevens, in Libya. And yet, I believe there is no more fitting tribute, more appropriate piece of music with which to celebrate the achievements of a person like Chris.
Chris and I got acquainted with each other back when he was a teenager and I not much more than a teenager, when our folks got married. And already in high school Chris had a capacity to make a friend on first meeting. Not only was he outgoing and a delight and charming, but he had a gift for listening. I am certain that his capacity to listen, but not merely to listen but actually to hear the person with whom he was meeting, was a key to the successes of his career.
We have many heroes who protect our liberties and protect our freedom, and who help uphold the ideals which we hold dear, here in the United States; equality, liberty, freedom, dignity for all… and an open-hearted willingness to live with our neighbors. Well, these in fact were ideals which Beethoven himself cherished.
In 1803 he had just come off of a tremendous personal crisis in his life, as some of you may remember from our experience with the Second Symphony a year ago. He wrote this moving testament and nearly suicidal note out in Heiligenstadt, one of the suburbs in Vienna. He was coming to the realization that he would never be able to live the ‘normal’ life of which he had dreamed – that his ears probably would not be healed, and that he would live the rest of his life as a deaf man. So he had a period of turmoil behind him, and that was in his personal realm.
But at the same time in the world, in Europe, in the beginning of the 19th Century – 1800- 1803 – there were forces at work that kept life from being settled in every way – they were revolutionary forces. It was not long since the American Revolution had occurred, and still less time had passed since the French Revolution. And the leader of the French Revolution or at least its proclaimed hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, was idealized by Beethoven as having been instrumental in setting men free, leaving behind the tyranny of aristocracies and the suppression of the common man. Humanity seemed to be stepping forward to a brave new future.
And so Beethoven, on the heels of this crisis, and at the moment of reaffirming his joy in life and finding once again his creative power, wrote this work and initially dedicated it to Napoleon Bonaparte. When, however, before its premiere Beethoven was informed that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor — he violently scratched out the name on the title page, and tore the dedication page in half.
“So it turns out he is human after all – he is just going to be another one of the tyrants!” And so he left us this work, and entitled it;
“To celebrate the memory of a great man”.
Chris Stevens lived a life, pursued a career dedicated to the ideals of liberty and friendship among peoples. He arrived wherever he went with his hand open, ready to meet his next friend. And he might be in the same room with an Israeli and a Palestinian, and each one of them would feel he had been heard.
It was magic, really.
We need peacemakers like Chris Stevens. And so in the tragedy and the sadness of his loss I take some solace in the fact that, because of this dreadful occurrence, his work has become all the more clearly known around the world. And think of the harvest of good will and friendship and, yes, love, which was the result of his encounters with all the Libyans — resulting in an outpouring of, of grief, regret, condolences, and also messages not just to my personal family but to all of us Americans from the Libyans, who said: “This is not us, we are against this.”
So we all need to find ways to emulate what Chris did, and make peace – to wage peace, and not war.
This symphony is a solemn moment, and yet it is a celebration – and you will hear the vitality and the nobility of the hero. This is a celebration of life and of humanity, and we hope it will help you take in this experience of being human, and help all of us to heal and go forward.