Beethoven, the Beatles, and Homo Deus

Kate and I listened to Beethoven’s masterpiece today, the Ninth Symphony. This last of his symphonies explores one theme, then another, growing and growing, and finally giving us that amazing choral finale which everyone agrees is his greatest work.

Immersing myself in this magnificent music, I felt the parallel with the Beatles’ masterpiece, the second side of Abbey Road, their last album. So we listened to that next. Like Beethoven, the Beatles here go beyond their usual tracks, weaving a great work that explores one theme, then another, building and building to the big drum solo and the final catharsis.

Meanwhile I have just read Harari’s book Homo Deus. Harari shows us how for hundreds of years in the West we located meaning and morals externally, in an all-powerful God, but now we have moved to locating them in ourselves, in humanity and its needs and feelings.

And I realized that Harari’s point is perfectly reflected in the stirring final lyrics of Beethoven and the Beatles. Beethoven (Schiller) finishes with a triumph of religion: “Above the starry canopy must dwell a loving father”  (Über’m Sternenzelt muß ein lieber Vater wohnen). The Beatles finish with a triumph of humanism: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

[15 August 2017]

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