Citing bloggers — or a consideration of what Diabelli was to Beethoven

Anton Diabelli's waltz -- or was it a 'shoemaker's patch'?

No, musicologists, I am not saying that the Austrian composer Anton Diabelli blogged – not even as an exercise in anachronistic steampunk fiction.

Geduld! … patience, please, while I first explain that I am going out of my way on this site to do as I wish scribes paid for all the words they publish would. I want them to credit bloggers for ideas they glean from their blogs. I would like them to say thank-you for inspiration from comments they read on internet publishing sites, instead of silently making off with the goods.

I hope to see the most influential print writers, as they move online, make it unremarkable to add pointers like these to the sparky thoughts of OpiumEater and H. Barca in earlier entries in this spot.

It is tedious to see net-haters confidently dismiss the blogosphere as worthless; a repository of nothing but lies, half-truths and bad writing. Of course their opinions are ridiculous, but too many of these people are still powerful in places that matter.

I have been trying to answer these questions about enemies of publishing’s future:

 ● Why are they so much more afraid of giving up the power they have today than of being doomed to irrelevance as brontosauri – in the near future?

 ● Why – denouncing bloggers and all their other new media competitors through gritted teeth – do they resist acknowledging the possibilities for mutually beneficial co-existence? Why, in other words, do they cast the debate about restructuring publishing for the future exclusively as ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ when it could be ‘us-and-them’?

 ● Why are they so immune to experiencing internet publishing — mixing media and hyper-linking and almost every other new, net-related skill – as a stimulus to creativity?  And is Twitter the exception for this crowd because: (a) they condescend to using it to draw attention to their change-resistant, conventional opinions and work; and (b) the quickness and (relative) will-o’- the-wisp insubstantiality of tweeting let them underline how little of their attention the new media deserve?

These thoughts floated into my head as Beethoven’s spine-steeling, enchanting Diabelli Variations – 33 miniature piano pieces, by way of the wizard Vladimir Ashkenazy  – were surging through my house and, I could have sworn, raising the roof beams. The sounds fit my mood so well that I found myself reading the CD’s liner notes, where I discovered the story behind this set of musical compositions. (Listen to this short clip from a Maria Yudina performance for an idea of their range.)

In 1819, from Vienna, Anton Diabelli – who had begun his own career as a composer as an adolescent, and eventually started a small music-publishing firm with a friend – sent 51 composers a waltz he had composed himself. As a publicity stunt, he invited them to write a variation on it. Beethoven’s was the most famous name on his list. Verging on 50, the great man had entered his famous ‘last period’, often called sublime,  in which he composed the Missa Solemnis and his Ninth Symphony.

His first reaction to the Diabelli offering was undisguised disgust. Michael Steinberg, who wrote my liner notes, said that Beethoven called it a ‘shoemaker’s patch’ – and recounts the composer’s contradictory reaction after that:

Before long … in the words of the scholar Ludwig Finscher, “his displeasure became productive and he began to work, admittedly not on a variation but on ‘big variations,’ which was not at all what Diabelli expected and which also took a long time”. When the package finally arrived it contained thirty-three variations. Diabelli understood what had fallen into his hands, and his announcement declared – correctly – that Beethoven’s work had but one peer: Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He was even modest enough to add that the theme was not one from which such a progeny could be expected.

You, reader, might despise classical music. But even if the sum of your knowledge about this composer is that he was the hero of the small boy we know from Charles Schultz’s penstrokes as Schroeder, isn’t Beethoven’s change of mind encouraging? Perhaps there are creative spirits inexplicably locked into prejudice against blogging and bloggers today who will undergo a similar transformation – with just as magnificent consequences? Steinberg adds:

In sum, Beethoven, who often enjoyed using skeletal material, had discovered Diabelli’s waltz to be something he could work with.

Then, Beethoven let the music soar into posterity stamped with the name of the enterprising publisher.