01 March 2010

Huntley and Brinkley and Beethoven's Ninth


It is a remarkable journey I travel listening to the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I do not think I here say anything itself remarkable, for my words pall before the reality of this symphony. To my mind, the 9th is one of the world’s sublime creations.

And the journey through this second movement, filled as it seems to me with struggle and triumph, with pain and joy, with ugliness and even beauty challenges and stimulates me.

But no, I don’t mean this posting to be some exposition on Beethoven’s 9th symphony or even its remarkable second movement. (Of course, to call the second movement remarkable almost assumes that the others are not so; this is not so. Each is consummate in its own manner.) Rather, when I hear the opening measure of the second movement, I am reminded of the opening seconds of the Huntley-Brinkley report on NBC news during the 1960s and early 1970s.

I do not know who chose the theme music for this program, but clearly it was someone who understood the nature of the news, and meant the music to set the tone for the reporting of it. Whoever chose this music understood what was the substance and consequence of the news report, and to prepare for its presentation chose the dramatic and portentous opening measures that culminate in portentous beats of the tympani drum. The news mirrored the journey of the second movement, both filled with struggle and triumph, with pain and joy, with ugliness and even beauty. And so the close of the movement with its furious in driving rhythm accompanied by the pounding of the tympani drums served well as the conclusion of the news program; a fitting end to the arduous, climactic journey which the symphony and the had engaged us. It was the perfect frame for this production. At the end of both, I was relieved, even exhausted, and glad for the moment of rest.

I cannot help but compare the solemnity with which the news was treated then to the superficialities and silliness that accompanies it now. Then the news was significant and important, and to report it required dignity and a sense of solemnity. Today, regardless of the content, the tone is glib or melodramatic (which might be the same thing), the newscasters insubstantial and undignified, and too often crude and insensitive. I don’t know that they know anything about what they report, and what they report partakes of little matter. News has become just another reality TV show, manipulating events to entertain and not to inform, to accumulate viewers and hence, advertising dollars. These so-called news programs address themselves to those who would not journey, but who remain content with fast food take out and home delivery. If the news has not changed, then its means of being reported has undergone a precipitous and somewhat dangerous decline.

Beethoven is no longer suitable as introduction or conclusion to the news of the day. I would have better for my children. I take them to concerts of Beethoven’s symphonies, and subscribe to too many substantial weeklies.