16 December 2010


BEETHOVEN. Today marks the 240th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the German composer and pianist whose gifts were so prodigious that he became the pivotal giant who spanned the transition from the Classical and Romantic eras in western classical music. Perhaps best known for his nine orchestral symphonies, Beethoven also wrote concerti (solo instrument plus orchestra), sonatas (solo instrument, alone or with keyboard accompaniment) for piano, French horn, violin and cello, chamber music (small group of instruments, usually strings), one opera, two masses, and numerous lieder (art songs).

Beethoven's influence on subsequent generations of composers and listeners was profound. No one has successfully surpassed or even imitated his intricate harmonies, sometimes brooding musical themes, and the power of his orchestration -- the way chosen musical instruments are used to convey melody, harmony, and emotion.

Here are three samples of Beehoven's genius. The first selection is the second movement, allegretto, from his Symphony No. 7, complete with a visual, color-coded score. The second selection is the first movement (adagio sostenuto) from his Moonlight Sonata, performed by virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz. And the third selection is the first movement, allegro con brio, from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini.

BOEHNER. Soon-to-be Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. At least for the cameras. In her article The Crying Game, Gail Collins notes that Boehner's predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, isn't given to spontaneous showers of tears. Hillary Clinton, on the presidential campaign trail in 2008, shed nary a drop. Indeed, as Collins points out, any woman in public life who wept as often as Boehner does, would be seen as just another weak female and lose her credibility. Yet Boehner is driven to "great, noisy sobs" at the drop of a hat. What gives?

Collins goes one step further. "Besides the crying gap between men and women, there's also one between Republicans and Democrats. On the one hand, you have the folks who can't afford tears because it makes them look weak, and on the other, the people who are presumed to be tough and hard-nosed, for whom crying is an attractive sign of complexity.

"Boehner is opposed to extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, and he wants to kill off the law that guarantees health coverage for all Americans .... In 2007, he cried while delivering a speech on the floor of the House, in support of funding for the war in Iraq. 'After 3000 of our citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on?" he sobbed.

Then this year, he voted against providing money to take care of our fellow citizens who became ill while doing rescue and reclamation work at ground zero after the terrorist attack. Twice."

Methinks the gentleman doth shed crocodile tears too much.

BULGE. On this day in 1944, just over six months after D-Day, the German Army launched a desperate offensive in the Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium, in an attempt to regain the initiative in the war against the Allies. The offensive lasted for weeks, and has come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

Initially the offensive was successful, catching Allied forces by surprise and driving deeply into their flank. However, German armored and infantry forces overextended their reach, outpacing their supply lines. The Allies counterattacked, and ultimately the German forces were defeated and had to withdraw to the Siegfried Line, and continued retreating into the German homeland and eventual surrender.

During one phase of the battle, starting on 21 December, German units had surrounded the American 101st Airborne Division in the city of Bastogne. Despite severe cold and shortages of food and medical supplies, the Americans held their ground. When the German commander requested Bastogne's surrender, American General Anthony McAuliffe's famous morale-boosting response was one word -- "Nuts!" My kinda commander. The Battle of the Bulge, along with D-Day itself, was arguably the defining moment in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II. Here is a short summary of the battle from the History Channel, with high-definition color footage. The reminiscences of those who were there cannot fail to move the viewer.

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