Category Archives: Random

Hardcore History

A few days ago I made some recommendations about favorite podcasts. But in the meantime, I’ve discovered a fantastic new show.

Hardcore History is what history classes should be. Host Dan Carlin chronicles a living picture of events over several three-hour episodes, explaining them from the point of view of several historians and bringing them to life through the reading of historical accounts.

It’s captivating and addictive, and the only bad part is the one-and-a-half minute introduction, voiced in the dumb American summer blockbuster trailer style. So far, I’ve only listened to the mini-series dedicated to World War I, but I’m convinced that this is one of the best podcasts in the English language.

Naiveté or laziness?

We’ve never had so much information at our disposal.

Through legitimate or illegitimate means, we have access to news, testimonies, scientific studies, technical manuals and many other types of information that a decade and a half ago were accessible only to specific professional classes or to a social elite.

There might be the occasional need to consult a specialist, to decipher a particularly nebulous piece of information. But as a general rule, we have enough data to craft an informed opinion on just about anything – if we invest the time and effort to do so.

Why, then, do more and more people seem content to accept the first thing they hear when they turn on the television, the first words they read on an estranged friend’s Facebook?

About Beethoven’s Last Night

I have already written about my peculiar relationship with music. Exceptions are usually songs that tell stories. I’m not the right person to assess musical quality, but stories are my life, so it does not surprise me that a song which incorporates a narrative catches my attention.

I am not necessarily talking about a musical number at the theatre or the movies. Those never sat well with me; it felt like the prose was being forced into the music. A story does not mean dialogue; it does not mean prose. A handful of good stanzas is enough when you know what you’re doing.

One of my favorite albums is “Beethoven’s Last Night” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It is a brilliant rock opera that, across its 22 tracks, tells the story of the composer’s last night.

But like the best stories, it frames it as a battle between good and evil. At the gates of death, the artist despairs to finish his last work, and primordial forces arise to fight for his soul. Hell appears incarnate in Mephistopheles. The heavens send a muse, under the guise of an old love.

Music represents the dialogue between these three parts. Mephistopheles does everything to convince the composer of the futility of his efforts; the muse encourages him to persist, to create his final work in praise and honor to the Divine. Throughout the album, Beethoven vacillates between inspiration and despair, under the influence of these two forces. It is one of the most beautiful metaphors the artistic process that I had witnessed.

That all this is transmitted so vividly, so colorfully, through short verses and the power of music… That is simply exceptional.

So who wins, after all, the soul of the composer?

You can find out by listening to the album:

It is worth leaving my usual note here: we live in a fantastic time in which we have beautiful art at our disposal, completely free of charge. If such a work captures your imagination, if such art inspires you, then that is a signal to ponder the possibility of buying what is freely given, and thus support the artist.