The Beethoven Virus is like an ogre (or onion)

For some reason, my sisters and I always watch this show on the eve of long separations. Maybe it is appropriate. After all, it is about little people changing their lives.

Title: The Beethoven Virus/베토벤 바이러스

Genre: Drama/18 episodes/2008

Synopsis: An inept civil servant for Seokran Town’s Arts Council , Du Rumi (Lee Ji Ah) started an  city orchestra project to promote Seokran as a city for the arts. She ended up being conned out of a few million won and had to resort to recruiting people who are willing to pay for free. These includes a cabaret trumpeter, two electronic violinists, a housewife who once went to music school, a moonlighting vet, a retired oboe player, a disgruntled middle manager and a flute student. Instrumental (ehem) to their orchestra is Maestro Kang Gun Woo (Kyung Myung Min), a famous conductor hired and coerced to whip them in shape. Infamous for being harsh, unbearably forthright and unreachable, Maestro Kang finds himself more emotionally entangled with his ragtag band than he bargained for, especially when he discovers a musical genius in a traffic policeman trumpeter, Kang Gun Woo (Jang Geun Suk). By the way, that’s right, they share the same name.  Du Ru Mi gets romantically linked to the two Kang Gun Woos. She also caught the Beethoven virus. Not his music, sadly but his slow deafness.


AZ’s favourite pieces of music:

1. Beethoven’s Choral Symphony  (The sum of one’s life is larger than its parts)

Nothing like the booming Germanic joy proclaiming salvation to really get the party started. My favorite piece is the Beethoven’s Choral Symphony performed by the Project Orchestra midway in the show even though this piece is so iconic (ahem) that I never listened to it properly at all. Beethoven was so inspired by Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” (extracted below) that he wanted to write a piece on it. Twenty years later, he managed to do it (isn’t it great that people didn’t rush things back then, if he had KPIs to meet, then he could not have written it and it would have been passed to some overseas scholar (sorry Adik) on the fast track to complete) He added some words of his own on the universal brotherhood of man which are my especial fave parts of the lyrics:

Those words written specifically by Beethoven (rather than Schiller) are shown in italics.  (thks to Wikipedia of coz!)

German original[11]
English translation
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere an stimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude! (men’s chorus: Freude! )
Freude! (chorus again: Freude! )
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! (Joy!)
Joy! (Joy!)
Freude, schöner Götterfunken*
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity*
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your sanctuary, heavenly (daughter)!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul,
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proved in death;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven’s glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
Finale repeats the words:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Finale repeats the words:
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity

[Aside: I find the Maestro’s flashback really strange though. Did he really kill his mother? Is that why he was estranged from the rest of his family and so screwed up? Was she a single mum? Who takes of her when he goes to school? Surely an 11 year old kid cannot be solely responsible for such a sick person? Where was the real caregiver when this was happening? Went out for groceries? Was it a nightmare sequence? None of these questions were answered]

It doesn’t seem much out of context but to understand why this performance was so moving, one must remember that the dysfunctional everyman Project Orchestra was so beset by the external machinations of mayoral politics, and the internal members’ personal doubts and problems [added to a huge flood on the day of the concert (but of course to ratchet up the melodrama)] that they almost could not make the performance. At the last moment, the choral group also decided to pull out (due to the Maestro’s master of the universe manner in announcing that HE will decide whether they will perform or not, who can blame them really..)  The viewers are kept in suspense whether they would actually turn up after the nice KGW begged them to, but the moment they do come in, singing the beautiful lyrics, there was this feeling of almost blinding relief and deliverance, it was like finally finishing a project that has bogged you down for ages and ages, with rotten colleagues, no support from management and no end in sight and you have no mental resources left to deal with it and the outcome is not even important anymore. Finally it ends..FINALLY! I was so moved that I actually cried. I didn’t even begrudge the curmudgeonly Maestro’s moment of joy (even though I wouldn’t have minded him being shown up..schadenfreunde instead of an die freunde,.heh). I like that he was actually singing happily along with the chorus. He hadn’t show any real feeling for music up to that point. Even the Nella Fantasia scene was more like him showing off his technical skill really.

The idea is that everyone, no matter how suckky and conformist one’s life is, can be part of something big if one dares to dream. And by doing so, one’s life becomes meaningful too. Only small minds are concerned with the minute whirls of their own navels (read politicians and civil servants). Cliched but effectively illustrated. The Orchestra itself does a good job of representing most everyman. I enjoyed the most characters which were closest to home  viz. the bored, dissatisfied, doormat housewife serving 2 unappreciative kids and a lazy husband aka drudge Jung Hee Yun (but everyone keeps forgetting her name and calls her “Auntie” grim) and bored, dissatisfied, ineffectual, passed-over pencil pusher aka drudge Park Hyuk-Kwon (incidentally whose daughter Bora’s incessant questions are just like Amir’s. Why xx? Why yy? Why xx again? I know it is the way kids learn but HONESTLY! Sometimes he asks the same questions just because he likes my answers..Sheesh). Although I must add, I had a soft spot for the blustering, crass ah-beng with a heart of gold trumpeter Bae Yong-Gi.  The scene where he digs the nose of the unconscious and ill Maestro to help clear his mucus was show-biz gold. How mortifying for the Maestro if he had but known. Don’t tell Papa! Ahohoho! It was a pity that his romance with one of the electric violin sisters was not developed more, I would have liked it more than the Du Ru Mi/Maestro Kang pairing. And on that note, on to the next piece..

2. Lizst’s Liebestraum No. 3 (Love for Love’s sake -When does pure love cross the line into self mortification?)

My next favorite piece is Lizst’s Liebestraum No. 3 or Love Dream. Lizst wrote this piano piece based on the poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath, “Oh love” (O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst). Du ru-mi performed it on violin (see if u can find this Adik, entah kat mana kat you tube) but I like this one better.

The deeper cello makes the repeated melodies sound so mournful, but in a good way, like pressing a bruise. It gives the sense of replaying good times with a loved one in one’s mind over and over (not in a creepy stalker-ish way) while at the same time grieving for the loss of the relationship (or person). Which fits the sentiment of the poem..found this translation below:

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst.

O love, as long as you’re able to love.
O love, as long as you wish to love.
For the hour will come, the hour will come,
When you’ll stand at the graveside and wail.

Und sorge, daß dein Herze glüht
Und Liebe hegt und Liebe trägt,
Solang ihm noch ein ander Herz
In Liebe warm entgegenschlägt!

Be certain that your heart’s afire,
And nourishes love and bears love,
As long as yet another heart,
Beats together with yours in love

Und wer dir seine Brust erschließt,
O tu ihm, was du kannst, zulieb’!
Und mach’ ihm jede Stunde froh,
Und mach ihm keine Stunde trüb!

And when he opens his heart to you,
Do all you can to nurse his love,
And fill each hour with joy for him,
And make no hour bleak for him,

Und hüte deine Zunge wohl,
Bald ist ein böses Wort gesagt!
O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint, –
Der andre aber geht und klagt.

And beware, tis wise to hold your tongue –
How quickly an angry word is said!
O God, I meant you no abuse, –
But the other flees, and tears are shed.

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst.

O love, as long as you’re able to love.
O love, as long as you wish to love.
For the hour will come, the hour will come,
When you’ll stand at the graveside and wail.

Dann kniest du nieder an der Gruft
Und birgst die Augen, trüb und naß,
– Sie sehn den andern nimmermehr –
Ins lange, feuchte Kirchhofsgras.

Then, stricken, you kneel beside his tomb
And bury your eyes, beclouded, damp
– They’ll see the other nevermore –
In the long and dewy graveyard grass.

Und sprichst: O schau’ auf mich herab,
Der hier an deinem Grabe weint!
Vergib, daß ich gekränkt dich hab’!
O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint!

And speak to me, look down on me,
The one who weeps beside your grave!
Forgive me, I have grieved you so!
O God, I never meant you harm!

Er aber sieht und hört dich nicht,
Kommt nicht, daß du ihn froh umfängst;
Der Mund, der oft dich küßte, spricht
Nie wieder: Ich vergab dir längst!

He neither sees nor hears you now
Nor rises for your rapt embrace;
The lips you so oft kissed can’t say:
I forgave you long ago.
(I forgave you long, so long ago.)

Er tat’s, vergab dir lange schon,
Doch manche heiße Träne fiel
Um dich und um dein herbes Wort –
Doch still – er ruht, er ist am Ziel!

He forgave you long ago, indeed,
Though many a hot tear streaked his face
O’er you and o’er your bitter words –
Be still, he’s home, he rests in peace.

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst.

O love, as long as you’re able to love.
O love, as long as you wish to love.
For the hour will come, the hour will come,
When you’ll stand at the graveside and wail.

I think this was an inspired choice for Du-Ru Mi as a dedication to Kang Mae. I think the the theme song got their relationship all wrong since it seemed to imply that the Maestro had some feelings for her (other than pity, I mean). I thought it really annoying and intrusive when they play that song every time they were supposed to have a moment especially with the palpable lack of chemistry between the two. With Libestraum No. 3, however, at least DRM puts a sophisticated and wistful spin to the incredibly one-sided relationship she has with the Maestro. She seems to be saying, my love is so pure that I don’t care that you treat me like crap and when I am gone, you will be the one who will regret all the harsh words that you have said, asshole. I must confess that their relationship left me highly perplexed. While Du Ru-Mi was not my fave character (especially hated her silly name and her conniving, grasping civil servant tricks), even I found her interactions with Kang Mae painful to watch.He is not AT ALL into you! He likes little Kang Gun Woo better! I felt like yelling every time she wags her tail and licks his boots, even after he kicks her over and over again. Whatever his faults, Kang Mae was not a narcissistic guy:  he, too couldn’t figure out why she was so attracted to him. He managed to come up with Electra complex (girl version of Oedipus complex) and/or that she was a masochist which didn’t really make sense to him or to me, the viewer. Maybe even DRM doesn’t understand it either, she always does this spacey squint into the distant future when she talks to him, she doesn’t ever really look at him (or is that cultural?). I suppose sometimes love is truly inexplicable. In the end, though, he gave up trying to dissuade her and decided to be kind instead. Which I have to admit, makes him a pretty decent guy, deep, deep, very deep down.

3 John Cage’s 4′33″  (The art of listening zen)

4′33″ is essentially a philosophical piece where an orchestra doesn’t make a sound (i.e. be completely silent) and the audience is supposed to listen to “ambient sounds”. Huh. Seemed flaky to me, I had thought that it would only work if the audience was surprised into it but when I watched it on You tube in the middle of the night while the kids were sleeping, it was unexpectedly powerful. I realised that I was not listening to the ambient sounds at all, my thoughts pretty much drowned them out. My whole being, was centred on the children’s breathing, alert to any sounds of their distress. It is rare one gets a chance to just sit and listen, even for less than 5 minutes and it made me aware of how uptight I really am.

I would hazard a guess that the new mayor in the BV scene was not listening to ambient sounds either, his mind was probably going “WTF is that jerk of a Maestro doing? How dare he! How am I going to spin this? How can I screw him over so he doesn’t mess with me ever?” and so on. He was literally speechless with rage when he confronted Kang Mae, who was, of course, going on his elitist spiel of you greedy MFs have the sensibilities of an animal etc. Wahaha..what would I give to have that happen to one of my bosses..maybe Mr Brown can do a take on it..

FZ’s favourite pieces of music: (no German in mine, sadly)

1. Nella Fantasia (i.e. When talent meets genius)

Much of the drama centers on the relationship between the 2 Kang Gun Woos. What happens when a mediocre talent who is super hardworking meets a traffic policeman who can literally play it by ear? What matters more: hard work or experiences or pure ability? I liked that the drama did not give simple answers – it’s the (only) talented Maestro Kang who has an an arrogant overbearing personality while genius traffic policeman Kang Gun Woo wears his talent with grace and respects other people.  (Okay, I am biased because the latter is played by Jang Guen Suk). The two Kang Gun Woos each drive the other (sometimes up the wall). Even though they each represent the other’s worst insecurity – Maestro Kang’s lack of intrinsic skill, Kang Gun Woo’s lack of pedigreed musical training – they also bring out the best in the other. The volatile but supportive relationship really drives the show better than the horribly contrived love triangle. And Nella Fantasia sounds like the feeling of that relationship.

2. William Tell Overture (i.e. doomed revolution of the powerless)

This overture is about revolutionaries and the spirit of a revolution which is why it is suitable for a group of people trying to prove that ordinary people can produce magical music. But like most revolutions, their story arc is actually one of failure. The first 6 episodes had a ‘feel-good’ trajectory, culminating in a marvelous performance in episode 6. The story did not end there, though. The ragtag orchestra members were remain unrecognized; their innate talents did not magically increase. The subsequent 2/3 of the show continues the petty political battles against a musical elite that looks down on them and a political elite without a musical soul. And then, there was their own weaknesses – Kim Gab Yong’s dementia, Park Hyun Kwon’s finances, Jung Hee Yeon’s awful husband and Kang Gun Woo’s immaturity. Mouse Philharmonic was always doomed to fail.

But I like this piece because I like to remember their tune of the revolution and the hope that brings.

3. Can You Hear Me? (i.e self explanatory pop song)

When all is said and done, I am sorry to say  that I like pop songs more than classical music. The theme song of this drama is, objectively speaking, quite generic. It really does not justice to the rich music in the series. And I didn’t really like its function in the story, too. It always comes on whenever Du Ru Mi and Maestro Kang made some progress in their non-relationship. Their relationship dynamic was not very pleasant to watch: she is painfully adoring, the Maestro was patently indifferent. I also don’t particularly like Du Ru Mi -how can you dump JGS?

I don’t know why I like this song. But its number 1 in my most-played song list in my iPod. Is it something it the lyrics? But its not even very poetic (see translation below)

Even though it hurts but a little, tears form
My heart screams out
If I pass in front of you, beside you
You were my whole world
I want only you
But I can’t breathe when I’m in front of you

As if you weren’t my destiny
As if this was just a fleeting moment
Next to you, who just let me go so easily
I go closer to you step by step
Although I cannot move at all

You make me restless, you make me cry
Like a fool, like a child
I want to just laugh it off instead

The closer I get to you
Although I get more scared
I guess I cannot stop this love

Why is it just my love that is late
Why is it just my love that is hard
Although I’m right in front of you, although I’m right beside you
You were my whole world
I see only you
But when when I’m in front of you, I always look away

As if you were my very last
As if it were my very last moment
Next to you, who just let me go so easily
I go closer to you again step by step
Although I cannot move at all

You make me restless, you make me cry
Like a fool, like a child
I want to just laugh it off instead
The closer I get to you
Although I get more scared
I guess I cannot stop this love

If even from a long distance
I could look upon you
That’s what you call love

If perhaps this yearning, this longing
When it sounds, when it touches
Please just act like you didn’t know
Although the closer I get to you, the more scared I get
I guess I cannot stop this love

Actually, its so sappy, I am embarrassed to read the translation. But I like the song. And I still don’t get why.

Last Comments:

AZ:  Beethoven Virus has many layers to it which makes it stand out from the average K-drama of sappy (but throughly enjoyable) romances or complicated period dramas. It has, of course, JGS as its anti hero, the beta male, and dunno who acts as Maestro Kang (adik will have to help me out here) as the archetypal Korean alpha male counterpoint but there the similarity ends. The bromance is more important that the romance. The message is clearer than the plot. The B guy is WAAAY better than the ogre-like A guy (but who unlike Shrek, ends up alone with his pet. Aside: Imagine Shrek alone with Donkey..heh..although Donkey is not really a pet..hmm) And that to me, was what made the show very watchable.  Also, the end of each episode did NOT have a cliffhanger ending goading me to continue (which made the experience of watching it all the more enjoyable since I can digest each cadence of the story). My music tastes have always run purely to pop (which the Maestro would sniffily say is not a genre of music) and until I watched this show, I have never appreciated classical music which I always found mind-numbingly boring past the 30sec mark of any piece . That alone made it worth watching for any tone-deaf wannabe yaya papaya folks, which my sisters insist that I am 🙂 [Aside: it is really about the story or idea that each piece tries to convey btw, if you, like moi, can’t really discern the difference in the sounds. Also, classical music is something that I find I really have to listen to appreciate, rather than playing in the background while I am doing something else. I see why its appeal is lost in this multi-tasking age]. Anyway, my personal faves are as follows (three key takeaways for me if you will, in civil service speak, ahoho, plenty of office politics to enjoy in this show too). I think it is v clever of the producers to showcase the sexier bits of the classical pieces like the vocal part of Beethoven’s 9th symphony and the third and most famous of the Liebestraume. Worked great as a hook to the average MTV viewer (Aside: hmm..just realised that revealed how old I am, there is hardly any music on MTV now and kids probably download videos directly off the internet). It actually made me want to listen to the ENTIRE piece.

FZ:  If you asked me whether I like the show, then, I would definitely say yes, I loved it. However, I never felt a sense of urgency to finish it. But I think about some of the themes of the show sometimes. Its the kind of show you mull over rather than get addicted to.

But, at least, get the soundtrack.


8 thoughts on “The Beethoven Virus is like an ogre (or onion)

  1. Hee hee! Kakak and Adik farnee! Although fitting, none of the classical songs I liked particularly. But the I like weepy arias and rip-roaring good fun like opera! mwhahah! fah lagi yaya papaya than kakak! E lucevan le stelleeeeeeeeeeeeeee

      • Btw, kakak, especially enjoyed the civil service references.

        “isn’t it great that people didn’t rush things back then, if he had KPIs to meet, then he could not have written it and it would have been passed to some overseas scholar (sorry Adik) on the fast track to complete.”

        so true in singapore, sadly.

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