Blame it on Beethoven?

According to our music professor, it was about the time of Beethoven that society came to perceive composers, and by extension artists in all genres, differently, more special than had been the case when works of art might not even have been signed, since they ultimately belonged to the church, king or nobleman who commissioned them. Artists who had formerly been considered tradespeople of sorts, producing music, paintings, operas and theatre pieces upon the request and with the patronage of one of these higher ups, became individuals, specially blessed individuals, given the gift to create music, art, and literature by a generous God who had singled them out. Gifted them. Perhaps artists even had a direct link to the Divine, however you might define it. In the so-called Modern period, after 1800, "The high value placed on the individual, which emerged in ancient Greece and Rome and then again in the Renaissance, became the primary value of Western culture."

I don't know how long it took before this turned out to be a two-edged sword, with which some artists have come close to killing themselves in modern times. Because how can anyone stand up to such adulation, really, what would it do to a person to think herself or himself an actual sort of deity?

I've wondered if Beethoven might to be blame in a controversy that unfolded where I live. It involved a perceived wrong foisted on a popular writer and head of an important university writing program. Allegations of sexual harassment were part of it, though not just those, and after a lengthy investigation, the university fired the fellow. Here's where Beethoven comes in, sort of, because I never think of him as a real collegial guy, but more a brooding loner. Not like the prominent and not so writers who waded in to the rescue of the allegedly wronged professor. A group of about one hundred, including a deck of the best known Canadian writers, joined forces to defend the guy and call for an investigation into the investigation the university had already conducted. The controversy continued to bubble over social media, in Canadian print journals, even the New York Times and The Guardian, as well as some outlets I probably have not seen, and led to a second controversy, concerning the identity of the fellow who had initiated the letter his fellow prominent writers signed in support of the fired writing professor/novelist.

Watching this play of egos made me squirm. Most artists will admit that they're not sure where their work comes from. The mysteriousness of inspiration, the stops and starts unrelated to routine; days when, like today, I started a work session clueless and half an hour or so after sitting there fooling around, a new scene came to mind and out my fingers. It's moments like these when you think, maybe it is something else, maybe I'm just loaning out the fingers, the keyboard, the notebook. That's why I felt so uncomfortable about the group stepping forward with demands, even hinting that because the accused professor was a successful writer, he couldn't have perpetrated such wrongs, and if he did they were minor, excusable. Celebrity culture at its worst.

Beethoven was rebelling against  the yolk of those who had been paying the piper, though he needed them to survive while he composed pieces that had more to do with pleasing his musical vision than the high and mighty ones. He was expressing individualism as an artistic as well as a political reaction to the top down organization of society the French revolted against in 1789. Perhaps the kindest interpretation of the matters here would be that the literary protestors were also challenging authority, misguided though their efforts may have been.