Rating: PG-13 (for grouchy Romantic composers)
Author's Notes: My school is currently going through the process of finding a new music history professor, and all of the candidates presented Beethoven to us, and therefore I'm sitting here with all of these tidbits of information about him that begged to be written into a Good Omens story (clearly). And while I'm at it I'm going to take this opportunity to plug Copying Beethoven as a movie about the man immensely superior to Immortal Beloved.
"I know, I know!"
"And followed by that, well I suppose one would have to label it 'a melody'. A melody which goes rather sour at the end, if you ask—"
"Yeah! Isn't it—"
"Ghastly?" Aziraphale supplied.
"Incredible?" Crowley said at the same time.
Only now that Crowely looked at him more closely did he notice the angel's scandalized expression. "Aw, come on. It sounds like we're galloping off the war, yeah, I agree, but you have to think of it in terms of a tragic hero, y'know? The note at the end before the violins come in, the accidental, it's like the tragic flaw in the hero, you know what I mean? I mean you of all people are pathetically intimately familiar with Oedipus and Macbeth and—"
"Oh, really, Crowley, this is music we are talking about."
"Yes, precisely! Why shouldn't it carry the same weight as philosophy? Why can't it speak just as eloquently on the subject of heroism as all these poets gone wild running around? Answer me that."
Aziraphale was regarding him with the oddest expression. "But, my dear, I believe you are missing the point. This is music we are talking about. It's very lovely and it can be terribly moving but when you get right down to it, being art, is meant as an entertainment and little more."
Crowley just gaped at him. Wrath surged briefly before he caught himself. "Well pardon me, angel, but did you not hear it?"
Aziraphale sighed. "Don't be upset, Crowley, I enjoyed it at times but, really, you can't deny it repeated ad nauseum. It was far too long. And much too significant for something orchestral, anyway."
"The second movement was a funeral march," he said flatly, pissed now. The music had ravished him too thoroughly for him to stand by and let the bloody angel degrade it.
Aziraphale twitched. "Yes, well. All the same, nobody wants something quite so demanding a backdrop as Beethoven's third symphony."
"No, you're wrong. I think people do." I do.
When, the next evening, Aziraphale felt it prudent to frequent a local tavern to observe the opinions of the average Viennan on Beethoven's newest smash hit, he hadn't expected the middle—even the working class (who had heard it how, again?)—to be so enthusiastic in their approval. There was something he was missing here, but he rationalized that if Crowley and the blacksmith from down the street were of the same mind he himself might not be in the wrong after all.
"Is that—? It is! Herr Beethoven!"
"Herr Beethoven, wait!"
"Over here, Beethoven, just turn this way—that's it! Beautiful!"
For the life of him Aziraphale couldn't distinguish which patron they were hailing until a harried young man whirled past him and retreated into the warm evening.
He was surprised by the ordinariness of his face.
"I might point out the past controversies over Mozart," Crowley said some days later.
"Ugh, that showy little imp."
Crowley laughed outright at his fervor. "You sound like a certain grumpy Italian I know." He sipped white wine snootily. "Really, Aziraphale, I'd no idea you were so passionate in your opposition to intelligent music. You're terribly old school. You'd better watch it lest you get your head hacked off (again)."
"You say that as if you weren't decapitated on three separate occasions for being a warlock, a Christian, and a Frenchmen, but never once an actual demon," Azirphale countered smugly. "And I think we both know that this brave new Enlightened world is little more than a phase in the Grand Scheme of Things—humans have never been capable of holding entire nations together quite like this and you know it, my dear." He cleared his throat and reached for his perfectly constructed tea—spoon, saucer, sugar, slightly scalding water—and stirred.
Crowley rolled his eyes. "You are so, so mistaken. And I'll make sure you are—don't think I won't."
"Two words: Emperor Bonaparte." Aziraphale didn't look at Crowley as he sipped in caffeine, replaced the cup with a clang. "You know, your boundless optimism over these past centuries is truly miraculous," he mused.
"What can I say, the world just seemed so much brighter after the fourteenth," Crowley returned. He gestured at Aziraphale's tea. "Don't you usually take it with cream?"
"Hm? Oh, not all the time, my dear. Sometimes I'd rather have it black."
They existed in relatively comfortable silence for awhile. Vienna was lovely in the spring, so many colorful people strolling by. Such an air of creativity.
"I just . . ."
Aziraphale sighed. "I just cannot believe we sat in the Theatre on the bloody Wien and listened to such an uncalled-for, improper piece of, piece of—!"
Crowey shook his head. "You sound so surprised, Aziraphale. Honestly, what the H—deuce? His second symphony was based on bowel movements."
Aziraphale assumed a scandalized expression. "I—well. Cleary you know more about the man than I do. Tell me, have you ever in fact met him?"
"Well, not actually, but—"
"Hang on, is he one of yours? He is isn't he?"
"No! Come on, I dunno what—they don't tell me things that high security . . ."
"I don't know anything about it." Crowley was entirely unconvincing.
"Well well well. I think I shall make it my personal crusade to recruit him to Our side, then."
" . . . What." The demon looked truly apprehensive now.
"That's right." Aziraphale knew he had the upper hand and he felt no shame in relishing it.
"Hey, seriously, come on, he's ours, I mean just listen to him, you said so yourself, he's—"
"Okay, okay. How about this? We lay off any claims we may have on him, don't seek him out, don't pay him too much attention, and simply let the pieces fall where they may, so to speak. That sounds like a fair enough truce, wouldn't you agree, Crowley? Do we have an accord?"
Crowley thought about it, tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair and regarded him. "Deal."
"Deal. Moving on."
Aziraphale thought the tavern was a good place to start, and indeed, after some mild persuasion of its patrons, he found himself at a nondescript doorstep in a surprisingly lower-end part of town.
He knocked. He waited. Nothing. He backed up to see if the curtains were drawn. Hm.
He knocked again. Still nothing.
And again, rather louder, and thought he could discern indistinct, irritated words from above—something along the lines of "I'm coming already, you bloody impatient bastard!"
Aziraphale twiddled his thumbs until the door opened. He smiled broadly and held out his hand, "Good morning, dear sir, my na—"
"Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want."
"Oh, um." The man peering out of the shadowy hallway was indeed the man from the tavern, and he positively oozed hostility. But Aziraphale was nothing if not persevering. "I'm—my name is Engle Gottschalk*. Hello. Er, good morning—"
"Afternoon." The man nodded at the sun.
"Yes, afternoon, quite right. I—well."
The man didn't seem inclined to relieve Aziraphale of his awkward misery and merely stared steadily, expectant, reminding him uncomfortably of Crowley with his refusal to blink. "Is there any particular reason why you, a perfect stranger and some variety of foppish, blathering idiot, felt it necessary to disturb me with your blathering idiocy and no apparent purpose? Well? God knows I'm all ears!"
"Er." Aziraphale had not been expecting this sort of welcome from Vienna's foremost composer. "You are Ludwig van Beethoven, are you not?" he said helplessly, hoping for the best.
Beethoven's cloudy visage seemed to clear a bit. He sighed. "Yes, yes, that I am. Would you care for a drink, Herr Gottschalk?"
"Oh, that would be delightful!"
Beethoven looked at him with mild revulsion in his raised eyebrow but turned and led him indoors anyway.
"What a lovely home you have." It was really quite dreadful—dusty and unkempt and the floorboards creaked—but Aziraphale wasn't one for sarcasm, although Beethoven seemed to take it that way and was threateningly silent until they reached his haphazard version of a parlor. There was manuscript absolutely everywhere and Aziraphale worried about harming Beethoven's potential masterpieces in his quest for a seat. Beethoven sat on an old piano bench that had been dragged to what looked to be his main workspace and finally faced him.
"Whisky's on the bookshelf, help yourself."
Aziraphale had a hard time locating the bookshelf (which is saying something) and an even harder time witnessing the lone bottle of alcohol propping up the books. There were no glasses in sight. "Thank you, you're very kind, but I'm not so thirsty after all."
"Very kind, am I? Huh." Beethoven seemed unwillingly intrigued by his spur-of-the-moment visitor—or at least he found him entertaining enough to let this far into his house. "So what do you want? Not to commission a piano sonata for dummies from me I hope, because, I tell you, I'm through with that shit." Aziraphale wasn't sure if Beethoven was talking to him or not.
"Maestro, I assure you that is not the case," Aziraphale soothed, at his most angelic. "Tell me, are you a religious man?"
Beethoven made a face and laughed, and strangely it was the first honestly carefree sound the man had made since Aziraphale's arrival. "You're selling Bibles door to door, are you? **" He really seemed more amused than annoyed. "How the hell did you find me anyway? I make a point of avoiding familiarity with salesmen. And clergymen. Any men, really."
Aziraphale bypassed that altogether. "Well, maestro, the truth of the matter is, I was at the symphony premiere, and I can't seem to wrap my mind around your music. I was wondering if you could shed some light on it—I do admit I am not terribly learned when it comes to the arts. I am a man of letters, you see."
Beethoven lit up. "You can't wrap your mind around it, Gottschalk? Truly?"
Aziraphale flushed slightly, feeling completely out of his element. Tempting, even if it was for what Aziraphale considered to be the right reasons, was nevertheless Crowley's department. The angel knew he was no good at it. "Well, I. I suppose I simply would like to know your reason for writing it . . ." he trailed off.
He could see the gears turning behind Beethoven's dark gaze. "Ah, I see. Being a man of letters you wish to write about my heinously unconventional new work," he decided, satisfied. "Very well then. Why not? I cannot deny that I'm pleased somebody has come out and admitted their distaste, no matter how preposterous you've turned out to be." Aziraphale wasn't used to a mere human being so dismissive of him, but found himself more spellbound by this fact than affronted. Aziraphale's physical presence was only incidental to this man.
Beethoven stood up from the piano bench and started to pace. "Well the short story is this: I wanted to pay tribute to a great man. But it goes on. I wished to illustrate a contemporary heroism to rival the champions of Rome. Later I realized how wrong I was in my idealism, but my symphony seemed to be far ahead of me in that, and so the flaws I had cast over my heroic story had been right all along." He had been gesturing avidly until now, stopping and facing Aziraphale openly for the first time. "You do know I titled it?"
Aziraphale said nothing. Beethoven resumed his pacing.
"Well, the real title is Bonaparte, for I did consider him a great man once, but truly that title is meant to honor the memory of him. Because like all classic heroes he fell to his weakness. And so I say my symphony truly is characteristic of that man. Of course you know, Gottschalk, that even Lucifer himself was once renowned, and pride too was the vice that undid the late Napoleon Bonaparte." He paused, studying sheets of scribbly paper on a dusty stool. "I must say I find myself very much enlightened by my music. It is always teaching me how to speak more truthfully, and indeed as you can see I speak as truthfully as I damn well please with my tongue anyway. Yes, my symphony speaks to me of a new kind of hero. Oh, you have heard of him surely, Gottschalk. You may in fact know him. The poets are rank with him and the monarchs are wrongly terrified of him. I see this new hero as a man, truly a man, who does what is necessary in order to do what is necessary (if you see what I mean) regardless of himself—one who overcomes himself—and that is something I consider truly great. Greater indeed than mere victory in battle, and greater than God." Beethoven paused, then turned sharply toward Aziraphale. "Well? Am I meant to be writing this down for you or have you suddenly forgotten the alphabet, man of letters?"
* The German people were nothing if not unsubtle so Aziraphale really went for it.
** (Aziraphale couldn't suppress a cringe at the notion of selling one of his Bibles.)
The conversion of Ludwig van Beethoven hadn't gone exactly as planned, not that he had gone in with much of a plan. Aziraphale supposed he deserved it for going behind Crowley's back.
After meeting with the composer Aziraphale had holed himself up in his small but appropriately furnished rooms for days and felt no inclination to read. Instead he spent his time staring at the sea of revoltingly pink silk that was his parlor. A week had passed before he stood up, cracked his disused back, and started walking into Vienna proper. He didn't know why he was doing what he was doing, but he also didn't know what else to do.
Of all the things Beethoven had said the first words he had spoken to Aziraphale stuck in his mind the most persistently. Who the hell are you? Because he hadn't expected a gentleman held in such high esteem to say it, surely.
The only reason Crowley's apartment was so small was because he wasn't exclusively based in Austria. Obviously he had an apartment in London as well, and Berlin and America by now and God knew where else, not to mention the various country estates he never used. His house in Paris was slightly more substantial than the others of course. And he'd kept his Anglicized name for centuries, even while in France.
As Aziraphale silently unlocked Crowley's door with a subtle gesture he felt that things were distinctly out of place, and continued to feel so when he approached an oblivious Crowley with his head buried in a book. The furniture was far from luxurious and not a single lamp was lit. Aziraphale watched him at work and realized out of the blue that he was beginning to perceive Beethoven as a being more immortal than either of them, and by far holier, in his way.
Crowley started. "Oh." He blinked at him, turned back to his reading. "What do you want, Aziraphale?"
He'd thought it would be comforting to be in Crowley's presence, back where Aziraphale made more sense to himself, but everything was skewed now.
"Er. Well." He sighed. "I don’t really know what to do with myself. Will you take me to see something artistic and revolutionary?"
Crowley frowned at his book. "Right. You're bored, is that what you're saying? Anyway what makes you think I'm inclined to keep you occupied?"
"Well if I am being inactive in my duties, then technically you should be too. It's not exactly fair otherwise."
"Right." Crowley finally put the infernal thing down and looked at him.
Aziraphale felt a kind of jolt inside and became unaccountably nervous. Crowley ran a hand through his hair. "So, what do you want to do?" Aziraphale watched his mouth form the English words. Why did Crowley stick so staunchly to England anyway?
"Aziraphale?" Crowley looked as awkward as Aziraphale felt and it must have been the lack of dark glasses that made his piercing stare more tangible than usual.
"Actually. Well, actually I just wanted to tell you that—well, I just wanted to know if you—Crowley. I'm afraid I have no idea what I am trying to say," he said, laughter jittery in his voice. He grabbed the back of a practical chair for support, not understanding what it was about Crowley's apartment that made Crowley himself so unsettling.
It was odd seeing Aziraphale so unguarded by argument. It was odd how Crowley responded by being equally unguarded.
"There is a nice park here, you know. Not on par with St. James' of course, but. Do you want to, um, go? I don't really . . . don't really have anything to discuss with you except maybe Beethoven but we've already dealt with that, haven't we? Um . . ." Aziraphale looked so different right now, and Crowley had seen Aziraphale look many different ways over the millennia. His confusion made him look very real and pale and maybe sweating and maybe not so holier than thou or Crowley after all.
They weren't on the same level, so Crowley stood up and approached him and stopped at an awkward distance. He cleared his throat. "So—"
"Really, I don't know what I was thinking. You can have Beethoven for all I care—he is something of a lost cause. So go, then, and pursue him if you must."
"I wasn't tempting him, angel," Crowley said, annoyed by the way he always ended up representing all of Hell's earthly activity. "Just making conversation," he muttered. "But if you really want to know, it's kind of given that we get most of the composers. We gave you Bach so you really have no grounds for outrage over someone like Beethoven who is so clearly destined for the acoustically impaired, fiery concert halls of the underworld we must surely torture the musically damned in."
Aziraphale looked mildly hurt. Crowley hated that it affected him. "I do apologize for disturbing you," he said formally. "I just wanted to notify you that Heaven does not desire Beethoven for the showy acquisition he will be for your lot."
"I wasn't aware that we'd made such a serious contract over one man, angel," Crowley drawled, turning back to his desk. When he looked up again Aziraphale had gone.
Crowley went to the park that day anyway. After spending some time hovering around the lawns and people-watching he moved into the trees. It was much quieter here, which was always softly shocking in a city, but as he ventured deeper he could make out the dark figure of a man, hat giving away its humanity. Crowley had no desire to talk to him and was in fact swerving his meandering path away from the perfectly still figure when he heard it. It was a muted sound but it crept inexorably into his mind—he couldn't've been hearing it physically. A sweet soprano singing first of anger then of hope, horns entering, Re Mi—no, Ti now—Ti Ti Do, yes . . .
"Good morning, Herr Beethoven."
Crowley came to stand beside him.
Beethoven seemed to accept that Crowley had some way of knowing him—Crowley did give off the impression of Knowing People.
"You're not about spoil to of my appreciation of nature I hope," Beethoven said mildly. He was looking out over the newly revealed grass, only halfway green. After a pause he turned to him for his answer.
"There is only one thing I wish to know—that horn entrance wasn't wrong, was it?"
Beethoven grinned. "No indeed. I knew it would do the trick," he said smugly. "Tell me, why do you seek the solace of the park—what's your name?"
"Anthony Crowley. I just needed to get away, I suppose."
"Are you indeed? Now tell me what you are doing in Vienna—no, do not. I would be perfectly content if you shut up and let me believe you came only to hear my music."
Crowley smiled wryly. "That's actually not far from the truth." To hear beautiful music and to put up with Aziraphale's vendetta against it.
"Not pining after your long lost love then."
Crowley blinked. "Um."
Beethoven turned back to the foliage, what little of it there was. "Don't mind me, I'm trying to pine. For the craft. I refuse to write this in E-flat Major just for love. It really needs to be minor. Yes."
Crowley was confused. Beethoven's reputation for grouchiness was nearly notorious, and here he was, babbling to a perfect stranger. Maybe Crowley was tempting without knowing it, but he seriously doubted that. Tempting may have been his forte but it did require he make an effort. Aziraphale on the other hand thought Crowley's current job was natural to him and elected to forget the history of things.
"It is the expected key for lo—"
"Well if you aren't pining, tell me, Anthony, have you ever done so before? I refuse to believe there is a soul on earth who isn't in a love too many keys away, impossible to resolve except with the most unconventional chromaticism," Beethoven theorized poetically. Crowley blinked, increasingly unnerved. "People are surprisingly adept at denying the heartbreaking parts of life but truly I believe us all to be in love and feeling the sting of it underneath our reason."
"Well, I agree with you about hu—y'know, the denial thing." It felt sort of like he was talking to Aziraphale.
"It's immortal, really," Beethoven continued. The way he was standing so still and gazing intently at the world painted a very epic picture, as though he was being spoken though. "An immortal beloved."
Crowley snorted reflexively at the image he got out of that and was met with silence. It wouldn't do to upset Vienna's star musician. He cleared his throat. "Well, I'm sorry to have interrupted you—"
"May I ask you something?"
"Oh, uh. Yeah."
"I am attempting to write an opera at the moment. I haven't done it before and I doubt if I should do it again because it's become such a bloody serious affair. People expect something specific in their operas. If I were to write another, I should like to write something, well, frankly, something of a comedy. What might I base it on? Mind you it has to be the last place you could conceive of an opera. I was contemplating something about America but all that springs to mind is endless tiresome marches." Suddenly Beethoven was looking directly into his face.
Crowley thought about it. "I've spent some time in America. You're right about the music. There are some simple folk melodies that could be used cleverly, I think. Write about the Quakers or no, the Shakers. G—well, you know, they're an odd bunch of religious nuts. Doomed to extinction, too." Crowley really didn't talk to many people besides Aziraphale, although he'd never admit it to him. He had an image to maintain. Beethoven continued to study him.
"You ought to write something symphonic with a story," Crowley went on, warming to this notion of philosophizing about something less weighty than he usually did. "I mean truly symphonic and truly descriptive. You can't deny you're headed in that direction. An orchestral love story. Think how much more meaning it would hold without the specifics of characters and plot slapped on it. If you ask me, I think it's high time instrumental music came out of the wings and onto center stage."
"I am writing an opera about love—heroism too. There's not much else could I do right now, you must see that. I may be able to swing being political or philosophical, just barely, but I hardly think a proper symphony based on romantic love would come off particularly well."
"Perhaps if you chased the dragon to write it."
Beethoven laughed. "Indeed that would facilitate something most unconventional, if passionate." He paused, watched budding trees sway in the reproachfully chilly wind. "You know I intentionally wrote Eroica in E-flat. In my opinion, surviving love is extremely heroic."
The general popularity of the third symphony—not quite success, but it was continually a subject being talked to death in Vienna—had encouraged soloists to whip out their instruments and perform earlier works. Social events seemed incomplete without a Beethoven violin sonata slicing soulfully in the corner.
Crowley was newly determined to take Aziraphale up on his offer of an outing of artistic and revolutionary proportions, never mind how he'd withdrawn it. Crowley didn't know how but he'd got Aziraphale to agree. Blame his natural charm.
The angel had remained silent and unresponsive as the virtuoso coaxed Beethoven's sonata in C minor from the melancholy language of a modern pianoforte. "Pathétique" was a vastly appropriate title. It was a proper concert, and at its conclusion the audience applauded and stood and seemed to have heard those notes altogether for the first time.
Aziraphale stood too, but instead of staying for the imminent encore slid through the lavish Viennans and into an echoey marble foyer. Crowley followed, beginning to lose faith that Aziraphale could ever share in his fervor for this new music, his blood pounded and his body tensed almost painfully as he caught up to the angel and reached for him and kissed him insistently against a grey marble wall until Aziraphale did respond—his chest rose and fell and Crowley felt arms twine around his neck, and in no time at all his mouth pressed back.
Crowley pulled away. "I—"
"I don't care about doing what is right or noble or heroic," Aziraphale interrupted against Crowley's jaw. "Or angelic or—I simply don't care about losing my integrity because I don't know why I must do what I must, if you see what I mean. It's empty and nobody's counting. It may be that I'm flawed." He looked at him silently. Maybe the other people were piling into the foyer but Aziraphale was deaf to them and sought Crowley's lips.
"That's heroic enough for me," Crowley assured him hastily, and kissed him to the music reverberating though the hallways.