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Beethoven: He’s Not Just a St. Bernard Anymore

Beethoven:  He’s Not Just a St. Bernard Anymore!

By

Deb Gerace

Copyright 2001

 

This title, of course, is in reference to an old movie starring a dog named Beethoven, but in this skit, the composer is once again the human being he was when he became the bridge that connected the Classical Era to the  Romantic Era.  In this section, you will find teaching ideas and sample dialog from this play.

 

Teaching & Enrichment

Ideas for

“Beethoven”

His Music:

The purpose of the NARRATOR, other than to cue action and cover the passage of time, is to introduce Beethoven’s music.  This can be done in 2 ways: students are assigned different musical recordings to research and bring them in to use when they are called for (borrowing recordings from the public library, collections, online resources, etc). Students would then listen, identify and choose very short but famous themes from each piece whenever the NARRATOR mentions them by name.   This would also employ an additional student to play the excerpts when Beethoven is ‘playing’ them on his imaginary piano, even if they are orchestral recordings.  It’s a Zen thing…..

The second method consists of selecting a small group to be the on or off-stage ‘Greek Chorus’ and teach them very short, thematic melody excerpts from each selection.  This is already done by LUDWIG and later, CARL, with the 5th Symphony’s four – note ‘fate knocking at the door’ motif in this play.  Once again, this would necessitate research and listening on the part of the students to become familiar with his melodies. The second method may take a little more effort, but is a humorous way to become familiar with Beethoven’s melodies on a more personal level and adds a touch of whimsy.  If this method is used, the NARRATOR could even give dramatic cut-offs to stop the singing! Or use kazoos, which is always a stealthy way to entice boys to sing, BTW.   Kazoos and powdered wigs – it opens a whole new vista….

One final thought:  The option also exists to simply remove any NARRATOR lines concerning ‘hearing the music’ (they are in italics) if this play is being used as a classroom learning experience and there is no time for further research, but as a music teacher, I fail to see how anyone could teach about a composer without some sort of listening experience, so try to stick some music in there somewhere!

The Sets & Props:

One word: Minimal.  Option:  Everything could be mimed, but if not, MOTHER needs a mixing bowl and spoon.  The opening scene requires a table with one chair and FATHER needs ale bottle or flask.  Later, when LUDWIG is playing or writing music, all he needs is a piano bench and music paper to hand off to the courier.  Playing is mimed, as is writing, which is done at the piano, LUDWIG leaning forward as if writing on the music stand, then playing and trying out what he wrote, etc.  The COURIER needs two small sacks of coins. The DOCTOR’S props call for a bag and stethoscope.  LUDWIG uses an over-the-top quill pen.  The TWO PRIESTS wear black capes & big (gold cardboard) crosses around their necks.  Need more girls in the cast?  Transform the two priests into nuns!   All of these things can be done easily and cheaply and of course, if this is purely a classroom activity, all props can be mimed and no costuming is necessary.  The whole point here is to have fun and learn a little something about Beethoven!

Speaking of Gender:

As stated above, you can sneak girls into this male-dominated era through the use of nuns, trouser roles (like the Aristocrats), and non-gender-specific parts like the courier, newsboy (okay, so it says boy but we’re flexible), the doctor, narrator, etc.  For the sake of education, explain to the kids that as throughout most of history, men got all the glory while women did a heck of a lot more work than the historians ever mentioned, but it is what it is.  That didn’t stop my classes and me from using trouser roles, however and it shouldn’t stop you, either!  Did I mention that the point here is to have fun and learn a little something…yadda, yadda, yadda!?

Sample Dialog:

Beethoven:  He’s not just a St. Bernard Anymore!

A Skit for 16 – 21 actors

Designed for middle school & up

By

Deb Gerace

(Copyright 2001)

Setting:  In the kitchen of the Beethoven home

At Rise:  Father is sitting at table, tankard of ale in hand.  Mother is standing nearby, stirring

something in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.  They are arguing.

NARRATOR

It is the beginning of the Romantic era of the arts, in which Ludwig Von Beethoven became a central figure.  However, at this moment, he is a young boy, practicing hard at the piano upstairs while his parents quarrel in the kitchen below.

FATHER

I have a gig tonight singing at the Elector’s Court again, so don’t hold dinner.

MOTHER

Well, when will you be home?  You were supposed to teach two lessons this evening after your court musician job.

FATHER (swigging ale)

A couple of the guys and I plan to drop by the tavern afterwards, if it’s any of your business.

MOTHER

I don’t know how we manage to make ends meet, what with you drinking up every cent you earn.

FATHER (rising)

Shut up, woman.  If you’re so worried about money, put Ludwig to work.  Let him teach those lessons.  He’s the boy genius.  Maybe he’ll turn into another Mozart.

MOTHER

He could teach them better than you, but he’s already got a job.  They gave him a position as assistant organist at the court chapel last week.  If you’d get off his case and just listen to him play, you’d see he really is talented.

FATHER

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Well, he’d better be, because he doesn’t practice nearly enough.  I had to ream him twice this morning for eating at the piano.

MOTHER

That was his breakfast, for crying out loud and it was a skimpy one, at that.  Cut him some slack!

FATHER

(Heading towards door, stage rt.)

The only thing I’m cutting is outta here.  If you go by the ale-house this afternoon, get me another flask.  I’m dry!

(He exits, stage rt.)

MOTHER

(Peering after him, shaking her head)

Not a nice person, that.  I only hope Ludwig survives him.  I only hope I do!

(She resumes her stirring during narration)

NARRATOR

It is now some years later, in the same room and Ludwig is now a young man.

LUDWIG

(Entering from L.)

Mother!  Great news!  The Elector has worked it out so I can study music with the great Haydn in Vienna.

(Hugging MOTHER, then rubbing his hands together gleefully)

I’m truly on my way now!  Say, hasn’t that bread risen yet???

MOTHER

(Ignoring the bread remark)

Oh dear, that means you’ll be leaving home, I guess.   Still, I’m proud of you, darling and goodness knows, you deserve a break from your father.

LUDWIG

He won’t even miss me.  He spends most of his time in a drunken stupor now.

MOTHER

True…oh well, try to mind your disposition now, Luddy.  I know that putting up with your father’s abuse has made a grouch out of you, but don’t tick off any royalty, you hear me?  They are the folks that will be paying you!

LUDWIG

I hear you, Mother.  Help me pack now.  Soon the music world of Vienna won’t know what hit it!

(Exits stage Rt.)

NARRATOR

We are now in the musical world of Vienna and his mentor, the great composer Papa Haydn is going over Ludwig’s latest composition attempt as they sit together on the piano bench in Haydn’s studio.  We hear a fragment of Papa’s own “Surprise Symphony.”

(Enter HAYDN, carrying music manuscripts, followed by LUDWIG from L.

They sit down together on piano bench)

HAYDN

(Frowning at Ludwig’s composition paper)

What you’ve written here, my boy – it just doesn’t flow.

LUDWIG (Scornfully)

Of course not, old man.  It’s supposed to explode, not flow.

NARRATOR

Yes, indeed!  We noticed a different style of music wafting out of the studio window.  It’s Beethoven’s “Pathetique.”  No wonder Papa can’t make heads or tails out of it.  It’s like Beethoven is writing from another era in music history and he is!  He’s an emotional Romantic whereas Haydn is an exacting Classicist.

HAYDN

That’s just not how we do it here, Ludwig.  You said you wished to study my symphonies and those of that maestro, Mozart, yet you fly in the face of our tradition, of conventionalism.

LUDWIG

And I hope I always shall, old Papa.  I’m unique.  I have neither the time nor inclination to be conventional.

HAYDN

You’re too emotional, Ludwig and that won’t sell symphonies.  I’m afraid you’ll alienate everyone.

(He rises to exit)

I can teach you no more.

(He exits, L)

End of Sample Dialog.  For more info. on this play, contact geraced@gmail.com

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