22 Comments

  1. I think it’s just that Jackson Pollock paintings look like a bunch of random splatters similar to the mess a baby makes. And Number 1A is apparently a specific Pollock painting: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78699 (although there’s a Number 2 as well). I suspect any analysis beyond this is overthinking it.

  2. I’m assuming Vic Lee thought No. 1A was Pollock’s most famous work and didn’t know there was a No. 2. Now as to *why* it didn’t occur to him/her there might be a No. 2 is beyond my ken. But like Winter Wallaby, I suspect we are already giving it more thought than Vic Lee did.

  3. Which kind of reminds me of a stupid kids show I saw in the 70’s once. The skit was about a reporter going to a toothbrush museum and seeing toothbrushes of famous people. They saw the a toothbrush owned by Ludwig van Beethoven.

    Curator: “Beethoven had five toothbrushes. This is his last toothbrush.”

    Reporter: “You mean, this is… ” dramatic pause.

    Curator: “Yes, it’s …” beat “…. Beethoven’s Fifth!” *rimshot*

    I couldn’t figure out why the writers hadn’t bothered to do any research. Oh the 70’s (post sesame street and electric company) were not a good time for childrens television… sigh… The drag of being a tail-end boomer…

  4. woozy: That joke seems OK to me. Even though Beethoven made other symphonies, that’s his most famous one, so it makes sense that his “Fifth” is more noteworthy than his “Sixth.” However, AFAICT, Pollock’s #1A is not substantially more noteworthy than his #2.

  5. As I heard it, the museum guide pointed to a bottle of Jack Daniels. “And here is Beethoven’s Fifth.”

    Then he pointed to a bottle of The Glenlivet. “And here is Mendelssohn’s Scotch.”

  6. “And here we have Beethoven’s actual corpse, smuggled in at great expense. We had a medium attempt to communicate with it, but all it would say was “Ach! Don’t bother me now! I’m decomposing!”

  7. I think you miss part of the joke. Pollock’s mother thought that the euphemism “number 2” was too vulgar, so in her house she used the euphemism 1A as a euphemism for the euphemism 2. So the painter supposedly later named his painting 1A, because he thought that’s what you called what others would 2.

  8. Dave T, if she said, “around here” I would fully agree. But she said, “around him” which, I think, weakens that theory.

  9. There is that remarkable fanboy passage in “Howard’s End” where the narrative voice (reflecting the teen son) says that the Fifth is, by common consent, the most noble piece of music in our heritage. (He also, oddly to our later way of thinking, discusses it as a three-movement work, with “the transition on drums” occurring in the middle of the third and final movement.)

    But pace Forster, and Winter Wallaby, surely Kilby is right that by now the Ninth has taken a special prominence.

    I’m trying to remember what critic or commentator it was (maybe Bill McGlaughlin on the radio) who said that if you’re doing something like list-making, the Ninth is not necessarily going to be the top spot among your favorite symphonies, or the ones you admire the most or consider the greatest [which of course are a little different from favorite to listen to] — but it is the one that everybody doing that has to consider, and take into account in some way.

  10. I think for the Beethoven joke to work well, you have to match his last toothbrush to the number of his last symphony.

  11. “I think for the Beethoven joke to work well, you have to match his last toothbrush to the number of his last symphony.”

    Unless you use the first four notes of the 5th as the *rimshot*.

    Those are arguably the most famous opening notes in classical music.

  12. Kilby / Mitch4: You seem to be right. I just consulted the ultimate measure of aggregated popular opinion, Google, and when I search for “Beethoven symphony” it gives a mixture of 5 and 9.

  13. “So the painter supposedly later named his painting 1A, because he thought that’s what you called what others would 2.”

    As an anecdotal setup what sense can that possibly make? As a joke how can that possibly be funny?

  14. @ woozy – Only after researching it did I discover that Dave was just fabricating a premise. Normally I would say that those were ten minutes that I’m never going to get back, but I did learn that there is in fact a Pollock called “1A” in the MoMA’s collection. However, it doesn’t appear to be a “major” work; currently it’s not even on display.

  15. @zbicyclist Yes, the Fifth is probably more of a “thing” in certain phrasings — in particular “Beethoven’s Fifth”, where people might well refer to his Choral symphony as “The Ninth” rather than “Beethoven’s Ninth” a good deal of the time.
    Speaking of those famous “first four notes” Amazon tells me I bought a book with that title, https://www.amazon.com/First-Four-Notes-Beethovens-Imagination/dp/0307593282 , but I confess it is sitting unread in my Kindle list.

    As an “is this a geezer thing?” query, are all ages here familiar with the business of those opening notes being part of the BBC signature for their wartime broadcasts aimed at the Continent? There are at least two stories about why that was chosen, not necessarily incompatible. One is that the dit-dit-dit-dah is Morse for V and thus plugs into “V for Victory” and the hand signal. The other is that the English wanted to lay a claim on continuing to revere Beethoven — let the Germans have their Wagner, and let the cultural warriors looking to scrub German influence do their best, but they shan’t suppress listening to Beethoven, he is one of ours under the surface.

    If you don’t mind Benjamin Zander’s methods and manners, in this clip his work with a student conductor has some illuminating insights: https://youtu.be/JbOGstahWKI

  16. @Winter Wallaby: “when I search for “Beethoven symphony” it gives a mixture of 5 and 9.”

    So, so avoid choosing sides, maybe just average things out and listen to 7 twice?

  17. Old Beethoven joke: his wife complains that all he ever thinks about is his music, and thus he pays no attention to her. Beethoven insists that is not true; that she is his inspiration; that everything he writes is inspired by her. But his wife refuses to believe this, and starts to laugh: “ha – ha – ha – HA !!!”

  18. Shrug. But Beethoven never married.

    Does it matter? I suppose to some people. What I found irritating about Beethoven’s Fifth Toothbrush joke is that if you have a well known phrase you can’t just make a joke by referring to it. If you had a museum called “The Great American House” and in it there is the Great American Chair and the Great American Lamp, and what’s this book? Oh, that’s the Great American Novel, it wouldn’t work. If Beethoven has five things then the fifth is, or course Beethoven’s fifth. (The Jack Daniels bottle works because Fifth has two meanings, but Beethoven’s Fifth toothbrush/symphony only has one.) For a joke to be *THAT* weak you *do* need to bring in more parallels. And any non-parallel, such as matching numbers, is utterly *lethal* to the joke.

    And who the heck only owns five toothbrushes in their lifetime?

    And what about the pastoral 6th symphony? You can’t *ignore* that.

    (I’m willing to listen to the 7th twice. I think the 7th may be only of his most underrated. Well the 2nd and 8th are very low rated but they aren’t as good as the 7th.)

  19. Kilby, Beethoven’s Fifth fits on one LP record side. That would not be a good target length for the CD, as most record albums would become two-CD sets.

  20. Part of Beethoven’s 9th symphony is in “Help”. So that means a lot of people who are not classically inclined (at least of a certain age) know same from the movie – or at least heard it mentioned and a snip of it played.

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