Carol of the Bell-thoven!

September 23, 2020

We all know the “Carol of the Bells”, that jaunty but insistent carol that scampers along too rapidly for most of us to sing it. The recurring riff goes like this:

Ding dong! Ding dong! This carol is on my mind because I’ve been listening to Beethoven’s string quartets, and, having reached the late quartets, I’ve been listening in particular to his quartet No.15, Op.132. In the final movement, there is a segment that comes up a few times in which this same riff occurs in the cello part:

Admittedly, it is not quite the same: the first quarter note in each bar of the carol is, in Beethoven, split into two eighth notes, but I don’t hear that. All I hear is the “Carol of the Bells”! I have to say that this is driving me crazy. It’s like finding a hook from a Taylor Swift song in the middle of a Mozart symphony.

If you’d like to hear it yourself, I’ve cued up the sequence in this clip. You should hear it within the first 10 seconds.

See what I mean? Even if one seems to hear words of good cheer from ev’rywhere, filling the air, it’s still annoying as all get out.

One Response to “Carol of the Bell-thoven!”

  1. Rob G Says:

    There’s a classical piece I’ve heard a couple times that reminds me of “Three Blind Mice,” except it’s in a minor key. Don’t know whether the use was intentional or not. (It obviously wasn’t in Beethoven’s case with the carol, as the latter came much later).

    Funny side note: when my nephews, now college aged, were little kids they heard “Carol of the Bells” and being unable to suss out the words, thought that the choir was singing “Mean Momma Scales.” That has remained the title of the song in our family ever since.


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