The Secrets of Beethoven’s Fifth, the World’s Most Famous Symphony

Revered by music lovers of temperaments as varied as Peanuts’ Schroeder and A Clockwork Orange’s AlexLudwig van Beethoven is one of the most celebrated composers in the Western classical music canon.

Symphony No. 5 in C minor is surely one of his most recognized, and frequently performed works, thanks in large part to its dramatic opening motif —

dun-dun-dun-DAH!

Music educator Hanako Sawada’s entertaining TED-Ed lesson, animated by Yael Reisfeld above, delves into the story behind this symphony, “one of the most explosive pieces of music ever composed.”




Middle and high school music teachers will be glad to know the creators lean into the heightened emotions of the piece, depicting the composer as a tortured genius whose piercing gaze is bluer than Game of Thrones’ Night King.

Beethoven was already enjoying a successful reputation at the time of the symphony’s 1808 premiere, but not because he toiled in the service of religion or wealthy patrons like his peers.

Instead, he was an early-19th century bad ass, prioritizing self-expression and pouring his emotions into compositions he then sold to various music publishers.

With the Fifth, he really shook off the rigid structures of prevailing classical norms, embracing Romanticism in all its glorious turmoil.

The famous opening motif is repeated to the point of obsession:

Throughout the piece, the motif is passed around the orchestra like a whisper, gradually reaching more and more instruments until it becomes a roar.

Besotted teenagers, well acquainted with this feeling, are equipped with the internal trombones, piccolos, and contrabassoons of the sort that make the piece even more urgent in feel.

Just wait until they get hold of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved letters, written a few years after the symphony, when the hearing loss he was wrestling with had progressed to near total deafness.

Whether or not it was the composer (and not his biographer) who characterized the central motif as the sound of “Fate knocking at the door,” it’s an apt, and riveting notion.

Take a quiz, participate in a guided discussion, and customize Hanako Sawada’s lesson, “The Secrets of the World’s Most Famous Symphony,” here.

Listen to the symphony in its entirety below.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday. 

Watch 30+ Exceptional Short Films for Free in The New Yorker’s Online Screening Room

For short films, finding an audience is an often uphill battle. Even major award winners struggle to reach viewers outside of the festival circuit.

Thank goodness for The Screening Room, The New Yorker’s online platform for sharing short films.

It’s a magnificent free buffet for those of us who’d like nothing better than to gorge ourselves on these little gems.




If you’re not yet a fan of the form, allow us to suggest that any one of the 30 fictional shorts posted in The Screening Room could function as a superb palate cleanser between binge watches of more regular fare.

Take co-directors Amina Sutton and Maya Tanaka’s hilarious The Price of Cheap Rent, clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, above.

A community-supported project, starring Sutton and shot in Tanaka’s Brooklyn apartment, it’s a comedy of manners that brings fresh meaning to the semi-controversial phrase “Bed Stuy, Do or Die.”

Sutton plays a young Black artist with a masters from Yale, a gig behind the bar at Applebee’s, and a keen interest in positioning herself as an influencer, an ambition the filmmakers lampoon with glee.

When she discovers that her new apartment is haunted, she is “so freaked the f&ck out,” she spends a week sleeping in the park, before venturing back:

And it’s a studio, so it’s like living in a clown car of hell.

But once she discovers (or possibly just decides) that the majority of the ghosts are Black, she begins planning a podcast and makes her peace with staying put.

Pros: the rent’s a lot less than the 1-bathroom dump she shared with five roommates, there’s laundry in the basement, and the ghosts, whom she now conceives of as ancestors, share many of her interests — history, the arts, and the 1995 live action/CGI adaptation of Casper the Friendly Ghost. (They give Ghostbusters a thumbs down.)

Cons: the ghost of an 18th-century Dutch Protestant settler whose white fragility manifests in irritating, but manageable ways.

Those with 18 minutes to spare should check out Joy Joy Nails, another very funny film hinging on identity.

Every day a group of salty, young Korean women await the van that will transport them from their cramped quarters in Flushing, Queens, to a nail salon in a ritzier — and, judging by the customers, far whiter — neighborhood.

Writer-director Joey Ally contrasts the salon’s aggressively pink decor and the employees’ chummy deference to their regular customers with the grubbiness of the break room and the transactional nature of the exchange.

“Anyone not fired with enthusiasm… will be!” threatens a yellowed notice taped in the employees only area.

Behind the register, the veil is lifted a bit, narrowing the upstairs/downstairs divide with realistically homemade signs:

“CASH! FOR TIP ONLY”

Like Sutton and Tanaka, Ally is versed in horror tropes, inspiring dread with close ups of pumice stones, emory boards, and cuticle trimmers at work.

When a more objective view is needed, she cuts to the black-and-white security feed under the reception counter.

When one of the customers calls to ask if her missing earring was left in the waxing room, the story takes a tragic turn, though for reasons more complex than one might assume.

Ally’s script punctures the all-too-common perception of nail salon employees as a monolithic immigrant mass to explore themes of dominance and bias between representatives of varied cultures, a point driven home by the subtitles, or absence thereof.

The 2017 film also tapped into its release year zeitgeist with a plot point involving the boss’ son.

On a tight schedule? You can still squeeze in Undiscovered, director Sara Litzenberger’s 3-minute animation from 2014.

Identity factors in here, too, as a Sasquatch-like creature terrifies a string of camera wielding humans in its attempt to get a photograph that will show it as it wishes to be perceived.

It’s an easily digested delight, suitable for all ages.

Explore all 30+ fictional shorts in the Screening Room for free here or on The New Yorker’s YouTube playlist. You can find them all embedded and streamable below.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Fascinating 3D Animation Shows the Depths of the Ocean

Deep sea exploration and the science of oceanography began 150 years ago when British survey ship HMS Challenger set off from Portsmouth with 181 miles of rope. The Royal Society tasked the expedition, among other things, with “investigat[ing] the physical conditions of the deep sea… in regard to depth, temperature circulation, specific gravity and penetration of light.” It was the first such voyage of its kind.

To accomplish its objectives, Challenger swapped all but two of its guns for specialized equipment, including — as assistant ship’s steward Joseph Matkin described in a letter home — “thousands of small air tight bottles and little boxes about the size of Valentine boxes packed in Iron Tanks for keeping specimens in, insects, butterflies, mosses, plants, etc… a photographic room on the main deck, also a dissecting room for carving up Bears, Whales, etc.”




Findings from the four-year voyage totaled almost thirty-thousand pages when published in a report. But the Challenger’s most famous legacy may be its discovery of the Mariana Trench. The ship recorded a sounding of 4,475 fathoms (26,850 ft.) in a southern part of the trench subsequently called Challenger Deep, and now known as the deepest part of the ocean and the “lowest point on Earth.” The most recent soundings using advanced sonar have measured its depth at somewhere between 35,768 to 36,037 feet, or almost 7 miles (11 kilometers).

Challenger Deep is so deep that if Everest were submerged into its depths, the mountain’s peak would still be roughly a mile and a half underwater. In 1960, a manned crew of two descended into the trench. Dozens of remote operated vehicles (ROVs) have explored its depths since, but it wouldn’t be until 2012 that another human made the 2.5 hour descent, when Avatar and The Abyss director James Cameron financed his own expedition. Then in 2019, explorer Victor Vescoso made the journey, setting the Guinness world record for deepest manned submarine dive when he reached the Eastern Pool, a depression within Challenger Deep. Just last year, he bested the record with his mission specialist John Rost, exploring the Eastern Pool for over four hours.

Last year’s descent brings the total number of people to visit Challenger Deep to five. How can the rest of us wrap our heads around a point so deep beneath us it can swallow up Mount Everest? The beautifully detailed, 3D animation at the top of the post does a great job of conveying the relative depths of oceans, seas, and major lakes, showing undersea tunnels and shipwrecks along the way, with manmade objects like the Eiffel Tower (which marks, within a few meters, the deepest scuba dive) and Burj Khalifa placed at intervals for scale.

By the time the animation — created by MetaBallStudios’ Alvaro Gracia Montoya– submerges us fully (with booming, echoing musical accompaniment) in the Mariana Trench, we may feel that we have had a little taste of the awe that lies at the deepest ocean depths.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the Jackson 5’s First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (1969)

Who discovered the Jackson 5?

Motown founder Berry Gordy?

Empress of Soul Gladys Knight?

Diva Diana Ross?

Everyone in attendance for Amateur Night at the Apollo on August 13, 1967?

For many unsuspecting Americans, the answer may as well have been television host Ed Sullivan, who introduced the “sensational group” of five young brothers from Gary, Indiana to viewers in December 1969, two years after their Amateur Night triumph. Thirteen years earlier, a wall of sound emanating from a live in-studio audience of teenage girls told Sullivan’s home viewers that another young sensation — Elvis Presley — must be something special.




The Jackson 5 needed no such help.

While there are many close-ups of their fresh young faces, the control room wisely chose to zoom out much of the time, in appreciation of the brothers’ precision choreography.

The brightest star was the youngest, eleven-year-old Michael, taking lead vocals in purple fedora and fringed vest on a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand.”

Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon provide support for a bit of hokum that positions Michael at the center of an elementary school romance, by way of introduction to a full throated cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You”:

We toasted our love during milk break. I gave her my cookies! We fell out during fingerpainting. 

Author Carvell Wallace reflects on this moment in his 2015 New Yorker review of Steve Knopper’s biography MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson:

Halfway through, he forgets his lines and freezes, looking back at his older brothers for help. It’s an alarmingly vulnerable moment, one only possible in the era of live television. You feel bad for him. It suddenly doesn’t seem right that a kid should be made to perform live in front of an entire country. Yet he somehow finds his way back and stumbles through.

When the music starts, we see something else entirely. The first note he sings is as confident, sure, and purposeful as any adult could ever be. He transforms from nervous child at a talent show into timeless embodiment of longing. Not only does he sing exactly on key but he appears to sing from the very bottom of his heart. He stares into the camera, shakes his head, and blinks back tears in perfect imitation of a sixties soul man. And it feels, for a moment, as though there are two different beings here. One is a child—a smart kid, to be sure, and cute, but not more special than any other child. He is subject to the same laws of life—pain, age, confusion, fear—as we all are. The other being seems to be a spirit of sorts, one who knows only the truest expression of human feeling. And this spirit appears to have randomly inhabited the body of this particular mortal kid. In so doing, it has sentenced him to a lifetime of indescribable enchantment and consummate suffering.

Michael’s explosive performance of the Jackson 5’s first national single, “I Want You Back,” released just two months before their Sullivan Show appearance, gives us that “spirit” in full force.

It’s also not hard to imagine that the brothers’ thrillingly executed choreography is the result of a literally punishing rehearsal regimen, a factor of the King of Pop’s troubled legacy.

The Sullivan Show appearance ensured that there would be no stopping this train. Five months later, when the Jacksons returned to the Sullivan Show, “I Want You Back” had sold over a million copies, as had “ABC,” which they performed as a medley.

Boyhood is fleeting, making Jacksonmania a carpe diem type situation.

The period from 1969 to 1972 saw an onslaught of Jackson 5-related merch and a funky Saturday morning cartoon whose pilot tarted up the Diana Ross origin story with an escaped pet snake.

It was good while it lasted.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Wes Anderson’s Animated Music Video for The French Dispatch, Featuring a Track by Jarvis Cocker

The French Dispatch came out nearly two weeks ago, after having been pushed back more than a year by COVID-19. But delaying the release of a Wes Anderson movie surely counts among the least regrettable harms of the pandemic, which has caused millions of deaths worldwide. Among the lives lost was that of Daniel Bevilacqua, known in France as the chanson singer Christophe. Set in that country — and more specifically, the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé — in the 1960s, The French Dispatch features a reinterpretation of Christophe’s 1965 hit “Aline” that now plays as something of a tribute to the late pop-cultural icon. Sung by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, it comes accompanied by the Anderson-directed animated music video above.

Cocker has worked with Anderson before. In the director’s 2009 stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox he provided the voice of a singing farmer named Petey; in The French Dispatch he does the same for a pop star called Tip-Top, and has even recorded a full-length album in character.




Released on the very same day as The French Dispatch, Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top contains a dozen covers of songs originally popularized by the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, Jacques Dutronc, and Françoise Hardy. (Attentive cinephiles, the core audience for all things Anderson, will also note the presence on the track list of Claude Channes’ “Mao Mao,” first heard in Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise.)

Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top exudes the retro-minded Cocker’s love of 1960s French pop music, just as The French Dispatch exudes Anderson’s love of… well, everything Anderson loves, much of which appears in the “Aline” music video. Its meticulously hand-drawn look comes from Javi Aznarez, who’d originally been hired to apply his art to the sets of the film itself. Following Tip-Top as he dances through an elaborate two-dimensional rendition of Ennui-sur-Blasé, it introduces not only the setting (in a stark cutaway manner reminiscent of The Life Aquatic) but all the major characters and the actors who play them. Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray: the gang, it seems, is all here — “here” being a certain idea of postwar France best realized, perhaps, by imaginations like Anderson and Cocker’s.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Myth of Sisyphus Creatively Animated in an Oscar-Nominated Short Film (1974)

Even if you don’t know the myth by name, you know the story. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus, King of Corinth, was punished “for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.” In modern times, this story inspired Albert Camus to write “The Myth of Sisyphus,” an essay where he famously introduced his concept of the “absurd” and identified Sisyphus as the absurd hero. And it provided the creative material for a breathtakingly good animation created by Marcell Jankovics in 1974. The film, notes the annotation that accompanies the animation on Youtube, is “presented in a single, unbroken shot, consisting of a dynamic line drawing of Sisyphus, the stone, and the mountainside.” Fittingly, Jankovics’ little masterpiece was nominated for the Best Animated Short Film at the 48th Academy Awards. Enjoy watching it above.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in 2015.

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Watch a Gripping 10-Minute Animation About the Hunt for Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann

In February 2018, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany conducted interviews with 1,350 American adults, aged 18 and up.

Their findings, published as the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study, reveal a sharp decline in Americans’ awareness of the state-sponsored extermination of six million Jewish men, women, and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.

This knowledge gap was particularly pronounced among the millennial respondents. Sixty-six percent had not heard of Auschwitz — the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers, where over a million perished. Twenty-two percent of them had not heard of (or were unsure if they had heard of) the Holocaust.




This is shocking to those of us who grew up reading The Diary of Anne Frank and attending assemblies where Holocaust survivors — often the older relative of a classmate — spoke of their experiences, rolling up their sleeves to show us the serial numbers that had been tattooed on their arms upon arrival at Auschwitz.

The study did make the heartening discovery that nearly all of the respondents — 93% — believed that the Holocaust should be a topic of study in the schools, many citing their belief that such an education will prevent a calamity of that magnitude from happening again.

(In defense of millennials, it’s worth noting that in the decades since 1977, when more than half of the country tuned in to watch the miniseries Roots, the Civil War and the horrors of slavery had all but disappeared from American curriculums, a direction the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting to redress.)

The Holocaust is such a huge subject that there is a question of how to introduce it, ideally, in such a way that young people’s interest is sparked toward continuing their education.

The Driver is Red, Randall Christopher‘s animated short, above, could make an excellent, if somewhat unusual, starting place.

The film’s text is drawn from Israeli Mossad Special Agent Zvi Aharoni’s first person account of the successful manhunt that tracked Adolf Eichmann, a member of Heinrich Himmler’s inner circle and architect of the Nazi’s “final solution,” to Argentina.

This event transpired in 1960, fifteen years after Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz.

Aharoni, voiced by actor Mark Pinter, recalls receiving the tip that Eichmann was living in Argentina under an assumed name, and locating him in a modest dwelling on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Filmmaker Christopher builds the tension during the ensuing stakeout with effective, noir-ish, pencil sketches that take shape before our eyes, mapping surveillance points, a couple of happy accidents, and one harrowing moment where Aharoni feared his foreign accent might give him away.

There’s more to the story than can be packed in a fourteen minute film, but those fourteen minutes are as gripping as any tightly plotted spy movie.

Christopher is less interested in directing the next James Bond flick than putting Holocaust education back on the table for all Americans.

2016 New York Times article about the handwritten letter Eichmann sent Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, begging for clemency, paved the way for the film by motivating Christopher to fill in some gaps in his education with regard to the Holocaust.

As the then-46-year-old told Leorah Gavidor of The San Diego Reader in 2018:

I (felt) so dumb, so ignorant, being an adult in America and not knowing the history of it.

My friends, people I told this story to, they were fascinated. They would start listening very carefully when I started to talk about this Nazi from Germany that was found 15 years after the war, halfway around the world. They didn’t know anything about it. That’s how I knew I was on to something.

Before the film was completed, Christopher staged a live reading of the script at San Diego’s Verbatim Books, then passed the mic to Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler, who told the audience about surviving Auschwitz.

As Christopher recalled:

People were tripping. There’s three lines about Treblinka in the film, and this Nazi war criminal, and then they see someone there, with the tattoo on her arm, in front of them, who experienced this firsthand.

Mrs. Schindler became a Holocaust educator in 1972, when her son’s teacher invited her to share her story with his middle school classmates.

She is now 91.

via The Atlantic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

How The Pink Panther Painted The Mona Lisa’s Smile: Watch the 1975 Animation, “Pink Da Vinci”

Just a little fun to send you into the summer weekend. Above, we present the 1975 animated short, “Pink Da Vinci,” which IMDB frames as follows:

Another battle of the paintbrush between the Pink Panther and a diminutive painter, who this time is Leonardo Da Vinci, painting his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. The little Da Vinci paints a pouting mouth on the Mona Lisa, but the Pink Panther decides to covertly replace the pout with a smile. When the smile wins the appreciation of an art patron, Da Vinci is enraged and repaints the pout. The Pink Panther repeatedly changes the pout to a smile while the little painter is not looking, and ultimately it is the Pink Panther’s version of the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre.

If this whets your appetite, watch 15 hours of Pink Panther animations here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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