Beethoven was a musical visionary whose compositions burst the bounds of the genres of his day and set new standards.
The Jubilee programme touches on and dares to venture visions and projects for the future. What creative potential lurks in new technologies? How will we perceive classical music in the 21st century? What theatrical settings and formats will appeal to us and our children? After 250 years of Beethoven, it’s time for experiments!
As already mentioned under ‘Beethoven as a Composer’, Beethoven’s musical impact on subsequent generations was enormous. Hardly any leading composer could escape confronting his music. For this reason alone, he must be considered a visionary.
Especially significant for our image of Beethoven today is the innovative power of his music, a product of his radical urge toward originality.
Indeed, Beethoven’s music constantly went far beyond whatever had gone before. Time and again he burst generic boundaries, making it difficult for his successors. His battle symphony Wellington’s Victory opened up previously unimagined possibilities of spatial composition. His Diabelli Variations not only transcended the dimensions of previous sets of variations, they articulate what might be called an all-embracing musical universality by integrating fugue and opera quotations. The late piano sonatas, and especially the late string quartets, might be said to dissolve their respective genres from within. If they baffled many of Beethoven’s contemporaries, today they hold us spellbound in a quite particular way.
But Beethoven also founded new traditions. This was especially long-lasting in the case of the Ninth Symphony; it gave birth to an entirely new genre, the choral symphony, that enjoyed great popularity until well into the 20th century. The integration of a chorus in an instrumental work was literally unheard-of: Beethoven himself underscored its novelty by having the solo bass sing the words ‘O friends, not these tones …’. He also ventured into uncharted territory with An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), the first song cycle in music history. The fragmentary idiom of the Bagatelles opened up previously unimagined modes of composing and listening that composers have valued and returned to again and again, especially since the early 20th century. All these works, and many others, bear witness to Beethoven’s enormous powers of innovation.
The thematic complex of 'Beethoven as a Humanist' and his underlying visionary posture form the essence of many works that can be described with the Enlightenment phrase per aspera ad astra – from adversity to the stars. The most striking example is the Fifth Symphony, where a bleak individual predicament (C minor) evolves into a radiant clarion-call for joyful humanity (C major).
The visionary spirit fascinated the next generation of composers, who in turn felt inspired to innovations and experimental assimilations of their own. Choreographic and theatrical productions, for example, have made it possible to experience Beethoven’s works in new ways. Nor is this phenomenon confined to our own day: as early as 1829 Nicolas Charles Bochsa presented Beethoven’s 'Pastoral' Symphony as a ballet-pantomime at King’s Theatre, London. Especially famous was the choreography of the Ninth by the French dancer-choreographer Maurice Béjart. Uwe Scholz’s ballet version of the Seventh thrillingly translated the music to the stage. Especially spectacular was Ars Electronica Futurelab, who, in 2015, had 100 illuminated drones fly in formation in the nocturnal sky to the strains of Beethoven’s Fifth. Recently Beethoven choreographies have opened up new possibilities in the field of education.
Even Beethoven’s contemporaries tried out new modes of performance, as when his friend, the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, chose to play the string quartets in public recitals. Then as now, new forms of presentation and projects were deemed suitable to open up new strata of society, not only for Beethoven, but for classical music altogether. They also give us pause to consider how classical music can be conveyed today in a contemporary spirit. Accordingly, the Jubilee will grant ample leeway to innovation and experiments, allowing us to 'tip' our retrospective view of Beethoven back and forth like a hinge from past to present in order to venture into the future in a Beethovenian spirit.
Christine Siegert & Christian Lorenz