Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Fourth "New Beethoven Research" Conference: "Beethoven and the Congress of Vienna"

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Fourth "New Beethoven Research" Conference: "Beethoven and the Congress of Vienna"

Article excerpt

Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, September 10-12, 2014

While the past three "New Beethoven Research" conferences occurred just prior to the annual meetings of the American Musicological Society, this year's event took place in Beethoven's hometown of Bonn, Germany. Participants in this truly international event included Beethoven scholars and enthusiasts from Russia, Israel, China, Great Britain, Austria, and of course Germany and the U.S. It was an appropriate gathering for a meeting centered on the Congress of Vienna that remapped political divisions in Europe after the fall of Napoleon two hundred years ago.

The conference's primary focus lay on the music that Beethoven composed between 1813 and 1815, much of it very political in nature, a corpus that has proved a sticking point for many authors since the mid-nineteenth century. The unavoidable impression that Beethoven, through the composition of celebratory works for the Congress, knowingly legitimized iron-fisted authorities such as Emperor Franz I and Prince Metternich, some of the same figures who just a few years later would brutally suppress any political dissent, and who in 1813 already presided over one of the most far-reaching surveillance states in modem history, has understandably disquieted many biographers and critics. (At the time of the Congress of Vienna, Emperor Franz held the title Franz I of Austria. Before the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, he was known as Franz, or Francis, II, Holy Roman Emperor. For simplicity's sake we refer to him here as Emperor Franz.) Even harder to fathom is the fact that these politically oriented pieces, epitomized by Wellingtons Victory or the Battle of Victoria, brought Beethoven unprecedented fame and critical success during his lifetime, but shordy after his death fell into disrepute as some of his poorest work. Be that as it may, this conference falls on the heels of a recent surge of scholarly interest in Beethoven's political music, most notably in recent books by Stephen Rumph and Nicholas Mathew (both of which were frequendy mentioned and discussed in the papers and comments). How seriously did Beethoven take these works, and how seriously should we take them today ? What can this phase of Beethoven's career tell us about his relationship to politics and music's role in particular? These questions hovered over the three days of the Bonn conference.

On Wednesday evening, we assembled in the downstairs room of Bonngasse 24 to be welcomed by Malte Boecker, Director of the BeethovenHaus. Michael Ladenburger and Julia Ronge conducted tours through the museum, including the special exhibit highlighting Dr. Ronges work on Beethovens compositional studies with Haydn, Albrechtsberger, and Salieri. (Dr. Ronges three-volume critical edition of these studies has just been published as part of Henle's Neue Beethoven Ausgabe). A stunning concert followed by the City of Birmingham Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andris Nelsons, of Beethovens Eighth and Ninth Symphonies at the Beethoven-Halle, part of the three-week Bonn Beethoven Festival that had just begun the previous weekend.

Plenary lecture: "Begleitmusik: Der Wiener Kongress als kulturelles Ereignis" ("Background Music: The Congress of Vienna as a Cultural Event")

Sebastian Hansen, Universität Stuttgart

Thursday began with a keynote speech by the German historian Sebastian Hansen (Universität Stuttgart) that detailed the efforts that Viennese authorities and other European monarchs expended to project a specific image for the Vienna Congress as a celebration of peace, and by extension, for themselves as benefactors of that peace. The Congress marked in many ways a profound shift in the dynamic among the monarchs, who consciously did away with any outward appearance of hierarchy, but also between the monarchs and their subjects. Still aware of the lingering Republican sentiments stirred up by the French Revolution, authorities took the opportunity of the public's elation at Napoleons downfall to remind them that a united Europe had brought an end to fifteen years of bloodshed and that if the people would only trust them further, a long era of peace would follow. …

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