If anyone deserves to have a birthday stretching over two years it is Ludwig van Beethoven, arguably the greatest composer of all time and certainly a legend in Bonn, the city on the Rhine in which he was born and where he first displayed his prodigious talent.
This year was to have been marked by a series of exhibitions, concerts and artistic reappraisals to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. And although the festivities did get underway in January and February, they came crashing to a halt in March as the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis became apparent and all social gatherings, public meetings and performances were abruptly cancelled.
But, as has been seen in many cases, the pandemic has spawned a very special kind of creativity – nowhere more fittingly than in the home town of Beethoven, where the anniversary has a very special significance. Rather than simply cancel the scores of planned anniversary events, the organisers have decided to extend Beethoven’s special birthday into 2021, and to reschedule as many as possible for dates next year. They have also sought to adapt some of the programme to innovative digital interpretations to be enjoyed this year.
“Of course it was a very sad day when we had to shut our doors to the public, but rather than simply cancel things we have sought creative solutions,” said Malte Boecker, director of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn and artistic director of the Beethoven Anniversary Society. “As in Italy, there were performances from rooftops; we staged a series of online Hope at Home concerts; we recently marked World Environment Day with some fresh takes on the Pastoral Symphony.
“Beethoven was a man who reinvented himself many times. He created such wonderful music when he could barely hear; he would certainly have approved of making the best of this situation.”
The extension of Beethoven’s anniversary year is to be formally marked with a concert conducted by Daniel Barenboim in the Bonn opera house on December 17 – the date (more or less) of Beethoven’s birth in 1770. The concert had been intended to close the year-long festivities; now it will signal the beginning of a second phase, an extension into the middle of September 2021.
Events that have been rescheduled for next year include simultaneous performances in June by the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn and the Vienna Symphony. Also in the summer will be four open air concerts in front of the university of Bonn where the young Beethoven played. Providing more contemporary salutes, there will be performances by Kraftwerk and Robbie Williams. The new programme will conclude with the staging in late August/early September of Bonn’s signature Beethoven Festival.
Concerts apart, visitors to Bonn (and indeed Vienna, the city to which Beethoven moved) will be able to benefit this year and next from an extension of exhibitions organised for the anniversary – including one in Vienna depicting the extraordinary number of places in which the composer lived in the city (more than 60 in total). In Bonn, the Beethoven-Haus has already reopened with visits in compliance with social distancing once again possible. The city has also put together a self-guided “On the trail of Ludwig van Beethoven” walking tour with stops at 11 key sights.
“British visitors might like to come across in August next year for the rescheduled recreation of the unveiling of the Beethoven monument in Bonn – something which Queen Victoria attended in 1845,” said the Mayor of Bonn, Ashok Sridharan. “They may want to take a journey along the Rhine. Alternatively I’d recommend our Pützchens Markt festival: rollercoasters, merry-go-rounds – and no last orders: beer is served until the early hours.”
For the organisers of the Beethoven anniversary – as for most of us – the whole year has been something of a rollercoaster ride. And it has produced some unexpected consequences.
“When we first planned this anniversary, sceptics suggested there would be no appetite for yet more Beethoven concerts,” said Boecker. “The opposite has happened. We have had no concerts since March and the demand for them has become greater than any of us would have dreamed of.
“If there is one good thing that has come out of this pandemic, it is that people are desperately longing to hear Beethoven performed live again. It is as though many only now fully appreciate just how much of a gift his music is.”
For more details of the rescheduled programme of Beethoven 250th’s anniversary events, see bthvn2020.de/en
For further news on exhibitions and events at Beethoven-Haus, see beethoven-haus-bonn.de
Further tips on visiting Bonn: bonn.de
For visits to Germany more generally, see germany.travel