There is a Beethoven Festival afoot at the National Art Centre and from September 13-22, it promises to be a moving event featuring the well-established NAC Orchestra, led by the profoundly talented Alexander Shelley at the helm. Mr. Shelly’s resume is outstanding and we are in good hands when it comes to classical music with him as a director, however there are also other reasons to be excited about this particular festival.
Beethoven lived during tumultuous times, and his music reflects turbulence as well as beauty. The French revolution had a tremendous influence on Beethoven’s life and music. He was pro-republic, believing in the people and the promise of freedoms that came when empires ended. Beethoven went as far as dedicating his third symphony to the revolutionary Napoleon Bonaparte, only to violently scratch the dedications off the pages of his manuscripts when he learned that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor in 1804. Symphony No 3, which is to be performed on September 13th at the NAC, still remains highly charged with heroic themes because that is how Beethoven saw Napoleon at the beginning.
When the chaos and conflict threatens to spill out of France and make its way to Vienna, Beethoven bellows that call to arms Symphony No 5, as if he is saying that we still need heroes to defend those things that are precious to us. Set to be performed on the 14th at the NAC, Beethoven’s Fifth is probably the best known piece of classical music, paving the way to colossal epic symphonies that were to follow in the later years. It is a statement made through music, and you are taken aback from the very first notes of the very first movement. The conversations that the instruments are having at the command of Beethoven are probably the most momentous we have ever had.
Beethoven is perhaps the most famous classical composer anyone can name. As children we are told that he was deaf, wrongly as that might be, because Beethoven wasn’t fully deaf until the very end of his life, but that little information beguiles us and remains in the back of our head as we delve into his repertoire as adults. His bust can be found at nearly every antique store throughout the country and indeed, internationally his face is the most recognizable with his unkempt wild hairdo. Beethoven is the first rock star, and surprisingly his music is not far from rock and roll: it certainly is as loud and emotionally evoking.
Beethoven is not just admired by musicians and classical fans, but fans of poetry, literature and fine arts do love him also. His Ninth Symphony was so admired by poets and artists that bunch of them got together in 1901 under the direction of Josef Hoffmann and dedicated the 14th Vienna Secession to Beethoven, including a statue by Max Klinger and the historically significant Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze now restored at the Secession Building in Vienna. Beethoven’s Ninth, which will be performed at the NAC on the 22nd, has a special ending performed by a choir singing the poem Ode to Joy by Friedrich Schiller. Indeed Beethoven, by allowing the fusion of disciplines, led the way for Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, and John Cage’s Black Mountain projects.
So go ahead and check out NAC’s Beethoven Festival from the 13th until the 22nd of September, because we are talking about pieces of music that are far more than their fame and historical timelines. They are about all that came before, and all that shall come for eternity.