Let the Beethoven party begin! Today begins a world wide celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary that will culminate on 17 December 2020.
December 17 is Beethoven’s name day. The date of the composer’s birth, a day or two before his name day, is lost to a history that is interested in everything to do with this child.
In 2016 the German government declared Ludwig van Beethoven a “matter of national importance”. This political commitment to a cultural issue was attached specifically to the year 2020, which will mark 250 years since the composer was born in Bonn. Marking the date of 17 December 2020 has been declared a “national assignment” by Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as official patron, and parliament, and projects carrying the name BTHVN2020 are receiving very generous funding. Local, regional and state governments, as well as corporate and private sponsors are all contributing funds to the anniversary program.
Around 1,000 concerts, opera performances, festivals and exhibitions are planned throughout Germany to celebrate.
The city of Bonn, where the composer was born and lived until he moved to Vienna at the age of 22, will play a central role in the anniversary year’s program.
And Beethoven-Haus is at the centre of the festivities in Bonn. One of the largest Beethoven projects has been the refurbishment and expansion of Beethoven-Haus ready for the special anniversary program for 2020. Even the “birth room” will be open to visitors for the first time. There is actually no historical proof that Ludwig van Beethoven was born in that tiny chamber on or around December 16, 1770. Like the actual birth date itself, the details are shrouded in hearsay.
The house is nearly perfectly preserved and is the center of the world’s most important Beethoven Archive, a museum with precious memorabilia and a range of musical activities.
Concert highlights include:
A recreation of the Beethoven Akademie 1808 concert in Hamburg on 9 February.
The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s 24-hour Beethoven marathon on April 25. Hopefully available on their Digital Concert Hall.
A concert of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony, completed by a team of musicologists and programmers using AI, in Bonn on April 28.
The German-French cultural channel Arte will be broadcasting live the performance of all nine Beethoven symphonies from different cities.
World wide performances of the Pastoral Symphony on June 5, World Environment Day
Daniel Barenboim will be closing the event on December 17, 2020 with a performance of the Ninth Symphony with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Bonn.
Beary recitals 🙂
The letters in the anniversary year’s logo BTHVN2020 stand for the German words for five key aspects, or “pillars”, of the composer’s character: Beethoven as a citizen, as a composer, a humanist, a visionary and a nature lover. The events planned will correspond to these five pillars.
It’s quiz time! Are you a Missa SolemYES or a FideliNO?
1. What year was Ludwig van Beethoven born?
2. In his youth, Beethoven was taught music by his father. What was his name?
3. How many piano concertos did Beethoven write?
4. How did Beethoven claim to lose his hearing?
Continued exposure to loud orchestral noise
A recurrent ear infection he’d had since childhood
After a fit of rage at being interrupted while working, he fell and subsequently rose to find that he was deaf
5. Which piano sonata was dedicated to Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein of Vienna?
6. To whom was the Eroica Symphony originally dedicated?
Louis XVIII of France
Archduke Rudoplph of Austria
7. The text Beethoven used in the finale of his Ninth Symphony was written by which poet?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Adelbert von Chamisso
8. The Royal Philharmonic Society commissioned which landmark Beethoven piece?
Symphony No 9
Piano Concerto No 5
9. In Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, which character sings the aria Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!?
10. How many late quartets are there?
11. Which key is shared by the Coriolan Overture, Symphony No 5 and the Choral Fantasy?
E flat minor
12. In which city was Beethoven buried after his death?
Answers: 1/1770; 2/Johann; 3/5; 4/After a fit of rage at being interrupted while working, he fell and subsequently rose to find that he was deaf; 5/No 21; 6/Napoleon Bonaparte; 7/Heinrich Schiller; 8/Symphony No 9; 9/Florestan; 10/6; 11/C minor; 12/Vienna.
When Beethoven incorporated Friedrich Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy into his Ninth Symphony, it was a radical call for equality, freedom, and brotherhood. All Together: A Global Ode to Joy reimagines Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a 21st century call for unity, justice, and empowerment.
In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, a yearlong world-wide celebration that begins tomorrow, conductor Marin Alsop will lead performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on six continents with 10 renowned partner orchestras as part of a yearlong global project. Partners will reimagine the concert experience for their communities, presenting newly created music alongside the music of Beethoven and artists from their region. As part of each performance, Ode to Joy will be translated into a local language. The first concert has already taken place a few days ago in São Paulo, Brazil. Little bears will be attending the performance in Sydney in August.
Of all the works in the mainstream repertory of Western music, the Ninth Symphony seems the most like a construction of mirrors, reflecting and refracting the values, hopes, and fears of those who seek to understand and explain it … From its first performance [in Vienna in 1824] up to the present day, the Ninth Symphony has inspired diametrically opposed interpretations. – Nicholas Cook
Those interpretations include those earlier listeners and commentators who heard and saw in it evidence that Beethoven had lost it compositionally speaking; that the piece, with its incomprehensible scale, nearly impossible technical demands, and above all its crazily utopian humanist idealism in the choral setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy in its last movement, amounted to madness. On the other side, Hector Berlioz thought it the “culmination of its author’s genius”.
For Beethoven, the Ninth Symphony in D Minor, op. 125, had a long background. It marked a return to roots in his life, his art, and his culture. Those roots reached back to his youth in Bonn during the golden years of Aufklärung, when he first determined to set An die Freude, the Friedrich Schiller poem that in fiery verses embodied the spirit of the time. The intellectual atmosphere he breathed in Bonn included the philosophy of Kant, the Masonic ideal of brotherhood, the Illuminist doctrine of a cadre of the enlightened who will point humanity toward freedom and happiness. Passing through his life and awareness in the next decades were the French Revolution and its art, the funeral dirges and music for public festivals; then the wars and the bourgeoning hopes of the Napoleonic years’ then the destruction of those hopes and the end of the age of heroes and benevolent despots.
Also simmering within the Ninth Symphony as it took shape was the model and the threat of Haydn, who wrote The Creation and the song that became the unofficial Austrian national anthem. Beyond Haydn lay traditions and voices and models that Beethoven had always turned to for ideas and inspiration: Handel, Mozart, Bach and the history of the symphony, including what he himself brought to that history.
Once, the threads of his early years had gathered into the Eroica, which secured the symphony for more than a century as the summit of musical genres. Now the accumulated threads of a lifetime converged to create the Ninth, the sister work to the Missa solemnis, the answer to the human and spiritual question that the mass left hanging: if God cannot give us peace, what can? Beethoven did not consider the mass and the Ninth his final statements, because he hoped to write still greater works if fate gave him the chance. Fate did not oblige. So if the mass and symphony were not the end, in many ways they were the summation and culmination of his life and work.
The Ninth itself took at least a decade to condense from its first vague imaginings, during anguished and drifting years, to the conception that it became: a monumental symphony whose culmination is a finale with the unprecedented inclusion of a choir and soloists singing verses from An die Freude. As it took shape, the music of the symphony itself traces that same journey from vaporous beginnings through tragedy and triumph.
When in his teens Beethoven declared to his friends his intention of setting the whole of Schiller’s Ode To Joy, one of his adult admirers wrote to Schiller’s wife: “I expect something perfect, for as far as I know him he is wholly devoted to the great and the sublime”. If Beethoven attempted that setting at all, any traces of it disappeared; several years later, he suppressed another setting that he had mentioned to a publisher. But he never stopped thinking about the poem – he remembered it after Napoleon betrayed the republican dream. Since the 1780s there had been some forty settings of An die Freude, including one from 1815 by the young Franz Schubert. They were widely sung in Masonic and Illuminati lodges. Most of these settings were, like the poem itself, in the tradition of the geselliges Lied, a social song intended to be sung by a group of friends.
Ideas about a Freude setting and/or a work with chorus, perhaps as part of a symphony or some sort of freestanding prices, began to turn up in Beethoven’s sketches of the middle teens. In early 1816, he added one more sketch to his dozens of ideas for symphonies. This was one of his few symphony sketches that took wing. It is recognizable as the opening of the Ninth.
By around 1818 he had fixed on the idea of a symphony with voices to enter in the finale or earlier. He was also thinking about the archaic church modes, though those ended up mainly in the mass and a late quartet. After what appears to be a long hiatus, there are more sketches from 1822, but it was in the spring of 1823 that he started working intensively on the symphony. Some eleven months later, the Ninth was done.
The Ninth Symphony begins in mist and uncertainty, on a hallow open fifth and the wrong harmony: winds and string tremolos on A and E. The A seems to be the keynote, but it isn’t. The sound of the beginning, like matter emerging out of the void and slowly filling space, had never been heard in a piece before. Yet its effect was familiar to the time: the beginning of the Ninth is a descendant of Chaos in The Creation. Haydn’s Chaos resolves into the C-major revelation of Let there be light! The Chaos of the Ninth’s beginning resolves into a towering proclamation of forbidding import, the orchestra striding in militant dotted rhythms down a D-minor chord. D minor for Beethoven was a rare key, usually fraught: the Tempest Sonata; the tragic slow movement of the Piano Sonata op.10, no 3; the Ghost Trio second movement.
In the Ninth, the gestures that emerge from the void are stern and heroic, at the same time gnarled, searching, nervous, remote. If this is some kind of heroic image, it is a hero whose proclamations are raging and indisputable. The rhythmic motif, da-da-da-dum, is essentially the same as that of the Fifth Symphony and any number of other Beethoven works.
At the same time this beginning that emerges from nothing, filling in space, rising to a gigantic proclamation, suggests another metaphor that pervades the symphony. The beginning is an image of creation itself, of the creation of worlds, of societies, of individuals. It brought to music the idea that a work can evoke a self-creating cosmos. The beginning also involves the creation of a theme, which will eventually be the main business of the first part of the finale. Lying behind that is an image of the Ninth Symphony rising from silence to create itself, as a work rises from nothing in the mind of its creator. The last movement will return to that image. These images all work together. With Beethoven, emotion, drama, image and technique work in harmony (most of the time). Not only is the image of creation a fundamental idea and message of the Ninth Symphony, it is a central part of its effect.
This is the most complex first movement Beethoven had made since the Eroica, and a far more enigmatic opening than that symphony’s. In the Ninth, he wanted the chorale finale to be the goal and glory of the symphony. To that end, he radically destabilised the first movement, kept it unresolved, searching and not finding all the way to its end. By the end of the movement, everything is in flux, unsettled, so a climactic finale becomes indispensable. Here Beethoven definitely solved the problem he had grappled with for decades, making the finale the principal movement.
Like all the late music, the Ninth was not a new direction for Beethoven as much as a continued deepening and expansion of trends that had been in his music all along: bigger pieces, more intense contrasts, more complexity and more simplicity. The instrumentation follows suit. The Ninth and Missa solemnis have the most colourful, variegated, innovative orchestration of his life. The Ninth’s massive sound reaches far beyond the modest colours and textures of the 18th century orchestra that Beethoven wielded in the First Symphony. Symphonies of that earlier time were written mainly for private orchestras that might have five or six violins, two or three violas and cellos, one bass. In the Ninth, string lines are often doubled in octaves; there are four horns, and, in the second and last movements, trombones. The premiere involved a string section two to four times bigger than that of the usual palace or theatre orchestra; the music is geared for that size string section, plus doubled winds. Given Beethoven’s evolution of orchestral technique and colour since the middle symphonies, it is astounding how innovative and fresh are the orchestral styles of the mass and the Ninth, shaped, when the composer was close to stone deaf. That orchestral sound was to be a prime model for the coming Romantic generations of composers.
The end of the first movement is Beethoven’s third and last funeral march. The first two, the op. 26 Piano Sonata’s Funeral March on the Death of a Hero and the same on a grander scale in the Eroica, were high-humanistic, echt-revolutionary evocations written in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, honouring a military hero as the highest example of human achievement. In the Ninth, with his last funeral march, Beethoven buries another hero but in a far different, far more bitter and disillusioned context.
Written at the height of the idealism over Napoleon, the Eroica first movement depicted the creation of a hero, the other movements the aftermath of his triumph. In the wake of the fall of Napoleon, the destruction of what he once appeared to stand for, came the police states that followed the Congress of Vienna. Across Europe, the age of heroes and benevolent despots was finished. So among its implications, the first movement of the Ninth Symphony depicts that bitter end – the deconstruction and burial of the heroic ideal, once and for all. In the Eroica, the conquering hero brought peace and happiness. In the Ninth the hero brings despair and death. But within that despair are movements of hope, and it is those moments that prefigure the Freude theme.
Each movement of the Ninth begins with not exactly an introduction but rather a kind of curtain-raiser. In the first movement it is the whispering emergence from the void. Beethoven places the scherzo as the second movement instead of the usual third, something not unprecedented but new to his symphonies. All the movements of the Ninth are grounded on D and the scherzo is in D minor. It is a vivacious, puckish, indefatigable moto perpetuo. Those qualities in a minor key give the scherzo a distinctive tone. a tinge of irony, a mocking riposte to the dark D minor of the first movement. The second movement is made of complexity counterpoised by almost childlike simplicity. It is a striking choice to follow the deathly conclusion of the first movement. This is Beethoven’s most complexly contrapuntal scherzo – at the same time, with its kinetic and memorable subject, one of his most crowd-pleasing.
The third movement, marked Adagio molto e cantabile, very slow and singing, is a beautiful, profound evocation of tranquility and Arcadian peace, spun out in music of incomparable freshness and perfection of gesture and pace. There are only two brassy interruptions of stern fanfare whose pealing brass recall the first movement. At the end of the second brassy interruption, the music sinks from an F-major harmony down a third to D-flat, and for a moment, the music takes on an uncanny aura. That drop of a third (which happened in similar ways in the Missa solemnis) is a prophecy of the transcendent moments in the finale.
What follows is a rending scream.
Richard Wagner would name the brassy burst of fury that begins the finale the “terror fanfare”. It shatters the peace of the slow movement, returns to the dissonance and despair of the first movement, and makes a new beginning with a new evocation of chaos. Now the unsettled first movement is going to find its goal, embodied in An die Freude.
The dissonant and frantic passage leads to a “recitative” (so marked in the score) for the cellos and basses. Fragments from the previous three movements pass in review — a few measures of the opening theme of each — but are rejected by the strings. After this strange, extended recitative comes the aria: the famous Ode to Joy melody (imitated by Brahms in his First Symphony) to which later will be added words. After some seven minutes the movement starts over again—the “terror fanfare” returns, but this time is followed by a vocal recitative with the bass soloist singing “O friends, not these tones. But rather, let us strike up more pleasant and more joyful ones.” The chorus and four vocal soloists take up the “joy” theme, which undergoes a continuing series of variations, including a brief section in the Turkish manner. The music reaches a climax with a new theme: “Be embraced, ye millions! … Brothers, above the starry canopy there must dwell a loving Father,” which is later combined in counterpoint with the joy theme and eventually builds to a frenzied coda.
The threads in Beethoven’s life gathered in this finale. Twenty years before, he anguished in his Heiligenstadt Testament, “Oh Providence – grant me at last but one day of pure joy – it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart – Oh when – Oh when, Oh divine one – shall I feel it again in the temple of nature and of humankind – Never? – No – Oh that would be too hard.” At the end of a lifetime of pain, did Beethoven reclaim joy in the Ninth Symphony? In his life, no. His physical and emotional miseries only got worse, and his rage raged on. But here, in his art, he found overflowing joy – if not, when all was done, a finale that satisfied him.
In the first movement of the symphony, for the last time he buried the hero and the heroic ideal once exalted in Eroica. Now through Schiller he replaced that ideal with a new one: the perfected society that begins in the freedom, happiness and moral enlightenment of each person, growing from inside outward to brothers and friends and lovers, from there in a mounting chorus outward to universal brotherhood, the world Schiller named for the ancient Classical paradise: Elysium.
Would Beethoven be disappointed in humankind now! The CIVICUS Monitor is a collaboration between human rights organisations around the world, to assess the democratic freedoms of 196 countries. Australia is now in line with the United States, Ghana and Botswana in terms of civil freedoms, that is degrading civil freedoms. Countries categorised as ‘open’ decreased in the past year from 4 per cent in 2018 to 3 per cent in 2019. Outstanding effort!
The finale of the Ninth is extraordinary not merely because it introduces the human voice for the first time into a symphony, but also because the contrast of musical texture provided by the vocal forces enables Beethoven to follow one magnificent variation movement with another. Not since Bach’s Goldberg Variations had the power of variation form been given such sustained and eloquent testimony.
The famous premiere of the Ninth Symphony in Vienna in May 1824 — best known for the story of the soloist who had to turn the deaf Beethoven around so that he could see the thunderous applause that he could not hear — was the greatest concert triumph of his career. Although Beethoven, of course, did not see it that way.
According to participating musicians, the work had only two full rehearsals before it was premiered on 7 May 1824 in the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna. Various stories and anecdotes surround this momentous occasion, but Beethoven — stone deaf at this time — took part in the performance by giving the tempos for each part and turning the pages of his score “as though he wanted to play all the instruments and sing all the chorus parts.” However, the “official conductor” Michael Umlauf, had instructed the singers and musician to ignore all of Beethoven’s instructions. When the work had ended, Beethoven was apparently still conducting and Caroline Unger is credited with turning Beethoven to face the applauding audience. Beethoven’s underlying conception of music as a mode of self-expression still resonates strongly today, and whether one agrees with, or rejects his compositional approach, after him, nothing in music could ever be the same.
The Ninth, dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, influenced composers that followed, including Schubert, Berlioz, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler — the list goes on. How, many wondered, should one write a symphony after the Ninth? Should they write more than nine symphonies? All dealt with the questions in fascinating ways that fundamentally affected the course of 19th century music. Liszt arranged it for solo piano, and Wagner made a piano version that retained the choir and vocal soloists. Mahler re-orchestrated it, adding brass and winds. Schubert, who apparently attended the premiere in 1824, briefly quoted the “joy” theme in his own final symphony, written the following year. Almost every Bruckner symphony begins in the manner of the Ninth — low string rumblings that seem to suggest the creation of a musical world. Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Shostakovich followed the model of a choral finale. Wagner was perhaps the composer most influenced by the Ninth, arguing that in it Beethoven pointed the way to the “Music of the Future”, a universal drama uniting words and tones, in short, Wagner’s own operas. Others have emulated it, re-envisioned it, revered it, and even built up superstitions about what might happen if they write more than nine symphonies of their own.
Though some have found Schiller’s view of universal brotherhood naïvely idealistic in the face of modern horrors, the Ninth has remained relevant chiefly because of the beauty and power of its music. Few works use the formal and textural elements of Classicism more daringly; few works in Western music have exerted more influence on subsequent composers.
In the end, the Ninth Symphony presents us with as many questions as answers. Its utopia is envisioned, not attained. It was neglected for decades before it found its triumph. Yet the place in the world Beethoven intended the Ninth to inhabit is exactly where it ended up over the next two centuries: its Freude theme perhaps known to half of humanity, the symphony performed all over the globe, in East and West, often outside the concert hall as a great ceremonial work.
Leonard Bernstein conducted an international orchestra and chorus made up of musicians from east and west for the concert in Berlin on Christmas Day 1989 to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bernstein changed Schiller’s text from an “Ode to Joy” (An die Freude) to an “Ode to Freedom” (An die Freiheit). This alteration was certainly appropriate given the circumstances; what many in the audience may not have realized was that freedom exactly captures what the poem is about. The original message had to be disguised in a time of political repression. Schiller probably meant “Freiheit,” but had to say “Freude”.
Little bears have heard the Ninth many, many times. Tonight they will try to experience Beethoven’s masterpiece the way Beethoven experienced it, not in their ears, but in their body. They will close their eyes, put in some ear plugs, turn up the speakers up, and feel…
The story of the dedication of Beethoven’s Third Symphony is the stuff of symphonic legend. Whatever the truth, the victory at the end of the piece doesn’t just stand for Napoleon, or Beethoven, but for the possibilities of the symphony itself.
When he completed it in 1804, Beethoven knew beyond doubt the Third Symphony was the best thing he had done. He hoped it would have a brilliant future. But he could hardly have imagined the implications of that future. The Eroica reframed what a symphony, and to a degree what music itself, could be and achieve.
In 2016, BBC Music Magazine surveyed 151 conductors working across the world to come up with the top 20 great symphonies. Beethoven’s Third was named the greatest symphony of all time by the world’s greatest conductors.
In 1803, in the journal Musikalishes Taschenbuch, Beethoven likely read an article that surveyed the state of the symphony as a genre. The symphonies universally called the greatest up to that time were first Haydn’s, then Mozart’s – even though neither of those men saw symphonies as his most significant work. For Mozart his main focus had been operas; for Haydn the late oratorios and masses. After his symphonies conquered London, Haydn never wrote another one, even as he was called the father of the genre. Yet the critic of the Taschenbuch wrote:
“Symphonies are the triumph of this art. Unlimited and free, the artist can conjure up an entire world of feelings in them. Dancing merriment, exultant joy, the sweet yearning of love and profound pain, gentle peace and mischievous caprice, playful jet and frightful gravity pour forth and tough the sympathetic strings of the heart, feeling, and fantasy… Also, these gigantic works of art are subject to the necessary conditions of the mutual determination of content and form and of unity in diversity… Mozart and Haydn have produced works of art in this genre of instrumental music that deserve great admiration. Their great, inexhaustible genius, their profundity and universality, their free, bold, vigorous spirits are expressed more purely therein. Mozart’s symphonies are colossal masses of rock, wild and abundant, surrounding a gentle, laughing valley; Haydn’s are Chinese gardens, created by cheerful humour and mischievous caprice… Beethoven, a novice in art who is, however, already approaching the great masters, has in particular made the great field of instrumental music his own. He unites Mozart’s universality and wild, abundant boldness and Haydn’s humoristic caprice; all his compositions have abundance and unity.”
In June 1803, in a winegrower’s cottage in Oberdobling, Beethoven settled down to work on a new symphony. In the early stages, Beethoven knew that the symphony will be in E-flat major and it will end with a variation movement, based on the dance from the Prometheus ballet – like the Prometheus piano variations but composed for orchestra. The symphonic finale had to be pointed and climactic in a way that variations ordinarily were not. For the finale, he had to to fashion a new kind of form, a hybrid variation movement, just one of the many musical innovations Beethoven came up with for his third symphony – the shattering dissonances and rhythmic dislocations of the first movement, the expressive grandeur and terror of the funeral march, the ludicrously challenging horn writing of the scherzo, the gigantic expressive range – from comic to tragic to lyrical to heroic – in the fourth movement, the final set of variations that in one fell swoop reinvented the symphonic finale in a way that arguably only the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth comes close to.
He had settled on the symphony’s subject. It was to be what he and his time called a “characteristic” piece and what the future would call a “program” piece, based on some sort of story or image usually conveyed by a title. The subject of this symphony inspired by the Prometheus music was to be another Promethean figure, the only man in Europe who appeared to deserve that description as a benefactor of humanity: Napoleon Bonaparte, who had begun his self-willed ascent as the “little corporal” and now was the conqueror and benevolent despot who proposed to bring Europe peace, republican governments, the rule of law, and an end to ancient tyrannies. The Third Symphony was to be called Bonaparte.
As epic dreams unrolled before his imagination, he rushed to realise them on keyboard, in his head, in notes scratched onto the page. He spent hours lost in his raptus, improvising at the keyboard, ideas flowing from his fingers into sound, sketchbook on a table beside him to fix the sounds before they were gone. As he wrote out the sketches, he drummed the beat with his hands and feet, cursing the notes for their recalcitrance. For Beethoven, composing was a process physical as well as mental; his whole body was involved in it. Every day in all weather, he walked in hills and woods and country lanes, growling and howling and waving his arms conducting the music in his head, stopping to pencil ideas in the pocket sketchbooks he carried with him.
Chains of ideas and associations gathered in his mind, rising from the intersection of the Prometheus dance and the French conqueror. The symphony would be not only dedicated to the Napoleon but also in some way modelled on his character and career and on the larger image of a hero who has the vision and capacity to create a new order, a just and harmonious society: as Schiller said, free and respecting freedom.
Napoleon revitalised the Aufklärung ideals Beethoven had grown up with. Now he understood how to attach those ideals to his music. His teacher Christian Neefe wrote, “A meticulous acquaintance with the various characters [of men], with the physical and moral aspects of mankind, with the passions… [is required] if music is to be no empty cling-clang.”
Imagine if events hadn’t intervened, and Beethoven had stuck to his original plan, and his Third Symphony had been called the Bonaparte. In 1803 its flowery title page proclaimed, Sinfonia grande / intitulata Bonaparte / del Sigr. / Louis van Beethoven.
Imagine the reams of interpretation and analysis that would have gone into aligning the piece with the Napoleonic project, its humanist ideals and its all-too-human historical realisation. Yet that is what Beethoven wanted the piece we know now as the Eroica symphony to be: this piece, during its composition and at its completion, and even when he was negotiating its publication, was a piece for and about Napoleon. Beethoven designed the piece as a memorial to the heroic achievements of a ruler who he hoped would go on to inspire Europe to a humanist, libertarian, egalitarian revolution. That’s why the piece describes Napoleon’s heroic struggles (the huge first movement), then narrates the sorrow of his death in grand public style (the funeral march slow movement), and, with the open-air energy and teeming imagination of the scherzo and finale, demonstrates how his legacy and spirit were to have lived on in the world.
By around April 1804, the score of Bonaparte was copied and ready. Prince Lobkowitz had given Beethoven a splendid 1,800 florins for exclusive access to the symphony for six months and made his house orchestra available for trial run-throughs to be heard by invited guests. Beethoven had to be have been concerned about the fate of a symphony that he knew tested so many boundaries. At the same time, he was becoming resigned to the deterioration of his hearing and the steady drain of illness.
As plans heated up for readings of the new symphony and other new pieces with Lobkowitz’s orchestra, in late May of 1804, Ferdinand Ries turned up at Beethoven’s flat with stunning news: the puppet French Senate had just declared Napoleon Bonaparte to be emperor of France. For Beethoven this was not just an interesting or shocking piece of information; it concerned him intimately. The hero he had admired as a liberator, had made himself an emperor. Napoleon proved himself to be no liberator but to be in it for his own power and glory. In a rage, Beethoven cried to Ries, “So he too is nothing more than an ordinary man! Now he also will trample all human rights underfoot, and only pander to his own ambition. He will place himself above everyone else and become a tyrant!” He snatched up the title page of the symphony, ripped it in two, and threw it to the floor.
The Third Symphony did not follow the title page in being thrown out. Luckily! When it was published in 1806, the title would read Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uomo – Heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.
The summer of 1804 saw the first private Eroica reading at Prince Lobkowitz’s palace. Ries was present and recalled that the first reading of the symphony went “appallingly”. It may have been this occasion when Beethoven began conducting one of the hemiola passages, superimposed on the three-beat meter in a two-beat pattern that confused the orchestra so much that they had to start the movement again. It did not help when the orchestra came to the first movement’s peculiar retransition, when a solo horn seems to come in with the theme early, over the wrong chord, and Ries explains to Beethoven, “That damned horn player! Can’t he count! – It sounds terrible!” Ries said Beethoven looked close to hitting him and “he was a long time in forgiving me”.
The same moment made Hector Berlioz – otherwise Beethoven’s greatest admirer – splutter with indignation that “if that was really what Beethoven wanted … it must be admitted that this whim is an absurdity”. It is what Beethoven “really wanted”, but Berlioz’s comments remind us just how weird it actually is.
Before the Third Symphony, symphonies and concertos had largely been considered public and in some degree popularistic pieces written to be put together in a hurry, sometimes more or less sight-read in performance. Haydn and Mozart had written tremendous works under these constraints. Beethoven was in the process of changing that pattern. Gradually, through reading after reading, this unprecedented music sank into the players’ minds and fingers. This piece demanded new kinds of musicians and listeners, new kinds of criticism and poetry and philosophy. The private readings went on in various Lobkowitz palaces, Beethoven in no hurry to put the symphony before the public until the players knew it thoroughly. In any case, the Prince owned the piece exclusively for 6 months.
The premiere of the Third Symphony was set for April 7, 1805, at the Theatre an der Wien. It was part of a benefit for violinist Franz Clement, a friend of Beethoven’s and director of the house orchestra. The audience had to have been befuddled. One could not have imagined how much of the future of music lay in this puzzling and profligate work. There were no program notes to give them a handle on it, and at this point it had neither the name Bonaparte or Eroica. As always, Beethoven’s conducting was outlandish: during loud passages, he rose up on his toes, windmilling his arms as if he were trying to take wing; in soft passages he al but crept under the music stand. The playing, by the house orchestra laced by Lobkowitz’s musicians, who knew the piece well by then, would have been better handled than at most of his premieres. The audience sat through the strange, epic first movement had then and later was nearly impossible to digest at first hearing. Connoisseurs lost track of the seemingly half-formed themes bustling past, waited for the familiar formal landmarks that never clearly appeared, for resolutions and climaxes that never quite happened. They heard the horn entrance over the wrong chord before the recapitulation and assumed it was an embarrassing mistake.
Listeners found the Marcia funebre easier to grasp, recognising it as a French-style funeral march. The finale variations with their tone of mingled ballet music and heroic perorations would have been the strangest of all. At the end, Beethoven was visibly piqued by the scanty applause and refused to acknowledge it.
Then he waited to see what the world would make of it. The initial reviews were surprising only in their attempts at balance and generosity. But a complete reversal of opinion would evolve within two years, from skeptical over the difficulty in playing and listening to the work, to mounting enthusiasm for this most difficult of symphonies, one that for the first time in history demanded to be heard in multiple performances and perhaps even to be studied on the page to be properly understood. A few years later, the Third Symphony had become a byword. In February 1810, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung printed: “It would be superfluous here to say anything about the value of this artistically rich and colossal work.” The repercussions of the Eroica would roll through the rest of the century and into the next. Ferdinand Ries had said he thought heaven and earth would tremble when the symphony was played. Metaphorically speaking, his prophecy was correct.
For Beethoven a big work was a dramatic and emotional narrative, also a moral and ethical one. At the same time, for him and his age, music was called a kind of rational discourse on stated themes, a wordless rhetoric like an oration. With the Eroica he reached the full maturity by joining his Aufklärung ethos with his music.
In this piece as much as anything he composed, Beethoven didn’t want to compromise his music’s communicative power. For his music to sound its message of change, to inspire audiences to consider a new world-view just as they are also asked to participate in a new scale of symphonic drama, Beethoven needed to make sure he was taking his listeners with him. Which is why this vastly complex piece is also completely clear in its structure and in its extreme states of expressive character.
The first movement is on a scale of thought and ambition that are unprecedented when you consider the whole structure, but on the level of its themes and their working out, Beethoven’s music is built on simple, graspable ideas: those two E flat major thunderbolts with which the symphony opens, and the undulating arpeggio in the cellos that starts out so serenely but which soon introduces a foreign note, a C sharp, the grit in the oyster that signals this movement’s emotional and harmonic ambition. The most radical moments are shocking when heard in isolation, like the grinding harmonic clash at the centre of the movement which seems to bring the music to a shrieking, shuddering impasse; or the enormity of the movement’s coda, turned by Beethoven into another opportunity to develop and explore his themes rather than simply to tie the room together with a handful of clichéd closing gestures. Or that horn!
It’s not so much the individual moments that take your breath away, but the cumulative momentum that builds from the first bar to the last. That’s the real revolution in the first movement of the Eroica symphony, and the fact that this implacable musical force should have been inspired by the representation of a great man’s works only makes it more remarkable: this movement is the definitive symphonic alchemy of musical structure and poetic meaning.
As is the rest of the symphony. One thought to guide you through the next three movements from the funeral march to the explosion of joy in the final bars: this music is simultaneously rigorously symphonic yet novel in its cavalcade of dramatic and expressive characters. The achievement of the Eroica is not that Beethoven “unifies” all of this diversity, but rather that he creates and unleashes a symphonic energy in this piece that both frames and releases this elemental human drama. It’s that mysterious momentum that is the true “heroism” of this symphony, so that the victory at the very end of the piece doesn’t just stand for Napoleon, or Beethoven, but for the possibilities of the symphony itself, which is revealed as a carrier of new weight and meaning as never before in its history. What started out as a (pre-) memorial to a great man and his humanist ideals turns into an essential embodiment of symphonic life-force.
Beethoven was the top composer featured in classical concerts in 2019 and Eroica was the number one concert piece of the year.
In October, little bears attended WASO’s Eroica concert, an early preview to Beethoven’s year-long 250th birthday celebrations which officially start next week. Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd and WASO imbued the symphony with crisp rhythmic detail and swift energy, while fully realising the quick shifts in mood and colour throughout the work.
Boyd was a founding member and Principal oboe of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe for 21 years, under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Harnoncourt’s benchmark recording of the Beethoven Symphony cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe still stands today as a document of renewal and rediscovery.
A pioneer of the HIP (historically informed performance), Harnoncourt doesn’t pretend that what he offers is Beethoven as the composer imagined it. With the exception of the trumpets, the instruments are all modern, and while phrasing, rhythmic articulation, expression and balance reveal Harnoncourt’s rigorous and passionate pursuit of historical truth, the results neither sound nor feel like anything offered under that banner before. Harnoncourt’s is a mainstream modern-instrument performance, buoyed by its own vitality and informed by the vision of a musician whose mind was steeped in the old ways of doing things.
Harnoncourt’s Eroica is the finest ‘chamber’ Eroica, though the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was no ordinary chamber orchestra. In size and character, this hand-picked 50-strong ensemble predicts the slimmed-down Berlin Philharmonic which COE Artistic Director Claudio Abbado would deploy in his own memorable 2001 Rome Eroica. The recording of Claudio Abbado’s Rome performance (DVD or on Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall) is a model of its kind, with splendidly pertinent video direction by Bob Coles. The conductor-cam option in particular provides us with a fascinating experience, that offers insights into how a front-rank conductor and informed interpreter of the Eroica articulates and manages the symphony live in performance.
By Daniel Barenboim, as told to courageous little bears 🙂
It is always interesting and sometimes even important to have intimate knowledge of a composer’s life, but it is not essential in order to understand the composer’s works. In Beethoven’s case, one mustn’t forget that in 1802, the year he was contemplating suicide—as he wrote in an unsent letter to his brothers that came to be known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament”—he also composed the Second Symphony, one of his works that was most positive in spirit, thus showing us that it is of vital importance to separate his music from his personal biography and not to conflate the two.
Therefore, I will not aim here to provide an elaborate psychological study of the man Beethoven through an analysis of his works, or vice versa. In fact, although the focus of this essay will indeed be Beethoven’s music, it must be understood that one cannot explain the nature or the message of music through words. Music means different things to different people and sometimes even different things to the same person at different moments of his life. It might be poetic, philosophical, sensual, or mathematical, but in any case it must, in my view, have something to do with the soul of the human being. Hence it is metaphysical; but the means of expression is purely and exclusively physical: sound. I believe it is precisely this permanent coexistence of metaphysical message through physical means that is the strength of music. It is also the reason why when we try to describe music with words, all we can do is articulate our reactions to it, and not grasp music itself.
Beethoven’s importance in music has been principally defined by the revolutionary nature of his compositions. He freed music from hitherto prevailing conventions of harmony and structure. Sometimes I feel in his late works a will to break all signs of continuity. The music is abrupt and seemingly disconnected, as in the last piano sonata (op. 111). In musical expression, he did not feel restrained by the weight of convention. By all accounts he was a freethinking person, and a courageous one, and I find courage an essential quality for the understanding, let alone the performance, of his works.
This courageous attitude in fact becomes a requirement for the performers of Beethoven’s music. His compositions demand the performer to show courage, for example in the use of dynamics. Beethoven’s habit of increasing the volume with an intense crescendo and then abruptly following it with a sudden soft passage (a “subito piano”) was only rarely used by composers before him. In other words, Beethoven asks the performer to show courage, not to be afraid of going to the edge of the precipice, and he thus forces the performer to find the “line of most resistance,” a phrase coined by the great pianist Artur Schnabel.
Beethoven was a deeply political man in the broadest sense of the word. He was not interested in daily politics, but concerned with questions of moral behavior and the larger questions of right and wrong affecting the entire society. Especially significant was his view of freedom, which, for him, was associated with the rights and responsibilities of the individual: he advocated freedom of thought and of personal expression.
Beethoven would have had no sympathy with the now widely held view of freedom as essentially economic, necessary for the workings of the market economy. A relatively recent example of the economic definition of freedom can be found in “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” a document issued by President George W. Bush on September 17, 2002, defining America’s relation to the rest of the world. It states that the aim of the United States, as the most powerful nation on earth, is to
extend the benefits of freedom across the globe…. If you can make something that others value, you should be able to sell it to them. If others make something that you value, you should be able to buy it. This is real freedom, the freedom for a person—or a nation—to make a living.
Beethoven’s music is too often seen as exclusively dramatic, expressive of titanic struggle. In this respect, the “Eroica” and the Fifth symphonies represent only one side of his work; one must also appreciate, for example, his “Pastoral” Symphony. His music is both introverted and extroverted and it again and again juxtaposes these qualities. The one human trait that is not present in his music is superficiality. Nor can it be characterized as shy or cute. On the contrary, even when it is intimate, as in the Fourth Piano Concerto and the “Pastoral” Symphony, it has an element of grandeur. And when it is grand, it also remains intensely personal, the obvious example being the Ninth Symphony.
Beethoven, in my view, was able to achieve a perfect balance in his music between vertical pressure—pressure from the composer’s mastery of musical form—and horizontal flow: he always combines vertical factors such as harmony, pitch, accents, or tempo, all of which relate to a sense of rigor, with a great sense of freedom and fluidity. This question of extremes and of balance, I believe, must have been a conscious preoccupation for him. You find an expression of it in Fidelio, for example: the composition contains a constant movement between polar opposites—from light to darkness, the negative to the positive, between events that occur above, on the surface, and those that take place underground. Just as he was unable to write anything superficial, or simply pretty, he was equally unable or unwilling to write anything portraying what was fundamentally and exclusively evil. Even a character such as Pizarro, the governor of the prison in Fidelio, can be understood as a personification of corruption and oppression, but not of evil.
Beethoven’s music tends to move from chaos to order (as with the introduction to the Fourth Symphony) as if order were an imperative of human existence. For him, order does not result from forgetting or ignoring the disorders that plague our existence; order is a necessary development, an improvement that may lead to the Greek ideal of catharsis. It is not by chance that the Funeral March is not the last movement of the Eroica Symphony, but the second, so that suffering does not have the last word. One could paraphrase much of the work of Beethoven by saying that suffering is inevitable, but the courage to fight it renders life worth living.
At the beginning of May, we attended the Distinguished Artist Lecture at UWA – with Artistic Director of WA Opera, Brad Cohen.
One of the points raised by Brad in his lecture was the vagaries of historical fortune, or the fact that talent will not always rise.
Music historians of our time invariably describe the early 18th century as the era of Johann Sebastian Bach. But if one were to have asked German musicians living at the time, they might well have described it as the era of Georg Philipp Telemann. The distinguished music encyclopedia published by Johann Gottfried Walther – J.S. Bach’s cousin, as it happens – in 1732 devotes four times more space to the fashionable maestro of Hamburg than to the humble Thomaskantor. And there were many others who were considered greater masters than the parochial Bach.
Telemann entered university to read law in 1701, but in the very next year he founded a musical society or collegium musicum for students. The regular public concerts initiated by this society, which were aimed at the city’s bourgeoisie and where coffee was served too, laid the foundation for the concert institution as we know it today. Telemann and his fellow students turned Leipzig’s conservative musical scene upside down within a few years. There was music everywhere, officially and unofficially. Johann Kuhnau, who as Thomaskantor was theoretically responsible for all official musical performances in the city, had to acknowledge that the situation was no longer under his control. A handful of law students had achieved what a senior civil servant with all the resources of the city at his command had not managed! It must have been a bitter pill to swallow.
Kuhnau’s copyist and amanuensis was also a law student. His studies were interrupted by a rather less than friendly excursion by a group of Swedes and Finns – not tourists, though equally destructive – led by King Charles XII in 1706. It was a military intervention intended to safeguard Protestants against Catholic oppression and as such did not directly threaten the general population; however, this budding barrister, who like many other law students in Leipzig later gave up law for music, considered it prudent to remove himself to Hamburg. He was Christoph Graupner, a close friend of Telemann’s and the future composer of ten operas, a hundred symphonies and over a thousand cantatas.
Christoph Graupner was born into a family of weavers and tailors in the tiny village of Hartmannsdorf bei Kirchberg in Saxony in 1683. His first musical mentors were the local church musician Michael Mylius and his uncle, organist Nikolaus Küster. Young Christoph followed his uncle to Reichenbach and then entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1696.
In Leipzig, Graupner studied music with Thomaskantor Johann Schelle and his successor Johann Kuhnau. As mentioned above, when the Swedish Army marched into Saxony, he fled to Hamburg. He found employment as a harpsichord player under Richard Keiser at the Oper-am-Gänsemarkt and was inspired to compose operas himself. One of the young violinists in the orchestra at the time was one Georg Friedrich Händel. Graupner continued his pursuit of opera after finding employment with Landgraf Ernst Ludwig in Darmstadt in 1709. He was appointed Hofkapellmeister or Court Conductor in 1711, his principal duties being to produce secular instrumental music and sacred vocal music at the court.
The finances of the Darmstadt court declined notably in the 1710s, however. The opera house was closed down, and many court musicians’ salaries were in arrears (including Graupner’s). After many attempts to have his salary paid, and having several children and a wife to support, in 1722 Graupner applied for the Thomaskantor in Leipzig, competing for the position with five other candidates, including Telemann and J.S. Bach. Having heard the auditions, the selection committee recommended Telemann, Graupner and Bach for the post – in this order of preference.
Following Telemann’s withdrawal (after securing a salary increase in Hamburg), Graupner was invited to direct the Christmas music service in December of 1722. His Magnificat was composed specifically for this occasion, possibly the only Latin text-setting of his output. The composition is written in the Thomaskirche tradition, especially the works of the late Kuhnau, and ends with a massive doublefugue. Along with the Magnificat, Graupner presented two cantatas on January 17, 1723, to further support his application process; the two cantatas were Aus der Tieferufenwir, and Lobet den Herrnalle Heiden. These cantatas were scored for a larger number of instruments accompanying the chorale setting note-for-note, without altering the harmonic language. Musical expression was left to the virtuoso elements in the orchestral accompaniment, also found in the freely composed chorus movements of the cantatas. The Graupner’s Italian compositional style used in setting the audition cantatas must have impressed the Leipzig town council, as he was offered the position of Thomaskantor.
However Graupner’s patron (the Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt) would not release him from his contract. Graupner’s past due salary was paid in full, his salary was increased; and he would be kept on staff even if his Kapelle was dismissed. With such favourable terms, Graupner remained in Darmstadt and declined the offer for the position of Thomaskantor.
After Telemann and Graupner both turned down the appointment, having been offered a tempting salary increase by their respective employers (plus which, of course, they would not have to teach Latin), the committee was obliged “to settle for the mediocre, as the best men turned out not to be available”, as the story goes. Like most good stories, this anecdote is only marginally accurate. What happened was that Bach also initially refused to teach Latin, and the committee was forced to consider someone even less remarkable than the top three. It was to this situation that the immortal words of Ratmann Platz referred.
After hearing that Bach was appointed Thomaskantor, on 4 May 1723 Graupner graciously wrote to the city council in Leipzig assuring them that Bach “is a musician just as strong on the organ as he is expert in church works and capelle pieces” and a man who “will honestly and properly perform the functions entrusted to him.”
So it came to pass that Graupner, officially verified as a composer better than Bach, remained in Darmstadt until his death in 1760. He went blind in 1754, but not before creating a distinguished career spanning nearly half a century at one single court. Operas gave way to cantatas, orchestral works, chamber music and keyboard music. A significant part of his orchestral output consists of concertos and suites with diverse, sometimes very curious instruments in the solo ensembles.
Graupner’s total surviving output comprises some 2,000 separate works, including 85 orchestral suites and 44 concertos. The bulk of Graupner’s output consists of more than 1,400 cantatas, an astonishing number. Nearly all of Graupner’s cantatas were conceived as chamber music, that is, for few performers in the excellent acoustics of the Court chapel and were composed for the Sunday afternoon services. His gigantic output also includes some 60 chamber music works, most of them titled Sonatas or Trios. The trio sonata was the principal genre of chamber music in the Baroque era, and the ensemble represented the essence of the musical style of the time.
The term ‘trio’ refers to three independent voices, in this case two melody instruments and an accompaniment that usually requires both melody instruments and harmony instruments to produce. In fact, ‘accompaniment’ is not really an appropriate description; the continuo has more in common with the drums-and-bass (plus guitar) rhythm section of a jazz or rock band. The continuo carries the movement of the music just like a rhythm section. The harmonies are produced by the musician playing the harpsichord, organ or lute, improvised on the basis of numbers over the bass line indicating the harmony or, as in Graupner’s case, on the basis of the bass part alone. This required a great deal of knowledge, skill and experience.
As the term ‘trio’ specified the number of voices involved, not the number of instruments, a Baroque trio ensemble might be anything from one musician (as in the organ trios by French organists or J.S. Bach) or two musicians (as in Bach’s Sonatas for obbligato violin or flute and harpsichord) to just about any number of musicians – someone like Monteverdi or Corelli might have a continuo group that included an organ, a harpsichord, a harp, a cello, a violone, and so on. Graupner specified only the harpsichord as the continuo instrument in his trios.
Among the rarer solo instruments he favoured were the flûte d’amour, a flute pitched a third lower than the normal transverse flute, and the viola d’amore, an instrument roughly the same size and shape as a viola but with resonating free strings in addition to the (usually) seven strings played with the bow. Bach also used the viola d’amore in some of his vocal works, most notably the St John Passion.
Combining the traverso and hunting horn in the same concerto, or the viola d’amore and the chalumeau, was extremely exceptional for the period. One of the rare comparisons is Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, where the solo ensemble consists of trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin.
The chalumeau was the predecessor of the clarinet, and Graupner is probably the most prominent composer to have written for the instrument. Other composers had a nodding acquaintance with it, such as Telemann, Vivaldi and Fux. The clarinet displaced the rather narrow-ranged chalumeau around the middle of the 18th century, although Christoph Willibald Gluck did give the instrument an important role in the first version of his opera Orfeo ed Euridice, written in Vienna in 1762.
What is significant in Graupner’s music is his exceptional command of melody and harmony, which are individual and unique. Perhaps it is because he spent fifty years cooped up in the same court and wrote a huge amount of music that his music somehow seems detached from its time and the surrounding world. His eccentric choices of instruments were probably dictated by availability, as with the pigments available to great visual artists. But what is significant in his music is his exceptional command of melody and harmony (brushstrokes and composition, if you will), which do not really resemble those of any of his contemporaries.
The form and texture of Graupner’s compositions tend toward the classic style of Haydn and Mozart, rather than continuing baroque forms and trends. He was well informed regarding newer techniques, including the influence of Johann Stamitz at the Court of Mannheim. Clearly he was actively a part of the bridge between baroque and the Viennese Classic, including the concern for the “Edle Einfalt” (Noble Simplicity).
His life’s work was inaccessible for a long time because of a dispute between the rulers of Hesse-Darmstadt and the Graupner estate. The estate lost the court case and was prohibited access to Graupner’s manuscripts. Graupner was largely forgotten. What is fortunate, however, is that virtually all of his works have been preserved in one place at the library of the University of Darmstadt, unlike the works of J.S. Bach, which were dispersed among his children. While some of his children lost some / many of J.S. Bach’s works, they also tirelessly advocated for him, resulting in the current belief of J.S. Bach as the father of music.
Graupner’s reputation as a noteworthy composer has come to light only in the last few years. Through the recent world premiere recording of such ensembles as the Montréal based Les Idées heureuses, and research by its leader Geneviève Soly, Graupner has become a more central figure in the already well-established canon of Baroque composers.
We have selected two recordings by the Finnish Baroque Orchestra.
Back to Brad’s lecture, little bears enjoyed it beary much 🙂
On any list of history’s great mathematicians who were ignored or underappreciated simply because they were women, you’ll find the name of Emmy Noether. Despite the barricades erected by 19th century antediluvian attitudes, she managed to establish herself as one of Germany’s premier mathematicians. She made significant contributions to various math specialties, including advanced forms of algebra. And in 1918, she published a theorem that provided the foundation for 20th century physicists’ understanding of reality. She showed that symmetries in nature implied the conservation laws that physicists had discovered without really understanding.
Joule’s conservation of energy, it turns out, is a requirement of time symmetry — the fact that no point in time differs from any other. Similarly, conservation of momentum is required if space is symmetric, that is, moving to a different point in space changes nothing about anything else. And if all directions in space are similarly equivalent — rotational symmetry — then the law of conservation of angular momentum is assured and figure skating remains a legitimate Olympic sport. Decades after she died in 1935, physicists are still attempting to exploit Noether’s insight to gain a deeper understanding of the symmetries underlying the laws of the cosmos.
Yay, it’s story time!
Albert Einstein was in over his head. He had worked out his general theory of relativity, but he was having problems with the mathematics that would have to correspond. So Einstein pulled in a team of experts from the University of Göttingen to help him formulate the concepts. The team was led by David Hilbert and Felix Klein, who were held in extremely high regard for their contributions to mathematical invariants. But their legacy, in part, is the community of scholars they fostered at Göttingen, who helped the university grow into one of the world’s most respected mathematics institutions. They scouted talent. For the Einstein project, Emmy Noether was their draft pick.
Noether had been making a name for herself steadily. In the eight years prior, she worked at the University of Erlangen without a salary or a job title. By the time she left for Göttingen, she had published half a dozen or so papers, lectured abroad, taken on PhD students, and filled in as a lecturer for her father, Max Noether, who was an Erlangen mathematics professor suffering from deteriorating health.
At the time, Noether’s specialty was invariants, or the unchangeable elements that remain constant throughout transformations like rotation or reflection. For the general theory of relativity, her knowledge base was crucial. Those interlinked equations that Einstein needed? Noether helped create them. Her formulas were elegant, and her thought process and imagination enlightening. Einstein thought highly of her work, writing, “Frl. Noether is continually advising me in my projects and…it is really through her that I have become competent in the subject.”
It didn’t take long for Noether’s closest colleagues to realize that she was a mathematical force, someone of extraordinary value who should be kept around with a faculty position. However, Noether faced sharp opposition. Many of the people who supported the push to make her a lecturer also believed that she was a special case and that, in general, women shouldn’t be allowed to teach in universities. The Prussian ministry of religion and education, whose approval the university needed, shut down her appointment: “She won’t be allowed to become a lecturer at Göttingen, Frankfurt, or anywhere else.”
The shifting political landscape finally cracked open the stubborn set of regulations governing women in academia. When Germany was defeated in World War I, socialists took over and gave women the right to vote. There was still a movement internally to get Noether on staff, and Einstein offered to advocate for her. “On receiving the new work from Fräulein Noether, I again find it a great injustice that she cannot lecture officially,” he wrote. Though Noether had been teaching, on paper her classes were David Hilbert’s. Finally, Noether was allowed a real position at the university with a title that sounded like fiction. As the “unofficial, extraordinary professor,” Emmy Noether would receive no pay. (Her colleagues joked about the title, saying “an extraordinary professor knows nothing ordinary, and an ordinary professor knows nothing extraordinary.”) When she finally did receive a salary, she was Göttingen’s lowest-paid faculty member.
Pay or no pay, at Göttingen she thrived. Here’s how deeply one line of study, now called Noether’s theory, influenced physics, according to a physicist quoted in the New York Times: “You can make a strong case that her theorem is the backbone on which all of modern physics is built.” And the dent she made in mathematics? She was a founder of abstract algebra. In one paper, published in 1921 and titled “Theory of Ideals in Rings,” Noether dusted her work free of numbers, formulas, and concrete examples. Instead she compared concepts, which, the science writer Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, explains, “is as if she were describing and comparing the characteristics of buildings—tallness, solidarity, usefulness, size—without ever mentioning buildings themselves.” By zooming way, way out, Noether noticed connections between concepts that scientists and mathematicians hadn’t previously realized were related, like time and conservation of energy.
Noether would get so excited discussing math that neither a dropped piece of food at lunch nor a tress of hair sprung from her bun would slow her down for a second. She spoke loudly and exuberantly, and like Einstein was interested in appearance only as it related to comfort. Einstein loved his gray cotton sweatshirts when wool ones were the fashion; Noether wore long, loose dresses, and cut her hair short before it was in style. For Einstein, we call these the traits of an absentminded genius. For Noether, there was a double standard—her weight and appearance became the subject of persistent teasing and chatter behind her back. Like the trivial annoyances of title, pay, and politics, the comments didn’t bother Noether. When students tried to replace hairpins that had come loose and to straighten her blouse during a break in a particularly passionate lecture, she shooed them away. Hairstyles and clothes would change, but for Noether, math was her invariant.
With a mind working as rapidly as hers, it was a challenge for even Noether to keep up with her own thoughts. As she worked out an idea in front of the class, the blackboard would be filled up and cleared and filled up and cleared in rapid succession. When she got stuck on a new idea, students recalled her hurling the chalk to the floor and stomping on it, particles rising around her like dust at a demolition. Effortlessly, she could redo the problem in a more traditional way.
Both social and generous with sharing ideas, many, many important papers were sparked by Noether’s brainpower and published without her byline but with her blessing. In fact, whole chunks of the second edition of the textbook Modern Algebra can be traced back to her influence.
Politics in Germany affected her career again. Though Noether had established herself as one of the greatest mathematical minds of the twentieth century, the Nazis judged only her left political leanings and her Jewish ancestry. In May 1933, Noether was one of the first Jewish professors fired at Göttingen. Even in the face of blatant discrimination, perhaps naively, the math came first. When she could no longer teach at the university, Noether tutored students illegally from her modest apartment, including Nazis who showed up in full military gear. It wasn’t that she agreed with what was happening, but she brushed it aside for the dedicated student. “Her heart knew no malice,” remembered a friend and colleague. “She did not believe in evil — indeed it never entered her mind that it could play a role among men.”
For her generosity, Noether’s friends were wholly dedicated to her. Understanding that staying in Germany would put her in serious danger, in 1933 her friends arranged for Noether to take a position at Bryn Mawr College in the United States. It was meant to be a temporary post until she could land somewhere more prestigious. But just two years after she arrived, Noether died while recovering from a surgery on an ovarian cyst. She was fifty-three. Following her death, Einstein wrote a letter to the New York Times. “Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” Today, some scientists believe her contributions, long hidden beneath the bylines and titles of others, outshine even the accomplishments of the ode’s writer.
Physicists tend to know Noether’s work primarily through her 1918 theorem. Because their work relies on symmetry and conservation laws, nearly every modern physicist uses Noether’s theorem. It’s a thread woven into the fabric of the science, part of the whole cloth. Every time scientists use a symmetry or a conservation law, from the quantum physics of atoms to the flow of matter on the scale of the cosmos, Noether’s theorem is present. Noetherian symmetries answer questions like these: If you perform an experiment at different times or in different places, what changes and what stays the same? Can you rotate your experimental setup? Which properties of particles can change, and which are inviolable?
Conservation of energy comes from time-shift symmetry: You can repeat an experiment at different times, and the result is the same. Conservation of momentum comes from space-shift symmetry: You can perform the same experiment in different places, and it comes out with the same results. Conservation of angular momentum, which when combined with the conservation of energy under the force of gravity explains the Earth’s motion around the sun, comes from symmetry under rotations. And the list goes on.
The greatest success of Noether’s theorem came with quantum physics, and especially the particle physics revolution that rose after Noether’s death. Many physicists, inspired by Noether’s theorem and the success of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, looked at geometrical descriptions and mathematical symmetries to describe the new types of particles they were discovering.
Emmy Noether’s theorem is so vital to physics that she deserves to be as well known as Einstein. – Brian Greene
Noether’s theorem to me is as important a theorem in our understanding of the world as the Pythagorean theorem. – Christopher Hill
Mathematicians are familiar with a variety of Noether theorems, Noetherian rings, Noether groups, Noether equations, Noether modules and many more. Over the course of her career, Noether developed much of modern abstract algebra: the grammar and the syntax of math, letting us say what we need to in math and science. She also contributed to the theory of groups, which is another way to treat symmetries; this work has influenced mathematical side of quantum mechanics and superstring theory.
Story from Headstrong – 52 women who changed science and the world, by Rachel Swaby, and Fermilab/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Symmetry Magazine.
So it turns out that Madrid is not the only European capital with the bear in the coat of arms, Berlin and Bern have a bear as well. We’ll overlook how the bear got on the coat of arms for Bern and expect everyone to be beary friendly!
We have found plenty of evidence that Berlin is a bear city and beary friendly 🙂
Buddy Bears are a series of painted, life-size fibreglass bear sculptures originally developed in Berlin, Germany. The first Buddy Bear was created by the German businesspeople Klaus and Eva Herlitz, in cooperation with the sculptor Roman Strobl in 2001. Artists painted approximately 350 bears to appear in the public domain, as decorative elements in the streets of Berlin. Four different bear designs (one standing on all four paws, one standing on two legs, one standing on its head and one in a sitting position) took part in this activity in the city centre of Berlin.
The bears were on display between June and November 2002, in a circle around the Brandenburg Gate. Around 1.5 million people visited this first exhibition. After the exhibition, the bears were moved to new locations, including their respective countries embassies in Berlin, or back to the country that they were based on. Some of the bears were auctioned off to raise money for UNICEF. Nowadays, these Berlin Buddy Bears are exclusively presented on private premises, in front of hotels and embassies as well as in the foyers of various office buildings. There better be a map of all these locations!
After the circle of “United Buddy Bears” had been such an overwhelming success in 2002, a new circle was created in 2003. The idea was to send the circle on a global tour with a message of peace, international understanding and tolerance among the nations, cultures and religions of this world.
The United Buddy Bears are an international art exhibition with more than 140 two metre tall fibreglass bears. Under the motto: We have to get to know each other better, it makes us understand one another better, trust each other more, and live together more peacefully more than 140 countries acknowledged by the United Nations are represented, promoting tolerance, international understanding and the great concept of different nations and cultures living in peace and harmony. The bears stand hand in hand in a peaceful circle (The Art of Tolerance).
One important prerequisite for this international unifying project is to choose artists from the individual countries — for the circle to reflect the diversity of the cultures of one world. The observer learns about the culture, the history, the people and the landscape of the individual countries — large or small. Hence the United Buddy Bears circle has become a platform for even the smallest and poorest countries which frequently remain unnoticed. Suddenly, they are equal to larger and often rich nations.
On their global tour, the “United Buddy Bears” promote peace, love, tolerance and international understanding. The circle changes every time it reaches a new city. This is not only due to the local conditions, but also to their constantly changing order, as the bears are always set up in alphabetic order, following the local language of the host country. This always leads to new and sometimes politically very interesting proximities.
In every exhibition city, the United Buddy Bears exhibitions are supported by the government, the foreign ministries, the mayors and the UNICEF organisations. Heads of state – for example the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, the German Federal President, Horst Köhler and First Lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak as well as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors such as Sir Peter Ustinov, Jackie Chan, Christiane Hörbiger, Mia Farrow, Iris Berben and Ken Done have opened these exhibitions all over the world.
In 2006, the United Buddy Bears were in Sydney. And we had no idea!
Next year, the Buddy Bears are off to Havana. We’ll have to see where we can catch up with them after that.