Beethoven superstar

What the exceptional composer has to do with pop art and artificial intelligence: ten facts on the occasion of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

Beethoven as seen by Andy Warhol (right)
Beethoven as seen by Andy Warhol (right) INA FASSBENDER / Getty Images

A whole year devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven: that’s a lot of time - and yet a bit short to do justice to this music genius. The composer, who was born 250 years ago, is still a phenomenon today. And he was always good for a surprise during his lifetime. For example, did you know that ...

... as a ten-year-old, Beethoven accompanied the mass at the St Remigius Church in Bonn on the organ? He was baptized in this church on 17 December 1770. The exact date of birth is unknown.

... Beethoven composed music  as a teenager? One of his first works was called Elegy on the Death of a Poodle.

Fidelio initially a flop

... Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, was initially a flop? It didn’t go down well at the premiere in Vienna in 1805. Beethoven reworked the opera again and again; it was only years later that Fidelio became a success.

... Beethoven is represented in the charts? The pianist Igor Levit recorded all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and thus joined the German album hit parade in September 2019.

… Beethoven influenced the recording capacity of CDs? Originally, the compact disc, introduced in 1980, was supposed to play for only 60 minutes. But the Sony manager Norio Ohga wanted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to fit on one CD, so the playing time became 74 minutes.

… A symphony for climate protection

... a concert was held in a Thai elephant park in Beethoven’s honour? There, in November 2019, the British pianist Paul Barton played excerpts from the Sixth Symphony, which Beethoven dedicated to nature. The concert was part of the Beethoven Pastoral Project, with which the United Nations World Climate Secretariat and other partners promote climate protection. Musicians and artists worldwide have responded to the appeal.

... director Stanley Kubrick immortalized Beethoven in his film Eyes Wide Shut? There the password for admittance to an occult ceremony is “Fidelio”.

… Beethoven was a kind of early jazz musician? Like many of his contemporaries, he worked with improvisation; jazz artists were later to resume this practice. The Jazzfest Bonn 2020, with guests such as Klaus Doldinger and Till Brönner, is thus marching under the banner of the composer.

Composing with artificial intelligence

... pop artist Andy Warhol portrayed Beethoven in a portrait series? The series from 1987 shows the composer in typically bright Warholian colours; emblazoned over them are excerpts from the score of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.

… Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony, known as “the Unfinished”, is now to be completed – with the help of artificial intelligence? For this purpose musicologists and computer scientists have developed an algorithm. The resultant composition will be performed by the Beethoven Orchestra in Bonn in April 2020.

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