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26 April 2019

Not Just One Way of Reading Beethoven

von Tatjana Mehner

Ludwig van Beethoven in a «conversation» with Tatjana Mehner

The music world celebrates your 250th birthday. How do all these homages feel to you?

Mind you, this is not my first experience of such anniversaries: the conferences, the concert series, the Fidelio productions, books, souvenirs… These things repeat themselves, and they were not that different in 1870, 1920, 1970 than they are today. And compared to many of my colleagues, I am fortunate in that my music is also played on other occasions. It is merely a question of adding some unusual items to the usual fare. In Luxembourg, for example, they are playing my oratorio Christus am Ölberg, my take on the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, on questions of faith and betrayal. But that is not the main point; what makes all these celebrations interesting to a composer like me is the fact that the musical world will once again revise its image of me.

I am intrigued to see which aspects of my life and of course my work are most in tune with your current «zeitgeist».

You mentioned Fidelio. Your only opera will also be performed in concert in Luxembourg. But do you even approve of concert performances of operas?

I am truly tired of this discussion. Concert … staged … there are so many productions so keen to point out that my work is supposedly a concert piece, that it lacks drama, and there have been so many concert performances with no lack of drama whatsoever. I am far more bothered by the political utilization and abuse my Fidelio has had to endure. You cannot imagine all the occasions for which this work has been performed!!! Dictators have appropriated my C-major finale just as much as the artist-rebels protesting against them. As if the key signature itself should not have warned them…

As a composer, you are generally considered a political activist…

Yes, yes… as I said, that’s the thing with the Beethoven image. The reason is that old story of how I dedicated my «Eroica» to Napoleon.

Of course I distanced myself from the self-crowned emperor whom I had previously admired as a free spirit. But heaven knows I was not the only one at the time. I am surprised that no one has thought to declare me an environmentally conscious artist because of my «Pastoral».

What do you expect of the 2020 anniversary, in concrete terms?

To be honest: diversity! Never has a Beethoven jubilee taken place in a world in which the media, and therefore the arts, were so interconnected. Never have so many outstanding performers been able to set standards simultaneously, so they are also comparable. That is true for chamber music and the interpretation of my symphonies as well. There is not just one way of reading my music, but many, and they all stand for themselves, but they stand side-by-side.

This enables the audience to build a much broader perspective of me and my music!

A delicate question: what is your relationship with Luxembourg?

Unlike my colleague Franz Liszt, I was never in Luxembourg myself, even though it is not that far from my native city of Bonn. It’s a shame, really, that I didn’t know the legend of fair Melusine; otherwise I might have written a second opera after all.