Why is Beethoven's music as relevant and thought-provoking now as it was 200 years ago? In connection with our Beethoven series, we have asked some of Norway’s prominent cultural figures as well as our audience members what Beethoven means to them.
Synne Skouen, composer
One of the most striking impressions of I have of Beethoven was from the composer’s letter to his brothers, the so-called Heiligenstadt testament where he writes about feeling like an outsider in the society with his increasing deafness. He writes that he has been close to taking his own life, but 'the art, only art hindered me'.
It is this angular, unrefined, personally insistent element and the sudden throws of mood, key, dynamics that never let you lean back and enjoy the beauty of his music. Beethoven’s music approaches intimately and unpolished, without filtering out the pain of life, and speaks of everything, without saying anything.
Emil Bernhardt, critic
If one is to celebrate Beethoven, it serves little purpose only to insist on his greatness. Then we only confirm the myth that deflects the experience of music, and not strengthens it. The point is not that the myth is fake. Just like Beethoven struggled as much with the Viennese institutions as he freed himself from them, the compositions he left behind er so much characterized by his familiarity with the conventions as radical breaches from them.
Andrew Mellor, kritiker
Beethoven represents a culmination in so many ways. The orchestra expanded hugely after his lifetime, but it’s striking how much Beethoven’s orchestral music seems to do more – to say more, to build more, to explode more and even to whisper and sing more – than music by later composers who had all manner of colours and textures to explore with the expanded orchestra (not to mention expanded harmonic language). With Beethoven, even a chamber orchestra can inhabit what Gustav Mahler described as ‘the whole world’.
Wenche Frølich, audience
Beethoven created music that shows the insight he had into the human nature. His immense creativity expresses vitality and joy, but also deep sorrow. His music encompasses a wide range of characteristics such as energy, mystery, imagination and sensitivity. It is precisely these great contrasts and the constant renewal that his music represents, that appeal to us as much today as it did 200 years ago.
Amund W. Skou, chairman of the NCO board
My relationship with classical music began badly. I was 10 years old old and my mother took me to a concert in the University Aula. I do not remember everything from that evening but recall the tedious slow movements. But then, they started Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and I was saved - from boredom. Beethoven is different. His music is majestic and lyrical. He is revolutionary and modern. It is hard to believe that this music is 200 years. His Violin Concert is the best of all violin concertos. Even better than those of Bruch and Brahms, according to Terje Tønnesen. Then it must be true.
Asbjørn Schaathun, composer
While many great composers such as Bach and Mozart seemed to have possessed miraculous talents that God let be born, Beethoven is on our side. He tries, on our behalf, to reach higher by writing music that is elevating and pioneering; it is enough to listen to his Diabelli variations. However it is as if his Jacob’s ladder is too short. I imagine a sight in which Beethoven is standing at the top of the ladders for all of us with his imperfect baritone melodies. Melodies that make me infinitely sad and at the same time give me courage.
Eivind Buene, composer
Beethoven is in many ways the first modern composer. He works with levels in the music behind the melodies, with music as abstract art: What happens to this little motive if I take it through this process? He can write a staggeringly sublime piece of music from the most banal melody, and that contradiction fascinates me. The abstract level was also central in Renaissance and medieval music, but within a static view of the world; With Beethoven it is all about change about development, and it offers a novel-like experience to listen to a symphony.
Lars Petter Hagen, composer
Much of Beethoven's music can be viewed as an idea of what kind of world he himself wanted to live in. A world that is put together by the ties between the single persons to one another. In our own time, when the world news is full of increasing polarizations and delimitations, the boundlessness and utopian potential of music may be more important than ever.
Beethoven did not write music to recreate the greatness of the past or wonder about the future. He wrote music of necessity, there and then, for the people and the world around him. That's why his music still speaks to us. Music is a continuous dialogue between the past, present and future.