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Music Meets Politics

Gudrun Stegen (th)August 25, 2008

This year's month-long Beethovenfest will explore the relationship between power, politics and music. Works by concentration camp prisoners and Kurt Masur's Beethoven Symphony cycle are on the program.

1890 Painting of Beethoven by Carl Schloesser
Everything is political -- even musicImage: picture-alliance / akg-images

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a multifaceted composer whose works have unequalled staying power. Each year, Beethoven's birth city, Bonn, hosts an internationally acclaimed music festival in his honor. This year, the focus of the festival is particularly contemporary: the relationship between power, politics and music.

Deutsche Welle is an official media partner of the event, which will bring about 2,000 well-known artists from around the world to the former German capital city.

For the past four years the Beethovenfest has focused on various countries. But this year's month-long event, which starts Aug. 29, highlights the political aspects of Beethoven's legacy.

It will look at the political statements Beethoven made through his work, as well as the ideological misappropriation of his music in the 20th century. As part of this examination, several concerts will be held in Bonn venues with political and social importance. These include the former West German parliamentary chambers; the Palais Schaumburg, where former chancellors lived and worked; and the Hotel Petersberg, the seat of the Allied High Commission after World War II.

Persecuted composers

Daniel Hope
Daniel Hope will explore music from Nazi concentration campsImage: Beethovenfest

By examining misappropriation and marginalization in music, this year's Beethovenfest has selected a contemporary and rather explosive topic.

"Ostracized music, forbidden music, the relationship between music and politics today, the question of how music is functionalized, even today -- that is a cutting edge theme," said Beethovenfest Director Ilona Schmiel.

One of the event's highlights is a project led by the British violinist Daniel Hope. With his "Music was Hope" program, he will explore artists who were in the Nazi's Theresienstadt concentration camp located in what is now the Czech Republic.

Hope, Philip Dukes and Ulrich Mattes will interpret music of Gideon Klein, Hans Krasa and Erwin Schulhoff. Hope will also present his arrangement of Maurice Ravel's Jewish Kaddish music.

"This is an examination of music that originated in the concentration camps from very young and courageous Czech composers," Hope said.

Klein was in his early 20s when he was imprisoned in the camp. He was already a talented pianist and composer, on the fast track towards a career as a traveling musician. During his imprisonment from 1942 to 1945 he became a supporter for other musicians held in Theresienstadt.

"He simply motivated the other artists, musicians and writers to continue on and not to think about their situation," Hope said. "So I think that for me this fits extremely well to this examination of power and music."

Political context

Conductor Kurt Masur
Masur will conduct all nine symphoniesImage: Radio France / Christophe Abramowitz

Beethoven's beloved Ninth Symphony is a perfect example of a work that has been exploited to fit ideologies. Beethoven composed it to pay homage to the spirit of the Enlightenment. The song was later used as propaganda by the Third Reich and as the Iron Curtain began to crumble it became an anthem of freedom during German reunification.

The Beethovenfest will also present the complete cycle of all nine symphonies under the direction of Kurt Masur with the Orchestre National de France. On Sept. 12, the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies will be made available free of charge for podcast or download on DW-WORLD.DE.

Deutsche Welle will once again sponsor a youth orchestra to travel to Germany for a week-long residency and performance of a specially commissioned musical work. This year will feature the Anton Rubinstein Orchestra from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which has produced numerous world-renowned musicians over its 146 years in existence.