02 December 2021
Beethoven: Idealist. Innovator. Icon exhibition
A new exhibition celebrating the life and music of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most influential composers of the Western classical tradition, opens on Friday 3 December at the British Library.
Against the backdrop of war and revolution raging in Europe and the United States, Beethoven grew up in Bonn inspired by the ideals of freedom. He battled the blank page to compose some of the most inspiring pieces of music ever written, challenging conventions along the way, whilst also struggling with his own progressive hearing loss.
See the mind of this creative genius at work through items belonging to the composer himself and manuscripts scrawled in his own distinctive hand – we’ve picked a selection which you can find below.
Beethoven started using bound sketchbooks to jot down and develop musical ideas in 1798. Before this time he had been using loose pages, like examples from the ‘Kafka’ Miscellany, which are also on display in the exhibition. The image shown here is from the sketchbook for his Symphony No. 6, op. 68 (known as the ‘Pastoral’), and contains material for the second movement (‘By the Brook’). Beethoven has marked at the top ‘Memories of country life’ (Erinnerungen an das Landleben).
Shown here is Beethoven’s cadenza for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor (K. 466). Beethoven is known to have admired Mozart’s D minor concerto, and it is possible that he performed it in a benefit concert for Mozart’s widow, Constanze, in 1795. His cadenzas for the first and last movement were probably realised in notation at some point before 1809, when he published cadenzas for the first four of his own piano concertos. Perhaps significantly, it was also around this time, in 1808, that his increasing deafness forced Beethoven to give his last public performance with orchestra.
At the exhibition you’ll also have a chance to meet the man behind the music by getting close to the personal belongings that shine a light on his everyday life, such as his tuning fork, and even a hand-scrawled laundry list.
Tuning forks were invented in the early 18th century, and were used primarily for tuning string instruments (violins, violas, cellos guitars) to a common resonance for the note ‘A’ above middle ‘C’. Tests have shown that Beethoven’s tuning fork resonates at 455.4 Hertz, over half a semitone higher than today's standard ‘A’ pitch of 440 Hertz. As well as seeing it in the exhibition, you can hear what it sounds like.
At the end of your journey in the exhibition, reflect on your own relationship with Beethoven’s music today, found in film, comics and literature. Learn how the Ninth Symphony – and its choral section based on Friedrich Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy – became the soundtrack to political and social movements worldwide, played everywhere from the Tiananmen Square student protests to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Explore Beethoven’s music, life and legacy further through a series of events, including talks, discussions and performances by David Wyn Jones, Adrian Brendel and Simon Callaghan, Jessica Duchen and Viv McLean, the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, Boxwood & Brass, and exhibition curators Richard Chesser and Rupert Ridgewell. Visit also our Discovering Music Beethoven pages to uncover more about the composer’s creative genius, and the context in which he lived and worked.