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Beethoven to save the planet

The Beethovenfest 2017

From revolutionary to pop idol

Charistimatic, but tempermental

A serious look, slightly grim face and a lion's mane: images of Ludwig van Beethoven have imprinted themselves into the collective imagination arguably moreso than any other composer. Yet, it's mainly the late portraits that have shaped today's notions of the revolutionary, combative and difficult artist.

Ludwig van Beethoven in 1803 - a portrait by Christian Hornemann

From revolutionary to pop idol

A shooting star in Vienna

Forceful, yet with a hint of smile, a young Beethoven looks out at the viewer in this painting from 1803. By that time, he had already attracted some of the most influential music patrons of the Viennese aristocracy.

From revolutionary to pop idol

Visiting the prince

Prince Carl von Lichnowsky was one of Beethoven's first supporters, with whom he later had a falling-out. In this picture by Julius Schmid from 1900, "Beethoven plays at Lichnowsky," the dispute between the prince and the composer seems to be already underway.

Ludwig van Beethoven refuses to bow to the prince in Teplitz in 1812

From revolutionary to pop idol

Proud and confident

Beethoven not only met Goethe in Teplitz, Bohemia, in 1812, but a legendary and scandalous snub also took place: While the poet bowed reverently before the prince, composer Beethoven walked right by him with his head held high. That, at least, is the way Carl Rohling imagined the revolutionary scene.

From revolutionary to pop idol

Revolutionary composer

Beethoven was not only enthused by the ideas of the French Revolution, but also by new methods of composition. Here, in this image by Willibrord Joseph Mähler from 1804, he seems to be giving expression to them with a wide, sweeping gesture.

From revolutionary to pop idol

The original

There's no doubt that Beethoven was one of the most popular artists of his time - which the countless portraits of him demonstrate. One of the best known is this image created by Joseph Karl Stieler in 1820.

Beethoven, blue in the face: that's the way Andy Warhol reworked Stieler's image,1987 
Copyright: AP/The Andy Warhol Museum

From revolutionary to pop idol

Going pop

Compared to other artists, Stieler portrayed Beethoven less realistically, but instead, in a more idealized fashion. Later, the painting was used as a template for engravings in which the contours became even more pronounced. It is surely no coincidence that Andy Warhol chose this image for his own renditions.

From revolutionary to pop idol

Sprayed on

Bonn - Beethoven's birthplace - is also home to several variations of Stieler's image: as a stone sculpture in front of the Beethoven Hall, sometimes - especially during the Beethovenfest in September - as a painting on the pavement, or as graffiti on a wall - such as here near the Beethoven House, where the composer was born.

From revolutionary to pop idol

Wrestling with each note

The fact that Beethoven did not make it easy on himself while composing was something the music world learned only after his death in 1827. Descriptions by his contemporaries who saw him at work surely influenced the romantic image of the maestro, who worked relentlessly and uncompromisingly in search of musical perfection.

From revolutionary to pop idol

Genius and mania

Contemporaries marveled at Beethoven's works of genius. Subsequent generations of composers, however, were intimidated by them - and afraid they could not live up to Beethoven's standard. This image by Hermann Torggler from 1902 shows the composer in almost demonic fashion - created based on the composer's death mask.

From revolutionary to pop idol

The pop idol

Hardly a composer today is as famous the world over as Ludwig van Beethoven - thanks in no small part to his piano piece "Für Elise." His life has been rendered in film several times, and has even been turned into cartoons and comics.

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