Finding Beethoven Part I | 4 Ways to Start the Anniversary Year

Beethoven was a “Wahlwiener,” a Viennese by choice. During this 250th anniversary year of his birth, his adopted city has pulled out all the stops on this great organ of musical life, to bring him alive in sounds­­­­, sights and special events.

You have to hand it to the Austrians, goes the old joke: They’ve managed to pass Hitler off as a German while claiming Beethoven as their own! 

But come on! Let’s be fair! At least as far as Beethoven is concerned, they have a strong case. Born in Bonn, young Ludwig first came to Vienna in 1786 at the age of 16, hoping to study with Mozart. He may have – there are no records – but he was forced to return home a year later as his mother was dying of tuberculosis. He stayed for five years, until fortune intervened again, when he met Joseph Haydn, who stopped in Bonn in July 1792 on his way home from England and agreed to take him on as a pupil. Thus it was that in November, Ludwig van Beethoven, now 22, left for Vienna, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

So Beethoven was a “Wahlwiener,” a Viennese by choice – like most of us, in fact. And this, we claim, is fair enough. So during this 250th anniversary year of his birth in 1770, his adopted city has pulled out all the stops on this great organ of musical life, to bring him alive in sounds­­­­, sights, and special events. This year it’s “all Beethoven, all the time!”

The music! The music!

Of course, most important is the music and this week, alone, you can find Beethoven in concert almost every night, and sometimes in two or three locations.

  1. We recommend starting tonight, at the ORF Radio Kulturhaus with the students of the University of Music and Art (MUK) performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, op 56, which they are describing as a “lively competition” (for attention, presumably) between the violin, cello and piano soloists and the orchestra. 

Radio Kulturhaus: Argentinierstraße 30a, 1040 Wien

2. Or tomorrow, you could head for the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein to hear star pianist Jewgenij Kissin, playing solo masterpieces, including the Pathétique and the Waldstein sonatas and the great Eroica Variations


Musikverein, Musikvereinsplatz 1, 1010 Wien

3. Or Saturday at the Staatsoper, where you can hear chamber musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic. But there is something almost every night, so check the schedule at WIENBEETHOVEN2020 to find a match. 

Wiener Staatsoper, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien;,

The Evidence

But sometimes you want to get closer to the palpable reality, something you can see and almost touch. For this…

4. … head over to the Prunksaal of the National Library, on Josefsplatz behind the Hofburg on Augustinerstrasse. Here you can see the originals of some of his letters, revealing his self-confidence and a sparkling wit, that may surprise you after all the growly representations in portrait and sculpture. There are also exchanges with women where he reveals a tenderness we know from the music, had to be there, under the deafness that cut him off from normal social life for the later years of his life.

And if you set there before the end of February, you can also feast your eyes on the pages of his original manuscript for the 9th Symphony, with the Schiller text: “Freude, schöne Götterfunken” (Joy, the fairest spark of divinity), adopted as the official European Hymn by the EU Parliament in 1972. If anyone walked through life “feuertrunken,” drunk with fire, it was Beethoven.

Austrian National Library: Josefsplatz 1, 1015 Wien Di–So: 10–18 Uhr, Do: 10–21 Uhr

So this gets you started. But much more to come. Watch this space!

(Foto: Herbert Frank; Wikipedia)

Dardis McNamee
Dardis McNamee is the Editor in Chief of Metropole. She has written for The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler (NYC), the Wall Street Journal Europe and Die Zeit in Vienna, as well as having been a speechwriter to two U.S. ambassadors to Austria. She was awarded the 2007 Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching (Media & Communications).

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