Beethoven and Dresden
Celebrations to mark the anniversary year will naturally be centred on Bonn and Vienna, the two cities where Ludwig van Beethoven spent most of his life. But while he was still a student in Bonn, Beethoven came into contact with Dresden musicians, including Christian Gottlob Neefe.
A former Kapellmeister of the Seylersche Theatergesellschaft in Dresden, Neefe gave Beethoven piano lessons, arranged for the publication of his first works and aroused his interest in philosophy and politics.
Beethoven in the footsteps of Mozart
On his only concert tour in 1796, Beethoven travelled from Vienna via Prague and Leipzig to Berlin. His journey also included a stop in Dresden, a city that has always enjoyed great cultural esteem. He arrived at the Hôtel de Pologne on 23rd April and stayed there for one full week, almost seven years after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had included the city in his own itinerary.
Dresden honoured Beethoven’s artistic talent. The Elector of Saxony arranged for him to give a private concert in the State Apartment (reconstruction work completed in 2019) of the Residenzschloss and rewarded him with a golden snuffbox.
Seven years earlier, Mozart had likewise given a private concert in the Residenzschloss and received his fee in a similar box.
Ode to Joy: Schiller and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
In 1787, when Friedrich Schiller finished the poem An die Freude (Ode to Joy) during his stay in Dresden, no one knew that this literary declaration of friendship with the freemason Gottfried Körner would one day be set to music in Beethoven’s most famous orchestral work.
True art remains imperishableLudwig van Beethoven
In 1824, Beethoven decided to incorporate the 37-year-old poem into his Ninth Symphony as the final chorus.
Beethoven’s work was subsequently popularised in Dresden by Richard Wagner, who would conduct it every year on Palm Sunday. The Staatskapelle has continued this tradition into the present millennium. The Elbland Philharmonic Orchestra of Saxony has also been performing the Ninth Symphony at New Year in Dresden and Radebeul for more than half a century.
Beethoven’s Fidelio and the Peaceful Revolution
Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio, which he himself described as “an opera about salvation and liberation”, played a very special role in the recent history of Dresden. Premiered in Vienna in 1805, it was not until 10 years later that the work was performed in the Dresdner Theater am Linckeschen Bad. Its most significant moment would, however, come on 7th October 1989.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the GDR, Christine Mielitz directed a risqué staging of Fidelio in the Semperoper. While courageous citizens marched through the city centre to protest against the political status quo, the stage of the Semperoper was transformed into a Stasi-run prison, the characters behind barbed wire fences symbolising the oppression and the abuse of power in the GDR. The parallels were not lost on the audience, which included high-ranking members of the regime and party officials. Four weeks later, the border between East and West was opened up and the Peaceful Revolution had prevailed.
Dresden narrowly misses out on premiere of Missa Solemnis
Missa Solemnis was almost (but sadly not quite) premiered in Dresden. In 1823, Beethoven sent the completed version of his ‘solemn mass’ to various royal courts, including Dresden. Fortune favoured Warnsdorf in Bohemia (today Varnsdorf in the Czech Republic) which was chosen by the composer for the first performance. The 80-minute work did not make it to Dresden until 1839.
Beethoven commemorated in Dresden
From the beginning of 2010 through to the end of the year, you can hear works from Beethoven’s most creative periods performed in a variety of cultural settings in Dresden. Take a musical journey back in time to the 18th century when this virtuoso composer was shaping the history of music and becoming the inspiration and model for numerous artists since. Today, his works continue to thrill audiences around the world.
The Dresden Music Festival also honors the great composer with its own anniversary program.