Covid slammed the concert hall doors shut on Ludwig van B’s 250th anniversary bash but the world’s original rock star isn’t leaving the stage just yet. Celebrations in Bonn where he was born in 1770 and Vienna where he died in 1827 are being rolled over for another 10 months and the party restarts this December, on the maestro’s birthday. Belinda Beckett checks out the score.


If you’ve never had an ear for classical music, you’re in good company with Beethoven who was stone deaf when he composed some of his greatest works. But it’s not all highbrow fare at BTHVN 2020/21. Rock bands, rap stars and hip hop artists have been tuning up alongside symphony orchestras, choirs and quartets to mark the 250th birthday of a musician who was as popular in his day as The Beatles.

Alas, what started on a high note last December with Simon Rattle introducing a Beethoven Season at London’s Barbican ended up an unfinished symphony when coronavirus hit. Yet despite the cancellation of over 1,000 official events, the maestro’s melodies have been resonating around the globe in all kinds of Covid-defying ways, from balcony recitals of Ode to Joy and lockdown concerts streamed on YouTube to a viral video of a pianist playing the Pastoral Symphony to pachyderms in Thailand.

Beethoven fans around the world have been calling for an encore to his curtailed celebrations and now, what was to be the grand finale to BTHVN 2020 will become the overture to a programme running into next autumn: a concert conducted by Daniel Barenboim at Bonn Opera House on December 17, the date of Beethoven’s baptism.

Simultaneous performances by the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn and the Vienna Symphony in June and four open air summer concerts in the grounds of Bonn University, where the young Beethoven played, are among the rescheduled highlights, along with contemporary salutes by Robbie Williams and 1970s Elektropop band Kraftwerk. The homage won’t be considered complete until the last conductor puts down his baton at a 60-concert edition of Bonn’s signature Beethovenfest (August 20-September 10). See the full programme at

“Beethoven reinvented himself many times and would certainly have approved of making the best of this situation with creative solutions,” said Malte Boecker, artistic director of the Beethoven Anniversary Society. “He not only resonates with lovers of classical music, he was an individual, ‘modern’ artist who targeted humanity as a whole.”

Beethoven broke the mould, and seven of his pianos, with his virtuoso improvisations and impassioned playing. He brought classical music out of closeted court circles into the concert hall, headlined the first tours and elevated the musician’s status from servant to celebrity. Vienna’s Kärntnertor Theatre was packed to the rafters for the world premiere of his epic Ninth Symphony. And when he died, 20,000 fans lined the streets for his funeral.

Still the most frequently performed classical composer today, his music has inspired everyone from Chuck Berry to Deep Purple. Before Beethoven, dead composers were rarely played. After him, they owned the concert hall.

BTHVN Calling

The acronym Beethoven used to sign many of his works is the motif for his anniversary, each letter representing an aspect of his life.

B for Bonn cosmopolitan
Cast in bronze, sculpted in stone and printed on everything from tea towels to traffic lights, Beethoven’s image is inescapable in his native city. Born into a family of court musicians and tutored under his father’s drunken tyranny, at five the wünderkind was paraded around high society salons like a prize pet. Elegy for a Dead Poodle, which he composed aged 12, may have been autobiographical! At 22 he left his abusers behind for Vienna where Mozart grudgingly conceded: “This youth will someday make a noise in the world.”

T for Tonkünstler (composer)
He raised the roof at public concerts and eyebrows in royal circles where music was traditionally background entertainment only. Young Ludwig’s grand compositions demanded an audience and he would explode with rage if anyone talked over his performances. Furthermore, while court musicians wore wigs and silk stockings ‘Upstairs’ but ate ‘Downstairs’ with the servants, Ludwig demanded a seat at the high table, wore commoner’s clothes and reminded one contemporary of ‘an unlicked bear cub’. He composed 650 complete works, including nine symphonies and the opera Fidelio.

H for Humanist
Like John Lennon, Beethoven wrote about world peace. He openly sympathised with the ideals of the French Revolution, to the dismay of his royal patrons. They boycotted the premier of his Ninth Symphony because its final movement, Ode to Joy, celebrates equality and the universal brotherhood of man.

V for Visionary
Beethoven’s maverick style and innovative compositions were ground breaking. His choral symphonies introduced vocals to classical music and he wrote seven versions of his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies for different combinations of instruments.

N for Nature Lover
Only 32 when his hearing started to fail, Beethoven quit performing and retreated to the countryside in despair. Nature came to his rescue. His ‘Pastoral’ Sixth Symphony, composed while he roamed the meadows ‘air conducting’ and scribbling down notes, is filled with musical allegories to babbling brooks and birdsong. ‘The woods, the trees, and the rocks give a man the inspiration he needs’, he wrote.

Jumbo Concert

Elephants have ears for music! A video of British pianist Paul Barton playing excerpts from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to pachyderms in the Thai jungle is one of scores of surprising new works created for his anniversary. The initiative was backed by the UN Climate Secretariat for Earth Day.

Beethoven’s Tenth by Robots

A few scribbles in his notebook were as far as Beethoven got with his 10th Symphony before he died. Now a team of musicologists and IT boffins are completing it after his style with Artificial Intelligence. The result will be premiered at Bonn Beethovenfest.

You may not think you know a single piece by Beethoven but countless modern pop songs and movies have given a nod to!

Beethoven cover

Cover Versions

  • Symphony No. 7 Deep Purple recorded an electric version of the allegretto for Exposition/We Can Work It Out from The Book of Taliesyn album.
  • Ode to Joy You’ve heard the inspirational choral finale to his Ninth Symphony in Die Hard, A Clockwork Orange, Dead Poet’s Society and Beatles movie Help! Chileans sang it during the Pinochet protests and Chinese students at Tiananmen Square. It has been played at every Olympic Games since 1956, and on both sides of the Berlin wall simultaneously after it fell. Shame on you if you didn’t know it’s also the Anthem of the EU.
  • Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight Sonata) John Lennon used some of the chords played backwards for Because on the Abbey Road album and Alicia Keys sampled it in an epic eight-minute piano shout out to Beethoven at this year’s Grammy Awards.
  • Fifth Symphony Ta-ta-ta-taa – no opening bars have been covered more often. Electric Light Orchestra’s Roll Over Beethoven used it in their 1973 take on the Chuck Berry classic
  • Piano Sonata No. 8 You’ve heard it in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Billy Joel’s This Night.
  • Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor Concerto) Leonard Bernstein borrowed the second movement for Somewhere in 1950s musical West Side Story. The song has been covered by everyone from PJ Proby to the Pet Shop Boys.


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