Beethoven’s music a true reflection of humanism | DW's press releases | DW | 18.08.2020
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Beethoven’s music a true reflection of humanism

In Beethoven’s symphonies, reflection and sensation, mood and emotionality are intertwined in a completely new view. Renowned American conductor Kent Nagano writes about his passion for music and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Beethoven Orchestra Bonn Performs

People enjoy a picnic concert by the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn at a park in Bonn, Germany, in June 2020, commemorating the 250th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven

I was introduced to Beethoven at an early age by my music teacher Wachtag Korisheli. He did so in a universal way, introducing him as a visionary composer within history including not only his music but also what he had written and the historical context of his life as well. To me the power and energy of my unbridled love of music comes from the never-ending affirmation that music is nature itself. Music was introduced not as technical knowledge but as power, drama and emotional beauty. 

Beethoven’s music is universally beloved, revered and has over time generated a consensus that it is a true reflection of humanism. His 250th anniversary provides a moment to reflect upon the greatness of this artist and the works he left behind, and he is considered a fundament of our music history. I have always found his music to be above time, divorced from the constraining limits of mode, and reflecting certain truths — and people always need the truth. 

With his work, Beethoven has clearly and decisively influenced and participated in the structure of European concert life. In particular, through his symphonies and concert compositions, he created a new musical public — a public concert audience. This resulted in a certain institutionalizing of the musical structures in society though socio-structural ideas such as the orchestra, concert series, memorials and festivals — key fibers of the European and global cultural fabric today. 

Within Beethoven’s musical work live the ideas which emerged from what we today call the “Enlightenment”. It is an expression of the humanitarian ideals and the human right to dignity, to justice, freedom and self-determination. His music strives to reach and speak to “all people”, not only a selected part of society. Out of this, Beethoven as composer and artist contained a certain political content which is reflected throughout history by the public reception of his works. 

Joyous enlightenment

This takes me back to my first visits to Germany in the late 1980s. Though at the time, my work was based primarily in the U. S., France and England, I was also working closely with Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa and Pierre Boulez. Through them, I was able to attend rehearsals and performances in Germany.  

Beyond music, my time in Germany also changed my relationship with beer forever. Throughout my youth until young adulthood, in contrast to those around me, I always had an apathetic relationship with beer. The commercial beer product available in the USA at this time had taste, texture and aesthetic which I found not particularly appealing. It will remain forever in my memory of the day when, after polite reservation, I finally agreed to share a beer with colleagues. The experience was an incredible, brilliant moment of complete and joyous enlightenment. 

New perspectives

I have been guided, provoked and inspired by many great professors, writers, historians, orchestras and interpreters. Very often, important influences have come through unexpected circumstances. When I was studying piano, my professor Goodwin Sammel exceptionally sponsored a private lesson for me with Claudio Arrau. As we were working in his studio, Maestro Carlo-Maria Giulini entered the room as he wished to resolve a problem they had just had during the morning’s rehearsal of the Beethoven 4th Piano Concerto. Both excused themselves and in front of me began to engage in a very lively and agitated disagreement over how a certain passage should evolve. Fascinating was that each had deeply inspiring observations to share leaving me with completely new perspectives which follow me today.

Renowned American ­conductor Kent Nagano

Kent Nagano

Kent Nagano is considered one of the outstanding conductors for both operatic and orchestral repertoire. He took up the position of general music director of the Hamburg State Opera and chief conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra in September 2015. His role as music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) will end with the 2019/20 season after 15 years. In 2006 he was appointed honorary conductor of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and in 2019 of Concerto Köln, the Baroque orchestra with which he is working together on the project Wagner Readings.  

As a much sought-after guest conductor, Kent Nagano works with the world’s leading international orchestras, including the Munich Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 2015, Kent Nagano published the book “Erwarten Sie Wunder!”, a passionate appeal for the relevance of classical music in today’s world. The book is also available in English and French.

EINSCHRÄNKUNG DW Personenfoto | Corporate Communications | Carla Hagemann

Carla Hagemann

Corporate Spokesperson and Head of Corporate Communications


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