Ludwig lebt: Die Eigensinnigkeit einer Bonner Ikone
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is one of the most legendary and prominent composers of all time. The unwavering fascination with Beethoven is astounding. Among his most successful works are his nine symphonies, which are so well-known that they are often referred to by their number alone. But Beethoven is more than an influential force in the Western musical history. Not only is his music iconic and internationally recognized, but his image has claimed a pop-icon status. Through this transformation from man to demigod and hero, Beethoven reveals a cultural phenomenon especially prevalent in his birthplace of Bonn, Germany. Like no other composer, his idealized image epitomizing the Romantic hero is both revered and honored by audiences. His image represents a struggling composer, who overcame obstacles in order to create music capable of expressing the inexpressible. Audiences relate to Beethoven because of his humanistic qualities and honor him because of his genius. As a composer who lost his hearing yet remained steadfast and obstinate in the pursuit of his creation, he is the ultimate cultural hero as he upholds the values of determination and fortitude. The city of Bonn uses his image to display its international appeal and to secure its status as an elite home to a musical genius. Because of its prevalence and adaptability, his image has become a timeless and integral part of Bonn’s cultural identity. He is placed on a pedestal among cultural heroes, yet his image invites a reinterpretation, renewal, and modernization. Looking at portraits painted in his time, combined with modern images and the uses of his images for consumerism in Bonn, I trace the iconography of a musical and cultural pop-icon. Rather than becoming a trivialized commodity, his frequently used image reinforces the fact that he remains influential and meaningful in a changing society. The modernization of his image attracts a new audience, which supports the claim that Beethoven is an enduring cultural figure. This work uses Beethoven as a means to discuss different forms of cultural memory ranging from visiual cues to monuments, from museums to music festivals. Even though the use of Beethoven’s music and image are not new, I argue that there is a resurgence of this Beethoven fascination in Bonn which is due, in part, to the city’s history and search for an identity. The composer gives meaning and significance to the city and helps create a narrative for Bonn. He develops with the culture, rather than remaining in the past, which shows how Beethoven is a timeless composer. He is immortalized even more through the Beethovenfest, a ritualistic collective experience occurring in Bonn every year, through the portrayal of Beethoven as a genius and hero in artwork, and in concrete form of the Beethoven monument in Bonn. The Beethoven-Denkmal and the first Beethovenfest occurred in the same year, but while their origins are intertwined, after that year, they have different functions. The Denkmal remains unchanging and static, while the Fest is a renewal of his music as well as his spirit. I regard the ritualistic experience of the Fest as a way to evoke belonging, bring people back together, and to reshape the culture. Through the use of Beethoven as an icon, cultural hero, and genius, Bonn creates an attraction to the city as well as a sense of belonging for the citizens of Bonn.