Bonn and Ludwig van Beethoven are inseparably linked. The great son of the city and his music are present everywhere, Bonn feels closely connected to him and committed to his legacy. After all, Beethoven was not only a brilliant artist, but also a passionate advocate of values like freedom and brotherhood that are still valid to this day.
Life of the composer
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was born into a family of musicians originally from Brabant in Flanders. He was baptized in Bonn on December 17th 1770. It is assumed that he was born the day before in his parents' flat at today’s Bonngasse 20, which now serves as the “Museum Beethoven-Haus Bonn”.
Music was in Beethoven's blood: his father Johann sang as a tenor in the electoral court orchestra in Bonn, his grandfather Ludwig the Older was court conductor. While he was originally instructed by his father, he appeared in public as a musical prodigy as early as seven years of age and received a permanent position as court organist at only 14. In 1786, Beethoven travelled to Vienna, to take lessons from Mozart. However, there are no records that prove a meeting between the two. On his way home, he received news of his mother’s serious illness with consumption. He thus hastened back to Bonn, for his father was an alcoholic and could no longer care for his children on his own. Ludwig's mother died in 1787; her grave is in the Old Cemetery in Bonn. In 1792, Beethoven went back to Vienna. The study trip became a permanent relocation, due to the French occupation of the Rhineland in 1794 and the subsequent disempowerment of his employer, Elector Maximilian Franz. In the mid-1790s, Beethoven’s hearing impairment grew steadily worse, eventually leading to total deafness. This nevertheless did not prevent him from composing his greatest works. He died on March 26th 1827 and rests in the Vienna Central Cemetery.
Opus and Personality
His radical and visionary musical work made Beethoven immortal. His opus has survived the ages as part of mankind's cultural heritage and enjoys unbroken, worldwide popularity – not only among the fans of classical music. Almost everyone knows "For Elise" or the Fifth Symphony. Surely, it would have filled the composer himself with pride that the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, with the lyrics of Schiller's "Ode to Joy", became the anthem of a united Europe after the Second World War. After all, he was a liberal spirit and felt committed to high moral values: since his childhood, his goal had always been: "to serve poor suffering humanity with my art".
Beethoven in Bonn’s Cityscape
Beethoven House Bonn
The composer's birthplace is one of the city's landmarks and attracts over 100,000 visitors a year. This makes it one of the most popular musicians' houses in the world. The house in Bonngasse 20 conveys how the Beethoven family once lived and provides insights into the composer's work. For Beethoven's 250th birthday in 2020, the permanent exhibition has been redesigned with informative and emotional approaches to the more than 200 impressive exhibits. The exhibits come from the world's largest Beethoven collection, which is held by the Beethoven Association as the museum's sponsor. In addition, changing thematic exhibitions and internet exhibitions provide in-depth insights into Beethoven.
The Beethoven House has an extensive digital archive which interested experts and laymen can use free of charge. Within the archive there is interlinked image, text and audio information that makes it possible to experience Beethoven's work and life in multimedia form. At the same time, the Beethoven House is a research center and houses a library, a publishing house and a modern chamber music hall whose acoustics are as impressive as its design. The chamber music festival BTHVN-WOCHE has been held here annually since 2015.
Beethoven Orchester Bonn
Bonn's undoubtedly most prominent musical ambassador is the Beethoven Orchester Bonn (BOB), which, as the "successor" to the court orchestra from Beethoven's time, carries his music out into the world and thus also contributes to Bonn's fame. The award-winning orchestra, which has been led by Dirk Kaftan as General Music Director since 2017, is also a defining element of musical life in Bonn and the surrounding region. In 2021, BOB won the European Culture Prize for "its participatory concepts and the ambition to set out for new musical shores with the audience and its namesake Beethoven". The orchestra is based in the “Beethovenhalle” (Beethoven Hall), which dates back to 1959. The hall was extended in 1996/1997, but is currently undergoing renovations for extensive modernization and energy-saving measures.
But the Beethoven Orchester Bonn does not keeps Beethoven's musical heritage alive internationally. In 2021, it was also appointed a United Nations Climate Change Goodwill Ambassador by the UN Climate Change Secretariat and is committed to implementing the UN's 17 Sustainability goals.
The Bonn Beethovenfest, which takes place every autumn, also meets with a great international response. Founded in 1845 by Franz Liszt, it is one of the most renowned and oldest music festivals in Germany.
It owes its importance as a cultural beacon to an extensive program of around 90 events in Bonn and the region, featuring prominent ensembles and top international orchestras as well as important soloists and young musical talents. The repertoire ranges from classical to avant-garde. Steven Walter has been the festival's artistic director since 2021. He has repositioned it as a festival where Beethoven's work meets the diverse world of the 21st century – a celebration of musical diversity, a coming together of diverse origins and identities in the common home of music.
International Telekom Beethoven Competition
Another musical Beethoven highlight is the biennial piano competition, which Deutsche Telekom AG launched in 2005. It is open to pianists from all over the world between the ages of 18 and 32. In total, 28 participants are selected to present their skills in four competition rounds at the Telekom headquarters in Bonn. An international jury of top experts will then award prizes to three winners.
The central aim of the competition is to promote exceptional young talent and to contribute to keeping Beethoven's great legacy alive in his home city. Many of the concerts at Telekom are free of charge for all interested parties.
The Beethoven Tour allows you to follow in Beethoven's footsteps. It is divided into two different worlds of experience: The BTHVN-STORY provides a picture of the young Beethoven in his immediate Bonn environment at eleven stations. A further eleven stations in the BTHVN-REGION lead to places of interest and into nature. Regardless of whether you visit all 22 stations or select individual points of interest - in any case, you will get to know the composer better at authentic places of his life. The complementary smartphone app offers more stories.
Beethoven Monuments in Bonn
There are several monuments to the great artist in the cityscape. In a central location on Münsterplatz, Beethoven has been watching over events in the city center since 1845. With the old post office as the backdrop, he is now a popular subject for selfies during a stroll through the city. The monument was erected on the occasion of the first Beethoven Festival and in commemoration of his 75th birthday. This was preceded by years of commitment on the part of Bonn's citizens - especially Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt.
Four other very differently designed statues in Bonn, which were created in different decades of the 20th century, are dedicated to the memory of the city's great son.