As I mentioned at the beginning of the year, 2020 commemorates the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in Bonn in December 1770. Son of Johann, a court musician, and his wife Maria Magdalena, Ludwig was their second child. An older brother, also named Ludwig, lived only a few days in April of the previous year.
Two other brothers, Caspar Anton and Nikolaus Johann, arrived in 1774 and 1776 respectively while three younger siblings – Anna Maria, Franz Gregor and Maria Margarethe – died in infancy.
Beethoven’s mother, a rather serious person of whom the composer was particularly fond, died from consumption in 1787.
Beethoven’s father, a singing and keyboard teacher, from whom Ludwig had his first music lessons, also played the violin. Harsh and severe, he became an alcoholic in later life and was dismissed from his court position in 1789. He died three years later, leaving Ludwig the responsibility of caring for his remaining family.
In the meantime, Beethoven’s virtuosity as a pianist was being widely appreciated with his music heard beyond the confines of Bonn.
Commemorating the composer’s anniversary is already under way at the National Concert Hall and elsewhere throughout the country.
Music for Galway’s Midwinter Festival earlier this month was devoted entirely to Beethoven with some of his lesser-known piano pieces having a welcome airing.
Galway’s artistic director Finghin Collins, with the RTÉCO, and Barry Douglas, with his own Camerata Ireland, have been heard in four of the five piano concerti at the NCH with both pianists directing performances from their keyboards.
Tomorrow (January 31), US conductor Leonard Slatkin presents a Beethoven gala with the NSO at the NCH. The main works are the Violin Concerto, with brilliant US soloist Stefan Jackiw, and the 7th Symphony – described by Wagner as “the apotheosis of the dance”. With principal conductor Jaime Martín on the podium, the Eroica Symphony is the NSO’s main work on Friday, February 14.
A number of Beethoven’s chamber works are also being showcased in next moth’s NCH schedule. In the afternoon of Sunday, February 9, Alan Smale’s Degani Piano Trio is joined by narrator Barry McGovern with Piano Trios 1 & 5.
The Third in C minor along with the somewhat earlier E flat WoO 38 Trio, follow on Sunday, February 23 with soprano Sylvia O’Brien intermingling a selection of Beethoven’s Irish and Scottish songs in between. Christopher Marwood and Hugh Tinney include the Op 69 Cello Sonata in their recital on Thursday, February 13 in the NCH’s Kevin Barry Room.
In another noteworthy event, Lyric Opera brings the composer’s Fidelio to the NCH on February 22 and 23. The opera, with SinfoNua accompanying, comes in a full production by Vivian Coates.
The international cast includes soprano Sinéad Campbell-Wallace as heroine Leonora, aka Fidelio, and US tenor Samuel Sakker as her political prisoner husband Florestan. Gyula Nagy is the sinister prison governor Pizarro with Russian bass Mikhail Svetlov as genial guard Rocco.
Other Irish and English artists involved are Rachel Croash, Patrick Hyland and Felix Kemp. Toby Purser conducts, with Lyric Opera and Carlow County Choir providing the chorus.