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The 2007 Beethoven Intercollegiate Piano Competition,


Where are we with Beethoven today?

Up until, I would say, 1960, most musicians as well as the general public held him almost automatically to be the greatest composer, the Shakespeare of music (there's a nice story told of a schoolboy who, on answering the exam question 'Who is the greatest classical composer?', with the name Mozart, was marked wrong, the answer of course being Beethoven). Then, in the more liberal, hedonistic and less idealistic 1960s he began to lose his pre-eminence to Mozart, who was held to be both more perfect and more realistic, and a better judge of human character, especially in Figaro and Così fan tutte. Beethoven's moral earnestness was distrusted and many musicians, from Benjamin Britten down, could be found who did not particularly like him; an influential figure such as Sir William Glock could claim Mozart as the truly Shakespearean composer.

These thoughts occurred to me as I listened to the competition held on 25 March 2007 by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, sponsored by the Blüthner Piano Centre and held at their fine showrooms in London's West End. Nine young pianists from the junior schools of our major conservatoires and some of the specialist schools competed against each other, performing a sonata of their own choice together with the compulsory work, the A major Bagatelle from the opus 33 set. If Beethoven has lost his centrality and become just another composer to practise, how would they cope with these -- after all -- great masterpieces?

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Copyright © 14 April 2007 Julian Jacobson, London UK


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