Beethoven: Maestro for the Ages

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The year 2020 honours the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), one of the most popular composers whose masterpieces are often likened to the plays of Shakespeare or the sculpture of Michelangelo. Working in Europe during the transformative period at the turn into the 19th century, Beethoven’s music expressed the concepts of the Romantic Age and the burgeoning ideals of freedom, equality and human rights. How did the composer capture his era, and what is it about his music that continues to connect with us all these years later? Using legendary recordings from the past and present, this enlightening musical series from longtime CBC broadcaster and music writer Rick Phillips will explore Beethoven’s life, times and music, revealing his incredible talents, innovations and humanity.

This series is led by broadcaster, writer and lecturer Rick Phillips. For 14 years, Rick was the Host and Producer of Sound Advice®, the weekly guide to classical music and recordings, heard across Canada on CBC Radio. A regular juror in the classical music categories for the Juno Awards, he is the author of The Essential Classical Recordings – 101 CDs.

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The six lectures in this series will all be available to stream as of Thursday, August 27. Binge them all at once, or take it one week at a time—it’s up to you! Once they are online, you can access each lecture at your leisure by clicking on links in your confirmation email, or by visiting your My Shows page. Once you start streaming the lecture, it will be available for 48 hours.

Lecture #1: The Early Years
In his first “early” period of creativity, the young Beethoven’s models were the works of earlier 18th century composers like Haydn and Mozart. As we survey his musical development in his hometown of Bonn, Germany, we’ll zero in on the Piano Sonata Op. 14, No. 2, a warm, inviting and playful piece that revealed his prodigious talents.

Lecture #2: Adventures in Vienna  
When Beethoven arrived in Vienna in the early 1790s, he made his initial mark on the city as a brilliant pianist, the likes of which had never been seen before. In our second week of Beethoven’s “early” period, we delve deep into the Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19, the piece that launched his reputation.

Lecture #3: A Bold New Sound
In the early years of the 19th century, Beethoven claimed to a friend that he was unhappy with his work to date, and “…from henceforth, I shall strike out on a new path.” The new path was the start of his second creative “middle” period, and his glorious Symphony No. 3, subtitled “Eroica,” was the launching pad.

Lecture #4: An Artist at the Height of his Powers
Dedicated to his friend and patron, Count Waldstein, the Piano Sonata, Op. 53 is classic “middle” period Beethoven. Now composing for a quickly-developing keyboard instrument, this sonata is known for its infectious driving rhythms, surging power and exuberance—qualities we’ve come to think of as trademarks of Beethoven’s sound.

Lecture #5: A New Spirituality and Universality
Now virtually stone deaf, in his third and final “late” period, Beethoven sought to further stretch beyond the 18th century musical styles, creating music with a new spirituality and universality. The final string quartet, Op. 135, premiered after his death in 1827, expresses a calming sense of serenity, resignation and acceptance.   

Lecture #6: A Lasting Musical Legacy
Breaking with traditional symphonic form by adding vocal soloists and a chorus, the great Symphony No. 9 captures Beethoven’s dream of humanity achieving happiness here on earth. His setting of the epic poem, “Ode to Joy” by Friedrich Schiller in the finale, extols the universal and perennially-valid concepts of unity, brotherhood and love.

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Course registration: $49 (Hot Docs Members: $33, $27, Free)