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'Beethoven's mistake' (Wagner). But was it a mistake? Julian Rushton

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'Beethoven's mistake' (Wagner). But was it a mistake? Professor Julian Rushton School of Music, University of Leeds

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) occupies a unique position in the traditions of European music.

His symphonies occupy a special place in orchestral programmes: for many years, at the Henry Wood Promenade concerts, ‘Friday Night was Beethoven Night’, with his Ninth (‘Choral’) symphony heard on the night before the Last Night. Beethoven neither invented the symphony, nor other genres in which he specialized: concerto, string quartet, sonatas. But in all these genres, his work is the foundation of repertoires for orchestras, conductors, soloists, and ensembles. Songs aside, the same cannot quite be said of his vocal music; even Beethoven had his limitations. His greatest works involving singers, notably the Missa solemnis, are reckoned to be tough on their voices. He completed only one opera. As for the ‘Ninth’, even its famous melody, setting Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and now the anthem of the European Union, is first heard on instruments.

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth (December 1770), a lecture will be given by Emeritus Professor Julian Rushton, West Riding Professor of Music at the University of Leeds (1982–2005) and a member of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. This will explain and question Wagner’s comment, which refers mainly to the ‘Ninth’.

Julian has written books on music, including an approachable life and works study of Mozart (Oxford University Press, in the series The Master Musicians), studies of Mozart’s operas; an analytical study of Berlioz (Cambridge University Press); a more user-friendly study of this composer (OUP this time) and quite a bit more in shorter forms, especially on Gluck, Berlioz, and Elgar. He edited the Cambridge Berlioz Encyclopedia and scholarly editions of music by Potter, Berlioz, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams. He considers himself, as a musicologist, to be insufficiently specialized to win medals, but nevertheless has one, from the Berlioz Society (other recipients include Dame Janet Baker and the late Sir Colin Davis); another accolade was election as a ‘Corresponding’ [honorary] member of the American Musicological Society. From 1994–9 he served as President of the Royal Musical Association (the British musicological society, founded in 1874), and from 2007–17 he was a ‘Director at Large’ of the International Musicological Society.

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