The 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) is the focus of a number of celebrations and events in 2020. The worldwide veneration of this important composer owes not least to the fact that since his lifetime he has been the protagonist at the centre of one of the most influential media discourses in cultural history with a practically universal range. While he was still living, Beethoven was immortalised in several paintings, drawings and sculptures that combined with manifold literary treatments to establish the “Beethoven myth”. Representations of Beethoven himself and what he symbolised and indeed still symbolises have thus largely contributed to the constitution and manifestation of Beethoven legends in music, literature, film and other visual media to this day.

Research on the composer’s media presence has shed new light on the complexity of the myth and helps demonstrate how Beethoven’s effectiveness in European contexts quickly earned him the status of a golden icon, particularly in the Anglo-American world, to the extent that his oeuvre became equated with music itself.

Our research will be published in two publications with a wealth of illustrations examining different aspects of Beethoven’s “afterlife”. It becomes clear that there are certain visual imaginaries in which the “pictures” of the composer have proven particularly influential: the image of Beethoven in nature, in his material environment, but also that of Beethoven in contact with the immaterial were dominant topics well into the twentieth century. Since the mid-twentieth century, we have not only witnessed the auratisation of the composer’s personality, but also an audio-visual performance of his music in an age of total commercialisation. The new visual and audio formats (DVDs, CDs, the internet etc.) produce an innovative aesthetic that can itself redefine the image of Beethoven.

Werner Telesko, Susana Zapke und Stefan Schmidl, Beethoven visuell. Der Komponist im Spiegel bildlicher Vorstellungswelten, Wien 2020.

Werner Telesko und Stefan Schmidl, Beethoven und die Bilder der Musik. Vergegenwärtigung, Technizität und Blicklenkung – vom frühen 20. Jahrhundert bis heute, Wien 2020.