Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New Beethoven Research

by David B. Levy

With the Spring 2007 issue of Beethoven Forum (vol. 14, no. 2), the journal which had started with such promise in 1992, came to an end. Did this mean that research on the music and life of Ludwig van Beethoven was no longer fashionable? Was there nothing new left to be said about his famous compositions or discovered regarding his biography? Had sketchbook studies reached a dead end?

Beethoven at the time of the "Eroica"
(detail)
Joseph Willibrord Mähler
The answer to these questions was, of course, “no.” Important contributions continue to appear in the Beethoven Journal published by the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, though its focus on a broader audience tends to preclude complex analytical perspectives. And recently, the publications issued by the Beethovenhaus, Bonn, have begun to include English-language submissions.

But as Lewis Lockwood and I sat down over coffee at the American Musicological Society's Indianapolis meeting (2010), we lamented the death of the Forum and speculated on how Beethoven scholars could communicate their ongoing research with one another and with the musical world at large. Lockwood challenged Beethoven scholars to issue a clarion call for solutions, and I responded by building an email list designed to carry on our conversation in a more public forum. Among the first to answer the call was William Meredith, executive director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center at San Jose State University, who offered to host a New Beethoven Research (NBR) conference there prior to the AMS Annual Meeting in San Francisco (2011). Joanna Biermann (University of Alabama) and William Kinderman (University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign) then came on board and NBR began to take shape.

Encouraged by our initial success, which included participation from scholars at the Beethoven Archive, Bonn, we decided to continue with NBR2, originally to have been held at the University of Alabama prior to the AMS meeting in New Orleans (2012). Logistics and expenses involved proved insuperable, so we appealed, successfully, to the AMS executive to help us work something out for the New Orleans meeting. Once again we were pleased not only with the high level of interest, but the quality of submissions as well. Attendance was excellent, despite the intervention of  Superstorm Sandy. A steering committee of Biermann, Kinderman, Levy, and Meredith agreed that NBR3 would be scheduled in Pittsburgh leading up to the AMS Meeting.

By this time, two major developments had taken place. Dr. Bernhard Appel and his colleagues at the Beethoven Archive were sufficiently taken with the project and its international scope that an offer was tended to host NBR4 in Bonn, an event that will take place in September 2014, with special emphasis on the bicentennial of the Congress of Vienna. The second development was the publication of a double volume of the Journal of Musicological Research (vol. 32, nos. 2-3) under the expert guidance and editorship of William Kinderman, wherein several papers read at NBR2 as well as two read in San Jose have been published.

Stay tuned for further developments.

David B. Levy is Professor of Music at Wake Forest University, where he also serves as Associate Dean of the College for Faculty Governance.

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