The case of Beethoven Lecture Series Making a Living in Art, Literature and Music

The case of Beethoven

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Juan José Carreras


  1. Juan José CarrerasJuan José Carreras

    Es profesor titular de Historia de la Música de la Universidad de Zaragoza, sus líneas de investigación abarcan la música de corte española del siglo XVIII, la dramaturgia musical y las relaciones entre música, cultura y nacionalismo. Es licenciado en Historia Contemporánea por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, especializado en Historia de la Música. Asesor editorial de las revistas Il Saggiatore Musicale (Florencia) y Early Music (Oxford), ha sido director-at-large de la Sociedad Internacional de Musicología (1997-2007), miembro del consejo científico de la Fondazione Levi (Venecia), Honorary Research Associate del Department of Music de Royal Holloway (University of London), Visiting Fellow de la British Academy y profesor visitante en Cambridge, Florencia y la École Normale Supérieure (París). Asimismo ha impartido cursos  de doctorado en la especialidad de musicología de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid y en el Máster de Música Hispana de la Universidad de Salamanca.

    Entre sus publicaciones destacan Music in Spain during the Eighteenth Century (junto a M. Boyd, 1998; edición española, 2006); La Capilla Real de los Austrias. Música y ritual de corte en la Europa Moderna (junto a B. J. García García, 2001); Concierto barroco. Estudios sobre música, dramaturgia e historia cultural (con M. Á. Marín, 2004); y Música y cultura Urbana en la edad moderna (con A. Bombi y M. Á. Marín, 2005). Sobre Beethoven, es autor del ensayo "Beethoven: Ganarse la vida 'por no hacer nada' " en el volumen colectivo Ganarse la vida en el arte, la literatura y la música (2012). Ha realizado la traducción de Johann Sebastian Bach. Documentos sobre su vida y su obra (2001).

Attempting to make a living as a compositor at the beginning of the 19th century was something unheard of. For centuries, making a living through music meant being at the service of a master, or civic or religious institution. Johann Sebastian Bach became very familiarized with these type of patronage and left behind very specific ideas on the advantages and disadvantages of each of them: royal courts could provide you with exceptional means, but were unstable by nature (bankruptcy, or the coming and going of courtiers, is inherent to the concept of the system). On the other hand, civic-religious institutions like the School of Saint Thomas, the ancient institution of Leipzig for which Bach worked as a municipal civil servant for more than 30 years, could mean an exhausting, tedious job and not only from the musical perspective, but also due to what we call now the "musical management" perspective. But regardless of the direct experience of Bach, it left behind its offer of modern Italian opera, even to women, and the possibility of following an international career in theatre.

Beethoven got to know through family tradition the old patronage during his first professional steps in Bonn. As a matter of fact, even when he installed in Vienna in 1792, he still considered himself a member of his hometown's the palatine chapel. Nevertheless, many ideas around the conception of music were changing at that time. A personality such as Haydn, with whom Beethoven studied for some time, had elevated the art of composition to levels never before seen. The characteristics of the musicians normally hired until then in Europe we focused around their execution skills. Production, interpretation and creativity were interrelated through the practical skills of the musician, who had a very specific role. The fact that around the decade of the 90's in the 18th century a person like Haydn started -once graduated from being the chapel master for the Esterhazy- a late musical career as a freelance compositor, and specially the fact that upon his death in 1809 he was considered as a “Musikschriftsteller" -this is, a music writer-, was an extraordinary change in the perception of the time on what a musician could be, and consequently, on how a musician could make a living.

Along his life, Beethoven insistently claimed this new and exceptional music status and this way he became the 19th century  archetype of the romantic artist. This intense and complex reception of the figure of Beethoven hinders the appreciation of his biography, which also in this particular topic is full of enigmas and traps. Nevertheless, it is clear that the professional strategy of of Beethoven combined in different percentages the means provided by the increasing musical market of his time (i.e., the contracts for publishing his works, and concerts) with the local patronage of noblemen. A proof of this is the annual pension provided since 1809 by the Archduke Rudolf and the princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky "so he could focus on creating master pieces". At this time, it was beginning to be clear that the the market pushing the economical and political revolution was not enough to ensure the subsistence of modern artists, even if (or just because) he was a great artist. As a paradigmatic proof we can see through Beethoven's life that patronage and the institutional grants had to go through a renewal because living exclusively as a "Tondichter", as musical poet, was difficult. And it still is nowadays.