“My Beethoven”

Members of the Berliner Philharmoniker on the composer

No musician can ignore Ludwig van Beethoven – and a very personal view of him develops over time. To mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth and our streaming series “Beethoven in close-up”, we asked members of the Berliner Philharmoniker what they love about the composer, what feelings his music triggers in them, what challenges Beethoven holds in store in his works for their respective instruments, and what they would like to talk about if they could sit down with Beethoven over a coffee. Here are their answers!

Go to our streaming series “Beethoven in close-up”

Albrecht Mayer – Principal Oboe

“Rather than coffee, I would prefer to drink a good white wine with Beethoven. It is well known that he liked to drink a lot of white wine, sweetened with unhealthy lead sugar, as was unfortunately customary at the time. I would ask him: ʻDear Ludwig, why didn’t you finish writing your oboe concerto, even though you sketched out the opening of all three movements?ʼ And then I would ask him if he would finish composing it for me.”

Marlene Ito – 1st Principal of the 2nd Violins

“My first encounters with Beethoven were actually at the piano. Of course, I first played Für Elise like all children and then later as a teenager the Pathétique and the Appassionata. I find Beethoven’s music often difficult to understand. Much like Bartok or Prokofiev- it takes many hearings to appreciate its beauty. And the more you play his pieces the more you get accustomed to his musical language and you can perform them with more conviction and freedom rather than cringing and thinking, ʻam I doing this masterpiece justice or am I doing it a disservice?ʼ And you realise this composer was a human being who went through highs and lows in life and embodies this experience and his emotions in his works. Perhaps having gone through joys and sorrows of life oneself is a prerequisite for understanding and appreciating his music.”

Peter Riegelbauer – Double bass

“As a five-year-old, I had a pivotal experience with Beethoven’s music: my parents took me to the Meistersingerhalle in Nuremberg for a performance of the Ninth Symphony and it made a deep impression on me. I listened to this work every day on record. Beethoven’s music inspired me to become a musician and motivated me to learn first the piano and later the double bass. Beethoven became the epitome of classical music for me – not least because he wrote such brilliant double bass parts in his symphonies: virtuosic, rich in nuance and of great dynamic range. They are great fun to play. In the “close-up” project, we performed the Septet with the Scharoun Ensemble, a piece that has accompanied me all my musical life and there is always something new to discover about it. His music is never boring. If I had the opportunity to have coffee with Beethoven, I would ask him about his metronome markings, about his fast tempi, which have such a terrific energy.”

Sarah Willis – Horn

“In Beethoven’s chamber music for winds, the second horn part is often very virtuosic. The second horn plays along calmly for a while and then suddenly has to change gears for a very fast passage which comes out of the blue. In our “close-up” project, I had the pleasure of playing these challenging passages and really enjoyed them all. If I had the chance to meet Beethoven today, I would love ask him about the horn players he wrote these passages for.”

Wolfgang Talirz – Viola

“Rather than chatting with the master over coffee, I would like to hear him improvising on the piano. Beethoven was just as famous for this during his lifetime as he was as a composer – actually unimaginable for posterity when you consider how slowly he composed and struggled over the works. But I would have liked to be there at the famous competition with Daniel Steidelt, in which Beethoven simply turned a cello part of one of his opponent’s piano quintets upside down and then improvised on it. Steidelt, by the way, vowed afterwards not to set foot in Vienna again during Beethoven's lifetime – a vow he stuck to.”

Dietmar Schwalke – Cello

“Beethoven is one of my most faithful companions in good days and bad...There is so much hope, comfort and affirmation in his music. Before I started playing the cello at the age of twelve, the piano was my instrument and my favourite composer was Beethoven. It took my piano teacher some persuasion to get me to work on something other than a Beethoven sonata or a variation work. A few years later, my father took me to a concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Herbert von Karajan. On the programme: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It made a strong, emotional impression on me at the time, and from then on it was clear to me that I wanted to become a cellist. In 2009, I joined the Philharmonia Quartet Berlin and saw my chance to work on all the late quartets from op. 127 onwards. This aspect had been missing in my Beethoven world until then. I am particularly pleased that I have been able to pass on my enthusiasm for this wonderful composer to my children and grandchildren.”