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The birth of Beethoven and the fate of COVID-19

Posted December. 25, 2020 07:38,   

Updated December. 25, 2020 07:38


“Beethoven gave us the courage to take on a great adventure of life,” said German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, ahead of the concert celebrating the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven held at Bonn Opera House in Germany on Dec. 17. He meant that the works of Beethoven are a symbolic medium beyond music that provides humanity with the power and inspiration to overcome adversities.

The concert was held without audience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To celebrate the anniversary of Beethoven, many concerts, events, and festivals were planned this year in many cities in Europe, including Vienna, Austria and London, the U.K., where Beethoven spent his life. But most of them were cancelled or postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beethoven’s music was with every inflection point that changed the fate of Europe. When the French Revolution, which ended the absolute monarchy of Louis XVI, began in 1789, Beethoven composed Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and Symphony No. 5 (Fate) in the spirit of freedom and equality. French President Emmanuel Macron played Beethoven’s music at his presidential victory rally in May 2017 in homage to Beethoven.

Beethoven’s works were not always used for a good cause. After the Nazi occupied Austria in 1938, Beethoven’s opera Fidelio was performed in Vienna nonstop to promote Nazism and the superiority of the German people. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony was performed to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

Beethoven is being connected to the future, going beyond the past. Artificial intelligence (AI) completed Beethoven’s unfinished 10th symphony this year after being trained on all of Beethoven’s previous work through machine learning. Because of this symbolism held by Beethoven, the German government decided to extend the great musician’s 250th anniversary until next September next year, a strong determination to proceed with the events after overcoming COVID-19.

With major European countries starting COVID-19 vaccinations, there is rising hope that they could end the COVID-19 crisis. But fear is also rising again with the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant, which is up to 70% more transmissible. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome as can be seen from the example of Beethoven, who composed great music despite his hearing loss. Hopefully, the songs of joy will resonate around the world next year in celebration of a victory over COVID-19.

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com