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French Revolution centre stage at Beethovenfest in Bonn

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BONN, Germany, Sept 6 (AFP) - The French Revolution of the late 18th century changed the social and political complexion of France, Europe and, arguably, the world.

But what impact did it have on Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), whose famous life and even more famous music straddled this critical moment in history?

That is the dominant theme of this year's Beethovenfest, Bonn's annual tribute to its most famous native son.

Under the motto "Liberte" ("Freedom"), the festival begins Thursday with an open-air performance on the city's central Museumsplatz square of the composer's Ninth Symphony, performed by Bonn's own Beethoven Orchestra and conducted by Roman Kofman.

At the official opening gala concert on Friday in the Beethovenhalle concert hall, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Paul McCreesh will perform Beethoven's Third Symphony. No important piece of music, critics say, expresses a more direct reaction to the French Revolution.

Subtitled "Eroica", Beethoven wrote the symphony in 1803 and originally dedicated it to Napoleon.

But a year later he angrily scratched out the dedication when Napoleon declared himself Emperor.

"Our aim is to offer a programme that brings to life the sounds and musical life of the French Revolution and also conveys an impression of the enormous impact that its ideas and turmoil had on Beethoven and his musical language," explained festival chief Ilona Schmiel.

The month-long festival features a total of 64 concerts -- orchestra and chamber concerts, piano and song recitals, even jazz and French chansons -- at 25 venues in and around Beethoven's native city, between September 8 and October 2.

The concerts, many of which are already sold out, will also explore Beethoven's influence on later French composers such as Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).

The French touch this year is reflected not only in the choice of works, but also the artists making guest appearances.

In addition to the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Orchestre National de France under its principal conductor Kurt Masur will play works by Cesar Franck, Debussy and Ravel.

And French star pianist Helene Grimaud will perform Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under conductor Ingo Metzmacher at the final closing concert.

Also on the programme: an evening of Jacques Brel songs performed by Dominique Horwitz, and a new production of Beethoven's only opera "Fidelio" by Bonn's own opera house.

Like the "Eroica" symphony, "Fidelio" is directly related to events that occurred in France at the turn of the 19th century.

Works written around the same time by forgotten composers such as Francois-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) and Etienne-Nicolas Mehul (1763-1817), both highly regarded in their time, are being revived, including the first performance since 1804 of Mehul's comic opera "L'Irato".

A number of new works by contemporary French composers are also being premiered.

Five new string quartets by Christophe Bertrand, Joel-Francois Durand, Thierry Escaich, Philippe Fenelon and Alexandros Markeas, are to receive their first performances alongside Beethoven's own works for the same genre in a "Night of String Quartets" in Bonn's art museum.

Accompanying the festival will be a number of exhibitions by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Fernando Ortega and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

"The motto 'Liberte', a byword of the Enlightenment and a clarion call of the Revolution, points to the spiritual and historical bedrock of this year's programme," she said.

The Beethovenfest dates back to 1845 when the Beethoven Monument on Bonn's Muensterplatz was unveiled and a three-day music festival was held in honor of the composer's 75th birthday. Among the guests were some of the leading composers of the age, including Hector Berlioz, Louis Spohr and Franz Liszt.

The modern version of the festival was initiated in 1931, being held regularly every two to three years. Since 1999, the festival has become an annual event.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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