"I give the last word in Opus 2020 to Beethoven himself, as a reminder that in spite of the challenges we face, the future is in our hands; if we choose creative and positive actions it will be brighter." - Max Richter
Max Richter pays homage to Beethoven by releasing world premiere recording of Beethoven – Opus 2020 on 250th anniversary of iconic composer's birthday
His new orchestral work was commissioned by the Beethoven-Haus Bonn, which will host the world premiere performance on the eve of the anniversary
Richter's creative contemporary dialogue with Beethoven also embraces Opus 1970 – an earlier tribute from visionary 20th-century composer Stockhausen
Musicians work together in Opus 2020 to create "ideal orchestral society", echoing Beethoven's humanistic vision
Richter's Andante Loops, based on music from Beethoven – Opus 2020, premiered in Apple Music's Beethoven Room
Max Richter and Deutsche Grammophon are set to release a brand-new orchestral composition to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birthday. Beethoven – Opus 2020 was commissioned by the Beethoven-Haus Bonn, birthplace of the composer and now a museum, cultural institution and research centre. The British composer's new work will be available on all digital streaming platforms from 17 December, the day on which Beethoven was born. Its world premiere performance is scheduled to take place at the Beethoven-Haus on 16 December and will be streamed live on Deutsche Grammophon's Facebook page. Andante Loops, a piece for solo piano derived by Richter from his Opus 2020 score, meanwhile received its premiere on 11 December in Apple Music's Beethoven Room. The two works will be paired together on a digital EP, available from 18 December.
Beethoven – Opus 2020 embodies Max Richter's creative dialogue with the music of Beethoven. It also embraces the spirit of an earlier tribute piece, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Opus 1970, made to mark Beethoven's bicentenary fifty years ago.
Recorded in November at the Beethoven-Haus Bonn by pianist Elisabeth Brauß, the Beethoven Orchester Bonn and conductor Dirk Kaftan, Beethoven – Opus 2020 captures the multi-layered strands of Richter's score. The 18-minute work includes fragments of Beethoven's music treated as overlapping sound collages. "When I started thinking about Opus 2020, I decided to bring some elements of Beethoven's and Stockhausen's practice into the present in new ways," recalls Richter. "This intertextuality is typical of my work; whatever else a piece might be about, it is also, at some level, about other music."
Stockhausen's Opus 1970 reworks ideas from his earlier Kurzwellen for shortwave radios. The piece imagines that the radio sets, replaced in Opus 1970 by tape recorders, are all tuned to programmes playing Beethoven, over and around which Stockhausen reads excerpts from the heart-breaking Heiligenstadt Testament, the document written by Beethoven in 1802 as he was struggling to come to terms with progressive hearing loss. His sense of isolation and despair are eloquently expressed in its text, with a spark of hope evident in his decision to live on for the sake of his art, despite the toll life was then taking on him.
Max Richter set out to compose an orchestral work that treated Beethoven fragments like "tape loops", but played by instrumentalists rather than on machines. Opus 2020 grew from that initial thought. "In order to realise this idea I have had to rethink how the orchestra works, and it has resulted in a very challenging, though seemingly simple score," he comments.
Composing Opus 2020 involved integrating and overlapping fragments of different lengths and tempos and transforming the orchestra, usually governed by hierarchies of instruments, into what Richter calls a "democratic community" of ensembles. "A kind of ideal orchestral society emerges from this, embedding Beethoven's humanistic vision in the process," he observes. "The orchestral hierarchy is flattened out in favour of a democratic space. Echoing Beethoven's vision, I too believe passionately in the elevating effect of creative works on individuals and society."
OPUS 2020 takes its inspiration Stockhausen's OPUS 1970, the special "Beethoven Edition" of "Kurzwellen", his work for multiple radios. In the case of OPUS 1970, the music resulted not from radios tuned at random, but from multiple tape recorders playing back a collage of Beethoven works, together with Stockhausen's own reading from the Heiligenstadt Testament.
When I started thinking about OPUS 2020, I decided to bring some elements of Beethoven's and Stockhausen's practice into the present in new ways. This intertextuality is typical of my work; whatever else a piece might be about, it is also, at some level, about other music.
I have always sought to integrate instrumental and electronic means; the studio is for me not simply a recording tool, but also a sculptural one. Electronic music practice has informed my writing as much as traditional notions of harmony and counterpoint. Therefore, I took as my compositional starting point a simple and universal studio technique, that of the tape loop, something employed equally by Stockhausen, King Tubby, Delia Derbyshire, Brian Eno and many others.
I wondered if I could make an orchestral work made of Beethoven fragments that are treated as "tape loops", but played instrumentally? This is the origin of OPUS 2020.
In order to realise this idea I have had to rethink how the orchestra works, and it has resulted in a very challenging, though seemingly simple score. The loops of material are different lengths, and these generate multiple overlapping temporal worlds. This means that the orchestra has to behave as a democratic community of ensembles, all playing in different meters, in order for the overall effect to be realised. A kind of ideal orchestral society emerges from this, embedding Beethoven's humanistic vision in the process. The orchestral hierarchy is flattened out in favour of a democratic space.
The individual Beethoven fragments I have used as raw materials for these loops are from works that mean something special to me personally; in a sense OPUS 2020 is a place for me to reflect on them and on the wonderfully humane vision they represent. The "2020" of title has, over the course of the year, taken on a new significance for me and for all of us. This strange and terrible year has cast a long shadow on our lives and has pervaded the music too; perhaps inevitably OPUS 2020 has an autumnal feeling throughout.
Echoing Beethoven's vision, I too believe passionately in the elevating effect of creative works on individuals and society. Therefore, I give the last word in OPUS 2020 to Beethoven himself, as a reminder that in spite of the challenges we face, the future is in our hands; if we choose creative and positive actions it will be brighter. - Max Richter