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A CFA Center for All Things Beethoven

Library, digital archive a magnet for scholars, conductors

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For scholars, conductors, performers—and those who just revel in the music—Ludwig van Beethoven’s tormented, often misunderstood life is endlessly compelling, his work the inspiration for a lifetime of study.

Opened last year, the new College of Fine Arts Center for Beethoven Research is poised to be a resource for all things Beethoven and a magnet for Beethoven scholars from around the world. A work in progress since 2012, the center, based in the School of Music department of musicology and ethnomusicology, will feature a digitized library and is collaborating with Beethoven centers around the world to host events and conferences. CFA students will have the opportunity to consult a library of facsimiles of Beethoven’s autographed scores, among other resource materials. In addition to CFA and the School of Music, it will receive support from the Office of the Vice President and Associate Provost for Research and the Jack Spivack Fund.

“This is the only such center devoted to serious Beethoven research at a major research university on the East Coast and affiliated with a well-established graduate research program in musicology,” says center director Jeremy Yudkin, a CFA professor of music.

Even three centuries after Beethoven’s birth there is endless opportunity for study. Having lived in as many as 60 different addresses in several cities, the German-born composer left a trail of sketchbooks and annotated scores that continues to provide conductors and musicians with insights into nuances of his choice of key, tempo, dynamics, and more, says Yudkin, who has taught courses on Beethoven and is the preconcert lecturer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra during its summers at Tanglewood.

“A great deal of work has been done on Beethoven, of course, but it is a myth that all the work has been done,” he says. “Beethoven’s work is of such a stature that it warrants constant reviewing and research.” Yudkin spent much of his 2014–2015 sabbatical year in Europe, poring over Beethoven’s books and autographed scores as part of his research for a book about the great composer, and he says that the sketchbooks alone, which are spread among archives in Bonn, Berlin, Prague, and elsewhere, haven’t been analyzed. Even the final versions of Beethoven’s scores “are full of annotations and crossings out and new ideas because he was an obsessive composer and constantly striving for perfection,” he says. “He had this unbelievable work ethic.” In the original score for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which Yudkin considers the best work in classical music, “whole pages of the ending of the first movement have been scratched out and rewritten.” It’s documents like these that scholars coming to the BU-based center will study and discuss.

“There’s a tremendous sense of camaraderie” among Beethoven scholars, Yudkin says, citing a new Beethoven research consortium that has revitalized American relations with Beethoven-Haus in Bonn; the consortium includes universities in California, Illinois, and Kentucky. “Young scholars have emerged who are versed in the very latest technological and scholarly techniques,” he says, adding that CFA’s new center “is poised to capitalize on a propitious moment in the scholarly world.”

As it grows, the center, at 855 Commonwealth Ave, will draw largely on the gift of the Beethoven library and research papers of Lewis Lockwood, Fanny Peabody Research Professor of Music Emeritus at Harvard University. The Distinguished Senior Scholar in CFA’s department of musicology and ethnomusicology, Lockwood is codirector of the center.

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