Welcome to Beethoven Our Contemporary website! The name of the site, inspired by Jan Kott’s fifty-years old book Shakespeare Our Contemporary, is self-explanatory: when it comes to classical music, Beethoven is the one, like Shakespeare in literature, who we feel answers our emotional needs, and not our nominally “contemporary” composers, whose music does not resonate at all with us. When classical music radio stations spread all over the Western World draw up the yearly “Top One Hundred Countdown” lists that sum up the music their listeners love, everywhere those lists display the same general picture: the clear predilection for eighteenth and nineteenth century music, with Beethoven as a central figure appearing three or four times amidst the first ten entries and twenty times overall. The very few twentieth-century names appear only as token heirs of tonality – or of jazz. No member of the “revolutionary” Avant-Garde of Schönberg & Co., whose reputation fills hundreds of pages in the treatises, ever makes it to the list.
This fact seems to dispense with the need for any explanation or supporting example. I cannot help, however, offering one that shows how much Beethoven is our contemporary, with the poignancy of a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. After WWI, China opened to Western classical music with an enthusiasm that has since continued unabated, making the country the place where Beethoven is the most “contemporary” of all the composers.
This devotion, however, suffered a major setback when the communists took over and, in a strange historical paradox, denounced classical music as a “class enemy” that aimed to restore oppressive capitalism. During Maoist so-called Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s, when tens of millions were sent to “re-education camps,” in which many of them died, one of the punished crimes was listening or playing Western music, particularly that of “German bourgeois composer Beethoven.” Lu Hong’en, former conductor of the Shanghai Symphony was one of the many victims; before being shot, he asked a fellow prisoner, “if you get out of here alive, would you do two things? Find my son, and visit Austria, the home of music. Go to Beethoven’s tomb and lay a bouquet of flowers. Tell him that his Chinese disciple was humming the ‘Missa Solemnis’ as he went to his execution.” (Reported in “Gulangyu and Guangzhou, The Middle-C Kingdom,” The Economist, December 21, 2019, p. 35.)
This tragedy makes a sharp, devastating contrast with what has been going on lately in the musical landscape of the Western world, to which Beethoven left his legacy. For over fifty years, he has been under constant, relentless attacks by modern-day scholarship, which has made him into a cruel monster and a psychopath living in delusions. Even his music has been indicted as “toxic masculinity.” The primary goal of this website is to restore Beethoven’s image, by removing these sullying critical layers which are entirely – if you allow me to call a spade a spade – false.
This restoration work, the fruit of almost twenty years of research, is presented in the first scholarly book available on this website – Beethoven at 250: Man and Music under Siege. It presents the incredible distortions of biographical and musical truth that have become mainstream Beethoven scholarship during the last fifty-odd years, exposing their scholarly (and unscholarly) falsifications.
In all honesty, I must let you know that Stefan Romanó is not a “Beethoven authority” but a mere amateur scholar. If you only accept guidance from authorities, forget about this website – thank you, anyhow, for opening it. Explore this only if you believe that a piece of work should be judged not by its author’s credentials but by its own merit. If you doubt that an “amateur scholar” can measure up to the level of an “authority,” click here to discover the irrefutable fact that gives the lie to Maynard Solomon’s overwhelmingly acclaimed theory that Beethoven lived all his life guided by a “Family Romance” delusion (one of the Freudian fantasies). This is only one of the many similar facts that you will encounter in this website. Indeed, all my texts are not about opinions, but about facts, the nude facts that refute theories. Certainly, they are ruffling very important feathers in the aviary that is the Beethoven scholarship.
The second “restauration” work, applies to the Immortal Beloved Mystery, which during the last fifty years has been muddled by incredible speculations of all the involved parties in the search for the elusive woman. I do not claim to offer a new solution, but rather to clear the evidence of all the speculative distortions, giving my readers the opportunity to make their own judgements. I also think that, unless new dramatic evidence pointing elsewhere emerges, we have a solution to the riddle, but the love story itself was quite different from what has been so far proposed to us.
Under the Intruder in the Temple tab you can find a few shorter essays representing this author’s “constructive” contributions to Beethoven’s scholarship, two of which were lucky to find a publishing venue in The Beethoven Journal of the San Jose based American Beethoven Society, of which I am a member. One of these essays answers a question that has puzzled musicians as well as music lovers for two hundred years: why did Beethoven choose to conclude his Fifth symphony with that long, “interminable” – as one well-known musicologist put it – series of C major chords? Solving that mystery proves that this author possesses at least some ingenuity and a keen eye – or, better said, an attentive ear! You may find Romanó’s other essays worthy of your attention – including those in the Beyond Beethoven tab, which tackle some unconventional topics.