It is in this context of national and local pride and the assertion of identity that the celebration of composers at this period has to be understood. Statues of composers, just like those of kings and generals, began to be put up in the middle of the century. In the 1830s a bust was added to the Haydn memorial in Rohrau. Then there was Beethoven in Bonn in 1840, Mozart in Salzburg in 1842 and Vienna in 1859, Bach in Leipzig in 1843, Gluck in Munich in 1848, Handel in Halle in 1859, Weber in Dresden in 1860. An early statue outside the German-speaking areas is the one to Gretry, in Liege, with his heart buried in it; it dates from 1842, shortly after Belgium acquired statehood. In Italy, Verdi’s birthplace was claimed in 1872, and statues to Bellini were erected in Catania and Naples in 1882 and 1884.
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The affixing of a plaque represents another form of commemoration. It is intended to increase the awareness, of passers-by, visitors and residents alike, of local historical events and associations with famous or locally prominent people. Plaques reflect the pride felt in the connection and enhance civic consciousness and a sense that the locale was important to a great man or woman. Probably the earliest for a composer was the one affixed to Gretry’s house in Liege in 1811, two years before his death; in 1840 one was placed on Haydn’s house in Vienna, and in 1853 one on Weber’s birthplace in Eutin. In 1859 the Mozart house in the Makartplatz in Salzburg was labelled ‘Mozarts Wohnhaus. A plaque was affixed to the Raiding birthplace of the ‘deutscher Meister Liszt in 1881. Since the late years of the 19th century numerous plaques have been affixed to buildings, often to mark centenaries or other notable anniversaries. In several large cities, most of all Vienna, London and Paris, a veritable plaque industry flourishes, noting passing visitors as well as residents, and supported and to some extent controlled by national heritage institutions.
There are other, more recent traditions of paying tribute to a great man, in music as in other spheres. One is through the naming of streets, squares and The Mozart Wohnhaus in the early 20th century institutions after them. Germany is bespattered with Bachstraben and Austria with Mozartstraben, and no self-respecting town in Italy today lacks a Via Verdi or a Piazza Verdi. Every Italian music conservatory bears the name of a composer, usually a local one. In France, the town of Chaumes has a Rue Couperin and an Ecole Couperin named after its most famous native family of musicians, and Paris has recently named a street in the 8th arrondissement Rue de Chevalier de Saint-Georges after the 18th-century native of Guadeloupe who had a successful French career as violinist and composer. Britain has been less ready to pay tribute to musicians, or indeed to other famous people, although there was once an ELGar telephone exchange.
In the 20th century some countries, Italy and Romania in particular, went better still and applied the name to entire communities. Verdi’s native Roncole is now ‘Roncole Verdi’; the town where Puccini built his villa is ‘Torre del Lago Puccini’; the village of Maiolati is ‘Maiolati Spontini after the composer who donated his fortune to good works there; and Paderno Fasolaro, near Cremona, has become ‘Paderno Ponchielli’. The birthplace of Enescu, then Liveni-Virnav, is now simply George Enescu, and the village of Stupca where the composer of the Romanian national anthem lived is Ciprian Porumbescu.
The age of‘the composer as hero’, however, is rightly regarded as beginning with Beethoven, whose life, attitudes and indeed his music represent a change in the social position of the composer, no longer content to be even a superior kind of servant. Handel had lived an independent existence, as a freelance, unlike virtually all others of his time, but his freelance work was safely underpinned by the royal pension he received for most of his life. Mozart had a spell as a freelance but with little success. Up to the time of Haydn and Mozart the composer expected to be an employee and to write music to order, as directed and needed by his employer. There are ample indications that Mozart was restless in that situation – witness his famous remark about being made to dine with the cooks and the footmen – but he nevertheless sought new posts when he lost his old one. Beethoven saw his social position differently: he never sought an appointment but he felt entitled to ask his patrons for a subsidy, and he courted as an equal some of his pupils from noble families; several famous remarks are recorded that show his attitude to his social position, of which the one about there being ‘many princes but only one Beethoven is the most telling.
Society came to share that view. E.T.A. Hoffmann, applying Romantic theory to music, talked of Beethoven’s standing at the gates of ‘the infinite realm of the spirit’. A generation on, Franz Liszt mixed easily in aristocratic circles and lived with princesses and countesses. The public perception of the role of the creative artist – the musician along with the poet and the painter -underwent a change in the early decades of the 19th century. His study was no longer a mere workshop but a place of creative visitation. His home life was not that of a craftsman but of a genius, and accordingly of interest to the larger world, a shrine, to be treated with due reverence. His birthplace – well, one need only cite the plaque on the house at Roncole: ‘In this dwelling on 10 October 1813 the musical genius of Verdi took its first breath’.