Beethoven's Grand Day Out

26 January 2012

Beethoven is being dusted down in preparation for a rare public appearance this weekend at the Southbank Centre’s Death Festival. When Sandi Toksvig offers up some light-hearted musings on mortality in her Memorial Lecture at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, she will share the stage with an impressive nineteenth-century bust of the composer. Beethoven’s excursion from his home at the Royal Philharmonic Society has already caused consternation.

Smile for the camera! Beethoven and Sandi.

Not only does his colossal weight make transportation troublesome, the size of his bottom has provoked heated debate as we attempt to establish whether or not he’ll fit on the plinth. It’s a good thing he doesn’t seem to be an over-sensitive chap; this kind of talk can really knock a guy’s confidence.

The bust, sculpted by Professor J. Schaller, was given to the RPS in 1871, in recognition of its ‘spontaneous acts of esteem and generosity’ to Beethoven towards the end of his life. Considering that Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony for the Society for a fee of £50, it seems to have been a mutually beneficial relationship. He was exhibited at every Society concert and once stood proudly at the entrance of the RPS offices. (Tragically, Ludwig has since been relegated to the store cupboard by overly cautious safety officials who were concerned he could topple over. We wouldn’t want RPS young composers crushed by the weight of Beethoven, it’s true.)

His schedule is filling up for 2013 as the RPS bicentenary celebrations promise more special guest appearances around the country. Come and say hello, there’s a warm heart behind the stone cold countenance.

Helen Pearce


Aaron P. Dworkin: RPS Honorary Member and Founder of the Sphinx Organization, which helps aspiring Black and Latino musicians in the USA.


In 1824 the Philharmonic Society paid Beethoven 50 pounds to commission his 9th Symphony.