Schaller’s iconic bust of Beethoven was given to the RPS (then the Philharmonic Society) in 1870 by Fanny Linzbauer in recognition of its generosity towards Beethoven in times of need. It was displayed on the concert platform of every Society concert thereafter; a tradition which was re-established this year as part of the RPS Bicentenary celebrations.
As 2013 draws to a close, we catch up with the Beethoven Bust to see what he made of it all…
Beethoven Bust, it’s been quite a year.
It has indeed. It’s incredible to think all the way back to our launch party with Alfred Brendel at the Argyll Arms pub. We recently rounded off the Bicentenary celebrations at Wigmore Hall with another world-renowned pianist; on 21 December the RPS Gold Medal was awarded to András Schiff after his 60th Birthday Recital. I’m so glad that the presentation is available to watch online. I think the cameraman caught me from my good side!
It sounds like quite a night. I hope you’ve been enjoying a well-earned break over Christmas.
Yes, I even got a Christmas present! The RPS gave me a bag of chocolate coins. I think they were alluding to the fifty pounds they gave me back in 1822 to commission my Ninth Symphony. I’ve increased my rates since then, though.
We won’t expect a new piece from you any time soon. What have been your highlights from the Bicentenary year?
That’s a very tricky question! Hearing so many new commissions, both by established composers and from younger composers at the start of their career has been really inspiring. 22 composers were commissioned by the RPS to write new pieces in 2013; the most in any year since I’ve been around! The BBC Prom in August with the fantastic National Youth Orchestra and National Youth Choir of Great Britain was definitely a stand-out moment for me.
Could that have anything to do with the fact they were performing your Ninth Symphony?
Well, it does seem to have aged well (just like me). But Frieze, an RPS co-commission from Mark-Anthony Turnage which they performed first, had me spellbound.
And the same programme travelled to New York in the Autumn for sell-out performances by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra?
So I hear! Sadly I didn’t make it across the Atlantic as well – my passport’s a century or two out of date. I have been appearing at RPS concerts and events all around the UK though – Manchester, Poole, Birmingham… It’s like the old days between 1871 and the last RPS concert series in the 1980s, when I always stood on the concert platform.
Fantastic! So over time you’ve become a much-loved icon of musical excellence and support for the living composer – two causes at the heart of the work and ethos of the RPS.
Sounds about right – and I’m back by popular demand.
But the RPS Bicentenary year is coming to an end. Does this mean you’ll be retiring from public life again now?
I may take things a little slower, but I’ll be making the odd guest appearance. Besides, I still have my Twitter feed @beethoven_bust to manage!
Your Pinterest page is looking pretty healthy too. Who would have thought…
At long last, the brand new RPS logo has been let loose on our website, emails and stationery – we didn’t stretch to clothing, I was always told that red and pink don’t go together. Launched in conjunction with our bicentenary celebrations, this new logo has caused a bit of a headache. How do you best encapsulate the values and outlook of an organisation in that tiny favicon at the top of your screen? The decisions are endless: straight lines or curves, abstract or pictorial, how much text, which font… and that’s before you even bring colours into the equation. Get it wrong and you’re left with something that distorts your image – like a bad haircut, but harder to get rid of.
And then there’s our name, not the most malleable collection of words with a whopping great ‘Philharmonic’ bang in the middle of it. But that very word is central to the Royal Philharmonic Society’s purpose: philharmonic: adj. devoted to music; music loving – you can’t put it plainer than that! So without wanting to prescribe too literal an interpretation of our logo, if you’re seeing hearts you’re probably on the right wavelength. (Then again, some particularly creative viewers have also read it as a bird’s-eye-view of a grand piano, so let your imagination run wild…) It’s been a long journey but we love the end result, and hopefully you’ll be spotting it around a lot more as the countdown to RPS 200 begins in earnest!
In the middle of 1998 I was on maternity leave – I had two very small children: there was NO WAY I was looking for a full time job. Chatting one day to Tony about the intrigues of Robert Kraft and Stravinsky (good gossip), I found myself enquiring idly how on earth he’d got himself involved with the Royal Philharmonic Society – an organisation which, I felt at that time, seemed rather tired.
Tony didn’t waste time. Within 15 minutes his ebullient enthusiasm had convinced me both that the RPS was at heart a radical, progressive organisation with a real potential to make its mark on classical music, and also, somehow, that I would be doing him an extraordinary favour by coming for an interview for the post of Administrator. To my astonishment I found myself agreeing – (albeit rather weakly).
What appealed to me about his approach was his absolute ability to cut through red tape: to know what was important and to see how to make it happen. It was a breath of fresh air for me and for the dusty RPS which he quickly licked in to shape and moved firmly into the 21st century.
We soon established a modus operandi – Tony was my constant sounding board and my ideas were greeted with huge positivity and energy; or alternatively, kindly but firm dissuasion: he was a gentle mentor. I on the other hand learned to respond to random, rapid and unexpected questions from the unfathomability of Microsoft to the best place to buy muslin for culinary purposes.
He believed in the new and the young; and he believed that the RPS could (and should) help and inspire them both. He was endlessly open, curious, excited and appreciative. He was generous and kind (but never wanted to be noticed being so.) He was pragmatic and fearless. If Tony had not thought of selling the RPS archive to the British Library (which both made that valuable resource available to scholars worldwide and bailed the RPS out of a deep financial hole) there simply would not be an RPS now. I for one think that, thanks to Tony, we might have been missed.
The presentation of RPS Honorary Member to Tony last year was an apt and joyful occasion though he himself seemed mildly perplexed by the fuss! From Carl Maria von Weber in 1826 onward, all Honorary Members, whatever their musical role, have in common that they have made a difference to music. Tony made an enormous difference: to music, to the RPS, to me, and to more people in the music world than he can have possibly imagined.