Monday, May 14, 2012

Beethoven and Verdi in the Park

One of the titles featured on our department's Summer 2012 reading list is Music and Politics in San Francisco by Leta E. Miller.

The opening pages of this book relate an interesting anecdote about classical music and nationalism in early 20th century San Francisco.  Miller describes the circumstances of the dedication of two "rival" statues of Giuseppe Verdi and Ludwig van Beethoven in Golden Gate Park. 

 She contrasts the "vibrant bronze tribute to Verdi" with the "sober tribute to Beethoven."

The bust of Verdi, covered in gold paint, is radiant and presents a very natural, human and even virile image of the bare-chested composer in his later years.  His visage, while rather noble, looks a little melancholy, even wistful.
 The Beethoven we see is the Beethoven we know, with an intense, rather stern expression.  His overcoat and scarf show him as a man to be taken seriously.

An interesting feature of these two statues is that they are neighbors of sorts.  The Verdi statue was placed first and the Beethoven statue came a year later.  The placement is such that Verdi looks out on Beethoven (with the California Academy of Sciences to the right),
while Beethoven looks away from Verdi (toward the Golden Gate Park band shell and the De Young Museum).
Verdi would only be visible to Beethoven if he made the effort to turn his head to the left.
Of course, in reality the historical Beethoven had no way of "seeing" Verdi - Verdi was a 13 year old in Busseto, Italy at the time of Beethoven's death.  Verdi, of course, knew and appreciated Beethoven's music.  In Verdi: His Music, Life and Times, George Martin notes that Verdi accepted honorary membership of the Musical Society of the Beethoven House in Bonn, Germany and added that Beethoven's was a "great name [whom] we must all prostrate ourselves in reverence!"

Related blog entries:

"The Verdi Statue in Golden Gate Park" (May 15, 2012)
"The Beethoven Statue in Golden Gate Park" (May 17, 2012)


Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War by Leta E. Miller (University of California Press, 2012).

Verdi: His Music, Life and Times (Dodd, Mead, 1963).

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