Beethoven at the Congress of Vienna, 1814

For seven months, beginning on November 1, 1814, the Congress of Vienna brought together heads of European states, with the objective of settling the many issues that arose after the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. The result was the redrawing of the continent’s political map, forming the framework for European international politics until the outbreak of WWI precisely a century later.

This was the first such occasion in history in which the heads of state (not their messengers) came together, face to face, to negotiate. The Congress of Vienna, which later became known as the Concert of Europe, not only had representatives of more than 200 states and princely houses, but also the greatest musician of its day, Ludwig van Beethoven. He premiered three symphonies for these noblemen and ambassadors (#7, #8, and the so-called Wellington’s Victory symphony). He composed a cantata, Der glorreiche Augenblick (“The Glorious Moment”) in celebration of the work of the Congress, and performed several chamber concerts himself (e.g. playing the Archduke Trio and other pieces). And perhaps most significantly, Beethoven was at work on his Ninth Symphony, that great paean to the brotherhood of man.

Beethoven commented that his involvement with the Congress was a great moment for him as a human being; but isn’t it even more likely that it was an even greater moment for the participants at the Congress to be given the inspiration and simpatico of Beethoven’s eternal music to aid their deliberations? At this time in world history, the awareness of brain waves was not even dreamed of, and the power of music was normally relegated to its rather significant effect on the emotions.

It would be up to us, some two hundred years later, to begin to piece together just how significant this convergence of music and negotiation might be.

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