School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

On Beethoven and Brecht: Chorus and Politics in the 20th Century

30 January 2019

Time: 6:00 - 7:30pm
Speaker: Dr. Antonia Egel
Venue: ArtsTwo Building, Room 3.20


When chancellor Angela Merkel stepped down as president of the CDU on December 7th 2018, her friends chose as a present a conducter’s stick. Not any, but the one, Kent Nagano had used for conducting Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. This present is, of course highly symbolic. German politics is linked tightly to Beethoven’s 9th symphony – whenever the FRG had held its anniversaries it was this piece that has been performed. The choral part of it is also the official hymn of the European Union. Beethoven’s chorus, along with Schiller’s words thus have a direct political meaning. As I will argue, it is not by chance, that it is a choral piece that has adopted such a meaning. Admittedly the chorus – in many tragedies representing the polis – has been linked to politics from ancient times on. But especially during the 20th century, its political valence was engaged in a new sense. While Bertolt Brecht is widely known as an author who reshaped the chorus on stage in a political way that highlighted the „masses“ as a new political power, others have taken up the chorus in a more complicated way, stressing the „individual“ within the chorus itself. Schiller and Beethoven represent an age of individuality – nonetheless both were, again with the chorus from Beethoven’s 9th symphony, highly present in left-wing and right-wing mass-formations in early 20th century. My talk will elaborate why it is the chorus and, more important, in which way it is the chorus that is used to represent modern politics – both, in a democratic and in a totalitarian way – and why Schiller and Beethoven today stand as a symbol for a democracy of liberty , humanity and friendship nonetheless.

The speaker:

Antonia Egel, Dr. phil., currently holds a Lise-Meitner-position at Paris-Lodron-University of Salzburg, Austria. She studied at Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg i. Br./ Germany and held an assistant position there as well as at Salzburg University. She was a guest researcher at the University of Torino/ Italy, at Boston College, Boston and at Harvard University Cambridge/ USA and a guest lecturer at Kwansei Gakuin University, Nishinomiya/ Japan. Her publications include “Musik ist Schöpfung”. Rilkes musikalische Poetik (2014); Who was Friedrich Hölderlin? Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger and ,The Poet‘, in: Andrew Benjamin/ Dimitris Vardoulakis (ed.): Sparks Will Fly. Walter Benjamin and Martin Heidegger, Albany, NY 2014, p. 177-188; Warum lesen und wenn ja, dann was? Literarische Bildung und politische Gemeinschaft, in: International Yearbook for Hermeneutics 15 (2016), p. 35-48; Freiträumen. Über Peter Handkes Schauspiel Die Unschuldigen, ich und die Unbekannte am Rand der Landstraße mit Abstechern zu Wim Wenders’ pina. Ein Film für Pina Bausch, in: Tobias Keiling/ Robert Krause/ Heidi Liedtke, Muße und Moderne. Tübingen 2018, p. 245-265.