This sculpture, situated in the part of Central Park traditionally set aside for public concerts, depicts the famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) and was created by the German-American sculptor Henry Baerer (1837–1908).
When landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824–1895) designed Central Park in 1858, their Greensward Plan included a grand formal area that they called the Mall or the Promenade. Modeled on the formal allées of European parks like Versailles, it was designed to be the great walkway where the parade of parkgoers, dressed in their “Sunday best,” would come to see and be seen. Located at its south end are several sculptures of literary figures, as well as a statue of Christopher Columbus.
Strains of music would lead visitors to the northern end of the Mall, where an elaborate cast-iron bandstand once stood on the present site of the bust of Beethoven. The concerts were a popular destination for park visitors, and thousands of people would attend these open-air performances. To prevent the landscape from being damaged during musical performances, fences that also provided seating for concertgoers were cleverly designed by Calvert Vaux. These benches have been re-created for visitors today.
The concerts at the Victorian-era bandstand were especially popular with the large and growing German-American community who gathered at the Mall. In 1884, on the occasion of its 25th Anniversary, the Beethoven Mannerchoir commissioned the monument to Beethoven at a cost of $6,000 and gave it to the city.
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany and studied with his father, who was a singer in the electoral choir. Demonstrating early talent as a pianist, he studied with a succession of instructors, including stints with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) and Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809). He made his public piano debut in 1800, but growing deafness curtailed this aspect of his career.
This disability did not undermine Beethoven’s prodigious talent as a composer, however. His early works in the 1790s included piano sonatas and chamber music. Recognized as a genius in many musical forms, he is perhaps best known for his extraordinary symphonic output, especially his Fifth Symphony (1805–1807) and his Ninth Symphony (1817–1823). Though a staunch classicist, his music served to usher in the Romantic era.
Sculptor Henry Baerer was born in Kirscheim, Germany, and came to the United States in 1854. He was especially well-known as a portrait sculptor and contributed six sculptures to the parks of New York City, including statues of General Gouverneur Kemble Warren in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn; a later, very similar version of Beethoven in Prospect Park’s Concert Grove, and a bust of industrialist Conrad Poppenhusen in College Point, Queens. A replica of the Beethoven statue stands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.
Baerer represents Beethoven with his trademark leonine hair and an expressive intensity reflecting his musical prowess. At the base of the tall, gray granite pedestal he composed a bronze allegorical figure holding a lyre, personifying the “Genius of Music.” The sculpture originally stood at the site of the Central Park Bandshell and was moved at the time of the band shell’s construction in 1923 to the western perimeter of the mall, where it now faces the stage. In 1992, the sculpture was repatined and conserved.
Ludwig Van Beethoven Details
- Location: NW of mall - opposite bandshell
- Sculptor: Henry Baerer copy, Hagens orig
- Description: Bust, allegorical figure on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, polished barre granite
- Dimensions: H: 17'2" W: 6'7" D: 6'7"
- Dedicated: July 22, 1884
- Donor: Beethoven Mannerchor
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