Episode 4: Dr. Erica Buurman
The Accidental Geographer’s Vincent del Casino and Dr. Erica Buurman, Director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, dive into the work of Beethoven and consider the various contributions his symphonies made in the music industry. If you think you know all there is to know about Beethoven, think again!
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Vincent del Casino: Welcome to this episode of The Accidental Geographer. I am the accidental geographer, Vincent del Casino. With me today is Dr. Erica Buurman, Director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, and Assistant Professor in Music and Dance here at San Jose State University. Today we will delve into the work of Beethoven and the context in which that work was produced in the city of Vienna. This music became part of a growing consumer culture in Europe at the time as access to music became commercialized. It is a fascinating and surprising trip through Beethoven's contributions. If you think you know all there is to know about Beethoven, think again. So, let's get right into it.
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Vincent del Casino: I'm really excited to have Dr. Erica Buurman here with me today. Thanks so much for taking the time.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Oh, thank you for inviting me.
Vincent del Casino: You're welcome. So, from Manchester to San Jose, it sounds like a natural sort of move. You know, tell me a little bit about sort of your interest in Beethoven, your interest in music more broadly, and this journey you've on, you know, academically and professionally, and probably personally as well, over the last, you know, decade or so.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Sure, yeah. Well, I grew up in Scotland and then I moved to Manchester for school. And I started my life as a performing musician. So, I studied violin at the Conservatory before sort of accidentally discovering music history when I was taking a bit of break from playing because I had an injury that prevented me from actually doing anything physical, so I got more into the academic side. Ended up doing a doctorate and getting my first job at a university in the UK. And what brought me here was the Beethoven Center, which is a real jewel. It's the only center -- or rather, it's the largest center outside of Germany, the largest center in North America devoted to Beethoven. So, it's a very well-known and respected archive and museum that has resources that I used through grad school as well. There's an online bibliography database that I made really good use of.
So, it's -- you know, the world is quite interconnected, so all the Beethoven scholars kind of know each other. So, I've known about the center. I knew the previous director, Dr. Will Meredith. And when this job came up, I went for it and that's what brought me here. So, yeah, it's a long journey, but it's rewarding. And it's nice to kind of, you know, follow your interests and.
Vincent del Casino: Yeah, so, what's so interesting is, you know, we find this a lot, particularly with academics. I never thought when I started college I was going to get a doctorate, I was going to be a geographer, I was going to do work in Southeast Asia. So, what made you -- what prompted you to start to think about music history? I mean, logically, you had a passion for music and for playing music. But what prompted you to start to think about music history in particular?
Dr. Erica Buurman: There's something really special about music history, I think. I mean, I love history as well. I love kind of trying to put yourself in the shoes of people from a different time. And what music can do that other kinds of history can't do is let you hear what things sounded like, you know? Music is such an amazing kind of form of culture, because it survives through time. And, you know, most of history is silent, but music history just brings everything to life. And I think it's amazing that we're still engaging with the same sounds that people were engaging with a couple hundred years ago.
So that, I think, is what really -- for me, it's about people. It's about life, you know? So, that's why -- I mean, I love music anyway. I've always loved Beethoven's music. But if you kind of start with music as a starting point and then explore the history around that, it tells you so much more because it's the history of what people find beautiful, and the history of what people do for fun and, you know, what drives people and what makes people passionate. So, it's really one of most human forms of history, I think.
Vincent del Casino: That's a really fascinating way to put it. I've never had someone so kind of eloquently wrap up the intersections of music in history and what it provides to us. You know, as a social scientist myself, I've always loved the mundane and the engagement with people and lived experience. And what you're saying here is you're really getting at that lived experience historically through music. That's really powerful.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Exactly.
Vincent del Casino: So, what else -- I mean, it obviously tells us about those, but it also tells us about larger social, political, and economic experiences of the time in which the music was produced and so forth, right? You really almost understand Vienna, right, through that music and what it meant, right?
Dr. Erica Buurman: And especially through Beethoven, because Beethoven, I mean, he's this towering cultural figure in Western music, but he lived through such an interesting time. So, the whole of European society was going through this huge change. You had the Napoleonic wars, you had the French Revolution, and questions about what is music for and who is music for, and Beethoven is right at the heart of that. And not only did he live through this amazing time, but he also -- we have just the most incredible documentation of his life. And one of the most famous things about Beethoven is that he was deaf. So, from his kind of late 20s he started to go deaf. So, by the final 10 years or so of his life he was communicating quite frequently in writing.
So, we actually have written conversations that Beethoven had with people. And you're talking about the mundane, you know, about the kind of daily life. Well, that -- I mean, that's a fascinating resource even if it wasn't from Beethoven, you know? So, what are people talking about in the cafe 200 years ago? So, they're talking about the newspaper, daily affairs, that sort of thing. And we have tons of letters from Beethoven. And he was such -- he was, I guess, the first real towering figure in Western music that was kind of famous in his day. So, we have a lot of people's reminiscences and anecdotes and things like that. So, yeah, he's just an incredibly rewarding figure to study from all kinds of angles. So, you can learn about daily life. You can learn about politics, history, European history, and, of course, music just by engaging with what we have from Beethoven.
Vincent del Casino: Well, and it speaks to this like -- I mean, there's an entire field of Beethoven studies. There's journals, right, academic journals around this. And yet, you know, you can almost expect the sort of laypersons' questions like how much more can we really know or excavate from Beethoven and the work that he did?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah, I mean, obviously there's been a huge amount of work done over the past couple of hundred years. But the things that are ongoing, our first start, there's a lot of documentary stuff that people come back to you with different questions every time. So, you know, people go through it the first time and they want to know what was Beethoven doing? What's going on with Beethoven? But now, you know, as music history starts to ask bigger questions, we want to know things like, well, how is he engaging with the commercial world of music at this time when the kind of mass market is starting to come into play? And something that I'm working on right now is the world of ballroom dance, which is not something we normally think of with Beethoven.
But that, for me, gives me another angle. I go in looking through all of his works and I think, well, what was he writing this for? Who is going to dance to this and how -- you know, how often would people hear this music and how often would they hear his symphonies? And then you start to see that daily life in Beethoven's time slightly differently from what we might think, you know, because we know Beethoven. He wrote these incredible symphonies. So, that's what we tend to think of. But actually, those works were not a huge part of the music scene 200 years ago. You know, so the idea that we're piping this music out of YouTube right now is just kind of alien.
Vincent del Casino: Yeah, no, it's really -- and I want to get to that because I think your paper is really interesting. I learned a lot about the sort of what our projection back historically on what a Vienna might've looked like or been like because of Beethoven's elevation is such a monumental figure. And then to have an expert really start to pull apart, well, it's much more complicated than that. And, you know, he was doing great work at the time, but it wasn't the work that necessarily was at the front or the forefront of Viennese society at the moment. So, that is really interesting.
Dr. Erica Buurman: That's true. And that -- the kind of values of what we value of Beethoven also changes over time. So, there are some things that Beethoven worked very hard on that we, as people 200 years later, don't consider to be classical music. So, he wrote some kind of festive pieces that are designed for kind of cheap thrills. And the kind of values around music evolved after Beethoven's lifetime to value some things over than others, and these things have puzzled musicians, you know? You really have to think, if you're going to think historically you've got to think about the actual landscape of the whole music scene rather than just looking at just symphonies or operas or whatever.
Vincent del Casino: Well, and what it suggests, too, is from a theoretical perspective, is Beethoven is constantly being rewritten and reread, right? And, therefore, you know, pulled in to your point, and that's what makes the history interesting, right, is the influence over the centuries and what gets picked up and what doesn't and how it's -- how it's reimagined, right?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Exactly.
Vincent del Casino: So, those influences change over time, is that correct?
Dr. Erica Buurman: That's right, yeah. And actually, for a long time the image of Beethoven got fairly stuck. There's a big mythology that emerged around Beethoven, you know? He's the kind of archetype tortured artist, you know, with this great flaw with this deafness. And so, he got kind of pinned down as this striving, struggling, miserable, bad tempered genius, which there obviously is some truth in because we have a lot of information about his life, but there are also other sides to Beethoven that are not belonging to that myth. So, it's kind of only in the last, I don't know, the last few decades that people have started to try and move away from that myth as being the only representation of this really important time in music history and started trying to see the whole picture.
Vincent del Casino: Well, and, you know, Walter Benjamin is famous to say that history is all about the now as well, right? And so, it often tells us as much about what we're trying to figure out as what we're trying to figure out from Beethoven, right?
Dr. Erica Buurman: That's exactly true. And actually, this is a really interesting time to think about that, because this year, 2020, is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth.
Vincent del Casino: Oh.
Dr. Erica Buurman: So, yeah, all around the world there were huge festivities planned. We, at the Beethoven Center, had a whole series of events planned. And, of course, the pandemic meant that most things didn't happen or they happened in some kind of small online form. So, that's really interesting. But what that has started to make me think about is all the other moments in history when they've commemorated Beethoven. So, the last big one was 1970, and that was kind of Beethoven on a global scale for the first time. So, Beethoven in the Far East has become much more of a phenomenon, especially in the 20th century. And then 100 years ago, 1920, that anniversary doesn't really -- nothing much happened then. And one of the reasons was that Europe and the world was still recovering from the Spanish flu pandemic and stuff wasn't really happening. And, of course, the world -- the First World War as well.
And then 50 years before that, 1870, we've got the cusp of a German unification and the birth of a German nation. And, of course, Beethoven looms huge in German history, so that's their big cultural symbol. So, yeah, it's really kind of interesting just to reflect right now about what have we valued about this particular body of music and this particular cultural figure over the past two centuries, and how are we going to remember this year?
Vincent del Casino: Yeah, no, it is, it's so interesting. So, some of this is caught up in the British broadcasting of the BBC documentary. You were involved in a documentary about Beethoven and his influences. Can you tell us a little bit about that production, it's goals, and what you -- what your contributions were to that?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yes. So, there's a year-long series which is actually still ongoing broadcast by the BBC radio three, which is a classical music station, where every other week there's a week of programs, Monday to Friday, exploring, well, Beethoven. And the composer of the week is the name of the program. And usually there's one composer per week. So, this is basically composer of the year now. And what they've done is created a sort of -- kind of like an audiobook of Beethoven's life and works. So, you've got a bit of history and a bit of music, kind of taking you through.
And then there's also been themes that have been explored about different aspects of Beethoven. So, things to do with performance or things to do with Beethoven himself, you know, as a figure or as a creative mind. And my role in this has been a kind of consultant. I was involved from an early stage about putting the thing together and what do we want to cover and do we want to leave out. And I also did some recordings. Some of them were in Bonn, in Beethoven's birthplace in Germany, which we recorded at the beginning of February when we were still allowed to travel. So, that was really exciting to have done that on location in Beethoven's birth house and looked at some of the items there.
Vincent del Casino: That's really interesting. So, you've taken up a lot then of, you know, obviously with Beethoven as your center focus. And in one of your earlier papers, I think in Arietta, I think that's how you pronounce it, you talk about the influences on Beethoven because, obviously, Beethoven is not in a vacuum, right? He emerges in Vienna at a particular time with a particular scene around him. So, what are some of those early influences on him? And how does the city of itself of Vienna kind of play? It's not just a backdrop, but part of his life that probably influences how his music evolves.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah. I mean, that's -- all of these questions are so interesting when you apply them to Beethoven particularly, just because of the time he lived in. So, his big musical influences were Haydn and Mozart. He were a generation or two generations before him. Actually, Mozart was not that much older than Beethoven, but he died so young that they didn't really have a chance to kind of work together. But Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven are the three big composers we think of as the kind of Vienna school from that time. And they developed the symphony and the string quartet, all of these big, instrumental forms that we still hear on concert programs today. Those guys shaped them to the forms that we now know and understand.
But in terms of Vienna and its influence on Beethoven, I mean the big thing in Beethoven's lifetime was the change in the way people engaged with music. So, this is the beginning of the music publishing industry. So, music becomes a commodity in this period. It's something that you can buy and sell quite cheaply. And the middle classes are on the rise, which seems to happen at every point in history, the middle classes are on the rise. But really, in this -- at this moment you have a lot of people being able to afford to buy stuff. So, culture becomes like an industry and Beethoven is one of the first people to engage with that. And one of the things that does for his music, if you think about Beethoven's symphonies you can pose these works, which are nine symphonies and they're long and they're big. They're much bigger and more grand and kind of serious than Haydn's. Haydn wrote more than 100 symphonies. And the reason is that Beethoven was composing for a ticket paying public. So, when he puts on a symphony, it's like a one-off special thing. He has to pay all this money to hire the orchestra and hire the hall. And if he doesn't make money, it will be expensive.
So, when Beethoven writes a symphony, it's like a real commitment. He'll take six months to do it and it'll be something new and big and special so that people will remember it. But a generation before, they didn't have that kind of market, so that was more, you know, Haydn wrote his symphonies because he had to entertain the prince who was paying his salary. So, he would turn off six symphonies for the season and that would be, you know, the way he engaged with it. So, it's kind of like this combination of the musical influences and the change is in culture and society and politics and economics that kind of are this recipe for Beethoven's music doing what it does.
Vincent del Casino: So, the emergence of the industrial revolution and the production of the mass consumer, society has this profound influence on Beethoven.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah. And, you know, normally we think of --
Vincent del Casino: I had no idea.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah. I mean, normally we think of Beethoven in opposition to mass culture. So, as classical --
Vincent del Casino: Right.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Music he's kind of like the art, you know, he's the big against the commercialization of art. And what you have for the first time with Beethoven is the polarization of cheap stuff and art, which people hadn't really thought of before in terms of music. And Beethoven sort of managed to navigate that market in a way that he was able to do his own thing while still getting the support from the people who had the money and being able to sell his music relatively lightly, some of it. So, you know, I guess, yeah. Sorry.
Vincent del Casino: No, no, no. It's -- I'm just getting really -- it's just so interesting. You know, as a geographer I think of the kind of divisions in the city, the way in which this emerges, the fact that new spaces are going to be opened up for this level of consumption, but then how that plays out against the relations of class politics that's clearly going to be rife. And you talk about in this paper of the connoisseurs and the amateurs, right, and sort of what -- what's so interesting here is, you're making an argument or teaching me that high art had a different sort of sensibility at this period of time, and Moz [phonetic] -- and Beethoven's work might not have centered always in that, right? It might've been be too broad for the -- for the high-end connoisseur, so to speak.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah, it's funny that the sort of -- the real strict divide between this is culture and this is just commercial really came about after Beethoven's death. So, it's sort of later people who kind of appropriated this bit of Beethoven, this is ours, and the rest kind of got forgotten. And there -- you know, and that distinction was obviously there to an extent in Beethoven's lifetime. It's quite clear that this is music that's really serious and this is music that's just for fun. But that kind of value judgment that comes with it was not so polarized then. You know, it's not a contradiction for someone to write the ninth symphony of Beethoven and then also write some little ditties for fun. That kind of didn't trouble people as much in Beethoven's lifetime as it has troubled later generations of music critics [laughter].
Vincent del Casino: But, and so in some ways the shorter symphonies might be followed by other shorter pieces, right, that would make up a show as opposed to the long symphony that was like sort of consistent that Beethoven started to do, if I'm understanding this correctly?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Exactly right. And, you know, the idea now, when you think of a classical music concert with the turn the lights down and everyone listens attentively and you all have to clap in the right place, that's a culture that grew up around a specific idea of what classical music does. So, that again slightly after Beethoven. You know, Beethoven's music is kind of pointing in that direction. But this kind of moral value that is placed on classical music is something that kind of makes you better, you know? If you've seen those CDs that are Mozart for making you smarter and things like that, that's a very specific kind of ideal about what music is for. That didn't exist exactly in that form during Beethoven's lifetime. So, you know, I think it's something really important to think about when we think of how we engage with classical music in a concert hall. That is a kind of artificial culture that has just become solidified since the 19th century, but there are plenty of other ways of engaging with music from that time.
Vincent del Casino: So, you're saying people didn't play Beethoven to their pre-born babies to make them smarter in Vienna in Beethoven's time.
Dr. Erica Buurman: I don't think so, no. I think that's a uniquely -- a uniquely, I guess, late 20th-century phenomenon.
Vincent del Casino: It might be uniquely American as well, I don't really know. But anyway, so, this is really interesting. So, you turn -- you turn then to the paper you wrote on three symphonies in one year. There's an interesting question, because you didn't complete the third, right? Is that correct? And this is sort of an 1812 venture, and it's a pretty bold one, right? But there's also -- it's tied up in who Beethoven is becoming as a person, right, of why he's attempting this project, what it means? So, tell me just a little bit about what the goal -- what his goals were, what he was trying -- or, what we understand he was trying to accomplish with this kind of large adventure, right?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah. So, that paper that I wrote sort of -- it focuses on just what we're talking about now, which is the -- kind of the social and economic factors that Beethoven had to navigate when he was composing. So, the three symphonies were the seventh symphony and eighth symphony of Beethoven, which are two really big works, and a third one. And his plan was to write all of these in one goal and probably put them all in one concert. So, it would be like hello, everyone. Here's my new symphonies. But that didn't pan out, because he wrote number seven and eight and then couldn't get them performed for a couple of years. So, he had spent all of this time, you know, each symphony took him about six months. And while he was writing them he was not selling stuff or performing or making money. So, this is a huge investment.
And actually, for Beethoven, that didn't -- you know, didn't immediately pay off, and then it just happened that he got tons of performances a couple of years later because of some festive things that were happening at the end of the Napoleonic wars. But what that tells you about Beethoven is that he's, you know, having to -- having to kind of respond to the circumstances that are thrown at him and compose, try and balance what he wants to do with what he can actually feasibly do. So, three symphonies in one year was not feasible, so it ended up being two symphonies, two symphonies and some other stuff that he could then sell.
Vincent del Casino: When you talk about that, right, and if you don't mind me quoting yourself back to you, you write the symphony wasn't great -- it was in general decline at the time with limited opportunities. And so, Beethoven could expect far greater financial returns from composing sonatas and other chamber work. So, Vienna was changing in its consumptive habits in music at this point. And he was struggling, it sounds like, with his passion and what he wanted to produce, but the realities of having to make a living and being, you know, maintain his lifestyle within the context of Vienna.
Dr. Erica Buurman: That's exactly right. And the symphony being in decline is because who is paying for music is changing at this time. So, previously rich aristocrats tended to have their own orchestra. So, that would be part of their household would be the musicians and music would be part of their kind of culture that they're cultivating. It's like a status symbol to be cultivating art. Kind of like commissioning things now. And that changed partly because of general society and culture changing. So, you have the French Revolution and suddenly the aristocrats [audio skip] so music becomes more like a commercial enterprise and, actually, the middle classes and people who don't have their own orchestra but still engage with music have a bigger role in shaping what composers do, because composers have to respond in some way to who's paying for what they're doing. So, that's why Beethoven wrote fewer symphonies, because he didn't have someone who wanted a symphony every week. But when he wrote them, they were bigger and longer and more, obviously, for a concert. You know, this is for people to pay money to come and see.
Vincent del Casino: So, it's so interesting. You think about the print culture emerging and music, but music didn't require a certain level of literacy, right? So, it had an accessibility that printing presses and the -- and the ability to print words and mass communicate that way still had a whole educational system, right, that was needed. But what's interesting here as well is the intersection with Beethoven's personal life which you sketch out, because the symphonies are probably more appealing to him because of his on -- his ongoing lack of ability to hear, right? He eventually becomes completely deaf, I believe. So, how -- why is the symphony kind of a helpful space for him relative to his own deafness?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Well, the symphony became his main way of communicating with audiences when he couldn't play anymore. We think of Beethoven as a composer, but actually he was equally a pianist. And in his early years, he was a performer composer. So, he would compose works and he would also perform them. And the big work for him was the piano concerto, because that was way of him showing off not only how great he is at composing, but also how great he is at performing. And so, that's a much more personal kind of involvement with the music. But when he couldn't perform anymore, he was no longer able to participate in the concert so all of the kind of compositional energy then went into the symphonies, which, you know, he may attempt to conduct, but really he's not making the music, he's composing it for other people to perform.
Vincent del Casino: Yeah, that is -- that is really interesting. But he probably -- I mean, obviously heard it in his head as he put it together, but he wasn't able to produce it in a way, right? That is so interesting. So, I want to -- I guess I want -- I don't know if it's a gearshift, but I want to get to the book project, because I love this opening chapter. Thank you for sharing it with me. So --
Dr. Erica Buurman: Oh, thank you.
Vincent del Casino: The title of the book is The Viennese Ballroom and the Age of Beethoven. And I'm going to have to tell you, it's not -- naturally, I would have went huh. I don't know if that's the -- but I'm so glad I'm reading this, because I just found it really compelling and really interesting, again because of just my fascination -- my fascination with the mundane and the everyday and the way in which this works. And you write, while Beethoven's work have traditionally been the standard reference point for the studies of Viennese musical culture, this book adds to a growing body of scholarship that seeks to position his career within the wider landscape of Viennese musicmaking. For you, what is musicmaking and how is that different from or related to music?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Well, for me, the differences is, what are people most likely to hear on a daily basis? So, are they most likely to hear the Beethoven works that we know now? So, when we think of the Viennese classical period, we think Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn. But that's just a relatively small portion of the music that was being performed and composed then. And the ballroom was just completely at the center of Viennese social life. So, the Viennese ballroom is the kind of 19th century ballroom, right? It's the main influence on ballroom dancing, the Viennese waltz, [inaudible], polkas, and waltzes, that's all from Vienna. And so, yes, you know, most people engage with music, but everyone danced. So, everyone from all classes, the ballroom was in some way a part of their social life. So, all of the music and the ballroom is, you know, much more present in this sort of sound world of Beethoven's Vienna than his symphonies, which might get performed only a handful of times during his whole lifetime.
So, what's really interesting about this music is that most of it now is completely forgotten, but it had a really big influence on the music we have from Beethoven and Mozart and Haydn. A lot of this music has references to dance in it. And so, that's kind of, you know, helps us to understand where that comes from and just to think about what Vienna sounded like. The thing that has really brought us to life for me is that on my street here in San Jose there's an ice cream truck that goes through the neighborhood that one of the tunes it plays is, I couldn't believe it when I first heard it, a really obscure ballroom dance by Mozart from 1791 that I wouldn't have known until I started working on this book, even though I'm, you know, I'm a specialist in classical music. But it's obscure even for classical music specialists. And so, probably nobody else in the neighborhood knows or cares who this melody is by, but the fact is it's there. It's part of what we hear. And that's just amazing that survived more than two centuries and crossed the Atlantic somehow. You know, who knows how it ended up in the ice cream truck repertoire.
Vincent del Casino: Yeah, no, for sure. Well, what's so interesting about this, again, like is at this point of mass consumption, the ability to -- you talk about where is the ballroom? How do we locate it, right? And you say many of the city's ballrooms were restaurants and coffee houses, right? They were -- they were simultaneously -- there were multiple sites to people. And so, it democratized, in some way, the access to this music, and also to the dance itself, right?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Absolutely. And I think the fact that these social spaces, which were needed, the coffee house was kind of new. The pub -- you know, the public place where you go and sit and you read the paper and you chat and you spend money was still relatively new thing. And the ballroom only started in the 1770s as a public thing. So, there was a real, okay, now you can sell tickets to -- for dance. And that culture just kind of exploded during Beethoven's lifetime. So, there -- initially, there's five ballrooms. And by the 1820s, there's 50, between 50 and 100. And all of these are playing music as part of their background and part of the fabric all the time. So, you just -- you can't escape -- you can't escape dance music. It's everywhere, more -- you know, more than any other kind of music in that -- in that time. You know, when you think now when you go into shops or you watch TV, there's music there. And so, the equivalent of that in Beethoven's lifetime is really this dance music.
Vincent del Casino: But it's so interesting because, you know, and yet as you mentioned, this music has been so marginal relative to the [inaudible]. Like it shows up in places that you don't expect it and you hear it and all of a sudden go, I can't believe I'm hearing that an d I would've not recognize it. It's almost too mundane. Or, you touch -- you touched on this in the -- in the opening chapter of the book, that it also may have to do with the discipline zone, or lack of interest in the body and the kind of daily comportment of the body. So, how do theories of embodiment and physicality play into your kind of now renewed passion for this dance music and its meaning in everyday life?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Well, this sort of ties in with what we were talking about earlier about this sort of code around classical music, which is that you sit in silence and you don't move and you engage with it that way. And that's a very 19th century idealistic way of thinking about music, which is that it's this intellectual exercise. And so, all of your activities are happening intellectually, not physically. And there was even -- I mean, there's influential writers on music in the 19th century who actually said music that makes you dance is kind of morally -- it's like base impulses. It's like, you know, that's what savages and animals do, you know? So, any child will respond to music that way, but it takes a real cultured mind to respond to music intellectually.
So, thinking about this music as dance music sort of really challenges, that especially as this dance idea is so present in the classical masterworks that people listen to in the concert hall with this kind of serious attention. And, you know, it's really kind of eye-opening to start engage more with the physical side. And imagine listening to this music as someone who just has been to a ball and feels the steps and responds to the music as dance, you know, doesn't just hear the ribbons, but actually feels what it feels like to dance. And actually, it's a different way of engaging with music. It's another layer. It's like adding a new dimension, like extra colors or whatever.
Yeah, it's been really eye-opening for me. And one of the most fun things has been learning to do some of these dances and going to the ballroom, and understanding what it feels like to then dance to music that you're familiar with from another context. And it just -- it adds to the whole experience. You know, the movement and the listening kind of happen at the same time. And it's -- yeah, it's great.
Vincent del Casino: It's that intersection of the effective and the emotional and the haptic and the tactile. You know, there's touch and there's things that many scholars have felt uncomfortable for centuries to talk about. It's only been in the last 40, 50 years with the emergence of feminist and so forth that people are even willing to engage these sorts of things. But to your point of how things [audio skip] up and taken up at particular points in time, we're in a moment in time and space where we're finally comfortable enough to at least have conversations about the bodily, about [audio skip], about, you know, the more emotional kind of connectivity that we have that was essential to everyday life here in Vienna, right, during this period of time.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Exactly. And essential to Vienna in the later 19th century, which is really the Vienna of the waltz. Johann Strauss is the kind of pioneer of popular music. He's been described as the first kind of global popular music phenomenon. So, you know, people have been more comfortable applying it to that world, because that very clearly belongs to commercial music. But people have been less comfortable about thinking of the Viennese classics by Mozart. Beethoven is engaging with that same world of the body and the entertainment and the, you know, the fun, which is what dance is. It's fun.
Vincent del Casino: It is fun. It's meant to -- yeah, it's meant to create connection and community and all those things. Well, by the way, you are an absolutely beautiful writer. So, I'm sure the rest -- I can't wait for the rest the book, because I --
Dr. Erica Buurman: Oh, thank you.
Vincent del Casino: You can -- you really grip people. You bring them into the story in a way. And there's a theoretic sort of power to the work that I'm just I'm finding really interesting. So, I'm definitely looking for -- I want to shift gears one more time, because you are in this amazing center, you know, with all this stuff around you. And it's -- and it's cool stuff. And I like to use the word stuff because there's just so much of it. Can you just tell us a little about the center? Like what kind of objects you have, how you curate that, you know, who has access to it? It's just generally interesting that -- what a pleasure for us to have something like that at San Jose, and then to have a scholar of your caliber working with it. Just, you know, walk us through.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Sure. I mean, the kernel of the collection was the private collection of Ira. F. Brilliant. When he donated his collection to San Jose State, it was around -- between 70 and 80 first editions, first addition prints of Beethoven's music which, you know, have value and they're just like the first editions of other literary works. And that collection of 75 items is now over 30,000 items and objects of different kinds. So, this collection is being constantly expanded since the 1980s. So, an almost complete collection of the first and early editions of Beethoven's music. Some manuscript materials. So, we have things in Beethoven's own handwriting. Plenty of images, which is great for me as a historian, because it brings to life the world that Beethoven lived in and the places he saw and the places he lived. And then this fabulous collection of historic keyboard instruments, which bring to life the sound world of Beethoven's day. So, we can hear Beethoven's music on the instrument that he composed it for, which is kind of eye-opening, or rather, ear-opening for a lot of people as well. And it's open to the public. We always have items on display that people can look. And we kind of circulate them in and out of the vault. And we do different exhibitions a couple of times a year so that people can come and look and see what we have.
Vincent del Casino: And you get to play those really cool pianos, too, don't you?
Dr. Erica Buurman: Yeah, and so do visitors. They're there to be played. So, we have a couple of original instruments, which are two centuries old which we try and protect, so we don't let kids bang on them. But we will happily demonstrate them for people. So, and we have replicas that people are allowed to play as well. So, yeah, so that's what I love about the center is it's kind of hands-on. You know, it's not just things that you're not allowed to touch. But it's actually come and -- come and play, come and try, which is what music should be, I think.
Vincent del Casino: Well, and it must be so cool, because you must get connected to scholars across the globe on a daily basis who are not only interested in the virtual collection, but kind of what, you know -- has most of it been digitized so it is available? You know, how is it accessed?
Dr. Erica Buurman: So, we are -- we do have a substantial digital collection, which is always growing. We haven't digitized everything. I think that would take years. But we're really doing what we can. So, sometimes people request specific things that we have and then we try and make sure that they're digitized. And these are all available through our website for people to scan and browse. And, yeah, it's true that there's people all over the world that connect with us, especially scholars. But what I love is connecting with the non-scholars, because the center is ultimately public facing. And, you know, often in a university you just talk to other scholars and you're writing for other scholars and you sort of forget that there's people out there who actually like music and care about Beethoven, you know, because they're passionate about it. So, for me, coming face-to-face with that enthusiasm on a regular basis is just one the joys working there.
Vincent del Casino: Oh yeah, no, it sounds -- it sounds -- and it's located in that beautiful King Library. So, you know, it's a really nice space. Erica, I think I could talk to you for hours about this subject. Really interesting. And I'm so glad you're able to share your work with me and take time to have this converse. You know, I think the center is a really unique asset that the institution has, but it's brought to life by the work of you and others who do it. So, I'm just excited to have you as a colleague and really appreciate that you've taken [inaudible] with me and teach me about things we can learn about Beethoven in Beethoven's studies. So, thanks so much.
Dr. Erica Buurman: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
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