Imagine being in nineteenth century Europe. Imagine walking on a city street and hearing people complain about the smell and dirty drinking water. Imagine coughing because of the dusty air.
While we can only imagine that experience, German classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven saw the reality of pollution and environmental degradation by living, working and travelling in cities during the inception of modern times.
Perhaps because of this, Beethoven used to regularly flee to the unspoiled countryside to relax and gain inspiration for his majestic works. He loved nature to such an extent that he celebrated it through an entire composition: his Sixth Symphony, also known as the Pastoral.
The Pastoral is a work in five movements that sonically depicts an awakening countryside where peasants enjoy their free time and play by a brook. A storm suddenly breaks out and ruins the joyful celebrations, but fortunately, it does not last long and the symphony ends with a restored cheerful mood.
The Pastoral expresses the importance of nature and the emotions it evokes through the language of music, appealing to emotion rather than only logic. Transcending language, social and geographical barriers with an easily accessible message was perhaps one of Beethoven’s most brilliant abilities.
Of course, Beethoven could not foresee that the relationships between humans and nature would change so profoundly in the coming decades. Today, the Pastoral embodies a modern political message for environmental protection. The cheerful movements celebrate communities reconnecting with nature, while the storm relates to environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and the consequences of nature’s destruction. The end of the storm sends a message of hope for the future.
Reconnecting with nature through Beethoven’s Pastoral
This World Environment Day, the Beethoven Pastoral project is aiming to draw on Beethoven’s message to bridge the gap from inspiration to reality.
Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of Bonn and ICLEI President
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, which today is not only the City of Beethoven but also the seat of the UN Climate Change Secretariat and the ICLEI World Secretariat.
Celebrating Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, the City of Bonn is elevating his iconic musical ode to the beauty of nature as a call to action to tackle environmental degradation. Guided by the theme ‘living in harmony with nature’, the Beethoven Pastoral Project represents an opportunity to use the power of music to virtually mobilize people in an optimistic and engaging way.
On World Environment Day (5 June 2020), artists from all over the world will unite online in a shared statement for climate protection in the spirit of Beethoven’s Pastoral. The high-calibre virtual event will be streamed live from Beethoven’s birthplace, the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.
Prominent guests such as star violinist Daniel Hope, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa, Bonn Mayor and ICLEI President Ashok Sridharan and Bonn’s general music director Dirk Kaftan will discuss climate change and artists committing themselves to climate protection. The São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, in Brazil, will participate with a concert to protect the suffering Amazon forest, while in Australia, the Melbourne Symphony is fighting the consequences of the bush fires that broke out in spring.
This “Pastoral Day” will also serve for the launch of a one-of-a-kind, global Artists Declaration to promote and inspire stronger action to safeguard our planet, and commits those who sign to be part of the solution. The Declaration will be presented to the world’s governments by Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations and Patron of the project.
“Delivering a better, more sustainable and climate-secure world for billions of people will require creativity at all levels of society. Some will be moved to act by science, economics or human suffering. The Beethoven Pastoral Project, an initiative of artists and activists, will instead use the power of music and an iconic global genius to mobilize leaders and public alike.”
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Cultural and environmental organizations such as Pathway to Paris, the Climate Heritage Network and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) have immediately lent their support to the declaration. Cities are also increasingly committing to embrace and protect urban nature. Montréal, Canada, is championing biodiversity protection with Mayor Valérie Plante serving as ICLEI Global Ambassador for Sustainability for the CitiesWithNature platform. At the same time, many Mayors and Councillors around the world have already embraced the Artist Declaration: From Izmir to Mexico City, from Melbourne to Turku, cities are recognizing the importance of arts and culture in building sustainability, especially when localizing climate action efforts.
Cities are also highlighting the power of culture for environmental benefits in their collaborations and international engagements. In the run up to COP26, the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency aims to expand the climate negotiations’ existing collaborations to include cultural stakeholders such as Ministries of Culture, Education, Family, Youth, and Art.
“The 1.5°C and climate neutrality goals of the Paris Agreement require a new approach to climate action and a new way to design and live in our cities. We must preserve our cultural heritage as we build a new world that connects communities to each other and to nature. We need hearts and minds to work together and ICLEI is committed to the Pastoral Artists Declaration as it plays an important role in connecting art, music and cultural heritage communities to secure their active engagement in raising climate ambition and accelerating action.”
Yunus Arikan, Head of Global Advocacy at ICLEI World Secretariat
Today more than ever, communities need to reconnect with nature; art and culture can help citizens and communities navigate the first steps in this journey.