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Beethoven after Napoleon

Beethoven after Napoleon: Political Romanticism in the Late Works

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Beethoven after Napoleon
    Book Description:

    In this provocative analysis of Beethoven's late style, Stephen Rumph demonstrates how deeply political events shaped the composer's music, from his early enthusiasm for the French Revolution to his later entrenchment during the Napoleonic era. Impressive in its breadth of research as well as for its devotion to interdisciplinary work in music history,Beethoven after Napoleonchallenges accepted views by illustrating the influence of German Romantic political thought in the formation of the artist's mature style. Beethoven's political views, Rumph argues, were not quite as liberal as many have assumed. While scholars agree that the works of the Napoleonic era such as theEroicaSymphony orFidelioembody enlightened, revolutionary ideals of progress, freedom, and humanism, Beethoven's later works have attracted less political commentary. Rumph contends that the later works show clear affinities with a native German ideology that exalted history, religion, and the organic totality of state and society. He claims that as the Napoleonic Wars plunged Europe into political and economic turmoil, Beethoven's growing antipathy to the French mirrored the experience of his Romantic contemporaries. Rumph maintains that Beethoven's turn inward is no pessimistic retreat but a positive affirmation of new conservative ideals.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93012-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Beethoven was a political composer. Like few other musicians in the Western canon, he stubbornly dedicated his art to the problems of human freedom, justice, progress, and community. Beethoven found his voice in Bonn with a cantata memorializing the enlightened reforms of Joseph II, and he crowned his public career in Vienna with the Ninth Symphony’s hymn to universal brotherhood. No intervening work drew more labor or revisions from him thanFidelio(néeLeonore), the first political opera to remain in the permanent repertory. The Third Symphony, probably Beethoven’s most influential work, centers around a funeral march evoking patriotic ceremonies...

  5. 1 A Kingdom Not of This World
    (pp. 9-34)

    This passage could head all E. T. A. Hoffmann’s writings on music. In story, novella, essay, and review he championed the unique status of his beloved art. Music alone, claimed Hoffmann, slipped the shackles of imitation that bound the other arts to nature, the world of the senses. Such abstraction, however, did not render music mute. The most purely spiritual art, music soared above physical reality to express a realm of metaphysical experience. As the allusion to John’s gospel indicates, Hoffmann credited music with religious revelation—and the composer with a messianic calling. Hoffmann did not labor in vain. Perhaps...

  6. 2 The Heroic Sublime
    (pp. 35-57)

    While Hoffmann and Beethoven may have reached a common destination, they started from distant origins. Beethoven grew up in Bonn, a hub of enlightened thought ruled by the brother of Joseph II. His companions included intellectuals from the newly founded university, a forum for the most liberal strains of philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence (where Beethoven enrolled briefly in 1789). He associated with a progressiveLesegesellschaft,or reading society, whose members included his patron Count Waldstein, as well as his teacher Christian Gottlob Neefe, himself a member of the free-thinkingOrden der Illuminaten.On a commission from theLesegesellschaftBeethoven composed...

  7. 3 Promethean History
    (pp. 58-91)

    The touchstone for Beethoven’s early ideology remains theEroicaSymphony, namesake and glory of the heroic style. A host of political interpretations has marched alongside the Third Symphony for nearly two centuries now. Each generation, from Beethoven’s age to our own, has wrung new meanings out of the Napoleonic dedication, the French Revolutionary march, and the “heroic” title. The critic who would join this long parade might well despair of finding any unturned stone, any unbeaten path. Yet one source seems to have escaped attention, a related work that at first seems wholly removed from political concerns—the Sixth Symphony....

  8. 4 1809
    (pp. 92-108)

    Beethoven’s critics have always felt a peculiar need to sort his works chronologically. So reflexive has thisPeriodentriebbecome that Maynard Solomon felt moved to caution that Beethoven’s works are “a single oeuvre, which we segment out of a penchant for classification, a need to clarify—and at our peril.”¹ Nevertheless, periodization has eased the approach to Beethoven’s baffling music and has stimulated continuing insights as critics have grappled with the inherited models. The real peril perhaps may be that critics will grow complacent and stop seeking new methods of taxonomy.

    There is nothing complacent about Giorgio Pestelli’s startling schema...

  9. 5 Contrapunctus I: Prelude and Fugue
    (pp. 109-132)

    In March 1819 Karl Sand, a delusional theology student and member of the radicalBurschenschaftmovement, stabbed to death the conservative playwright and former Tsarist agent August von Kotzebue. The assassination of Kotzebue (for whose playsDie Ruinen von AthenandKönig StephanBeethoven had supplied incidental music), prompted the Karlsbad Decrees, which severely curtailed political expression throughout the GermanicStaatenbund.The following year Friedrich Schlegel published the first installment of “Signatur des Zeitalters,” a rambling political essay that ran in Vienna over the course of three years. Schlegel had many years before converted to Catholicism and settled in the...

  10. 6 Contrapunctus II: Double Fugue
    (pp. 133-155)

    No contrapuntal form fascinated Beethoven more during the 1820s than double fugue. The monumental Et vitam venturi from theMissa solemnistakes this form, as does the concluding fugue of theDiabelli Variations,the fugato in the development of op. 111, both fugatos in the Ninth Symphony finale, the overture toDie Weihe des Hauses,and the final statement of theHeiliger Dankgesang.Crowning this formidable series comes theGrosse Fuge,the most ambitious of all Beethoven’s contrapuntal essays.

    In double fugue Beethoven found a nexus for his peculiar contrapuntal concerns. All the principles he had explored in the “prelude”...

  11. 7 Androgynous Utopias
    (pp. 156-194)

    Any political study of Beethoven’s late works must eventually confront the Ninth Symphony finale. The task is daunting. A mountain of analysis, interpretation, and plain speculation has accumulated around this fearsomely contemplated movement. The ascent begins (to take only a modern sampling) with Schenker, Baensch, and Tovey; continues with Sanders, Treitler, Solomon, Levy, Winter, Cook, and Tusa; and reaches a dizzying peak in the metacritical survey of James Webster, whose byzantine tables call to mind Kant’s mathematical sublime.¹ Of the making of books about the Ninth Symphony there is no end; but is there anything new under the sun?


  12. 8 Vox Populi, Vox Dei
    (pp. 195-221)

    Vox populi, vox dei.I never believed it.” So Beethoven is said to have remarked a few weeks before his death.¹ The comment probably reveals little about his political outlook. Beethoven was actually venting his frustration about Italian opera, not politics. Such isolated remarks dot his letters, sketchbooks, and conversation books, furnishing a ready arsenal to pundits of every stripe. Still, the Latin proverb evokes a tantalizingly musical metaphor—voice. Voice has indeed emerged as a major topic of late Beethoven criticism, a topic tinged with political meanings. We might do worse than take Beethoven’s words at their most literal...

  13. 9 A Modernist Epilogue
    (pp. 222-246)

    This study ends where it began, amid the pages of musical criticism. This is a fitting homage to a lively and creative tradition. For two centuries the evolving image of Beethoven has taken shape in the passionate echolalia of critical prose, no less than in the concert hall, the classroom, or the sculptor’s studio. E. T. A. Hoffmann stands at the head of this line as its first great genius. His reviews and literary rhapsodies translated the heroic style into Romantic terms, bequeathing the nineteenth century a compelling portrait of Beethoven as mystic visionary and conquistador of the spirit world....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 247-266)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 267-278)
  16. Index
    (pp. 279-295)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)