The Mask of Beethoven Brutus, Revolution, and the Egyptian Mysteries

Article excerpt

Rekindle the heroic memory of rhe Greeks and Brutus.

- François-Joseph Gossec, Le Triomphe de In République1

Tyrants conduct monologues above a million solitudes.

- Albert Camus, The Rebel

Now that I am old and there cannot be much time reserved for me, I find that such energy and strength that is left to me must be directed exclusively to Beethoven. OFaIl the composers of the past, he alone remains unfathomable to me.

- Romain Rolland -

I. Introduction

Beethoven, like Freud a century later, was an avid collector.3 Freud accumulated thousands of artifacts, but Beethoven in the end had only a few because, unlike Freud, he changed residences conscantlyl. Whereas Freud retained his collection until his death, most of what Beethoven collected disappeared over the years."1 Some or the survivors - a candleholder, bronze paperweights, a clock, a small bell - we might consider among the normal accoucerments for daily living. But two of them are of a different order. One is a statuette ot Brutus. As Freud cherished his ancient figurines and arranged them carefully before him in his office, in London as in Vienna, so Beethoven kept his Brutus before him on his work desk. The other survivor of interest on that desk is a sheet of paper on which he copied out three sayings taken from an essay by Friedrich Schiller that discusses the Egyptian mysteries, "Die Sendung Moses" (''The Mission of Moses"). Like the Brutus statuette, the saying must have been seen daily and their implications pondered by Beethoven. The remarkable longevity of the tiny statuette and the three Egyptian sayings in the chaos of the volatile Beethoven household, indeed their sheer survival, suggests that the composer treasured them dearly. But why, we may ask, ot all possible objects, did he place on his desk a statuette of Brutus and three mysterious sayings out of ancient Egypt? Do these two artifacts relate to each other? And what, singly or together, can they tell us about Beethoven and his art?

II. The Historical Brutus

I begin with Brutus. If you visit the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, you will find the small figurine of Brutus in a display case on rhe top floor. Most visitors, if they notice it at all, pass by quickly.1 But this tiny statue, only six-and-a-half inches tall, deserves more attention than it usually receives. But who was this Brutus? There are two candidates.

Most people today, when they hear the name Brutus, think of Marcus Tullius Brutus, the first century B.C.E. Roman who, along with Cassius, plotted the assassination of Caesar and subsequendy achieved immortality in the T,t tu. Brute" of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar!3 This Brutus believed that by eliminating Caesar he could keep the Roman Republic alive. He is the same Brutus who lies encased Ui ice in die bottommost circle of Dante's Inferno. Today he is the better-known Brutus, the Brutus whom. most Beethoven scholars, if they mention the statuette at all - and most do not - assume it represents.'

Beethoven knew about Marcus Tullius, but he is neither the Brutus of the statuette nor the Brutus who captured his imagination.^ The statuette is of Lucius Junius Brutus. Some tìve hundred years before Caesar's Brutus, this Brutus led a successful overthrow of theTarquinian dynasty of Rome. A composite picture of his deeds and bei ng emerges chiefly from Livy and Plutarch, as well as from other classical sources, many of which Beethoven., a student of history no less than of humanity, would likely have known well.9 During the early years of die French Revolution, Lucius |unius Brutus was far and away the better-known Brutus, his name on everyone's lips.

The story of Lucius Junius Brutus had riveted artists and writers since the Renaissance. It must have also riveted Beethoven. Btucuss uncle, uSe tyrannical king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus (the Proud), had murdered the previous king (his new wife's father), a number of senators, and most of Brutussown family, including his father and brother. …