Beethoven after Napoleon: Political Romanticism in the Late Works

Beethoven after Napoleon: Political Romanticism in the Late Works

Beethoven after Napoleon: Political Romanticism in the Late Works

Beethoven after Napoleon: Political Romanticism in the Late Works

Synopsis

"A brilliant and unfailingly provocative reading of Beethoven's music. Rumph challenges and refines our views of the subject, reinterpreting overly familiar music in striking new ways. Wonderful critical and interpretive observations abound; the author writes with great imagination and flair."--Scott Burnham, author of "Beethoven Hero

"Rumph shows at last the extent to which Beethoven's late period, the period of his most spiritual and "inward" music, was a response to political change. In effect his book is an extended retort to E. T. A. Hoffmann's two-centuries-old claim that Beethoven's kingdom was not of this world--and it's about time! Rumph's argument will be resisted by Hoffmann's many heirs; but it is most compelling, not least because it answers so many long-standing questions about "the music itself" and clears up so many misconceptions about the nature of musical romanticism."--Richard Taruskin, Class of 1955 Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley

Excerpt

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 than Fidelio (née Leonore), 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 from the French Revolution; and there remains, of course, the famous and problematic relationship of the symphony to Napoleon. In an entirely different vein come such ephemera as the Ritterballett, assorted patriotic songs, and the marches for various national militias. The biographer, unlike the critic, cannot fail to mention Wellingtons Sieg and the choral extravaganzas for the Congress of Vienna, works that, however trivial in modern estimation, swept Beethoven to a pinnacle of acclaim unsurpassed within his own lifetime. To this list we may also add the second Bonn cantata in honor of Leopold II; the incidental music to Egmont, König Stephan, and Die Ruinen von Athen; and the aesthetic utopias of Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus and the Choral Fantasy. Clearly, if we want to understand this music we need to learn something about the composer's politics. A political study of Beethoven can scarcely be regarded as a curiosity for interdisciplinary studies: it belongs squarely within musical criticism, alongside biography, sketch studies, and formal analysis.

The political note in Beethoven's music echoes the cataclysmic times in which he lived. Beethoven was eighteen when the Bastille fell. For the next . . .

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