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4 - Beethoven and the Heroic Thing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2021

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Summary

CRITICAL VIEWS ON BEETHOVEN's heroic style can be roughly split into two traditions. The first, classic, view states that certain elements of Beethoven's heroic style can be traced to music composed in France in the wake of the French Revolution. But in the last two decades, in contrast, scholars such as Stephen Rumph and Nicholas Mathew have argued that neither Beethoven's politics nor his music can be so easily linked to the French Revolution. They argue that his works should instead be situated in the context of more conservative German responses, and that we should be paying more attention to his occasional works such as Wellingtons Sieg rather than focusing just on canonic works such as the Third Symphony. I shall return to this revisionist account, but will start with the classic tradition.

The evidence of revolutionary influence on the heroic style is extremely substantial. Maynard Solomon writes that:

The influence of French Revolutionary music on Beethoven was no secret to his contemporaries and early admirers. Beethoven's most brilliant critic, E. T. A. Hoffmann, pointed to Cherubini's presence in the Overture to Coriolan; another German music critic, Amadeus Wendt, likewise heard echoes of Cherubini in the Leonore Overture; and Robert Schumann recognized the influence of Méhul's Symphony in G minor on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. That Fidelio was adapted from a French post-Revolutionary opera subject and that the opera was a German example of French ‘rescue opera’ has long been known. But it took the researches of twentieth-century scholars – Hermann Kretzschmar, Ernst Bücken, Hugo Botstiber, Adolf Sandberger, Ludwig Schiedermair, Arnold Schmitz, Alfred Einstein, Boris Schwarz, and others – to establish and trace in some detail the breadth of these influences in the formation of Beethoven's post-1800 style. For example, Schmitz unearthed many examples of parallels between Beethoven's music and the works of Gossec, Grétry, Kreutzer, Berton, Méhul, Catel, and Cherubini and […] documented the use of French material in such works as Beethoven's First, Fifth, and Seventh Symphonies, the Egmont and Leonore overtures, the ‘Funeral March’ Sonata, op. 26, and the Violin Sonata, op. 30, no. 2 (Solomon 1977, 138).

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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