Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2021
MUSIC HISTORY SINCE 1789 is a series of footnotes to Beethoven, and in some respects this book simply adds to their number. The chapters that follow offer a new theory of music historiography, one that builds on antagonistic interpretations of Beethoven, and then instantiate this critically and analytically grounded historical theory in a sequence of essays on Beethoven.
It is a truth universally acknowledged by concertgoers and listeners at home that Beethoven's music was a significant event in the history of human art, comparable to the work of Homer, Dante, or Shakespeare. It may surprise such people, whose views must be taken to be overwhelmingly the majority, democratic view on classical music, that many musicologists would consider their Ludwigolatry ‘problematic’, ‘Eurocentric’, ‘tediously canonical’, and ‘elitist’. As a member of the band of elite consumers of classical music, there is a considerable irony, as well as an abundant lack of humility, in the fact that so much as one musicologist could hold such jaundiced views of the general population, but this is the world we inhabit. The author of a recent study, Beethoven: The Relentless Revolutionary, who has (from one musicological perspective) the brazen gall to argue for a political as well as a musical revolutionary quality – i.e. an anti-elitist, progressive quality – to Beethoven's music writes apologetically, ‘as must surely be evident by now, I am not a musicologist’, and while ‘I hope this study will be of interest to music professionals, I have presented my perspective on Beethoven so as to be accessible to lay readers’ (Clubbe 2019, xviii). Such is the anxiety this discipline of musicology causes among the scholarly population.
I am utterly at ease with calling artists like Beethoven ‘geniuses’, and enjoying with the rest of classical-music-loving humanity the ‘transcendent’ experience that his and other composers’ music can bring. Such reprobate behaviour befits my station as a low-born scion of a family in which only three men (I am the third) who have lived since the premiere of the ‘Eroica’ Symphony were not coal or tin miners.