Beethoven made instrumental music seem to matter as it had not before. Charles Ives interpreted the “oracle” at the beginning of the Fifth Symphony as “the soul of humanity at the door of the divine mysteries, radiant in the faith that it will be opened – and the human become the divine,” because the music apparently struck him, as it has many of the rest of us, with the vividness of revelation. Like the opening of the Fifth Symphony, the fusion of introduction and first theme in the Ninth, the point of recapitulation in the Eroica, and the interconnectedness of the C# minor quartet all have an aura of compelling significance. Ives chose to claim a portion of Beethovenian grandeur for American culture and himself by placing the Fifth Symphony's motto at the center of a theme in the Concord Sonata. And, indeed, much of music history after Beethoven reads as a series of engagements – aggressive, inspired, ironic, elegiac – with his greatness and the potential that he had revealed.
A new world of sound and a new subjectivity
Richard Wagner's reactions to Beethoven, voluminously documented in his own writings and in the recollections of his associates, exposed a number of key themes in the reception of Beethoven and his music; his observations will therefore serve as an occasional guide in this survey. Wagner attributed his very awakening as a musician to the Ninth Symphony: “I was struck at once, as if by force of destiny, with the long-sustained perfect fifths with which the first movement begins: these sounds, which played such a spectral role in my earliest impressions of music, came to me as the ghostly fundamental of my own life.”