BeethovenA Political Artist in Revolutionary Times

BeethovenA Political Artist in Revolutionary Times

William Kinderman

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226669052

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book explores the animating presence of the political in almost every aspect of Beethoven's life, work, and legacy. Beethoven was a civically engaged thinker confronted with severe challenges. Inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment at Bonn and of the French Revolution, Beethoven experienced the reactionary turn of politics in Austria after 1792, disappointment with Napoleon Bonaparte, recurrent war and the repression of the Metternich era. Many new sources are assessed in this reevaluation of Beethoven as a competitor to Napoleon in the cultural sphere, a "Generalissimo" in the world of tones who fashioned Schillerian "effigies of the ideal" in his compositions. Works such as the Pathétique and Appassionata, the Eroica, Fidelio and Ninth Symphony reflect Beethoven's response to the political turbulence of his time, embracing a moral force that strongly resonates in our own troubled political times. The Fifth Symphony helped galvanize resistance to fascism, the Sixth has energized the environmental movement. During the Congress of Vienna, on the other hand, Beethoven sought a different approach, as a pioneer of kitsch, writing for the occasion rather than seeking to promote an "empire of the mind or spirit." His "Flea Song" based on Goethe's Faust shows Beethoven as master of political satire, whose art has lost none of its bite in the 21st century. Assessment of the worldwide reception of the Ninth Symphony, with examples from Asia and Africa, South America and Europe, demonstrate how Beethoven's music today is more relevant than ever before, inspiring activists around the globe.