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BeethovenA Political Artist in Revolutionary Times$
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William Kinderman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226669052

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226669199.001.0001

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A Tale of Two Cities: Bonn to Vienna

A Tale of Two Cities: Bonn to Vienna

(p.3) Chapter I A Tale of Two Cities: Bonn to Vienna

William Kinderman

University of Chicago Press

Beethoven's life showed uncanny timing in the way it intersected with some of the most turbulent events in European history: the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, Napoleon's rise and fall. The young composer was steeped in progressive political currents present in the Rhineland during the 1780s, and was influenced as well by the plays, poetry, and ideas of Schiller. An underestimated influence on the young Beethoven was Eulogius Schneider, who became a revolutionary and perished on the guillotine. Once he arrived in Vienna, Beethoven witnessed the reactionary politics of Emperor Franz, nephew of Marie Antoinette, who was guillotined in 1793. The period of polarized politics in Europe after 1789 is comparable in some respects to that of modern politics after 1989, when the collapse of the Soviet empire encouraged false optimism about an imminent age of democracy. This political context—and the cultural embrace of Schiller's "effigy of the ideal"—molded Beethoven's artistic strategies, as is already reflected in works like his Joseph Cantata, themes from which were reused in his highly political opera Fidelio. Beethoven's interest already at Bonn in texts like "Der freie Mann" ("The Free Man"), Goethe's "Flea Song" from Faust, and Schiller's "Ode to Joy" is conspicuous.

Keywords:   political polarization, absolutism, French Revolution

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