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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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Path to the Eroica

Path to the Eroica

(p.84) Chapter IV Path to the Eroica

William Kinderman

University of Chicago Press

The allegorical portrait of Beethoven by Willibrord Mähler from around 1804—the time of the Eroica Symphony and of Napoleon Bonaparte's crowning himself emperor—is a rich source that merits close attention. This portrait not only displays Beethoven's identification as an Orpheus/Apollo artistic figure in an evocative symbolic landscape, but conveys provocative political implications. The contrast of a decaying dark tree to which Beethoven turns his back, and a pair of vigorous young trees in a clearing near the Apollo Temple is suggestive of the presence of "arbors de la liberté," while Beethoven's haircut "à la Titus" is also conspicuous, as are other striking details. In his portrait, Mähler seems to have responded to some symbolic depictions of Napoleon Bonaparte while avoiding their propagandistic character. Consideration of this portrait serves as springboard for an assessment of the Eroica Symphony, which is substantially indebted to Promethean symbolism connected to the ballet music "The Creatures of Prometheus." The narrative of the symphony's four movements outlines a larger progression: struggle-death-rebirth-apotheosis. In the finale, a multiplicity of transformations of the contredance associated with Prometheus conveys a participatory social environment of shared creativity. Keeping "the whole in view," Beethoven absorbed this symbolism into a unique symphonic cycle.

Keywords:   allegory, freedom trees, Eroica Symphony

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