Beethoven's Political Music and the Idea of the Heroic Style

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Beethoven?s works of state propaganda date from the years leading up to and during the Congress of Vienna in 1814?1815?although he composed this kind of music throughout his career. Over the last hundred and fifty years, critics have marginalized these political compositions to the extent that the politics pervading Beethoven?s oeuvre are barely audible. This study reemphasizes the political dimension of Beethoven?s music by articulating the aesthetic, stylistic, and ideological continuities between his canonical works and his maligned political compositions. Chapter One explores the critical construction of Beethoven?s musical voice, which has come to be practically synonymous with what Romain Rolland dubbed the ?heroic style??the exhortative manner associated particularly with the odd-numbered symphonies from the Eroica onwards. It reveals the radically subtractive critical methods, encouraged in part by Beethoven himself, that sustain the perception of an ?authentically Beethovenian? sound, and shows how Beethoven?s political compositions suggest a more complex vision of the composer?s voice as fundamentally collaborative and plural. Chapter Two examines the aesthetic assumption, supposedly instantiated by Beethoven?s heroic music and its immediate reception, that ?works? transcend their own time while mere ?occasional works? remain shackled to it. The aesthetic of heroic works such as the Eroica emerges as fundamentally ambivalent, constituted by a gesture in which political and historically localized meanings are ascribed to the music and withdrawn?much as Beethoven withdrew the initial dedication to Napoleon; meanwhile, works such as Wellingtons Sieg are shown to borrow the idealizing and transcendent rhetoric of contemporary aesthetics even as they articulate more overt connections to political figures and historical events. Chapter Three shows how analysts consider Beethoven?s overtly political music to be organized by external political programs rather than internal musical processes. For many critics, Beethoven?s political works are mere collections of contingent and disjunctive moments?works that are almost formless without an explanatory political program. Nevertheless, analysts have often explained away precisely such moments in Beethoven?s canonical works?disjunctive moments particularly susceptible to poetic interpretation and political appropriation. Formalist critical approaches thus conceal the routes through which politics enter Beethoven?s heroic masterworks.

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Beethoven, Politics, Heroic Style


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