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Beethoven after Napoleon

Political Romanticism in the Late Works

Stephen Rumph

Publication Year: 2004

In this provocative analysis of Beethoven's late style, Stephen Rumph demonstrates how deeply political events shaped the composer's music, from his early enthusiasm for the French Revolution to his later entrenchment during the Napoleonic era. Impressive in its breadth of research as well as for its devotion to interdisciplinary work in music history, Beethoven after Napoleon challenges accepted views by illustrating the influence of German Romantic political thought in the formation of the artist's mature style. Beethoven's political views, Rumph argues, were not quite as liberal as many have assumed. While scholars agree that the works of the Napoleonic era such as the Eroica Symphony or Fidelio embody enlightened, revolutionary ideals of progress, freedom, and humanism, Beethoven's later works have attracted less political commentary. Rumph contends that the later works show clear affinities with a native German ideology that exalted history, religion, and the organic totality of state and society. He claims that as the Napoleonic Wars plunged Europe into political and economic turmoil, Beethoven's growing antipathy to the French mirrored the experience of his Romantic contemporaries. Rumph maintains that Beethoven's turn inward is no pessimistic retreat but a positive affirmation of new conservative ideals.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: California Studies in 19th-Century Music


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

...The scholar who wanders beyond his own field must, like Blanche DuBois, depend upon the kindness of strangers. Conversations with Martin Jay, Robert Holub, James Sheehan, and Michael P. Steinberg eased the passage into German history and literature. Thomas Laqueur and the fellows of the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley, also lent valuable interdisciplinary perspectives. Mary Francis provided judicious advice on revisions...

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pp. 1-8

...Beethoven was a political composer. Like few other musicians in the Western canon, he stubbornly dedicated his art to the problems of human freedom, justice, progress, and community. Beethoven found his voice in Bonn with a cantata memorializing the enlightened reforms of Joseph II, and he crowned his public career in Vienna with the Ninth Symphony’s hymn to universal brotherhood. No intervening...

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1. A Kingdom Not of This World

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pp. 9-34

...This passage could head all E. T. A. Hoffmann’s writings on music. In story, novella, essay, and review he championed the unique status of his beloved art. Music alone, claimed Hoffmann, slipped the shackles of imitation that bound the other arts to nature, the world of the senses. Such abstraction, however, did not render music mute. The most purely spiritual art, music soared above physical reality to express a realm...

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2. The Heroic Sublime

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pp. 35-57

...While Hoffmann and Beethoven may have reached a common destination, they started from distant origins. Beethoven grew up in Bonn, a hub of enlightened thought ruled by the brother of Joseph II. His companions included intellectuals from the newly founded university, a forum for the most liberal strains of philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence (where Beethoven enrolled briefly in 1789). He associated with...

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3. Promethean History

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pp. 58-91

...The touchstone for Beethoven’s early ideology remains the Eroica Symphony, namesake and glory of the heroic style.A host of political interpretations has marched alongside the Third Symphony for nearly two centuries now. Each generation, from Beethoven’s age to our own, has wrung new meanings out of the Napoleonic dedication, the French Revolutionary march, and the “heroic” title. The critic who would join this...

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4. 1809

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pp. 92-108

...Nevertheless, periodization has eased the approach to Beethoven’s baffling music and has stimulated continuing insights as critics have grappled with the inherited models. The real peril perhaps may be that critics will grow complacent and stop seeking new methods of taxonomy. There is nothing complacent about Giorgio Pestelli’s startling schema in...

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5. Contrapunctus I: Prelude and Fugue

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pp. 109-132

...The following year Friedrich Schlegel published the first installment of “Signatur des Zeitalters,” a rambling political essay that ran in Vienna over the course of three years. Schlegel had many years before converted to Catholicism and settled in the Austrian capital, serving as an official propagandist for Franz I during the Napoleonic wars. The aging Romantic author sought to diagnose the spiritual and political unrest festering since the Congress of Vienna. The chief...

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6. Contrapunctus II: Double Fugue

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pp. 133-155

...In double fugue Beethoven found a nexus for his peculiar contrapuntal concerns. All the principles he had explored in the “prelude” and “fugue” themes of opp. 109 and 111 come together in his double-fugal subjects— linear construction, monolithic figuration, inversion, rhythmic diminution. The second fugato from the Ninth Symphony finale...

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7. Androgynous Utopias

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pp. 156-194

...Any political study of Beethoven’s late works must eventually confront the Ninth Symphony finale. The task is daunting. A mountain of analysis, interpretation, and plain speculation has accumulated around this fearsomely contemplated movement. The ascent begins (to take only a modern sampling) with Schenker, Baensch, and Tovey; continues with Sanders...

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8. Vox Populi,Vox Dei

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pp. 195-221

...So Beethoven is said to have remarked a few weeks before his death. The comment probably reveals little about his political outlook. Beethoven was actually venting his frustration about Italian opera, not politics. Such isolated remarks dot his letters, sketchbooks, and conversation books, furnishing a ready arsenal to pundits of every stripe. Still, the Latin proverb evokes a tantalizingly musical metaphor— voice. Voice has indeed emerged as a major topic of late...

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9. A Modernist Epilogue

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pp. 222-246

...This study ends where it began, amid the pages of musical criticism. This is a fitting homage to a lively and creative tradition. For two centuries the evolving image of Beethoven has taken shape in the passionate echolalia of critical prose, no less than in the concert hall, the classroom, or the sculptor’s studio. E. T. A. Hoffmann stands at the head of this line as its first great genius. His reviews and literary rhapsodies...


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pp. 247-266

Works Cited

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pp. 267-278


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pp. 279-295

Production Notes

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p. 296-296

E-ISBN-13: 9780520930124
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520238558

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: California Studies in 19th-Century Music