Rumph - Beethoven after Napoleon (2004).pdf
Beethoven was a political composer. Like few other musicians in the Western canon, he stubbornly dedicated his art to the problems of uman 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 work drew more labor or revisions from him than Fidelio (née Leonore), the first political opera to remain in the permanent repertory. The Third Symphony, probably
Beethoven’s most influential work, centers around a funeral march evoking patriotic ceremonies from the French Revolution; and there remains, of course, the famous and problematic relationship of the symphony to Napoleon. In an entirely different vein come such ephemera as the Ritterballett, assorted patriotic songs, and the marches for various national militias. The biographer, unlike the critic, cannot fail to mention Wellingtons Sieg and the choral extravaganzas for the Congress of
Vienna, works that, however trivial in modern estimation, swept Beethoven to a pinnacle of acclaim unsurpassed within his own lifetime. To this list we may also add the second Bonn cantata in honor of Leopold II; the incidental music to Egmont, König Stephan, and Die Ruinen von Athen; and the aesthetic utopias of Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus and the Choral Fantasy. Clearly, if we want to understand this music we need to learn something about the composer’s politics. A political study of Beethoven can scarcely be regarded as a curiosity for interdisciplinary studies: it belongs squarely within musical criticism, alongside biography, sketch studies, and formal analysis.