“So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, he too will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven, upon hearing that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor
Ah, indeed! The world has had to deal with tyrants throughout history.
Continuing with our break from reading about and sometimes watching the insanity of the modern era enfold in front of us, we forge on with that which is, in our minds, a more noble endeavor – listening to and understanding the music and the man that is Ludwig van Beethoven. A very meager and simple review here – our hope is that one will be enchanted enough to explore further the magnificence of this great composer.
There are a couple of explanations as to why Beethoven scratched through, eliminated, defaced – the original score of his Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica“, originally dedicating the work to Napolean.
Theories run from that he was indeed outraged at Napolean’s actions to a more simple and maybe more believable idea that he was contemplating a move to Paris.
Beethoven’s attitude towards Bonaparte was ambivalent, but he contemplated a possible move to Paris around this time, and he might have had some entirely pragmatic reasons for dedicating the symphony to the French leader–reasons that vanished when he remained in Vienna.. (W. Kinderman, Beethoven, p.86)
The dedication of a Grand Sinfonie to Bonaparte would surely have brought favor and opened doors. When the Paris trip was clearly not going to materialize, Beethoven may well have realized it would not be a good idea to stick around the Austro-Hungarian Empire, having dedicated a symphony to the newly proclaimed Emperor of France. Particularly when relations with the French were deteriorating. ~ Beethovenseroica.com
Alas, we shall never know. But regardless of whether Beethoven threw one of his many tantrums – this particular one over Napoleon’s actions or was attempting to smooth the road for an anticipated move to new digs to Paris really doesn’t matter.
In any event, Beethoven deeply admired Napoleon during the time when he wrote his Symphony # 3. George Grove attributes Beethoven’s deep esteem for Napoleon to his status as the restorer of order and prosperity, a passionate champion of freedom, and the symbol of the hope of the French Revolution (as well as the embodiment and validation of Beethoven’s own personal sense of arrogance, invention and iconoclasm). Many writers have gone on to assume rather foolishly that Beethoven took his inspiration literally. ~ Classicalnotes.net
All this aside, what we find more interesting is what Beethoven, the man, was facing – what was happening with him personally while composing this masterpiece.
From his “Heiligenstadt Testament“, a letter Beethoven penned to his brothers (but never given to them) in October, 1806 when Beethoven was 32 years old – we read of Beethoven’s despair over his increasing deafness and dealing with both his physical and emotional ailments.
In a sense [the testament] is the literary prototype of the Eroica Symphony, a portrait of the artist as hero, stricken by deafness, withdrawn from mankind, conquering his impulses to suicide,…hoping to find “but one day of pure joy.” It is a daydream compounded of heroism, death, and rebirth, a reaffirmation of Beethoven’s adherence to virtue and to the categorical imperative. Maynard Solomon, “Beethoven: The Nobility Pretense,”
And what was this “categorical imperative”? Quite simply, from all this writer has read of Beethoven, we conclude it was a will to overcome that which the gods had dealt him and continue to create, continue to be true to his art and continue to give to the world.
“Beethoven can write music, thank God, but he can do nothing else on earth.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven
None of us are called upon to overcome deafness and write the most complex of musical compositions. Some of us are called upon to overcome even more. Extreme and lasting poverty, homelessness, mental illness, life-crippling diseases, loss of limb, loss of loved ones – life’s tragedies hit each one of us, all in unique ways which test each one of us – sometimes to the limit.
And left to overcome all the trials, heartaches, depressions, set-backs, illnesses and disasters, we are left with ourselves and the talents, gifts, abilities we each have that we are called upon to give to the world in hopes that what we leave will, some in small ways, others in larger ways, be in the spirit of what Beethoven desired to give to the world – that being, happiness and joy to other people.
Off with you! You’re a happy fellow, for you’ll give happiness and joy to many other people. There is nothing better or greater than that! ~ Ludwig van Beethoven
We conclude with the “Scherzo” from his Eroica symphony, under the direction of the most talented and capable conductor, Paavo Järvi.
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Beethoven #3 – 3rd Movement
Photo credit (front page): By W.J. Baker (held the expired copyright on the photograph) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Jacques-Louis David [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Joseph Willibrord Mähler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons