Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ludwig Van Beethoven, Pt. II

Episode Number: 003
Title: Ludwig Van Beethoven, Pt. II
Infroduction Music: Chaconne for Violin - J.S. Bach; obtained from the wikipedia commons.
Narrated by Nicolas Caporale and originally recorded on August 15th, 2007


In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his power in France. As a general he had solidified the French revolution, ending the monarchy and establishing a republic. However in 1802 the new republic was corrupt, bankrupt and very unpopular with the people. With the support of a few others, Napoleon overthrew the government, outmaneuvered his opponents and claimed the title of first consul. This title gave him power over the other two consuls essentially making him little more than a dictator. However, the consulate was made up of three parliamentary assemblies and popular suffrage was still retained. France enjoyed a period of peace and stability; Napoleon reformed the legal system, consolidated funds for banking, universities and to build the labor force. He had a 99% voter approval rate.

This same year in the summer Beethoven began sketching some of his ideas for his third symphony with the intention of dedicating it to Napoleon. Beethoven’s Third Symphony, also known as the Eroica Symphony was recognized as an important musical work from the time it was first performed in August of 1804. Because Beethoven kept numerous sketches and drafts of much of his music we can now look back to see how much work he actually put into composing this symphony. We can also trace the evolution of particular themes and motives and understand why and how he wrote what he did. There are several drafts of just the first movement alone. However, by the time he was finished writing it his admiration for Napoleon was much less than it was originally. At the time of the French Consul, France had conquered many territories and states throughout Europe and reforming their governments. It seemed as if Napoleon would be the champion for a new age of fraternity, liberty and equality. On December 2nd 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor, which infuriated Beethoven. The original title (found written on Beethoven’s personal score) was “Sinfonia grande/intitolata Bonaparte” or “Grand Symphony entitled Bonaparte”. However, Beethoven scratched out the word Bonaparte so violently that he created a hole in the page. Stephan von Breuning, who shared rooms with Beethoven at the time, writes that Beethoven exclaimed “Is he too, nothing more than human? Now he will crush the rights of man! He will become a tyrant!” When it was finally published in 1806 it bore the name “Sinfonia Eroica… composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo”, which means “Heroic Symphony… composed to celebrate the memory of a great Man”.

Soon after finishing the Third Symphony, Beethoven began his opera entitled Fidelio. The story revolves around a woman named Leonore, who disguised as a prison guard named Fidelio rescues her husband from prison. This story was borrowed from a French Revolutionary opera and the ideals of the Revolution probably appealed to Beethoven the same way they did when we was writing his third symphony. Between 1806 and 1808 Beethoven composed his next three symphonies, the most famous being the Fifth. The Fifth Symphony, (especially the first four notes in the first movement) is incredible well known. In case you have never heard it before or can’t remember how it goes, here it is: (EXAMPLE). As popular as it was and how popular it still is, the symphony did not have a great start. The orchestra was only able to rehearse it once before the premier. The auditorium was extremely cold, and the audience was exhausted by the length of the entire concert (his Sixth symphony was premiered here as well, along with his Fourth Piano Concerto). To top it off, one of the performers made a significant mistake causing Beethoven to stop all of the music and start it up again. Despite this rough start, the symphony was immediately recognized as a masterpiece of the day and one of Beethoven’s most revolutionary works to date. The Sixth Symphony, also known as the Pastoral is made up of five movements bearing a programmatic title depicting different scenes from the country. As Beethoven himself would say about the symphony " [It is] a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds". The Seventh and Eighth symphonies were both completed in 1812, the Eighth being much shorter and less heroic than the other symphonies. Beethoven would refer to it as his “little one”. Another famous work to come out of this period was his Fifth Piano Concerto, nicknamed the Emperor. This was his last piano concerto and was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf, who was a pupil and patron of Beethoven.

From 1804-1808 Beethoven lived in a state of constant emotional turmoil. He had the bad habit of falling in love with unattainable women, either in too high of a social class or already married. Beethoven left us another document which gives insight to his personal life. The first being the Heiligenstadt testament, and the second being a series of unsent letters written to an “Immortal Beloved”. Both of these documents were discovered in his desk after his death. These letters are an emotional outpour from Beethoven’s heart probably written in 1812. Although the intended recipient is unknown, it is now generally believed that they were meant for an Antonie Brentano. As I mentioned in the last episode, the 1994 movie “Immortal Beloved” is based upon these letters and who they might be intended for; however no historian has ever come forward to support the director’s claim that he knew who the Immortal Beloved was. Nonetheless, it still is a good movie to see as much of Beethoven’s personal life is dramatized pretty well.




A History of Western Music - Grout and Palisca, 6th ed.

Beethoven The Creator - Roman Rolland, 1928


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