Read CHAPTER IV - HEROIC SYMPHONY of Beethoven, free online book, by George Alexander Fischer, on

Ach, der menschliche Intellekt! Ach “Genie”! Es ist nicht so gar
viel einen “Faust” eine Schopenhauerische Philosophie, eine Eroika
gemacht zu haben.
Friederich Nietzshe.

The immediate fruit of this mental travail was a sudden growth or expansion of his creative powers. This is apparent in his work, marking the beginning of the second period. His compositions now suggest thought. There is a fecundating power in them which generates thought, and it is in the moral nature that this force is most apparent. His work now begins to be a vital part of himself, the spiritual essence, communicating to his followers somewhat of his own strength and force of character. Once having entered on the new path, he reached, in the Third Symphony, the pinnacle of greatness almost at a bound. He was now, at thirty-four, at the height of his colossal powers. His titanic genius in its swift development showed an ability almost preternatural. One immortal work of genius succeeded another with marvelous rapidity.

The Third Symphony calls for more than passing notice. Beethoven’s altruism is well known. The brotherhood of man was a favorite theme with him. By the aid of his mighty intellect and his intuitional powers, he saw more clearly than others the world’s great need. The inequalities in social conditions were more clearly marked in those times than now. The French Revolution had set people thinking. Liberty and equality was what they were demanding. Beethoven personally had nothing to gain and everything to risk by siding with the people. All his personal friends were of the aristocracy. It was this class which fostered the arts, music in particular. From the time that Beethoven came to Vienna as a young man, up to the end of his life, he enjoyed one or more pensions given him by members of the upper classes. But his sympathies were with the people. By honoring Napoleon with the dedication of the Third Symphony, he would have antagonized the Imperial family, and perhaps many of the aristocracy, but this phase of the question may not have occurred to him, and if it had, it would not have deterred him.

Beethoven’s attitude toward Napoleon could have had no other construction placed upon it than that of strong partisanship, since there was no artistic bond to unite them. The arch-enemy of Imperialism, as he was considered at this time, the mightiest efforts of the young Corsican had hitherto been directed specially against Austria. Beethoven did not approve of war; he expressed himself plainly on this point in after years, but at this period considered it justifiable and necessary as a means of abolishing what remained of feudal authority.

Austria had been the first to feel the iron hand of Napoleon. His first important military achievement, and what is generally conceded to be the greatest in his entire military career, was his campaign against the Austrians in Italy, which took place in the spring of 1796, shortly after his marriage. His victories over them first gave him fame, not only in France, but throughout Europe. Within a month from the time that he took command in the Italian campaign, he won six victories over them, giving the French army the command of the whole range of the Alps. Within a year he had driven the Austrians out of Italy, many thousands of prisoners were taken, ten thousand men had been killed or wounded, fifty-five pieces of cannon had been taken, besides rich provinces, which he looted to enrich France. He pursued his campaign into Austria, getting to within ninety miles of Vienna with his army, where he dictated terms of peace to the Emperor, which were highly advantageous to France. Appalled by these catastrophies, the court was even preparing to flee from Vienna and was arranging for the safe carriage of the treasure, when the Emperor accepted Napoleon’s terms. The humiliation to Austria was accentuated by the fact that her armies were nearly twice that of France. They were also in good condition, while the French armies were ragged and half starved. With this inferior equipment Bonaparte humbled the most haughty nation in Europe in the space of a year. He defeated them again in 1800, at Marengo, and was at all times their arch-enemy.

All this happened some years before the period of which we are writing. Beethoven regarded Napoleon as a liberator, a savior, on account of his success in restoring order out of chaos in France. It showed considerable moral courage on his part to come out so plainly for Napoleon. A broader question than patriotism, however, was here involved. Patriotism seeks the good of a small section. Altruism embraces the good of all, thus including patriotism.

The idea of writing the symphony to Napoleon may have been suggested to Beethoven by General Bernadotte, who was then the Ambassador of the French at Vienna. He and Count Moritz Lichnowsky were intimate friends and saw a good deal of Beethoven at that time. The three young men no doubt discussed social conditions and politics, as well as music, and it would have been an easy task for the General, who had served under Napoleon, to excite Beethoven’s enthusiasm for the Liberator of France. In after years, when General Bernadotte became King of Sweden, he still retained his interest in the events of this period.

This Symphony was the best work which Beethoven had yet accomplished; a work the grandeur and sublimity of which must have been a surprise to himself. It was conceived in the spirit of altruism, to show his appreciation of the man whom he believed was destined more than any other to uplift humanity. In the quality of its emotional expression, and also in its dimensions, it far exceeded anything of the kind that had yet appeared. Beethoven himself advised, on account of its great length, that it be placed at the beginning of a program rather than at its end. It is unique as a symphony, just as Napoleon was unique as a man. On finishing the work he put the name of Bonaparte on the title-page.


Ludwig van Beethoven.

With perfect propriety the concept is here established that two great men are before the world, Napoleon and Beethoven, and that the latter is as great in his own province as was Napoleon in his, each being the exponent of a new order of things, co-equal in the achievement of great deeds. Posterity, in exalting the one and debasing the other, shows how modest Beethoven was in the matter.

He was on the point of sending it to Paris when the news was brought him by his pupil Ries, that Napoleon was declared Emperor. In a rage Beethoven tore off the title-page containing the dedication, and threw it to the floor. “The man will become a tyrant and will trample all human rights under foot. He is no more than an ordinary man!” was Beethoven’s exclamation. He finally gave it the name of Sinfonia Eroica, in memory of a great man. It is dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who had it performed before Prince Louis Ferdinand. The Prince was greatly taken with it, at once recognizing its worth and insisting on hearing it three times in succession the same evening.

This year saw the production of two of Beethoven’s most famous pianoforte sonatas, the Waldstein, already referred to in this work, dedicated to the friend of his youth, Count Waldstein, and the Appassionata, dedicated to Count von Brunswick, sublime conceptions that glow with the fire of genius.

Mention must also be made of the famous Kreutzer Sonata, opus 47, for piano and violin, which was completed prior to the Third Symphony. This great work was originally intended for an English violinist resident at Vienna by the name of Bridgetower, and was first performed at a morning concert at the Augarten in May of 1803. Beethoven was at the piano and Bridgetower played the violin part. Beethoven had completed a portion of the work the previous year, but the violin part had to be played almost before the ink was dry, the piano accompaniment being made up by Beethoven as he went along. Notwithstanding this entire want of preparation, the value of the work was so apparent that it produced an encore.

Beethoven changed his mind about the dedication, and a year or two later this distinction was conferred on a friend, Rudolph Kreutzer, violinist and composer, who had come to Vienna in 1798 with Bernadotte, and as a matter of course, became acquainted with Beethoven. Kreutzer had been a protege of Marie Antoinette; afterward he was taken up by Napoleon, and still later by Louis XVIII, each of whom he served in his musical capacity. The Kreutzer Sonata has had a wide notoriety given it through Tolstoy’s work of that name.