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Beethoven’s «Eroica»

Thematic Studies- Translated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch

Constantin Floros

With this study the author «opened up a previously locked door of Beethoven research» (Martin Geck). The book presents conclusive answers to questions that had occupied critics for more than a century. It makes clear what exactly Beethoven and his contemporaries meant by the term «heroic». It proves that the «heroic-allegorical ballet» The Creatures of Prometheus is a key work for an understanding of the Eroica, and shows that Beethoven associated the First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, with the mythical figure of the Titan Prometheus. The book draws on interdisciplinary researches in the areas of Greek Mythology, Napoleonic History and Comparative Literature.

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I. Previous Hypotheses on the Subject of the Eroica

Extract

“He wants to sell you the symphony for 100 ducats. It is by his own statement the greatest work he has yet written. Beethoven recently played it to me, and I think that heaven and earth must tremble beneath one’s feet in a performance. He has a great de- sire to dedicate it to Bonaparte; if not, because Lobkowitz wants to have it for half a year, giving 400 ducats for it, it will yet be called Bonaparte.” Ries to Simrock, October 22, 18031 Of Beethoven’s Eroica it can be said paradoxically that the reports that have come down to us about its occasion, “object” and purpose have done more to obscure its genesis than to clarify it. One will grasp the paradox of the situation if one calls to mind the following three things: first, that the Eroica and the Pas- toral are the only Beethoven symphonies that officially belong to the genre of the sinfonie charatteristiche, that is, of the symphonies that are based on a spe- cific subject;2 secondly, that there is no dearth of accounts about the occasion of the work; and thirdly, that Beethoven himself provided the symphony with a kind of program when, in October of 1806, he published it under the title Sinfo- nia eroica composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo.3 Even so the Eroica has prompted the most diverse interpretations and speculations. It would be no exaggeration to call it an enigmatic work. The reason for this state...

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