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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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II. The Semantics of the Term “Eroica”. The Categories drama eroico, ballo eroico and danza eroica

Extract

13 II. The Semantics of the Term “Eroica” The Categories drama eroico, ballo eroico and danza eroica “La danse sérieuse et héroique porte en soi le caractère de la tragédie.” Noverre, Lettres (1760)1 If one were to undertake a systematic study of the Eroica, one might well start with the title of the original printed edition and ask what exactly Beethoven meant by the phrases sinfonia eroica and un grand Uomo. What precise mean- ing did the word eroe have in the usage of the time? What do we know about Beethoven’s conception of the heroic? Was Wagner right in saying that “the term ‘heroic’” should “be taken in the widest sense and in no way as referring only to, say, a military hero”? Most of these issues have not even been raised until now. Only the ques- tion as to Beethoven’s conception of the heroic has been dealt with by Arnold Schmitz, who drew upon the article “Heroisch” in Johann Georg Sulzer’s Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste.2 Schmitz quotes Sulzer’s definition of the heroic (“Whatever requires an exceptional strength of spirit, an unusual force of mind, is heroic”), points out that Sulzer distinguishes between the hero- ic and the “great” (the “Great” is unusual “wherever it is met with,” whereas the Heroic is “not an unusual, but a natural manifestation of great human beings”) and thinks that Beethoven probably knew and shared Sulzer’s interpretation. For Beethoven as for Sulzer, Schmitz says, the...

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