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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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V. The Genesis of the Eroica

Extract

“The first idea for a major composition was often left lying for years before Beethoven would begin to work on it. It is possi- ble, however, given his frequently shifting moods, that he came to connect the Eroica with Napoleon.” Carl Czerny (1852) (NBJ IX, 66) If one reads the three accounts of the occasion for composing the Eroica, one would think at first that each of them excludes the other two. A close compara- tive scrutiny, however, makes clear that they are, after all, reconcilable. The earliest account – one generally accepted as true – stems from Anton Schindler. In the first edition of his Beethoven Biography, he states: The first suggestion for that symphony is actually supposed to have come from General Ber- nadotte, who was then the French ambassador in Vienna, and who esteemed Beethoven great- ly. That is what I heard from several of Beethoven’s friends. Count Moritz Lichnovsky (the brother of Prince Lichnovsky), who was frequently in Bernadotte’s company together with Beethoven . . . told me the same thing.1 Elsewhere Schindler adds that as late as 1823 Beethoven “vividly remembered how Bernadotte was the first who really roused the idea for the Sinfonia eroica in him.” One will note that Schindler’s communication in the first edition is still worded very cautiously. In the third edition, however, the matter is presented like a plain fact. Here Schindler writes: The ambassador of the French Republic at the Austrian court at the time was General Berna- dotte, later to become King of...

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