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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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VII. The Titan Prometheus-Bonaparte as Viewed by Beethoven and His Time


Salve, o madre d’Eroi, salve terribile Francese Libertà. Vin- cenzo Monti, Il Prometeo, Canto Primo (1797), ll. 759/760 Di’ che dove è Bonaparte sta vittoria e libertà. Monti, Dopo la battaglia di Marengo (1800) This inquiry has shown that there are multiple relationships between the “hero- ic-allegorical ballet” Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus and the Sinfonia eroica, in musical as well as extra-musical respects. To recapitulate: the ballet action cen- ters on the heroic deeds of the Titan Prometheus, who endowed mankind with reason and feeling. On the title page of the Eroica’s first edition Beethoven pro- claims to have composed the symphony as a memorial ceremony for a “great Man.” The “hero” of the ballet, thus, is Prometheus; the “hero” of he Eroica is a “great man” not otherwise identified. The musical relations that emerged from our comparison of the Prometheus music with the symphony enabled us to real- ize that Beethoven approached the composition of the Eroica with conceptions he had developed in part already during his work on the ballet music. All four movements of the symphony, at any rate, can be paired with scenes from the ballet. To wit: In composing the opening movement of the Eroica, Beethoven was stimu- lated by heroic or martial images and ideas of battle, as proved not least by the signal- and fanfare-like motifs in the related sketchbooks. Two sections in the development portion of the symphony exhibit relations to two passages from Nos. 2 and 8 of the Prometheus music...

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