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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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VIII. On “Characteristic” InstrumentalWorks and Scenes in Beethoven’s Oeuvre


79 VIII. On “Characteristic” Instrumental Works and Scenes in Beethoven’s Oeuvre “Characteristic symphonies” one could call symphonies that are designed as preludes to an opera etc., in lieu of the usual over- tures. Such a nomenclature, however, is appropriate only if the symphony depicts the general character of the following opera, or if the composer has expressed an immediately preceding ac- tion in the symphony.” Daniel Gottlob Türk, Klavierschule (1789), p. 392 The more one studies the instrumental music of the late 18th and early 19th cen- turies, the clearer it becomes that, among the diverse kinds it comprises, the genre of “characteristic” music, that is, instrumental music bearing a title or de- scriptive epithet, is one of the most interesting – as well as one of the least re- searched. What we know about the genre is limited almost exclusively to the so- called “character piece,”1 while virtually nothing exists about characteristic so- natas and characteristic symphonies. That may be the reason why Beethoven’s contributions to the genre of characteristic music have been so generally ignored. Large circles may be en- tirely ignorant of the fact that he even wrote characteristic instrumental pieces. What works do we have in mind? From Beethoven’s sketchbooks and letters we can ascertain that he uses the terms pezzo caratteristico, sinfonia caratteristica, charakteristische Sonate and charakteristische Overture. To be specific: On p. 56 of the Berlin Sketchbook Landsberg 7 from the year 1800, Bee- thoven jotted down some key-word notes for the design...

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