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Monday, 26 March 2012

The Influence of Beethoven and Viennese Culture on the Austrian Revolution of 1848

Prior to the nineteenth century, European art had been strongly tied to religion. Vienna, the home of Ludwig van Beethoven, was no exception. Vienna, the capital city of one of the most powerful German nations, was home to the Hapsburgs, a  deeply committed Catholic dynasty which traced its power back through the Holy Roman Empire. Like its rulers, Vienna was also deeply  Catholic, and unlike many severe sects of Protestants who questioned and rejected the propriety of art in society,  and like Catholic societies elsewhere in Europe,  Vienna saw the need for art in promoting religious ideals and beliefs. The result was  an art movement called Baroque, which  promoted the prowess and sanctity of the  Church-dominated Catholic countries.
        The leading figures in Baroque music, which was predominant  in Catholic countries for two hundred years, were  Jan Peterzoon Sweelinck, Heinrich Schutz, Giovanni Palestrina, and Mozart. Hapsburg  subject  and Vienna resident,  Ludwig van Beethoven  was to break the hold of the Baroque tradition. Unlike earlier Baroque composers,  Beethoven’s  music, rhythmic and energetic, combined the sacred and the irreligious.  He was the first musician to bring his art forcefully into the secular world. Beethoven’s music represented  the new social and political world that was being born in Europe at the beginning  of the nineteenth century.
            Beethoven’s music can be seen as a reaction to classicism. Beethoven was the first romantic musician, and his symphonies,  while unparalleled musically, also expressed ideas that were sweeping thorugh Europe at the time, among them nationalism. In Beethoven’s time,  people who used to identify themselves solely by religion  were beginning  to identify themselves by nationality. Nowhere  was this more true than in Beethoven’s native Vienna, where Hungarians, Slovakians, Silesians, and Bohemians all lived.
      Beethoven’s music also expressed  two other popular ideas of the early  nineteenth century, the lofty aspirations  of liberal democracy and social reform. These viewed echoed loudly in Vienna, a timeless city,  which was ruled dynastically for centuries and which kept the working poor living on the shanty outskirts of the city. Beethoven never lived to see  the liberal revolution of 1848  and its subjugation by the forces of reaction,  Austrian officials and nobles. Yet  his music was a conspicuous manifestation of what many native Germans -- and, more specifically, many native Viennese -- hoped to accomplish. Along with Beethoven’s music, the desire for liberal change sweeping through  the Austrian intelligensia were also reflected in the painting  and cafes of Vienna. However, Beethoven’s third symphony, Eroica,  not  only best captures the ideas fair rule, liberty, and democracy, three main romantic tenets; it is also the best  example of what the artist found ideal. In  Eroica Beethoven praised the progressive and humanist works of Napoleon Bonaparte. Yet  after Napolean declared himself emperor of France, a disillusioned  Beethoven  left the heroic  subject  of his symphony  nameless. One of his most famous works,  Eroica, best exemplifies the ideology and hopes that Beethoven, Romanticism, and patriots in pre-revolutionary Vienna stood for .
      The inspiration for the symphony  came from  one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s diplomats . He  suggested that the world famous musician write a tribute to the world famous leader. Beethoven was a man in his thirties at the time  and could recall his youthful  embrace  of the romantic notions of liberty, equality, and fraternity  that  Consul Bonaparte stood for. Beethoven was also impressed and inspired by Bonaparte’s desire to open careers to talent, regardless of the person’s social position.  William Felmmin would later write  that  the symphony Beethoven wrote to express these ideas “rallied the progressive and freedom-loving people of all nations around his standard.”1  In Eroica, Beethoven used proud and triumphant string instruments, playing hard and poignant notes mixed in with more subtle and longer and longer notes,  to juxtapose many of the large struggles he saw in society. Beethoven uses these contrasting notes to present and weigh many contrasting ideas. These notes express the relationship between action and fear. They express dominance and subservience as well as the struggle between revolution and oppression.
            Symphony Number Three includes many other innovations. The first movement introduces the forces of good and evil.  This movement sets the stage for a heroic conquest of the good. The second movement of the symphony presents a funeral scene. The scene is meant to demonstrate the immense piety and honor  of one who has forfeited his life for a cause. This martyrdom was commonplace in early romantic painting and poetry. However, it had never truly been attempted at this proportion in music, mainly because it was so difficult to express. Through measured rhythms and garbled sonorities, Beethoven expressed his romantic belief that for all advances in history some must give up their lives. These men he identifies as heroes.
            In the third movement of his symphony Beethoven demonstrates his dynamism. By titling his third movement “Scherzo,” he was breaking  an honored rule of formal symphony: one must never title an individual movement of a symphony. This action clearly represents Beethoven’s separation from the Baroque period and  his growth  into something far more revolutionary. His revolutionary titling of the third movement underscores his epic piece.
            The final movement of the symphony is comprised of a series of variations, unequal in length and different in style. The movement begins in E flat and raises five tones to B flat, then falls an octive to B flat below, and then again to E flat. This begins a strong melody which Beethoven uses to symbolize a victorious finale. The strong finale is emblematic of dominance over submission and revolution over opposition. The end of Eroica symbolizes Beethoven’s hope that one man giving his life to a cause can change an entire society.
            Eroica was released in 1804, the same year that Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France. This gross abuse of power compelled Beethoven to separate Bonaparte from his definition of hero. Dissilusioned by Bonaparte’s action, Beethoven decided to dedicate his symphony to “the memory of a great man.” This action proves again Beethoven’s deep beliefs in liberal democracy and his strict and romantic definition of heroism.
            Beethoven’s romantic dream would not be realized in 1848, in Vienna and throughout Europe. In 1848 aristocrats and nobles from Vienna helped stifle Hungarian nationalists and Hungary would remain a conquered Hapsburg territory for many more years. Timelessness in Vienna remained. Although Beethoven’s influence on the Austrian revolution of 1848 in undeniable, other facets of Viennese culture were influential. Paintings and cafes both angled Viennese culture toward revolution.
            Although Beethoven’s music was the greatest cultural impetus toward revolution, the composer did not limit his work to his political and social beliefs. At the peak of his career Beethoven began to experience a loss of hearing. His one jewel in life -- his music -- was being robbed. After considering suicide he said, “I will take fate by the throat; it will not bend me completely to its will.”2 Near the end of his life,  Beethoven drew his work from personal experience. His work became deeper and darker as it expressed his depression at losing his hearing and the hearbreak of failed romances. Beethoven could not hear many of his final works. Alone, he died quietly in 1827. Although his music proved to greatly inspire the patriots of his homeland, it is remembered mainly as a manifestation of the beauty of the piano.

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