Saturday, January 2, 2010

For Beethoven Lovers

It has taken a while to get all the complicated HTML-coding worked out, but I am happy to announce that my other blog, All Things Beethoven, is now up and ready for the general public to visit. The first piece posted there is an updating and reworking of a thesis I did on the origins of Beethoven's Third Symphony, Op. 55 (the Eroica). Because the actual genesis of that work is in a sketchbook (the "Wielhorsky" sketchbook, named for the Russian Count who acquired it after Beethoven's death) which may be seen only in Moscow, and which was published long ago with editorial notes only in Russian, there has not been much written in English about what that sketchbook reveals. The story itself, however, which links back to ballet music Beethoven wrote in 1801 around the legend of the god Prometheus, is well worth knowing. At the same time he was writing the music for The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven was coming to grips with his looming deafness. He saw this development as putting an end both to his musical career, and to his ability to lead a normal life within society. To Beethoven, to go deaf was a "punishment" as fully undeserved as the gods had meted out to Prometheus after he had brought the gift of fire to mankind.

But Prometheus persevered, and in the ballet he and his human creations triumph in a celebration of dance with the gods on Olympus. The music Beethoven composed for that glorious ending became a source of recurring inspiration for him. He returned to it again and again during this period of crisis. The Moscow sketchbook supplies the missing link in the compositional chain, and shows how the music of the entire Eroica Symphony grew out of Beethoven's beloved Prometheus-theme.

So forget everything you thought you knew about Beethoven, his Third Symphony, and Napoleon. As is frequently the case, the truth is infinitely richer and more satisfying. Head on over to All Things Beethoven and give it a look. If you like Beethoven, I trust you will not be disappointed.

[UPDATE 01/02/2010: Actress Jane Fonda, who played a Beethoven scholar in the recent Broadway production of Thirty-three Variations, recently visited Beethoven's birthplace in Bonn and wrote a blog entry about it. The photos are well worth seeing, for anyone who has not been there.]

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