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The Effect of Politics on Classic Music Considering Beethoven's Eroica and Tchaikovsky's 1812

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The Effect of Politics on Classic Music Considering Beethoven's Eroica and Tchaikovsky's 1812

"A Positive and A Negative Approach both turn out to be Negative in the end"

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), the reputed emperor of France, coroneted in 1804 and reigned for approximately eleven years, was an important person for the world scene even after his death. His personality and thoughts affected many different spheres of life and the sphere of art is one of them. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are well known classical composers who composed music about Napoleon. Beethoven's Eroica and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture are the works that will be analyzed in this essay taking into consideration the role of Napoleon in them. These two composers were affected by different factors while referring to Napoleon in their work. It will be first looked at their motivation separately to show the differences in their works.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), the deaf talented German composer of all times, composed Eroica (third symphony) around the years of French Revolution. He was kind of an activist as a composer, he liked to add politics to his works and Eroica was the best example of it. A quotation can be given at that point from the back cover of Thomas Sipe's book about Eroica:

"The Eroica Symphony is perhaps Beethoven's most provocative work. Its unprecedented design and its powerful emotional impact redefined the potential of musical expression. The work was conceived as a homage to Napoleon Bonaparte, but was understood for over a century as a passionate rejection of the tyranny he came to represent."(back cover)

The answer of his work being "a homage" for Napoleon or "a passionate rejection of the tyranny of his" is well understood by a quotation from Carl Dahlhaus and Mary Whittall's book Ludwig van Beethoven: approaches to his music by these words:

"Beethoven's most famous dedication is the one he deleted: that of the "Eroica" Symphony to Napoleon. The story told by his pupil and assistant Ferdinand Ries, of how Beethoven tore up the symphony's title-page in republican fury in May 1804, on hearing the news of Napoleon's taking the imperial crown." (p. 19)

The reason of his anger about Napoleon's coronation was well defined in a notice from London's Musical World in 1836. It was written when Beethoven first learned about Napoleon being an emperor he exclaimed saying that "Napoleon was doing an emperor of himself, is he? Then he is no better than the rest of them: he shall not have my symphony." (Sipe, 1998, p. 30). Basically, Beethoven thought that Napoleon will become a tyrant (Sipe, 1998, p. 50). Yet, in their work, Dahlhaus and Whithall believe that it would not be the case about the story of Eroica and put these forward with the documents, (which will be looked at in the last part of this essay) but again as they also indicated the only thing that was obvious was his "admiration for Napoleon's greatness" (Dahlhaus and Whithall, 1994, p. 27) which was also the case for German press at that time. They saw Napoleon as a peacemaker and even unfavorable reports half-heartedly accepted his legitimacy (Sipe, 1998, p. 47). Furthermore, the name of the title was never changed, even though it is said that Beethoven tore up the symphony's title-page. In the same year (1804) he again offered his third symphony to Breitkopf&Hartel saying that "the title of the symphony is really Bonaparte", thus again associating it with Bonaparte (Sipe, 1998, p. 50).

Some other important factors about Beethoven's admiration for Napoleon can be indicated as followed; He always had a vision about France and Austria being peaceful alliances (Sipe, 1998, p. 52) he never completely gave up that vision of his, even though he sometimes got angry in some situations. Before proceeding with Tchaikovsky, Ludwig Nohl's linking of Beethoven with Napoleon in his 1871 essay, Beethoven und Napoleon I can be taken into account for further knowledge of how Beethoven and Tchaikovsky were different from each other. Nohl first starts by stressing on the achievements of Napoleon, especially his redesign of the military hierarchy in France, [his leadership in military was also respected by Beethoven even though he did not want to celebrate them in Eroica (Sipe, 1998, p. 96)] then he links it to Beethoven's ability to overcome the compositional constraints of his era. For him, Napoleon's stirring of the old world for more than two decades gave Beethoven the keys for unheard novelty and greatness; he absorbed Napoleon's achievements and applied them to Germanic music in Eroica (Nohl, 1871, p. 26).

Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), is another talented and well known composer of classic music that will be dealt with in this essay. Tchaikovsky also brought new understandings to the world of classic music and his work 1812 Overture was the one related to Napoleon Bonaparte. As it can be understood from the title of the work, it was about the Battle of Borodino between Russia and France. It started as an invasion of Russia by Napoleon and his army in 1812 and struck Russian society to its core, but as a consequence Napoleon was temporarily defeated which made the war to be a glory in Russian history and consciousness. However, the work was composed nearly seven decades after the war and its glory (Tchaikovsky was born twenty eight years after the Battle of Borodino anyway). In 1880, with the authorization of Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky composed his overture (June 1881), for the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was built in 1870s to remember the defeat of Napoleon in 1812 (Bova, 2003, p. 213-214). A reason why Tchaikovsky accepted the authorization of Rubinstein can also be about his uncle Ivan who gave his life fighting against Napoleon the year before Waterloo (Mundy, 1998, p. 10).

In comparison to Beethoven's Eroica, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was better known for its musical narration because it was so different and specific in its narration. It was about the narration of events on the battlefield (Bova, 2003, p. 213-214). 1812's musical structure can best be explained by a direct quotation from Russell Bova's book Russia and Western

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