03/18/15 Beethoven’s Enduring Influence, for Better and Worse

Beethoven TwitterKey point from your textbook, Chapter 27:
“Beethoven’s music is grounded in the Classical tradition but pushes its limits in a way that helped define the emerging Romantic sensibility.”

Beethoven and Politics
“An advocate for democracy and the underprivileged, Beethoven watched with interest as the French general Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power after the French Revolution (1789–99). At first, he greatly admired Napoleon: his Third Symphony (Eroica) was originally called Bonaparte, but when the ruler declared himself emperor in 1804, Beethoven tore up the title page bearing the dedication.

After removing that title, he called the symphony Eroica — “heroic.”

Here’s what that sounds like to him:

He could be a bit stubborn and obsessive — remember that little motive from the 5th Symphony? It doesn’t only appear at the beginning…
5th Symphony, 2nd movement

At around 1:00 and around 6:00, a familiar motive appears in a different form…

3rd movement

Motive at 0:25

4th movement


“Everything will be alright in the end… so if its not alright, it is not yet the end!”

The “Curse of the Ninth”

– A classical music superstition that demonstrates the lasting influence of Beethoven on composers who came after him

– Belief that a 9th symphony is destined to be a composer’s last — that they will die after writing it, or before completing a 10th. Therefore, to attempt a 10th symphony is to challenge fate!

– Beethoven completed his 9th symphony in 1824, 3 years before his death. He had begun work on a 10th symphony before he died, but only completed sketches (rough drafts) of the 1st movement. (In contrast: Haydn wrote 106 symphonies, and Mozart wrote 41.)

– Originated with Gustav Mahler, 1860-1911, Austrian conductor and composer. After completing 8 symphonies, he called his next orchestral work Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). Then he wrote his 9th Symphony and thought he had beaten the curse, but died with his Tenth Symphony incomplete.

In an essay about Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg wrote: “It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter.” (from Wikipedia)

“Victims” of the curse:
Curse of the 9th part1

The 75-year-old American composer Phillip Glass recently completed a ninth and tenth in quick succession presumably to dash any chance that the curse might deploy its mojo on the streets of New York City in 2012. Malcolm Arnold and Alexander Glazunov each worked on their ninth symphonies, then set down their symphony composing pens for the remainder of their careers which ran more than 20 years each. And the Russian composer, Alfred Schnittke barely managed to eke out a ninth, and final, symphony with his left hand due to paralysis following a stroke. (From CBC Classical)

But many composers have beaten the curse!
Curse of the 9th part2

Mahler Symphony 5, 1st Movement (1901)

Beethoven has permeated popular culture as THE archetype of the GREAT COMPOSER.

Another example of Beethoven’s enduring influence:


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