The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How would Beethoven like America? And why did America love Beethoven? Ask Michael Broyles. | April 3, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

It is a well-established fact that Beethoven was a liberal for his day a defender of democracy who dedicated his “Eroica” Symphony to Napoleon and then crossed out the dedication when Napoleon declared himself emperor.

Of course, Beethoven (below) also had close ties to the aristocracy, which provided him with patrons for his work.

But he was suspicious of royalty and generally favored populism.

So how would Beethoven have liked America?

And how did Beethoven end up being an icon of classical music, the very embodiment of classical music, in America? (And what did rocker Chuck Berry have to do with it?)

These are intriguing questions. You think they would have been explored at length before.

But scholar Michael Broyles has written “Beethoven in America,” a book-length study of these questions, and the book has generally been very well received.

Read all about it – via these links to reviews:

And here is an interview with Michael Broyles (below, right with a Beethoven “doll”), the writer:!/articles/wqxr-features/2011/nov/09/how-beethoven-became-american-icon/

What do you think of Broyles’ argument?

If you read the book, what do you think of it?

And why do you think Beethoven is so popular in America – ad whether Beethoven would have liked America in hid=s lifetime?

The Ear wants to hear.

1 Comment »

  1. Perhaps my first attempt at a comment was abortive. Let’s try again…
    “roll over, Beethoven, and
    tell Tschaikowsky the news…” a phrase meant to indicate that rock n’ roll was causing classical composers to roll over in their graves. Berry is using irony here, as Beethoven’s deafness meant he could not have heard rock music from Beyond, yet he is supposed to inform Tschaikowsky that their music has been supplanted. Perhaps the Iron Curtain prevented the transfer of cultural information from West to East, above and below ground.
    Mozart certainly had outright opposition to the deference expected of artists to nobility. He got fired by the Achishop of Salzburg for not showing sufficient deference. The Broyles book says otherwise, and is in error there.
    Chuck Berry aso wrote:
    “I got no kick against modern jazz,
    Unless they try to play it too darn fast,
    They lose the beauty of the melody,
    Until it sounds just like a symphony…”
    This line is meant to equate jazz and classical music with “high” culture, but to also place jazz above classical music. Jazz was indeed being played very fast inthe mid-to-late 50’s, as the bop revolution had solidly taken root. Chuck Berry is the Lorenzo da Ponte, the E.T.A. Hoffman of rock lyricists, IMNSHO.
    Beethoven did NOT capture his day, by any means. Most pianists did not play ANY of his sonatas after his death. It was not until decades after Beethoven’s demise that Liszt played the Hammerklavier in public. Not to be outdone by the showman, Clara Schumann began to program as many of the Beethoven sonatas as were within her grasp. She deplored Liszt’s treatment of music as display, as entertainment, and thought Beethoven the most serious composer. Now we think of Beethoven as the ultimate in Classical music entertainment, as evidenced by such CD collections as “Beethoven’s Best”, Ultimate Beethoven”, and the like.
    As to the moral force of music, it can usurped or made to serve any master, anywhere, anytime. Myra Hess, (a German name if ever there was one,) played Beethoven sonatas frequently in her wartime musicales, often as buzz bombs were actively falling. The British were accepting of this German music, presented by an English artist with German roots not least because their own monarchy was a German family. Beethoven speaks of heroism, and the British needed that as much as the Germans, if not more so.
    Beethoven is classical music’s version of rock n’ roll. Just listen to the A Major symphony, and hear the same chords, in the same key, with the same rhythm, as music from “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who. Rhythm is Everything when it comes to style. Chords and scales remain constant, it is Rhythm that is so endlessly variable, and so vital to making French, German, Italian, Hungarian, English, Spanish, and yes, even American classical music communicate vastly different messages with the same 12 notes.
    MBB the long-winded one, with apologies to Schubert, another long-winded writer…

    Comment by Michael BB — April 3, 2012 @ 9:39 am

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