Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Music, Revolution, and Romantic Culture: an Introduction to Beethoven

Instructor: Nathan Shields
Goethe-Institut New York
30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

Few composers have been more discussed, analyzed, or mythologized than Beethoven. For two centuries the power and inventiveness of his music have not only kept it at the center of the canon, but have shaped our ideas about the nature and potentialities of music itself, inspiring and provoking artists, philosophers, and political parties alike. Musical factions from the classicist to the avant-garde, and political causes from the democratic to the authoritarian, have all sought to claim him as their own. But the very factors that ensure Beethoven’s centrality also make him elusive, since it is difficult to disentangle his music from the myths surrounding it and the uses to which it has been put. How do we decipher its meaning when it has been taken to mean so many different things?

In this course we will explore Beethoven’s music in the context of the ideas, art, and political struggles that shaped it, revealing a musician at once stranger and more of his time than his popular image suggests. Through a selective study of the symphonies, piano sonatas, string quartets, and Missa Solemnis—along with readings by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Thomas Mann, Theodor Adorno, and Edward Said—we will consider his music’s relationship both to the Enlightenment ideals out of which it was born and the Romantic movement it helped to shape. And finally we will consider what Beethoven’s subsequent influence and reception reveals about the singularity and enduring power of his music—a unique and unsettling synthesis of classical rationalism, Romantic sublimity, and prophetic grotesquery that is as compelling and disturbing today as when it was written.

Music, Revolution, and Romantic Culture: an Introduction to Beethoven is being held in conjunction with Carnegie Hall’s Beethoven Celebration—a 2020 event series marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth—and in partnership with Goethe-Institut New York

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:45-9:45pm
March 02 — March 23, 2020
4 weeks


Registration Open

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