What one conceives oneself to be doing and what one is perceived by one’s public to be doing are two different things. For Beethoven the New Path (what later history would name the Second, or “Heroic,” Period) was mainly a private matter between himself and his Muse. For the public it was a different and grander issue. After the inevitable inertia of opinion, a growing chorus of musicians, listeners, and critics called the Eroica unprecedented, magnificent, terrifying, exalted: revolutionary and before long Romantic. Yet while many of his audience joined Beethoven to the spirit of the French Revolution, he never said anything to that effect (though never denied it, either).

In his Bildung [formation] and in his temperament, Beethoven was not a Romantic, and he never called himself a revolutionary. He based much of what he did on tradition, models, and authorities, and he never intended to overthrow the past. He was an evolutionist more than a revolutionist. Call him a radical evolutionary, one with a unique voice. —from Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph (2014)

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Editor’s note: The featured image is “A Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven” by Joseph Willibrord Mähler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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