kinderman beethoven cover

Utopische Visionen und visionäre Kunst:
Beethovens Geistiges Reich Revisited
ed. by William Kinderman 
Vienna: Der Apfel, 2017
205 pp., € 38.60, ISBN 978-3-85450-117-6

Beethoven’s Shocking and Instructive “Geistiges Reich”

[1] Every now and again it is good to consider where we have been and, in the hope progress has been made, inquire how that came about and, if it has not, ask why. For what I want to measure I turn first to the book by Donald Francis Tovey, Beethoven, written off and on between 1912 and 1936, posthumously published in 1944. Not many would disagree with Tovey’s first two sentences. “Beethoven is a complete artist. If the term is rightly understood, he is one of the completest that ever lived.”[1] Tovey, a pivotal figure in Beethoven studies during much of the twentieth century and an influence still keenly felt today, is always worth revisiting, as indeed now in setting the stage for the volume under review here, for doing so provides a useful backdrop.[2] One reason why is a point Tovey makes early on. This time the statement is one with which many would disagree and some vehemently so, and that is the conviction that it is a mistake “to involve the reader in vulgar entanglements between the art and the artist’s private or official life.” A page later he writes that the “we” he believes constitutes his readership in the first half of the twentieth century “have been less ready to outgrow the crude reaction which positively demands that a work of art should shock rather than instruct.” Were he alive today it would be interesting to know if Tovey would soften or abandon such moralistic and class-laden turns of phrase as “vulgar entanglements” or the need “to outgrow” what he dubs “crude reaction.” Yet in many ways his reaction is understandable given that from the 1850s onwards reading a musical work, especially one by Beethoven, was to a large extent either partly or entirely undertaken with issues of a composer’s biography foremost in mind, an approach that began to lose favor only in the years immediately after World War I.[3] If Tovey were to mollify his view, it might be that he, Kinderman, and a goodly number of the individuals whose scholarship is represented in this volume would have a great deal to discuss. As for Tovey’s assertion that art should instruct but not shock, that idea might not inspire so much rigid dismissal as fine tuning. What I argue is this: an artist does not necessarily sacrifice completion or an ability to provide instruction if the resulting work itself is jolting. Cannot instruction and shock go hand in hand?

What I come away with from having read Utopian Visions and Visionary Art: Beethoven’s “Empire of the Mind” – Revisited is that shock and instruction can accompany one another and that to understand how the two interact entails inquiring into the inner Beethoven, that is to say his private life and the larger world in which he lived. That shock is not of the offensive kind. Instead, if the music is Beethoven’s, shock readily puts across the composer’s ability to astound listeners, an aspect of his music that critical explication needs to acknowledge.

Of course it would be helpful to know in what sense Tovey understood “shock.” As I use the word in conjunction with a characteristic discerned in much of Beethoven’s music, especially that which could be described as “visionary,” a definition worth bearing in mind is the first given for “shock” as an intransitive verb in the Oxford English Dictionary, and that is “to move suddenly and swiftly.” If Tovey and his readers eighty years ago felt the need to cordon off an artist’s life from the art the artist created, the attitude has not gone quietly by the wayside, but rather has been unreservedly rejected. It certainly has been banished from much of what one finds in Utopian Visions and Visionary Art. To be sure, a great deal of the material devoted to Beethoven’s “empire of the mind” meets at the art-artist intersection.

Kinderman Beethoven Figure 1
Figure 1: Ludwig van Beethoven (color print of the painting by Josef Mähler, 1815)
By courtesy of Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria

In many ways it is too bad that a full citation of the phrase “empire of the mind” does not appear in the book until page 75 (footnote 1), either to the German of Beethoven’s original letter in which he uses the construction or to the standard English edition of the composer’s correspondence.[4] Likewise, it would have been worth the effort to have related this publication to earlier studies of Beethovenian Utopias in order to show how the subject has been of interest during the past thirty or more years and to make plain the continuity of this line of inquiry which the book’s title emblazons. Relatedly, doing so would have helped to explain the inclusion of the word “Revisited” in both the German and English renderings of the book’s title (revisit presupposes a previous visit). To take but one example having to do with Utopias, the fifth section of Maynard Solomon’s Beethoven Essays includes three chapters gathered under the subheading “Some Varieties of Utopia.”[5] In the first of these chapters Solomon examines seven letters Beethoven wrote from December 1800 to September 1803 to composer and music publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister expressing himself on a wide range of political and ideological topics; the second and third chapters take as their subjects Beethoven’s religious beliefs and the composer’s near lifelong devotion to the writings of Friedrich Schiller, one that of course bore the most notable fruit in the choral finale of the Ninth Symphony. Too, Carl Dahlhaus, in the “Fidelio” chapter of his Ludwig van Beethoven, enlists the concept when he provides the chapter’s first section with the heading “Idyll and Utopia.” Yet he does so with an important caveat, and that is not to measure Utopia by today’s standards, which he argues, deems the concept “banal and meaningless.” For the early nineteenth century the concept was not negatively viewed, and as Dahlhaus asserts, “Utopia was not so exclusively political.”[6] Although not on the same level as Solomon’s essays or Dahlhaus’s chapter section, there also is John Crabbe’s Beethoven’s Empire of the Mind, which, if the book is a bit too chock full of quotations, nonetheless finds Crabbe forty years ago calling for a greater balance between the very thing Tovey was unwilling to consider: connections between an artist’s life and work. Even if the first part of the following statement is enormously overstated, as Crabbe saw it in 1982 it was time to promote understanding of Beethoven “not the musical thinker, who has been examined exhaustively, but the thinker about those fundamental things which shape one’s view of life and the universe.”[7] Again, I fail to fathom why the quest to understand Beethoven’s musical thinking in relation to the things that molded his life and worldview are not simultaneously possible and desirable.

[2] While not mentioning where the phrase “empire of the mind” derives up front or neglecting to direct the reader to Solomon’s essays or Dahlhaus’s chapter are not gaping flaws, they do highpoint a limitation of the publication: citations to both the primary and secondary literature are hit and miss and betray an overly quick delivery date to the publisher.

Pages 5–6 and 7–8 contain a volume preface respectively in German and English that is credited as having been edited (but not written?) by Kinderman. In the first paragraph Friedrich Schiller and Bloch are quoted, but in neither the German nor English renderings does one find citations to where these passages originate. The statement by Schiller, given in German as “Symbole des Vortrefflichen” (5) and in English as “effigy of the ideal” (7), would seem to come from his 1795 Ueber die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reyhe von Briefen. The authoritative scholarly edition of the Ästhetische Briefe is the Nationalausgabe while the standard English translation is that by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby.[8] The German passage, assuming it is from the Ästhetische Briefe, is misquoted. It should be “Symbolen”—that is the plural—“des Vortrefflichen,” and, had the English been quoted from Wilkinson and Willoughby, would have read “symbols of perfection.” Quibbles over faithfulness to Schiller’s German or a highly-regarded English translation notwithstanding, reduced to a tagline it is not clear what these three words accomplish. The subject of the first paragraph, which is where Schiller’s words are included, is challenging to sort out. It starts with Thomas More’s 1516 Utopia and ends by invoking the arrangement of the Ode to Joy theme as the official anthem of the European Union (not hymn as is asserted), in which along the way are worked in the concept of ideal societies. Schiller’s words come from Letter 9 of his Ästhetische Briefe, and although he mentions the ideal, the passage in question concerns how the real and ideal might be brought into balance, and so taken out of their original context here seem to be more cherrypicked to bolster the preface’s arresting start than initiate understanding of the utopian and visionary either in Beethoven’s life or music.

As for the Bloch reference, is the author Ernest or Ernst? As it happens, “principle of hope” is not a phrase but the title of a three-volume book by Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, in English The Principle of Hope, published in 1954, 1955, and 1959. While the three words in question are a bit more pertinent given that Bloch’s book studies the utopian inclination of cultural expression as an impetus for a better world, citing its title at the start of Utopian Visions and Visionary Art without additional clarification renders the beginning scattershot if not hyperbolic. An arguably more useful beginning would have informed the reader how and in what ways Beethoven’s music is visionary and how each essay illuminates that subject. While time-consuming to prepare, an index would have been welcomed alongside greater editorial oversight. The number of errors and inconsistencies suggests inadequate time set aside for proofreading. Eight chapters include footnotes, while five do not; only one includes a bibliography.

Issues of this sort aside, the book is handsome, published on thick, high-quality paper with twenty-eight color illustrations. The cover as well as page 39 reproduces the famous three-quarter length portrait (1804–5) of Beethoven by Willibrord Joseph Mähler (1778–1860), until recently at the Pasqualati House in Vienna, now installed at the new Beethoven Museum at Probusgasse 6 in Heiligenstadt, in Beethoven’s day a Vienna suburb, now part of Döbling, the city’s nineteenth district.[9] Musical examples also figure in the book, although not as plentifully as illustrations. There are seven in Robert S. Hatten’s “Staging Subjectivity as Spiritual Freedom: Beethoven’s ‘Emergent’ Themes” (75–88), one in Friedemann Sallis’s “The Tempest (Op. 31/2) between Theories of Form and the Rhetoric of Music” (101–15), and six (without identification beyond what the text indicates) in Kinderman’s “Beethovens Schaffensprozess: ‘das geschwinde Treffen … mit der bessern Kunst-Vereinigung.’”

Kinderman Beethoven Figure 2
Figure 2: Beethoven Museum at Probusgasse 6, Heiligenstadt, Vienna
Picture by Birgit and Peter Kainz, by courtesy of Museen der Stadt Wien

The volume began as a two-day March-2017 international conference in Vienna in anticipation of the November 2017 opening of the Heiligenstadt Beethoven Museum, mentioned above. The publication is divided into five sections: I. “Beethoven’s ‘Empire of the Spirit’”;[10] II. “Beethoven’s Credo and Aesthetic Vision”; III. “Beethoven’s Creative Process: New Perspectives”; IV. “Aesthetic Perspectives from Beethoven’s Age and Beyond”; and V. “Beethoven in Heiligenstadt: Presentation of a New Museum Concept.”

The first section (15–35) is devoted in its entirety to an exchange between Kinderman and John Elliot Gardiner, the latter the well-known conductor of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Baroque music more generally, of Beethoven’s and Berlioz’s orchestral works with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, and author of Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach (London: Penguin, 2013).[11] Kinderman deserves thanks for securing such a distinguished conductor to participate in the 2017 conference and ensuing book. Even though musicologists nowadays study music within the context of the time and place of those who composed and performed it—in contrast to Tovey’s position—there remains much to be done to bring down the wall between music scholars and performers. With this last point in mind, it would be difficult to imagine a performer more capable of taking a brickbat to that wall than Gardiner, an individual who, as this book makes clear, discharges prose suffused with enormous depth and knowledge, not just about music but culture more broadly. Among other things, he can distinguish the political fallout of the revisions of the composer’s Leonore (1804–5) a decade later in the guise of Fidelio (1814), and make a plea for the “immediacy of expression,” the “experimental nature,” the “power and purity of emotion” of the earlier version, and go on to support that contention with the statement that in “Leonore Beethoven was searching for the ideal in the face of fear” (16). Although Tovey nowhere is mentioned, what Gardiner writes as he continues could be taken as a pointed refutation of the position with which Tovey begins his Beethoven. “The truth,” Gardiner asserts, “is that Leonore and Fidelio were the products of separate thoughts, moods[,] and times. Leonore seems almost to be a mirror of Beethoven’s own many-sided character” (17). Although one is under no obligation to accept the notion that there is an enigma relating to political revolution in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, it is intriguing to read in the Kinderman volume Gardiner’s discussion of his 2016 documentary film, The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in which he brings to life in performance interpretative ideas broached by music scholar Arnold Schmitz in 1927 and conductor-musicologist Peter Gülke later in the twentieth century. Admitting that Schmitz’s idea is not absolutely provable, Gardiner believes it provides a way in to understanding the Fifth. This is not to suggest that Gardiner lacks his own ideas about the work, simply to state he is open to the thinking of both performers and scholars, a broadmindedness that has not always found its way to the conductor’s podium.

[3] Given the volume’s broad array of subjects, in what remains I devote attention to only three chapters. Doing so is not intended to signal displeasure or to slight articles to which I do not give individual attention. There are two reasons for this decision. The first is that even in a relatively slim publication of 205 pages yet with fourteen individual chapters it is unrealistic to encapsulate each. Instead of breathless overview, what strikes me as a more worthwhile endeavor is to follow what I discern as a common thread that stitches together Beethoven’s “empire of the spirit”; how one gains understanding of that realm; the degree to which the three essays I discern as most relating to this topic shed light on my first two points; and a consideration of Tovey’s assertion that the musically shocking and instructive are somehow antithetical. Others will take up for their own focused reasons Helmut Loos’s provocative “Beethoven und die postfaktische Musikgeschichtsschreibung: Der Heros und seine Legenden” (a rough translation: Beethoven and the Post-Truth Historiography of Music: The Hero and His Legends [138–53]). So richly argued and documented is Loos’s contribution, as well as the next one, Susana Zapke’s “Beethoven und die Unterdrückten: Revolutionäre Kunst und Kunstpolitik in der ersten Republik” (Beethoven and the Oppressed: Revolutionary Art and Art Politics in the First Republic [154–75]) that another direction for the remainder of this review easily could have concentrated on these two alone—not only the absorbing line of inquiry but the inclusion of an abundance of iconographic material that helps to further the argument of each. For those who have yet to visit the new Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt, the penultimate essay, Lisa Noggler’s “Ta-Ta-Ta-Taaa: Beethoven ausstellen; das Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt” (Ta-Ta-Ta-Taaa: Exhibiting Beethoven; the Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt [177–83]) provides many an incentive to book the earliest available flight to Vienna, as does Kinderman’s concluding contribution, “The Conception and Realization of the New Beethoven Museum in Vienna/Heiligenstadt” (184–92; German version, 193–202).

An intriguing starting place for the topic on which I wish to focus is Robert H. Hatten’s “Staging Subjectivity as Spiritual Freedom: Beethoven’s ‘Emergent’ Themes” (75–88). In an especially striking beginning with reference to two letters Beethoven wrote in 1814, Hatten reminds us that Beethoven did not draw lines between the affairs of the world and those of “the empire of the mind” (75).[12] As Hatten continues, in the second letter Beethoven asserts that his own spiritual domain is of greater value than that pertaining to civil or military activity. But of course, and contrary to Tovey and others who support the view he articulates above, the scope of the composer’s “Geistiges Reich” is vastly restricted if reference to matters beyond music are forsaken. Given what follows, one cannot help but wonder how long the Toveys of this world would spin given that Hatten proceeds to conflate the metaphors Beethoven uses in these two letters, on the one hand the empire of the mind, on the other, and as Beethoven describes that realm, one more powerful than “worldly monarchies.”

Some readers might be inspired to spin in puzzlement because Hatten’s conflation is nothing less than one in which he envisions Beethoven’s “imaginative mind creating powerful significance with a virtual world of evanescent sounds,” by which he means “music’s capacity to imply virtual subjectivity” (76). To do justice to what Hatten has in mind demands a bit more direct quotation. Seeking not to demonstrate how Beethoven’s music might change the world, Hatten’s aim instead is “to examine … the compositional strategies by … which Beethoven could simulate or enact aspects of human subjectivity.” Thus Hatten is interested in “internal musical processes that have potential external significance of actions, and reactions, implying thoughts, and emotions,” processes he believes that “can coalesce into a virtual agency with deeply human characteristics.” “More specifically,” Hatten states that he “will explore how Beethoven, already in his first style period, musically enacts the experience of freedom as emerging or taking flight—and how he then models this experience as spiritual freedom” (76).

Included as they are within the pages of this conference volume, I can think of few passages from the annals of music scholarship that set a more ambitious aim or with which more music historians or theorists might be inclined to take issue or at the very least pause and ask the question, “what is this and where is it headed?” Can Hatten make good on so all-encompassing an objective? If yes, does he explain what he means by freedom and the subsequent apparent refinement of the concept under the rubric of spiritual freedom? Too, what really does Hatten mean when he claims that internal musical processes have the potential for external significance as actions, reactions, thoughts, and emotions, much less how any of these can take on the characteristics of virtual agency marked by human attributes?

For any number of reasons—and I hope readers of this volume will be inclined to do likewise—I resolved to accompany Hatten on the journey he proposes to take us. Much of what he writes, his manner of formulating thoughts, and his insight into music are breathtaking, a word I mean positively. What will give some readers pause is that support for his many fascinating observations is untethered by contemporaneous writings aside from words addressed in support of Beethoven in 1809 by a number of his aristocratic patrons who were pledging to provide him with a grant of 4,000 florins a year. When they did, they stressed the “flight” of Beethoven’s genius, the need for “freedom,” one pivoting on a “release” that dissolves quotidian limitations in order to make possible an ascent to the “sublime.” In a conference paper subsequently published in a volume that shows signs of having been rushed into print, one can forgive many things, and I am prepared to do just that, including adding my endorsement of much of what Hatten writes.

[4] Yet there likely will be some who question how Hatten arrives at his insights, however intuitively persuasive they ultimately may be. Those observations would have been stronger had he founded them on aesthetic and philosophical currents from Beethoven’s day, a subject that has found many takers as of late.[13] In the event, the single example of Hatten attempting to do that is not problem free, that is the above-cited document in which Beethoven’s patrons pledged financial support. I am thankful for Hatten’s footnote reference on this matter (82), but found myself bewildered that his source is one from 1917, in turn an English translation of a work brought out in French ten years earlier, Romain Rolland’s Beethoven.[14] While Rolland is credible enough, his book does not provide a sufficient framework within which to weigh the significance of the words Hatten elects to emphasize if for no other reason than Rolland intentionally fashioned a popular biography and not a documentary, source-based study. One resource from among many that would have provided the necessary framework is Thayer’s Life of Beethoven.[15] Turning to pages 457–58, it becomes clear that, as Thayer calls it, the “annuity contract” was as much a legal document as it was anything else and that the author is not Beethoven but the signees, Archduke Rudolph, Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowitz, and Prince Ferdinand Kinsky, and that the contract’s primary purpose was to induce Beethoven to remain in Vienna and not to take up a position in Kassel. Beethoven certainly expressed interest in the ideals Hatten mentions, but to start and stop with the annuity contract is of limited use if one hopes to demonstrate Beethoven’s interest in the high-minded ideals Hatten adduces. To do that would require a great deal more sleuthing and synthesis of a wide variety of material, including Beethoven’s letters, conversation books, texts he used in song settings, his attraction to various writers from his era, as well as founding all of this on an ever-growing array of secondary sources. As for how Beethoven understood freedom, the gap between what can be hoped for versus what can be historically documented is something of a scholarly labyrinth. If not labyrinth, then a subject that cannot be tossed off without greater specificity. Is the subject the political freedom Beethoven explores in Leonore/Florestan? What precisely is spiritual freedom?

Something resembling an answer emerges with Hatten’s discussion of the first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 110 A-flat Major Piano Sonata, where he asserts there are “two beginnings,” the first comprising the opening four measures, the second the eight measures thereafter with its “soaring theme over an Alberti bass” which “captivates and takes the listener to a higher spiritual realm” (85). At length, Hatten asserts there is more that joins these two phrases than one at first might think. Indeed, he locates an “decisive reference” linking the two phrases in such a way that “the second displaces the first only to complete its unfulfilled desire. Here spiritual freedom is involved in the capacity to transcend incompleteness and discover greater meaning” (87; emphasis in the original).

Kinderman Beethoven Figure 3
Figure 3: Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)
By courtesy of Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv Austria

I have to wonder if part of the problem I have with this is that for Hatten to have done greater justice to his sensitive musical insights would have required him to spend more time setting up his argument. One way to have done that would have been to turn to writers from Beethoven’s day, and one in particular in whom the composer is known to have been intensely interested, Friedrich Schiller, who, despite being brand-identified as the poet of freedom treats that subject in a variety of different ways, some of which are emphatically not reducible to freedom from oligarchic tyranny. As Gail K. Hart recently has shown as persuasively as any scholar I have encountered, “in the best sentimental or post-lapsarian style, Schiller worked for freedom.”[16] Turning directly to Schiller, Letter 20 of the Ästhetische Briefe, he asserts that freedom—and he surely means spiritual freedom—“arises only when man is a complete human being, [and] both his fundamental drives [the rational and the sensuous] are fully developed.”[17] To come quickly to the point, I turn to another Schiller scholar, Frederick Beiser, who in his Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination explains the particular concept of work I have in mind this way.[18] Writing about Schiller’s Ästhetische Briefe, Beiser observes that Schiller formulates the view that “a person is free only if he lives and acts as a complete human being,” that is “only if he develops all his characteristic powers as both a rational and sensible being.”[19] To develop those powers most obviously requires work, hard work at that, yet Schiller finds in art a helping hand when he describes the Spieltrieb, the play-drive that, through art, rejoins the sensuous (Sinntrieb) and abstract (Formtrieb), a reunion that releases humankind from “the shackles of circumstance,” in other words frees one from constraint.[20] As much as I want to be persuaded by Hatten, he would have made his points more persuasively with a great deal more historical context. Readers of Hatten here will be interested to know that he more fully makes the case for such an approach to musical analysis in his A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music,[21] yet in turning to that publication I again observe that the cultural context of Beethoven’s age plays a negligible role; in the case of Schiller none at all.

More successful is Friedemann Sallis’s “The Tempest (Op. 31/2) between Theories of Form and the Rhetoric of Music” (101–15). He begins by taking direct aim at the longstanding chasm that has divided musical scholarship for much of the twentieth century. Adducing not Tovey, but an American Beethoven scholar, Sallis observes that the writer in question claimed that music analysis can and should be carried out by rigorously excluding such external specifics as the date on which the work was completed, the circumstances of its composition and indeed any knowledge at all of the composer: as though the dots and lines on pieces of staff paper were sufficient for understanding cultural phenomena as complex as a piece of art music (101).

[5] Sallis rejects such a thoroughly blinkered approach. Nor does he accept the view expressed by another well-known scholar of Classical-era European music who “conspicuously” excludes the theoretical insight of writers contemporaneous with Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven because such writers “did not properly understand harmonic structure and were not privy to the omniscient perspective” developed during the latter twentieth century (102). Sallis finds “this sort of arrogance with regard to the knowledge of the past as disconcerting as it is presumptuous” (102). Taking on some pretty heavy hitters, Sallis does so with clarity, logic, poise, and polished prose. Yet in the end I wanted more because just at the point where one might have thought he would provide one or two examples of the type of musical analysis he advocates, he draws to a close. Happily, such an example is close at hand in this volume, the last I will consider, that by Mark Evan Bonds.

Bonds’s focus is a single work, Beethoven’s Opus 95 String Quartet, subtitled “Serioso.” It needs to be mentioned, as it is at the foot of the article’s first page in Kinderman’s volume, that an infinitely more comprehensive version has appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society,[22] where it includes numerous musical examples and, at the Journal’s website, recorded musical examples. (The English-language version appeared in print only after the oral presentation in Vienna.) As transmitted in the volume here the title is “Beethoven, Friedrich Schlegel und der Begriff der Unverständlichkeit” (Beethoven, Friedrich Schlegel and the Concept of Incomprehensibility” [127–37]). Although the fuller treatment Bonds accords his topic is more rewarding, even in its abbreviated version what he has to say about Opus 95, Friedrich Schlegel, and incomprehensibility as an aesthetic category is no less valuable, for he points towards a new way of understanding an essential feature of the quartet and a guiding precept of what would become a hallmark of Beethoven’s late style. That idea goes back to one mentioned in relation to Hatten’s article, that of hard work, and, while Bonds credits Schlegel with the new-found prestige accorded incomprehensibility, the diligence required to sort that out most likely has some foundation in Schiller.

What is indisputable is that Bonds provides an object lesson in bringing together music analysis and cultural context, the ultimate aim of which is to understand music more completely. Writing to his publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in 1809, Beethoven declared “there is hardly any treatise that is too learned for me. While I have not the slightest pretension to what properly is called scholarship, from childhood I have tried to understand what the better and wiser people of every age were driving at in their works.”[23] Were it not for Beethoven’s admission that he cannot pretend to have gone through the rigors of “what properly is called scholarship,” one might accuse him of boasting. Including that reference and continuing as he does reveals an individual with a strong desire to tackle philosophical subjects. As Bonds shows here, and even more so in his longer article, Beethoven sometimes found ways, and striking ways at that, to translate what he learned from “better and wiser people” into music. In the case of incomprehensibility, the goal was not the mystery, say, of the Great Sphynx of Giza, but of raising the bar to compel listeners to respond to music not passively but actively, sometimes forcibly so, aided by a goodly measure of instructive shock. In other words, in writing Opus 95 with its seemingly confounding finale coda (beginning at measure 133), Beethoven shifted from being a composer on whom the burden of intelligibility fell to one where that responsibility fell to the listener (133). This contrast in compositional approach in turn promoted new modes of listening, one result of which is that Unverständlichkeit could not so readily be dismissed as the musical shortcoming it once had been. As Bonds puts it (137), “Um dies alles zusammenzufassen: In den 1820er Jahren hat das implizite Verhältnis zwischen Komponist and Zuhörer angefangen sich wesentlich zu verändern. Die Unverständlichkeit eines Kunstwerks wurde eben nicht mehr automatisch als Verfehlung des Komponisten aufgefasst. Zum ersten Mal in der Musikgeschichte wurde von Zuhörern erwartet, dass sie sich die Mühe machen, dem Gedankengang des Komponisten zu folgen.” Or, to turn to the comparable passage in his JAMS article, “Within a few years of Beethoven’s death … the assumed relationship between composers and listeners had changed in fundamental ways. For the first time in the history of [European] music, listeners were expected to work. It was no longer enough to be merely attentive (‘aufmerksam’): listeners now had to engage their own imaginations and meet composers on a higher level of thought.”[24]

I would like to think Tovey would be open to the approach for which Sallis winningly argues and Bonds so convincingly and elegantly puts into practice and therefore not deem their contributions as anything other than positive contributions to understanding a composer who demands interpretation, a composer who sometimes packages his inducement to listeners to creatively engage their imaginations by means of instructive shock. I do not see Sallis and Bonds as muddying the waters but rather building bridges over oftentimes muddy waters. For all this, in the sense I believe Tovey meant it, Beethoven remains “a complete artist.” Thanks to sophisticated ways of exploring his relationship with the world around him, understanding Beethoven’s music, while still a work in progress, has found additional avenues of exploration beyond what Tovey sanctioned in 1944.


  1. Donald Francis Tovey, Beethoven, ed. Hubert J. Foss (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), 1.
  2. The most recent assessment of the intellectual background to Tovey’s writings on music is Craig Comen, “Tovey’s Idealism,” Music and Letters (forthcoming),
  3. Peter Gay, The Naked Heart: The Bourgeois Experience; Victoria to Freud (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), 4–5, characterizes the post-Enlightenment European worldview as a “pilgrimage to the interior,” a “preoccupation with the self” with art a primary means of expressing the innermost self.
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven, Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, ed. Sieghard Brandenburg, 7 vols. (Munich: G. Henle, 1996–98), 3:64–65, letter no. 747; and The Letters of Beethoven, ed. and trans. Emily Anderson, 3 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1961), letter no. 502; Autumn 1814.
  5. Maynard Solomon, Beethoven Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). Chapters 13, 14, and 15, respectively: “Beethoven’s Magazin der Kunst,” 191–204; “Beethoven and Schiller,” 205–15; and “The Quest for Faith,” 216–29.
  6. Carl Dahlhaus, Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to His Music, trans. Mary Whittall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 188. The German edition is Ludwig van Beethoven und seine Zeit (Laaber: Laaber, 1987), 230: “Und man versteht die innere Einheit, die in Fidelio die dramaturgischen Gattungen und deren sozialpsychologische Implikationen zusammenhält und miteinander vermittelt, erst dann, wenn man sich bewußt macht, daß nach den Begriffen des früheren 19. Jahrhunderts die Idylle nicht so trivial und substanzlos und andererseits die Utopie nicht so ausschließlich politisch war, wie sie dem gegenwärtigen Denken erscheint.”
  7. John Crabbe, Beethoven’s Empire of the Mind (Newbury: Lovell Baines, 1982), 10.
  8. Schillers Werke. Nationalausgabe, vol. 20, part 1, Philosophische Schriften, ed. Benno von Wiese with the assistance of Helmut Koopmann (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1962), 336; On the Aesthetic Education of Man In a Series of Letters, ed. and trans. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 61. References to the two sources hereafter will be to ÄB and AE respectively.
  10. Here “Geistiges Reich” is translated as “Empire of the Spirit,” whereas in the book’s title the same German phrase is rendered as “Empire of the Mind.” No explanation is given for the difference in translation. In the remainder of this article-review I will use the English “empire of the spirit” or “spirit” to convey Geist.
  11. One may view the Vienna exchange between Gardiner and Kinderman of March 15, 2017 at
  12. Hatten cites Beethoven’s letters to Count Franz Brunsvik, February 13, 1814 (Brandenburg, Beethoven Briefwechsel, 3:8–9, letter no. 696) and Johann Nepomuk Kanka, Vienna, Autumn 1814 (Brandenburg, Beethoven Briefwechsel, 3:64–65, letter no. 747).
  13. Citing just a few examples, scholarly publications that link interpretative or analytical insights and writings from Beethoven’s time include the following. Hermann Danuser, chapter 2, “Das Finale von Beethovens Neunter Symphonie,” in Weltanschauungsmusik (Schliengen: Edition Argus, 2009), 591; Owen Jander, Beethoven’s “Orpheus” Concerto: The Fourth Piano Concerto in its Cultural Context, North American Beethoven Studies 5 (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2009); Thomas Sipe, Beethoven: Eroica Symphony, Cambridge Music Handbooks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Janet Schmalfeldt, In the Process of Becoming: Analytic and Philosophical Perspectives on Form in Early Nineteenth-Century Music, Oxford Studies in Music Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Elaine R. Sisman, “Memory and Invention at the Threshold of Beethoven’s Late Style,” in Beethoven and His World, ed. Scott Burnham and Michael P. Steinberg (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 51–87; and her “Pathos and the Pathétique: Rhetorical Stance in Beethoven’s C-Minor Sonata Op. 13,” Beethoven Forum 3 (1994): 81–105.
  14. Romain Rolland, Beethoven, trans. B[erta] Constance Hull (New York: Henry Holt, 1917), 33. First published as Vie de Beethoven (Paris: Hachette, 1907), 47–48. For an open access edition of this book, see Vie de Beethoven, 7th ed. (Paris: Hachette, 1914), 47–48
  15. Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, rev. and ed. Elliot Forbes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973). For the first English-language printing of this book, see Alexander Wheelock Thayer, The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven, ed. and transl. Henry Edward Krehbiel (New York: The Beethoven Association, 1921), vol. 1, vol. 2, and vol. 3. 
  16. Gail K. Hart, “Schiller’s ‘An die Freude’ and the Question of Freedom,” German Studies Review 32, no. 3 (October 2009): 480. Hart’s emphasis. Her use of “sentimental” refers to Schiller’s 1795 essay, “Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung”. For an English-language translation available online, see Friedrich von Schiller, Naive and Sentimental Poetry and On the Sublime: Two Essays, trans. Julius A. Elias (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1966).
  17. ÄB, 373; AE, 139. 
  18. Frederick Beiser, Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 229.
  19. Ibid.
  20. ÄB, 410; AE, 215.
  21. Robert S. Hatten, A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music, Musical Meaning and Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018).
  22. Mark Evan Bonds, “Irony and Incomprehensibility: Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, and the Path to the Late Style,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 70, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 285–356.
  23. Letter of November 22, 1809; Brandenburg, Beethoven Briefwechsel, 2:88–90, letter no. 408. Anderson, Letters of Beethoven, 1:30, letter no. 26.
  24. Bonds, “Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ String Quartet,” 331.


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