[Marxism] In Search of Beethoven

Shane Mage shmage at pipeline.com
Wed Sep 23 14:46:45 MDT 2009

On Sep 23, 2009, at 2:46 PM, Louis Proyect wrote:
"The culmination of Beethoven’s democratic sympathies can be found in  
“Fidelio”, an opera that pitted its imprisoned hero against an evil  
tyrant. It was the counterpart of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, another  
anti-authoritarian masterpiece."

Fidelio and Don Giovanni are both completely misunderstood, and in  
that sense alone are counterparts.  The misunderstanding consists of  
applying a mechanical liberal prejudice in direct violation of the  
text and the dramatic action (the inversion of the condemnatory  
liberal misreading of Wagner) of those *musical* masterpieces.

Louis goes right to the heart of the illusion when he repeats the  
liberal cliche "*Fidelio*, an opera that pitted its imprisoned hero  
against an evil tyrant."  The least of it is that the hero shows  
absolutely no sign of "democratic sympathies."  She is exclusively  
motivated by "gattenliebe," conjugal (ie., patriarchal) love.  And who  
is the "evil tyrant?"  Everybody unthinkingly says "Pizarro, the  
prison-warden." But who is Pizarro?  And who is Florestan?"  In  
soliloquy (and soliloquy is by definition honest)  Pizarro reveals  
that he was once powerful but was nearly ruined by some machination in  
which Florestan was involved
and which involved some murder for which he blames Florestan ("den  
Mörder selbst zu morden").  Rehabilitated but reduced to the rank of a  
prison warden, he has found Florestan imprisoned in his gaol and is  
taking revenge by slowly starving him to death in his deepest  
dungeon.  But court politics have changed and now Fernando, a  
confederate ("friend") of Florestan, has become Minister of the  
Interior.  He is about to make an inspection of the prison, so Pizarro  
has to cut short his revenge plan and murder Florestan personally-- 
leading to Leonora's heroic defense of her husband  and the Minister's  
ordering the release of Florestan and the imprisonment of Pizarro.

The key question, which no liberal even asks, is "who imprisoned  
Florestan, secretly, arbitrarily, and without trial?"  But the answer  
is obvious--Bourbon Spain was always a tyranny, a royal despotism.   
Who had the power ("lettre de cachet")
of arbitrary imprisonment?  The Holy Inquisition, of course, but it  
was not involved in the Florestan affair.  Who else?  The King, duh.   
And how does Beethoven speak of that royal tyrant? "Des besten königs  
wink und wille führt mich zu...der Frevel Nacht enthulle...." ("The  
will and signal of the best of kings sends me to...uncover the night  
of crime...")  The despotic monarch has decided to free one set of  
political prisoners in order to imprison a set from a different  
faction, that's all.  And that is the "best of kings" adulated by  
Beethoven, the supposed democrat.  Which is to be expected from the  
composer of a Symphony celebrating "Wellington's Victory at the Battle  
of Vittoria."  But didn't Beethoven tear up the dedication page of his  
Third Symphony when he heard that Bonaparte had crowned himself  
Emperor?  Where then, were his "democratic sympathies" when Bonaparte  
had made himself dictator as "First Consul?"  Alas, in crowning  
himself Emperor, Bonaparte had ended the Holy Roman Empire.  And that  
act of lèse majesté to Beethoven's Austrian Kaiser was unpardonable.

As for Don Giovanni, it is perfectly true that it is an "anti- 
authoritarian masterpiece,"  but in exactly the opposite sense from  
that meant by the liberal critics.  To grasp that fact for yourself  
consider only these two (of many) things: (1) the closeness,  
especially in Mozart's day, of the cognates "liberty" and "libertine,"  
and (2) having (seemingly) been killed early one morning, by evening  
of that same day the Commendatore is (seemingly) buried in a graveyard  
with a massive equestrian statue over his tomb.

Shane Mage

> This cosmos did none of gods or men make, but it
> always was and is and shall be: an everlasting fire,
> kindling in measures and going out in measures."
> Herakleitos of Ephesos

More information about the Marxism mailing list