[Marxism] In Search of Beethoven
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
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.
> 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
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