Link with Bernadotte

What is the truth

Beethoven as Republican

What Did Beethoven Think of Napoleon?

The Right Time to Compose

Dating the Ries Story

The Tempestuous Ludwig

Eroica in Performance

Did Beethoven Sell His Soul?



The Eroica Riddle: Did Napoleon Remain Beethoven's "Hero?"

Christopher T. George

A Great Myth: Beethoven the Democrat vs. Napoleon the Tyrant

In recording his memories of Ludwig van Beethoven, Ferdinand Ries set in stone one of the enduring myths of nineteenth century cultural history: That in 1804 the composer angrily revoked his planned dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte of his Third (Eroica) Symphony when he learned that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor. Ries recalled:

In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven's closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word "Buonaparte" inscribed at the very top of the title-page and "Luigi van Beethoven" at the very bottom. ...I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title "Sinfonia eroica." [1]

The essential truthfulness of Ries's recollection is confirmed by the biography by Anton Schindler, who served as assistant and unpaid secretary to Beethoven during the composer's last years. The former aide and confidante, though, names Ries and Count Moritz Lichnowsky as the joint bearers of the news "that Napoleon had allowed himself to be proclaimed Emperor of the French." [2]

Each retelling of the Ries story continues the myth that Beethoven the Democrat excoriated Napoleon Bonaparte the Tyrant. Initially, intellectuals throughout Europe looked upon Napoleon as a hero-including German artists such as Goethe and Beethoven. However, as time went on, they were disillusioned. In a recent consideration of Napoleon's reputation in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik reiterated the accepted myth when he wrote, "The most famous disillusionment [with Napoleon] is Beethoven's...." [3]

Beethoven in 1804
Beethoven in 1804

On the surface, the scene described by Ries would seem to be the final word on Beethoven and Napoleon. However, as we will discuss, Beethoven's apparent disgust only seems irrevocable when seen out of context of his other known remarks regarding the French ruler following and even before the Ries incident. The truth turns out to be much more complicated than Ries implies.

As we will examine, it was for practical and financial reasons that the composer could no longer publicly acknowledge Napoleon as the inspiration for the symphony. Thus, as published in October 1806, the symphony bore the name Eroica, with the subtitle, "per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo" - "to celebrate the memory of a great man." Even so, as observed by Claude V. Palisca, "Beethoven never denied the existence of a live hero under the nameless cloak." And nor did Beethoven attempt to modify the elements in Eroica's Funeral March that resemble the great funeral compositions of the French Republic, works with which the composer was evidently familiar. Palisca believes the allusions to the music of the Revolution, Directory, and Consulate "must have been introduced in part to flatter Napoleon" and presumably to make the long, difficult symphony "more palatable" to the First Consul. We might add this must have presented quite a challenge. In terms of his musical tastes, Napoleon is reported to have preferred Italian opera and martial tunes. [4]

According to Schindler, the idea of dedicating the symphony to Napoleon was suggested by then ambassador to Vienna Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. However, the erratic Schindler dates Bernadotte's ambassadorship to 1804 when in fact Bernadotte served as ambassador from February to April 1798. [5]

Can the story of the link with Bernadotte be believed?

Substantial questions have been raised about Schindler's version of Beethoven biography in light of evidence that he destroyed and even doctored the composer's papers. The former secretary destroyed two-thirds of around four hundred "Conversation Books" which the composer's associates utilized to communicate with the almost totally deaf Beethoven in his later years. It has also been proved that Schindler forged some 150 entries in the remaining 138 Conversation Books. [6]

Nevertheless, the notion that Marshal Bernadotte may have played a role in the genesis of Eroica is intriguing, if hard to verify. Schindler asserted that the composer became a visitor to Bernadotte's "salon" at the French embassy. Prior to frequenting the salon, Schindler claimed, "Beethoven...had already expressed great admiration for the First Consul of the Republic." When Bernadotte suggested to the composer that he "honour the greatest hero of the age in a musical composition...the master, having battled with his political scruples" wrote such a masterpiece. The composer's admiration, Schindler says, stemmed not from Bonaparte's military victories but because the First Consul had produced "political order out of the chaos of a bloody revolution." [7] Did Schindler, a known republican, twist the facts to make Beethoven appear more of a democrat? Earlier this century, Vincent d'Indy accused him of doing just that. He asserted that the Bernadotte story had been contrived by Schindler when "steeped in republican ideology and yielding to the mania for appearing progressive." [8]

What is the truth about the Bernadotte story?

Marshal Bernadotte who served as French ambassador in Vienna from February to April 1798.

Bernadotte resided in Vienna as French ambassador from 5 February to 14 April 1798. In just over two months, he would be forced to leave Vienna because of his own tactlessness. Foolishly, he insisted on wearing the French revolutionary tricolor on his hat, which goaded the royalist Austrians. He also flouted protocol by refusing to accord anyone any other official rank than "Citizen." On 13 April, he brashly flew the revolutionary tricolor from his balcony provoking a riot. This led to his abrupt departure the next day. [9]

Considering Bernadotte's behavior, would Beethoven have risked his reputation by associating with him? We should bear in mind that Beethoven was a German provincial from Bonn and not an established Viennese composer. He still had some way to go before achieving the high reputation of the late wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or even the still-living "Papa" Franz Joseph Haydn. [10]

Beethoven as Republican: Fact or Fiction?

A police state existed in Austria in the 1790's. Although evidence exists to suggest that Beethoven sympathized with the republican cause, he did not at first flagrantly display his beliefs. In the years following his arrival in Vienna in 1792, the composer showed no outward display of support for the revolutionary movement. Instead, Solomon notes, "Just as in Bonn...he tended to merge his views and interests with those of his patrons and with those of Vienna as a whole." [11]

After arriving in Vienna, the composer also attempted to cultivate an aura of nobility. He well understood that being known to belong to an aristocratic family would serve him well in Vienna. Unfortunately, his claim of nobility was proved to be a sham in 1818 during the court battle to adopt his nephew Karl following the death of his late brother. Previous to this exposé, he had allowed his name to appear in print with the Prussian aristocratic suffix "von." In an even more bizarre display of pretension, he had refused to publicly deny a rumor that he was the natural son of Frederick the Great. [12]

The truth seems to be that Beethoven put on patrician airs while he simultaneously held republican sympathies. In Beethoven and the French Revolution, Bishop Fan S. Noli states:

All [of] the slogans of the French Revolution can be found in Beethoven's writings and, sometimes, in places where we hardly expect them, in business letters and in love letters. [13]

What Did Beethoven Think of Napoleon Bonaparte?

It is not far fetched to believe that the composer held a degree of self-identification with Napoleon. The French ruler was barely a year older than he was. Both came from less than aristocratic backgrounds; Napoleon's family too had to establish their not too provable aristocratic pedigree to facilitate their son's admittance to a royal school for sons of the nobility. Both men hailed from provincial areas and had to go to capital cities to achieve success. Both men were short; Schindler states that Beethoven stood at five foot four, while most authorities put the "Little Corporal" at five foot two or three. [14]

Because Beethoven was such a contradictory man, it is hard to assess his attitudes toward Napoleon. Most likely, judging by the evidence about his convictions about a variety of topics, his opinions about the French ruler were far from clear-cut. Beethoven's letters paint a portrait of a changeable individual who switched moods with lightning speed. Thus, for example, we find him damning a music publisher as a "rascal" then in succeeding letters cheerfully doing business with that same publisher. J. S. Shedlock notes that Beethoven's words "only express the state of his feelings at certain times." Most likely, judging by the volatile moods exhibited in his letters, the episode described by Ries was just one more "momentary explosion of anger." [15]

Numerous shreds of evidence prove that Beethoven was not permanently alienated from Napoleon in the years following 1804. In 1824, the composer went to a coffeehouse with Karl Czerny. Czerny found a newspaper on a table containing an announcement for Sir Walter Scott's Life of Napoleon. "Napoleon!" Beethoven cried. "Formerly I disliked him. Now I think quite differently." [16]

In a Conversation Book of January 1820, a friend of Beethoven's expressed an almost identical sentiment. "As a German," the friend wrote, "I was [Napoleon's] greatest enemy, but with the passage of time I have come to terms with him." This is clear proof that Napoleon was not persona non grata in Beethoven's circle. In fact, the acquaintance went further in praise of the deposed ruler:

If Napoleon were to return now, he could expect a better reception in Europe. He understood the spirit of the times and knew how to keep a firm hold on the reigns... He had an appreciation for art and science and hated darkness. He would have valued the Germans more and would have protected their rights... He fought the feudal system and was the protector of laws and rights.... [17]

On hearing news of Napoleon's death in exile on St. Helena on May 5, 1822, Beethoven remarked, "I have already composed the proper music for that catastrophe." There is also the possibility that a passage in the Missa Solemnis may have been inspired by Napoleon's death. Its "Dona nobis pacem" features drumbeats and distant trumpet fanfares, then the contralto breaks into an anguished cry. Marek suggests that this passage could have been "a reminder of Napoleon, who died while Beethoven was working on the Missa...." [18]

Closer to the time of the Ries episode, we see evidence of Beethoven's lingering admiration for Napoleon in the diary of Baron de Trémont. The French civil servant visited the composer in 1809 during the French occupation of Vienna. The Baron recalled, "The greatness of Napoleon preoccupied him and he often spoke to me about it. I observed, he admired Napoleon's ascent from such a low beginning. It suited his democratic ideas." [19]

If the composer admired Bonaparte in the role of a Republican consul, he may have thought he could not tolerate him if he became an autocrat like Julius Caesar. In his study, Beethoven had on his writing table a small bust of Lucius Brutus, Caesar's assassin. [20]

Baron Trémont supplies evidence of the composer's mixed feelings about Napoleon. The Baron says he asked the composer whether he would like to get to know France. "I have always ardently desired to see France," Beethoven replied, "but that was before France acquired an Emperor. Now I've lost my inclination." On another occasion, the composer asked, "If I should go to Paris, should I obliged to pay a call on your Emperor?" The Baron assured him that he would not be obliged to do so. "And do you think that he would order me to attend on him?" the composer persisted. Trémont concluded, "This question led me to infer that, in spite of his convictions, Beethoven would have been flattered by distinctions bestowed upon him by Napoleon." [21]

The name "Bonaparte" was also not so offensive that he failed to think seriously about accepting an offer in autumn 1808 from Jerome Bonaparte, the new King of Westphalia. Jerome offered him six hundred gold ducats a year if he would serve as Kapellmeister or court composer to the Court of Cassel. In taking the position, Beethoven would continue a family tradition. In 1733, the composer's grandfather, Ludovicus van Beethoven, had been appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Cologne. But before he could think about accepting those tainted Bonapartian ducats, a Viennese cabal comprising Archduke Rudolph and Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky made offered to pay him 4,000 florins a year until he could find a more suitable position, or otherwise for life. [22]

Even more convincing proof that all was forgiven between Beethoven and Napoleon is provided in a notation that the composer wrote to himself in 1810. This memorandum finds Beethoven searching for a dedicatee for his Mass in C, Opus 86. The Mass, he told himself, "could perhaps be dedicated to Napoleon." [23]

The Right Time to Compose a "Bonaparte" Symphony

In order to understand the composer's planned dedication of his Third Symphony to Napoleon and his revocation of that dedication, we should discuss the timing of the writing of the symphony.

Beethoven in 1804

Napoleon's troops under Moreau won a crushing victory over the Austrians at Hohenlinden on December 3, 1800. Peace was concluded between Austria and France on February 9, 1801 in the Treaty of Lunéville, making way for a period of peace of four years' duration. Peace made it feasible for Beethoven to write a work in celebration of the achievements of the French leader. [24]

This time of peace followed Beethove's thirtieth birthday in 1800. Around this period, the composer was traumatized to realize that his deafness was worsening. In October 1802, while in Heiligenstadt, a village outside of Vienna, he wrote the so-called "Heiligenstadt Testament." In a long letter to his two brothers, never sent and discovered among his papers after his death, Beethoven described his despair and suicidal thoughts. [25]

A connection exists between Eroica and the Heiligenstadt Testament. Denis Arnold, noting that the testament shows the composer's resolve "to allow fate to take its course," concludes,

The Heiligenstadt Testament is a somewhat melodramatic document in which Beethoven places himself in the role of hero... fighting against overwhelming odds that would finally defeat him. The tortured mood is given more convincing expression in the Third ("Eroica") Symphony, a work inspired by and originally dedicated to Napoleon, then...the heroic embodiment of the anti-monarchist Revolution. [26]

Solomon also sees a link between the two products of Beethoven's mind:

In a sense [the testament] is the literary prototype of the Eroica Symphony, a portrait of the artist as hero, stricken by deafness, withdrawn from mankind, conquering his impulses to suicide,...hoping to find "but one day of pure joy." It is a daydream compounded of heroism, death, and rebirth, a reaffirmation of Beethoven's adherence to virtue and to the categorical imperative. [27]

The testament preceded by at least a decade and a half the deterioration in his hearing to the point that he could scarcely conduct. Arnold believes, though, that his condition distressed him sufficiently that "the emotional shock was enormous." [28]

Against this background of personal anguish, the composer became more overt in his political views. The planned dedication of his Third Symphony to Napoleon was one of a series of planned dedications to leaders of enlightened positions in 1800 to 1804. Solomon points out that the less than wealthy composer would receive no remuneration for "unpaid, honorary dedications." [29] Vincent d'Indy attached no importance to the dedication to Napoleon, likening it to dedications to rulers such as the King of Prussia. Noli countered, however, that for a Viennese composer "dedicating to Napoleon was taboo" while dedicating to rulers of states allied to Austria "was the regular thing to do." [30]

Beethoven toyed with the idea of relocating to Paris. The French capital might offer greener pastures, and dedication of a symphony to the First Consul could facilitate the move. For the same reason, Beethoven dedicated a new sonata for violin and piano to Rodolphe Kreutzer and Louis Adam "as the first violinist and pianist in Paris." [31]

The composer's decision to stay in Vienna caused him to change his mind about dedicating the work to Napoleon and to title it "Bonaparte." Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowitz was willing to pay him a sizable sum if he dedicated the symphony to him. Ries wrote to music publisher Nikolaus Simrock on 22 October 1803, "[Beethoven] wants very much to dedicate it to Bonaparte; if not, since [Prince] Lobkowitz wants [the rights to] it for half a year and is willing to give 400 ducats for it, he will title it Bonaparte." [32]

The manuscript copy of Eroica now in the library of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna shows that the work was to be a Sinfonia Grande Intitulata Bonaparte (A Great Symphony on Bonaparte). The title page bears the date "[1]804 im August" -though apparently in a hand other than the composer's. Written lightly in pencil in his own handwriting below his name is the annotation Geschrieben auf Bonapart (written in honor of Bonaparte). The latter annotation was never erased. However, in the main title, the name Bonapart has been scratched out so violently that the erasure has left a hole in the paper. Sir George Grove has written that "it is not at all impossible that it may the identical copy from which the title-page was torn off." [33]

On 26 August 1804, Beethoven wrote to publishers Breitkopf and Haertel to offer them "a grand new symphony...which is really entitled Bonaparte [emphasis Beethoven's]...." [34]

The Problem of Dating the Ries Story

Napoleon in coronation robes
Napoleon in coronation robes

Ries provided no date for the composer's revocation of the dedication to Napoleon. Undoubtedly, this is because when he wrote down his reminiscences, possibly as late as 1837, he could no longer accurately date the incident. The memoirs of Wegeler and Ries, published in Coblenz in 1838, were compiled decades after the events they describe. [35]

Faced with the problem of how to date the Ries episode, most writers have dated it to May 1804 when news reached Vienna that Napoleon had decided to become Emperor. However, why did Beethoven revoke the dedication in May and then write on 26 August that the symphony was "really entitled Bonaparte?" [36]

If the Ries episode did not occur in May but in December at the time of Napoleon's coronation, that solves the problem. A minority of writers have chosen to link the episode to the coronation, which followed the November French plebiscite overwhelmingly approving of the First Consul's decision to become Emperor. Such a sequence of events is also indicated by Schindler. One researcher who dates the episode to December 1804 is Virginia Oakley Beahrs. She has, I think, both accurately dated the episode and found the key to the matter, which revolves around whether to designate the ruler of France as "Bonaparte" or "Napoleon:"

Placing Ries's news of Napoleon's crowning in December, instead of the preceding May clarifies the August 26 letter to Beethoven's publishers...That Beethoven was still calling his hero "Bonaparte" in the August further proof that he did not yet know of the imperial appointment, after which [the former First Consul] would be known as Bonaparte no more, but Napoleon. [37]

Another way of looking at the quandary of dating the Ries story, is to assume that Beethoven did know of the First Consul's May decision. On hearing in December that the coronation had indeed taken place, he expressed his revulsion that Napoleon had indeed gone ahead and become Emperor. Knowing that Napoleon might become Emperor does not preclude, but makes more likely, his fit of anger on hearing that Citizen Bonaparte had joined the ranks of the old-style monarchs. Supporting my contention is that as early as 8 April 1802, two years before his explosion over the dedication, he had already expressed unhappiness with Napoleon on hearing that the French ruler had struck a deal with Pope Pius VII. Napoleon agreed to allow Rome to once more regulate the Catholic Church in France, and he would in turn permit the reopening of the churches that had been closed since the Revolution. In a letter to the music publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister, the composer wrote in a much provoked fashion:

May the devil ride the whole lot of you, gentlemen--what, suggest to me that I should write a sonata of that sort? At the time of a revolutionary fever--well, at that time it would have been worth considering, but now that everything is trying to get back into the old rut, Buonaparte has made his concordat with the Pope--a sonata of that sort? If at least it were aMissa pro Sancta Maria a tre voci or a Vespers, etc. well, in that case I should immediately take hold of the brush and write down a Credo in unum in enormous notes weighing a pound each--but good heavens, a sonata of that sort at the beginning of this new Christian age--ho! ho!--count me out of that, for nothing will come of it... [38]

The Tempestuous Ludwig van Beethoven

Besides the problem of dating the Ries story, we also have the problem of the tone. Beethoven's reaction as described by Ries seems mild when we acknowledge the vituperation in the composer's letters and numerous incidents recalled by friends. A typical fiery episode occurred in September 1806, when the composer visited Prince Lichnowsky's Silesian estate. Among the guests one evening happened to be a group of French officers. The suggestion was made that Beethoven play. Despite their urging, the composer adamantly refused. Someone, possibly the Prince himself, joked that he would be placed under house arrest if he did not play. Provoked by the perceived insult, Beethoven stormed out into the night. He hurried back to Vienna. On arriving home, he took a bust of Lichnowsky and smashed it on the floor. He then dashed off a note to his patron: "Prince, what you are you are by accident of birth; what I am I am through myself. There have been and still will be thousands of princes; there is only one Beethoven." [39]

Noli has produced an amusing rewrite of the Ries episode-an homage both to Beethoven's tempestuous music and personality:

To begin with, Beethoven would have started with a Homeric curse, poco a poco crescendo. Like this, for instance, Verflunct! Verdammt! Vermaledeiter, elender Schuft und gemeiner Lumpenkerl! Then, sempre crescendo, a dirty pun on Napoleon; another filthy one on Bonaparte; then with clenched fists, fortissimo with three fff, a smashing sledge-hammer blow on the hated title of Emperor; then a chair would hit [Count Moritz] Lichnowski or [Ferdinand] Ries or both; then books and bottles would fly around until nothing was left to fling; then descrendo and rallentando, the master falls exhausted on the table where the Third Symphony score is lying, saved intact from this hurricane as if by a miracle; then, piano, syncopated sobbing for the world-republic, reduced to a heap of ruins; then, a pianissimo, subterranean and infernal tympani roll; then a complete silence, the silence before the next storm; the master sees the "Bonaparte" dedication; the infernal tympani roll is repeated mezzopiano; the master's eyes are distended and his bristling mane is on edge; suddenly the full orchestra breaks into a crushing tutti fortissimo; then the tearing and the flinging of the title-page bearing the undeserved dedication takes place with a tremendous banging of the cymbals and a heart-breaking tympani roll. In a word, a "Weltumsturz." [40]

Noli adds, "There is...reason to suspect that Ries has rather soft-pedalled the whole thing. So in this incident, Ries follows on the footsteps of the pious Schindler!Et tu, Brute!" [41]

Undoubtedly the inaccuracies of Ries and Wegeler are minor compared to the mistakes and distortions of which Schindler stands guilty. For example, apparently under the impression that Bernadotte was still in place in 1804 as French ambassador to Vienna (six years after the fact), Schindler makes the following evidently unhistorical statement:

The fair copy of the score, with the dedication to the First Consul of the Republic...was ready to be given to General Bernadotte, who was to send it to Paris, when the news reached Vienna that Napoleon had allowed himself to be proclaimed Emperor... [42]

On 19 May 1804, Bernadotte was in Paris being named by the Emperor as a "Marshal of the Empire." Always looking out for his best interests, the Gascon officer had refused the appointment as ambassador to the United States in 1803 on learning of the sale of Louisiana to the Americans. For a year, he had bided his time waiting for a new position. To go with his marshal's baton, Napoleon appointed Bernadotte governor and commander-in-chief in Hanover with an army of 30,000, which in 1805 became I Corps in the Grande Armée. Given his new duties, combined with his uneasy relationship with Napoleon, it must be doubted if Bernadotte played any role in a plan to present the symphony to Napoleon. [43]

Eroica in Performance

Beethoven in 1814
Beethoven in 1814

The symphony received its first (private) performance in December 1804 at Prince Lobkowitz's palace. By now, the composer had purged all public acknowledgement that Napoleon had inspired the symphony. It would not have been politically wise for him to have retained that identification. War with France was once again on the horizon, and Lobkowitz was an ardent patriot who would raise a battalion of troops to combat the French. As Chandler has noted, Austria was second only to Great Britain in being an implacable foe to Napoleon. The Austrians were at war with France for thirteen-and-a-half years (against twenty-one-and-a-half years for the British) from January 1793 to November 1815. [44]

The first public performance of Eroica took place in Vienna on 7 April 1805 with Beethoven himself conducting. The work did not please the public. Czerny later said someone in the gallery yelled out, "I'll give another kreuzer if the thing will but stop!" [45]

The reviewer for the periodical Der Freymuthige found that the audience "thought the symphony too heavy, too long." To such criticism, Beethoven snorted, "If I write a symphony an hour long it will be short enough!" Though refusing to modify the score, he suggested the symphony be scheduled to be played near the beginning of a concert program, before the audience became tired. Public reaction to Eroica would continue to be mixed during his lifetime. It would though remain a personal favorite of his. Fourteen years after he wrote Eroica, by which time he had written seven other symphonies, he was asked by the poet Christoph Kuffner which symphony was his favorite. Beethoven, in an expansive mood after having enjoyed a fine fish dinner, replied, "The Eroica." [46]

Did Beethoven Sell His Soul?

Beethoven's greatest commercial success came not through Eroica, his homage to Napoleon, but through a work written in honor of the Emperor's nemesis, the Duke of Wellington. The Battle Symphony, better known as Wellington's Victory, celebrated the decisive victory over Napoleon's troops at Vittoria, Spain, on 21 June 1813. The composition has been dismissed by many as hack work. For instance, Schauffler scornfully labeled it "a piece of startling crudity." [47] He wrote:

It consists of brisk business for drums and trumpets, with brilliant changes rung on "Rule, Britannia" and "Malbrook," the tune known to Americans as "We Wonıt Go Home Till Morning." The climax of this preposterous phantasmagoria is actually "God Save the King," tortured into a fast fugato, with ingenious effects representing huzzas of the populace. [48]

Wellington's Victory
Title page of Wellington's Victory. This symphony was dedicated to the Prince Regent who became George IV of England.

With the success of Wellington's Victory, Beethoven was solvent for the first time. However, he soon came to realize that he had paid a high price. "Wellington's Victory was a piece of folly," he admitted. [49]

The Faustian price that Beethoven paid for the riches he had made included a lawsuit. To set the background, the work was originally conceived to be played on Johann Nepomuk Maelzel's "Panharmonicon," a giant music box. Maelzel, who was also inventor of the metronome, had an integral part in writing the piece. He suggested the work to the composer to cash in on the popular excitement in Vienna following the British victory. He even came up with the idea of the snatches of British patriotic tunes as well as the drum marches and trumpet flourishes. Before Beethoven finished the composition for the Panharmonicon, he arranged it for orchestra, following the inventor's suggestion. In this format, it received two performances in December 1813 along with the composer's Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. On those occasions, the box office receipts went to charity. The identical program was played 2 January and 27 February 1814, with the proceeds this time going solely to Beethoven. Maelzel protested, saying he had been defrauded of his rightful profits. The lawsuit was settled three years later. [50]

Beethoven dedicated Wellington's Victory to the Prince Regent and sent a copy of it to the Prince. Not receiving any reply, he wrote on 24 February 1823 to that royal personage, now George IV of England, seeking remuneration for the dedication. Along with the letter, he sent an engraved copy of the score. Although Beethoven may have been in the words of Robert Haven Schauffler "The Man Who Freed Music," [51] he was as dependent as Haydn and Mozart on royal favor. In the letter to the king, the composer wrote:

...For many years the undersigned entertained the dear wish that Your Majesty would most graciously let him know that [the copy of Wellington's Victory] had been duly received; but up to now, he has not been able to boast of this good fortune... [52]

This letter and engraved copy of the score were sent to Bauer, First Secretary of the Austrian Embassy in London, to be given to the King. Beethoven wrote to Ries, now a resident of London, instructing him to ask Bauer "to get me at least a battle-axe or a turtle for it." [53] Again no reply was forthcoming from the English court. In a letter of April, the composer expressed his desperation at not hearing from the king:

...My continued melancholy situation compels write immediately what will bring me in sufficient money for present use...I do beg you, my dear friend, to remit me as soon as possible anything you can get for it... [54]

Beethoven remained bitter to the end of his life that he never received a farthing from King George IV for writing The Battle Symphony. [55] For dedicating his Ninth Symphony to Frederick William III of Prussia in 1826, he was delighted to learn that the king was sending him a diamond ring. He was less than pleased, though, when the ring arrived and he found that the stone was only a cheap "reddish" gem (possibly a ruby). He told his friend Karl Holz that he intended to sell it for the 160 florins he understood it was worth. Holz protested, "Master, keep the ring, it is from a King." Beethoven rose up and cried out, "I too am a king!"[56]

Eroica title page
By permission of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn.
Eroica title page.


The author expresses his appreciation to Douglas R. Matchett for help in translating entries in Beethoven's Conversation Books. He also acknowledges the assistance of Patricia Elliott, Curator of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University, San José, California. For rights to republish the photograph of the original manuscript title page of Eroica, he thanks the Archiv der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, who also provided the portraits of Beethoven in 1801 and 1814. The Mähler portrait of 1804 is reproduced by kind permission of the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien in Vienna. The Beethovenhaus, Bonn, provided permission to publish the image of the title page to the piano score of Wellington's Victory.


  1. Ferdinand Ries, quoted in Michael Hamburger, ed., Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations (New York: Anchor Books, 1960), 29-30. An English translation of the reminiscences of Ries and Wegeler has been published as Franz Gerhard Wegeler,Beethoven Remembered: The Biographical Notes of Franz Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries (Arlington, Va.: Great Ocean Publishers, 1987).
  2. Anton Schindler, Beethoven as I Knew Him, edited by Donald W. MacArdle (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1966), 115-16. For discussion of the merits of Wegeler/Ries versus Schindler, see Eva Badura-Skoda, Introduction to Wegeler, Beethoven Remembered, xi-xxi, and Alan Tyson, "Ferdinand Ries: The History of his Contribution to Beethoven Biography," 19th Century Music, 7 (3 April 1984), 209-21.
  3. Adam Gopnik, "A Critic at Large. The Good Soldier. Almost Two Hundred Years Later, Napoleon Still Finds Himself in the Heat of Battle," The New Yorker, 24 November 1997, 106-14 (quote is on 113).
  4. Claude V. Palisca, "French Revolutionary Models for Beethoven's Eroica Funeral March," in Anne Dhu Shapiro, Music and Context: Essays for John M. Ward (Boston, Mass.: Department of Music, Harvard University, 1985), 198-209 (quote on 200). For a discussion of Napoleon's musical tastes, see Vincent Cronin, Napoleon (London: HarperCollins, 1994), 291-93.
  5. Schindler (MacArdle), 111-12. See also Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (New York: Schirmer Books, 1979), 86, 136.
  6. For a modern opinion of Schindler's handling of the Conversation Books, see Solomon, Beethoven, x-xi. Less judgmental about Schindler is Karl-Heinz Köhler, who believes Schindler may have destroyed some because he found their contents politically dangerous. See Karl-Heinz Köhler, "The Conversation Books: Aspects of a New Picture of Beethoven," in Robert Winter and Bruce Carr, eds., Beethoven, Performers, and Critics: The International Beethoven Congress, Detroit, 1977 (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1980), 147-61.
  7. Schindler (MacArdle), 111-12.
  8. Vincent d'Indy, Beethoven: A Critical Biography (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1970), 66
  9. For further discussion of Bernadotte's stay in Vienna, see George R. Marek, Beethoven: Biography of a Genius (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1969), 204-6, and Sir Dunbar Plunket Barton, The Amazing Career of Bernadotte (London: John Murray, 1929), 62-83.
  10. Robert Haven Schauffler in Beethoven: The Man Who Freed Music (New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1955), 26.
  11. "Beethoven: The Nobility Pretense" Solomon, Beethoven, 86-87.
  12. See Maynard Solomon, "Beethoven: The Nobility Pretense," The Musical Quarterly, 75 (Winter 1991), 207-24.
  13. Bishop Fan S. Noli, Beethoven and the French Revolution (New York: International Universities Press, 1947), 78.
  14. In order for young Napoleon to gain admittance to this school, a certificate was issued at Paris on 18 March 1779 attesting to the nobility of the Buonaparte family. See David Chandler, Napoleon (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1973), 12-16.
  15. J. S. Shedlock, preface to A. Eaglefield-Hull, editor, and J. S. Shedlock, translator, Beethoven's Letters (New York: Dover Publications, 1972), ix-x.
  16. Karl Czerny (as given to Otto Jahn), quoted in Hamburger, Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, 224.
  17. Karl-Heinz Köhler and Grita Herr, eds., Ludwig van Beethovens Koversationshefte, 6 vols. (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag fur Musik, 1972), 1:209-10. A Conversation Book for August 1823 contains mention of Las Cases' Memoires of St. Helena, published in German in that year. A comment is made that unlimited power spoiled Napoleon: "the power brought out so much evil...." bid., 4:59-60.
  18. Sir George Grove, Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies, 3rd ed. (New York: Dover Publications, 1962), 54, and Marek, 561.
  19. Louis-Philippe-Joseph Girod de Vienney, Baron de Trémont, 1809 diary entry, quoted in Hamburger, Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, 66.
  20. Schindler (MacArdle), 383, 508. The bust of Brutus is now in the Beethovenhaus in Bonn.
  21. Baron de Trémont, in Hamburger, Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, 65-66.
  22. Schauffler, 5, 238-39.
  23. Quoted in Solomon, 141.
  24. See Geoffrey Bruun, Europe and the French Imperium, 1799-1814 (New York: Harper & Row, 1938), 49, and Solomon, 137.
  25. Solomon, 116-21.
  26. Denis Arnold, "Ludwig van Beethoven" in Denis Arnold, general ed., The New Oxford Companion to Music, 1(A-J) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 194.
  27. Solomon, 121.
  28. Arnold, 194.
  29. Solomon, 136-37.
  30. d'Indy, 79, and Noli, 93.
  31. Solomon, 130.
  32. Ibid., 134.
  33. Grove, 54-55.
  34. Beethoven to Breitkopf and Haertel, August 26, 1804, in Shedlock and Eaglefield-Hull, Beethoven's Letters, 54.
  35. Franz Gerhard Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries, Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven (Coblenz, 1838). Ries died on 13 January 1838 just before publication.
  36. Maynard Solomon and Carl Dahlhaus follow the lead of Alexander Wheelock Thayer's classic biography of the composer in ascribing the incident to May. Both musicologists, dating Ries's reminiscence to May, are forced to go through severe contortions to try to explain the discrepancy in dates. See Solomon, Beethoven, 134; Carl Dahlhaus, Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to his Music translated by Mary Whittall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 23; and Elliot Forbes, ed., Thayer's Life of Beethoven (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970), 348-349.
  37. Virginia Oakley Beahrs, "Beethoven, Bonaparte, and the Republican Ideal-Exploring Alternative Perspectives," Beethoven Newsletter, 4 (Summer), 25, 34-41. Other researchers who have linked the Ries episode with the coronation are Philippe A. Autexier, Beethoven: The Composer as Hero (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1992), 53, and Albert Marrin, Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars (New York: Viking, 1991), 3.
  38. Beethoven to Hoffmeister, 8 April 1802, in Hamburger, Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, 27-28. For a discussion of the Concordat with the Pope, see Cronin, 214-17
  39. Marek, 375-76. The letter, now lost, was possibly never sent.
  40. Noli, 92-93.
  41. Ibid., 93.
  42. Schindler (MacArdle), 115-16.
  43. Ibid., 115-16.
  44. David G. Chandler, "How Wars Are Decided: Napoleon-The Fall of a Giant?" in On the Napoleonic Wars (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1994), 239.
  45. Marek, 346.
  46. Ibid., 347-49.
  47. Schauffler, 342-43.
  48. Ibid., 343.
  49. Ibid., 345.
  50. Marek, 457-66.
  51. See "How Beethoven Freed Music" in Schauffler, 489-94.
  52. Beethoven to King George IV of England, rough draft, 24 February 1813, in Shedlock and Eaglefield-Hull, Beethoven's Letters, 318-19.
  53. Beethoven to Ries, undated letter probably contemporaneous to the quoted letter of 24 February 1813, in Lady Wallace, translator, Beethoven's Letters (1790-1826), 2 vols. (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867), 2:98-99.
  54. Beethoven to Ries, 25 April 1813, in Wallace, Beethoven's Letters, 2:108.
  55. Marek, 464, 530-31. Numerous entries in the Conversation Books and in Beethoven's letters record his festering bitterness at how he had been ³mistreated² by the English king.
  56. Quoted in Solomon, 217. In 1824, the composer received from Louis XVIII of France a gold medal inscribed to him weighing twenty-one Louis d'or, which he counted the greatest distinction granted to him in his lifetime. Ibid., 211. Also Schindler-MacArdle, 242. Could the Bourbon king's generosity have been occasioned because he knew of Beethoven's revocation of the dedication of Eroica to Napoleon?