Beethoven in German Politics, 1870-1989
David B. Dennis
Yale University Press, $30
In this industriously illustrated monograph, sociologist David B. Dennis picks up, with stylistic elegance, where DeNora leaves off, with a brief account of Beethoven's political life. He then follows the "idea of Beethoven" through Germany's volatile history, concluding with the razing of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz and the accompanying concert of Beethoven's music. Dennis sees Beethoven in the hands of every German political entity (Bismarck, the Third Reich, the German Communist Party, ad nauseam), each fighting for Beethoven exclusivity rights, and using the Great Composer for its own purposes, thereby proving Dennis's epigraph, from Gustav Mahler: "Your Beethoven is not my Beethoven."
For instance, addressing the Reichstag in 1922, Walther Rathenau, leader of the German Democratic Party, urged Germany, which faced the harsh economic road of making war reparations, to follow Beethoven's example of stoicism. "He reminded his audience," Dennis writes, "of the question that Beethoven had written over the last movement of his String Quartet in F, Op. 1 35: 'Must it be?' Without saying that Beethoven had posed the question in jest over the payment of a small debt, Rathenau projected serious meaning onto this programmatic heading. Just as the composer had to struggle with the terrible personal and professional hindrance of deafness, Rathenau implied, Germans were destined to comply with Allied terms. Like Beethoven, Germans had to answer 'It must be!' and resign themselves to pay all war reparations." Months later, Rathenau was murdered.
Dennis Bartel, “Cover to Cover” (Chamber Music, December 1996)