STEVEN R. CERF
Robert Schumann best summed up the composer's monumental stature within German thought and culture: "As Italy has its Naples, France its Revolution, England its Navy, etc., so the Germans have their Beethoven symphonies. The German forgets in his Beethoven that he has no school of painting-, with Beethoven he imagines that he has reversed the fortunes of the battles that he lost to Napoleon: he even dares to place him on the same level with Shakespeare." Over the past century and a half - as Dennis proves - little has changed.
The book's detailed examination of the many Beethovens that have been championed and exploited for political purposes is fascinating. Opera enthusiasts will be particularly interested in the extended portions on Wagner's role in the heroic reception of the composer, and the ways in which Fidelio was appropriated by diametrically opposed twentieth-century political movements. Wagner throughout his life was a great champion of the Ninth Symphony: his conducting of it in the 1840s in Dresden, his repeated writings about it and his choice of it for consecrating his festival at Bayreuth were crucial milestones in the aggressively nationalistic appropriation of Beethoven. Fidelio as the quintessential political rescue opera has been used for official purposes by German democracies and dictatorships alike. Most moving is Dennis' account of the arrest of members of an anti-Nazi chorus in Berlin in 1938 by the Gestapo just after their performance of Fidelio's prisoners' chorus.
The author is to be congratulated for his in-depth research, his ability to synthesize much refractory material and his unfailing skill in translating even knotty, arcane German texts into accessible English. Anchoring scholarly footnotes and telling illustrations abound.
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