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Volume 10 • Number 2

Fall 2003


 

 

Hysterical Beethoven


by Robynn J. Stilwell

In less than two centuries,
Beethoven has been
transformed from a griefstricken
melancholy and
slightly feminine romantic to
a masculine rugged and virile
"titan wrestling with the
gods."
—José Bowen


From the political Left,
Beethoven is either an apt
expression of chaos or of
beauty recognized in the real
world; from the Right, he is
a means out of chaos into
order.
—Christopher Reynolds

These two recent observations of major themes in Beethoven reception paint a picture of a composer who is complicated enough to encompass diametrically opposed identities, over time and from different political positions.1 They also begin to map out some of the myriad dualities one finds in readings of "Beethoven"—dualities and contradictions that may be part of Western culture's obsession with either/or configurations but that powerfully impact cultural understanding of the man and his music.

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