"Beethoven and Freedom"—the
suggestive conjunction served as the title of a session at the 2002 meeting
of the American Musicological Society in Columbus, Ohio, the occasion
that included the first three articles published here. Because of freedom's
continuing relevance, however, not only to historical but also to contemporary
Beethoven reception, the title applies in various ways to almost the entire
contents of this issue and to some of the next one, too.
The relevance is double-edged, both a virtue and a problem. The idea of
freedom is a prime example—arguably the prime example—of what
W. B. Gallie called an "essentially contested concept," that
is, a concept with "no one clearly definable general use."
Disputes about meaning should be considered genuine, even though they
are unlikely to be resolved by argument; moreover, as Gallie remarked,
it is "perfectly respectable arguments and evidence" that
sustain them. No one connotation can be "set up as the correct or
standard usage." It is the historian's task to recognize and
analyze the plurality of contested meanings, as our authors do here. The
discussion of freedom, to quote the historian Eric Foner, "must
transcend boundaries rather than reinforce or reproduce them."