Seeing through Romantic notions of heroism

RECENTLY on ABC Radio, a program entitled ‘The Great De-Beethoven’ was devoted to the proposition that Beethoven was the greatest of all composers.

Though the spirit was tongue in cheek, I was saddened both by the need to formulate a hierarchy of composers – it is precisely this adversarial element that undermines anything art might offer – and by the quality of debate.

Which is not to say the debaters themselves lacked quality. On the contrary, I was impressed by their erudition and their passion.

What stood out, however, was a narrowness of vision – an inability to join the emotional dots. These boffins had bought the Beethovian package.

They spoke of his Eroica symphony – dedicated initially to Napoleon, whose shtick the composer had fallen for, only to become embittered when the despot declared his ambitions (of the lack of any normal relationship with a woman, Beethoven invariably yearned for the

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