The Transatlantic Beethoven Hero

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In a journal entry of August 1838 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of his experience of the music of Beethoven: I think myself more a man than some I know inasmuch as I see myself to be open to the enjoyment of talents & deeds of other men as they are not. When a talent comes by, which I cannot appreciate & other men can, I instantly am inferior. With all my ears I cannot detect unity or plan in a strain of Beethoven. Here is a man who draws from it a grand delight. So much is he more a man than I.1 Emerson would have had the opportunity to hear Beethoven’s music in public concerts and private gatherings on his European tour of 1832–33, as well as in the United States. In New England, the Boston Academy of Music, founded in 1833 to further the teaching of sacred and secular music, had begun to champion instrumental music, in particular that of Beethoven, from the mid-1830s, giving its first predominantly orchestral concert on 14 November 1840.2 …. … Emerson’s journal entry signals the beginnings of a new spirit of the age in New England. Commenting on the history of Beethoven in Boston in an essay ‘Music a Means of Culture’, published in the Atlantic Monthly in September 1870, John Sullivan Dwight would describe New Englanders of the 1830s as in no sense musical: ‘Nothing could be further from the old New England character and “bringing up.”’5 Yet strangely, he observes, the ‘first real deep interest’ in music awakened in ‘this once Puritanical Boston’ was an interest in the ‘greatest kind’ of music: ‘Handel, and then more irresistibly Beethoven, were the first to take deep hold on thoughtful, earnest, influential souls’ (MMC, 322). For Dwight, it is a fact of some significance that the interest felt in Beethoven began at the same moment with the interest in Emerson: ‘It was a great extent the young souls drawn to “Transcendentalism” (as it was nicknamed), to escape spiritual starvation, who were most drawn also to the great, deep music which we began to hear at that time’ (MMC, 322). Amongst this ‘set’, Dwight recalls, began the practice of writing and lecturing on music and its ‘great masters’ from a high spiritual point of view (MMC, 323). This essay will explore the significance of transatlantic ideas of the hero and the heroic to the Transcendentalists’ musical discourse, focusing on Margaret Fuller’s contributions to The Dial and The New-York Tribune.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-122
Number of pages20
JournalSymbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


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