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Beethoven's Role as a Transitional Figure

Beethoven's role as a transitional figure between the classical and romantic periods took several forms. In one sense, it was the composer's mystique, based on nineteenth-century perceptions of Beethoven as "the very type of the artist," that influenced other musicians, and the general reception of his works (Kerman and Tyson 392). In another sense, it was the increased freedom of personal expression in Beethoven's music that exerted the greatest appeal for later musicians. Beethoven, for example, often wrote music that was openly autobiographical "in a way that is unthinkable before 1790," but which struck a positive chord among the Romantics (Rosen 385). And, in a third sense, Beethoven's influence had a purely musical side, as very few musicians of the Romantic era "escaped his influence in technical respects" (Kerman and Tyson 392). Thus, though most scholars agree that Beethoven was a key figure in the development of romantic music, few agree on the precise nature of his contributions to the new musical aesthetic.

The answer may lie in considering at least the last two types of influence in conjunction. For, although Beethoven was not a proto-Romantic composer in a technical sense, his decision to use the classical framework in "startlingly radical and original ways" was, very often, part of his attempt to increase the dramatic expressiveness of his music (Rosen 384). In an era that prized personal expression so highly, it is not, therefore, surprising that Beethoven's heroic commitment to writing difficult music that expanded the limits of the classical style, and endangered the popular reception of his work, was taken as a starting point for the Beethoven myth. Ultimately, however, it was the fact that Beethoven "invariably elevated the subjective into the universal," by means of his "architectural strength and endless concern with form and logic," that was the basis of his greatest influence on the Romantic compose...

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Beethoven's Role as a Transitional Figure. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:16, April 21, 2019, from