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Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont

Matthew Head
19th-Century Music
Vol. 30, No. 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 097-132
DOI: 10.1525/ncm.2006.30.2.097
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Page Count: 36
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Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont
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Almost a decade ago, Sanna Pederson observed that the heroic in the posthumous reception of Beet-hoven's life and music functions as a sign of the composer's unassailable masculinity. What Pederson did not explore, however, is how the construction of the heroic in Beethoven's works courts androgyny and so exhibits flexibility in precisely the realm of sex/gender that ossified after his death. In Beethoven's dramatic music, cross-dressed heroines move center stage, and their music courts a mixture of masculine and feminine signs that is not simply descriptive of their transvestism. Admittedly, female heroism in Beethoven's dramatic music is associated with conjugal fidelity (Leonore in Fidelio) and with the nationalist defense of Prussia against French invasion (Leonore Prohaska in Beethoven's incidental music of that name), but it also functioned as an allegory of the semiautonomous male artist and of transcendent authorship. Precisely because women were subject to severe constraints on their public actions, heroines who broke through those constraints were emblems of freedom. At the boundary of the real and the symbolic, women who transgressed sexual and gendered norms could serve as epitomes of transcendence in the aesthetic sphere. A case study of Beethoven's incidental music to Goethe's Egmont traces a metonymic chain linking the lead female character KlŠrchen to music, heroic overcoming, and authorship. Much of the music Beethoven composed for the play was for, or associated with, KlŠrchen, who comes to embody music and its production. Through music, Egmont is lulled to sleep in the concluding dungeon scene. And in this sleep, KlŠrchen appears to him as "Liberty," hovering on a cloud above the stage to a shimmering A-major-seventh chord. Communicating to the dozing hero through wordless musical pictorialism, she offers a glimpse of what in contemporary idealist aesthetics was music's otherworldly source.

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