Beethoven's Promethean image has been reenforced in recent scholarship by the idea of the “heroic.” Although the escalation of the concept has been recognized as an act of selective hearing based on a handful of “heroic” works, Beethoven's Promethean identity is likely to remain because it embodies the ethical values of a particularly virulent strain of humanism; Beethoven is still employed today to mark the epochal events of human history—from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the atrocities of 9/11. However, the humanism this hero champions has been accused as a cause of the very inhumanity the music is suppose to erase. To offer an alternative is not difficult—there are many works by the composer that do not conform to the Promethean image; but the alternative would be meaningless if it were merely a matter of registering other topics or narratives without grounding the difference in a set of values that challenge the ethical force of the hero. This article sketches the possibility of such an alternative through the ethics of philosophers such as Emmanuel Lévinas and Theodor W. Adorno. It explores an-Other humanism in Beethoven both in the sense of an other Beethoven and a humanism founded on the Other.
Beethoven's Other Humanism
Daniel K. L. Chua is Head of the School of Humanities and Professor of Music at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and The “Galitzin” Quartets of Beethoven (Princeton University Press, 1995). Recent articles are in Music Analysis (2007) and the Journal of the Royal Musical Association (forthcoming). He is the 2004 recipient of the Royal Musical Association Dent Medal.
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Daniel K. L. Chua; Beethoven's Other Humanism. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2009; 62 (3): 571–645. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2009.62.3.571
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