The music topic of "apotheosis" is examined in the context of Liszt's artistic biography. While the effect of the final apotheosis is familiar as a standard procedure in his symphonic poems, a prominent critical strand suggests that the overwhelming effect of the apotheosis may merely conceal a fundamental vacuity. Nietzsche in particular develops an incisive critique of this kind of monumentality, which he links with a historiographic model of what he calls "monumental history." Nietzsche's historical model is probed against an episode from Liszt's career, in which the apotheosis topic first entered his orchestral music: the Cantata for the inauguration of the Bonn Beethoven monument (1845). In this cantata, Liszt chooses a quotation from Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio for the apotheosis. In this way, the cantata pits a musical kind of monumentality against the physical Beethoven movement, not dissimilar from attempts by Schumann and Jean Paul to theorize nineteenth-century monumentality. Moreover, with this "secular sanctus" Liszt forges an artistic link between the dead composer and himself. This episode, by means of which Liszt succeeded in consolidating his fame as Beethoven's rightful heir, turns out to be crucial for his subsequent career when he settled in Weimar as a self-consciously great composer (and wrote his symphonic poems). The events surrounding Liszt's engagement in the Beethoven monument are used as an exemplar of a notion of nineteenth-century musical monumentality that thrives on the interplay between the musical structure, the events amid which the performance took place, and the biographical background of the (genius-)composer.
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Alexander Rehding; Liszt's Musical Monuments. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2002; 26 (1): 52–72. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2002.26.1.52
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