Beethoven Hero

Published: 2018-02-24 06:36:19
1035 words
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Wesleyan University
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Beethoven Hero by Scott G. Burnham captures the heroic style in music composition associated with Beethoven for a long time. It factors in various concepts such as the history of music theory, the philosophy of music, its reception and the principles behind music analysis. The author cleverly draws the reader into the world of music through the delicate explanation of complex music concepts about their origin and place in the past and contemporary societies . He notes that despite differences in current philosophies, attitudes and music tastes across centuries, music critics and analysts have come to consume Beethoven’s music in similar ways. Throughout the book, Burnham notes that Beethoven’s composition can achieve such a phenomenal feat due to its ability to instill in its listeners the sense of self, freedom, and destiny.  This papers seeks to review the book analyzing the heroic style in music composition associated with Beethoven for a long time. 

The first chapter looks at the composition referred to as the Eroica Symphony. It is a chapter that may require one to have some level of music understanding as it discusses the technicalities of music composition and presentation. Through the Eroica Symphony, Beethoven can present elements of classical tragedies that have been present in other plots such as Napoleon and Prometheus . The classical tragedy usually has a hero who has to venture out into the world only to encounter conflict and resistance. Consequently, this leads to the formation of a crisis in which life seems to be engulfed in uncertainty. The next stage of this sequence is the movement towards resolution . The author brings this point clearly by noting the various musical elements in the composition of Eroica. The tonic music represents the introduction of the hero. The non-tonic music phase represents the experience of strife. Further development of the music scene symbolizes the expression of crisis, which is life threatening. In the reprise, the hero can overcome all resistance and has an encounter with destiny that offers renewal and a sense of home. It is this moment that is often associated with the powerful cadential resolution to the tonic . The author notes that it encourages the listener to connect with the experiences of the hero emotionally. In this way, Beethoven acts on humanity’s notions of freedom as well as self-determination . 

The analysis of Eroica continues into the second chapter, referred to as Musical Values. Burnham can offer his understanding of the composition. It is a chapter that seems to be different from the others in that it is highly concentrated on musicology. However, the author maintains the same themes that were introduced in the first chapter. The ability to explain them in detail in the music context only helps to give the reader a deeper understanding of the book as well as music theory in general . The genius of Beethoven seems to be placed on his ability to make the music feel as one with our sense of self-consciousness. In the third chapter, Institutional Values, Burnham looks at the history of music theory. He can show the ways in which successive music styles have been shaped in the format of Beethoven’s heroic style. Major music theorists such as Marx, Schenker, Riemann, and Reti are mentioned in the book. In this chapter, the author manages to capture the technicalities surrounding music and the ways in which they present themselves in contemporary times . 

The fourth chapter looks at the Cultural Values that have influenced the development of Western music and thought. Burnham goes into the historical roots that were responsible for the heroic element in Beethoven’s music. He notes that while these theorists were drawn towards different epistemologies, they were inherently tied together by a unique view of the subject matter. In the fifth and final chapter, Beethoven Hero, Burnham digs deeper into the moral force of Beethoven’s music and its ethical consideration in the contemporary world. In this chapter, Burnham is critical of the way in which our reliance on Beethoven as the measurement of musicality has only served as to limit our sense of musicality . He calls for other alternative ways in which the world should perceive music. As such, some forms of music tend to be relegated to lower levels of importance while those that conform to the heroic narratives are celebrated . 

The book is able to show the reader the link between Beethoven and contemporary music in the 21st century. It does this by delving into detail into some of the elements that defined Beethoven’s music such as transitioning from one theme to another. The heroic element in music becomes apparent in both the past and the present. However, there is a lack of direction with regards to the path in which contemporary theorists could take to redefine the perception of music in our world. Beethoven Hero seems to promote the ideals of Beethoven more than it does provide a new purpose. The book fails to question the notion of the heroic rhetoric among music theorists and this seems to be a stumbling block to some of the ethical dilemmas presented in the final chapter . Despite this, the book has been able to raise awareness on the architecture of music and the knowledge should prove useful in future discussions with regards to the role of music in our lives. 

In the end, this is a book that looks at the attitudes of people and challenges them to broaden their thinking systems to experience a richer musical world. It is a book that is intended for those who have a good background with music theory but can also prove to be useful to those who wish to expand their knowledge of musical theory. Since the book was designed to focus on Beethoven and his influence on music, the author’s efforts can be said to have been a success . 


Burnham, Scott G. 1995. Beethoven Hero. 1st ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hyer, Brian. 1998. "Beethoven Hero Scott Burnham." Music Theory Spectrum 20 (1): 121-136. doi:10.2307/746159.

Lerdahl, Fred and Ray Jackendoff. 1983. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


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