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88 Beethoven & Freedom

Göttergunst. What is heard, then, in the heroic Augenblick is nothing less than an
epiphanic revelation under modern conditions: it is a manifestation of the self as
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a local deity, or as Burnham aptly puts it, the music ‘amounts to a theophany in
the Age of Self ’ in which freedom is made eternally present.181 The Beethovenian
Augenblick is a resounding ‘It is’. It is both present (now) and present (here)—​or
what Burnham calls ‘immanent presence’ (being).182 It reverberates without decay
as an endless echo. It is a Hegelian totality—​the passing of everything finite.183 It is
a heroic act that seizes history and transcends time. And in this eternal moment, we
experience our freedom. Like Nathaniel Ayers in The Soloist, the music can transport
us at speed—​in a blink—​into an epiphanic present that outlasts the final chords of
the movement. ‘He [Beethoven] is here’, Nathaniel whispers. In this blank state of
freedom, we can utter nothing else but the empty, endless-​and-​ever-​present mantra:
‘Beethoven . … Beethoven’.

V.  Speeding in Reverse

When early listeners experienced the epiphanic presence of Beethoven’s heroic


works, they were right to attribute its values to the speed of industrial progress. But
if speed is the experience of the music’s freedom, what kind of freedom is speed? It
is the ‘freedom of the void’ made palpable. The epiphanic experience of being in an
ever-​present moment is lived in the thrill of speeding. This is the liberty of going no-
where fast. In this sense, speed em-​bodies a Kantian freedom: it is the experience of
an uncaused activity of pure spontaneity that burst forth from zero; it is pure means
elevated as an end, an autonomous motion emptied of the need for a cause or pur-
pose, a movement for the sake of movement; it is ‘the Will as the Will to Will’.184
The sheer exhilaration of power and technological mastery in a vehicle called the
self is enough to justify the destiny of mankind. Or as Varilio explains, ‘Speed, by its
violence, becomes a destiny at the same time as being a destination. We go nowhere
… for the advantage of the void [vide] of speed’.185 Varilio’s ‘void of speed’ is the
movement of the will as a blank force.
There is also an aesthetic dimension to speeding. The ‘void of speed’ is akin to the
‘purposiveness without purpose’ (Zweckmässigkeit ohne Zweck) that Kant defines as
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the beautiful, but with added horsepower.186 It is also the blank space of Schiller’s

181
Burnham, Beethoven Hero, 150.
182
Burnham, Beethoven Hero, 162–​168.
183
See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Science of Logic, trans George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2010), 109.
184
Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, 48.
185
Varilio, Negative Horizon, 40.
186
‘Zweckmässigkeit ohne Zweck’ is most memorably translated in English by J H Bernard as ‘purposiveness
without purpose’; the translation captures the play of words in the German, although its meaning may not be
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Movement I: Nothing 89
play-​drive, but with an engine that renders the beautiful sublime. This aesthetic sim-
ulates a prosthetic self that has the potential to speed at will, turning a noumenal
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freedom into a highly fuelled phenomenon. Mounted on its virtual machine, the
self demands a ‘pure surface’ for its fast ride so that the ground itself ‘becomes a mir-
ror of acceleration’. If modern freedom is what Hans Urs von Balthasar defines as ‘self-​
movement’,187 then speeding aesthetically gauges this internally generated motion,
allowing the ego to test drive its freedom in the frictionless possibilities offered by
the blank surface of the empty sign.
However, speed kills.
For all its freedom of movement, the heroic music of Beethoven may not be as
free as it claims. In September 2001, John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine was
programmed for the Last Night of the Proms in London. When two planes crashed
into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the programme had to
be rearranged. The Adams—​a piece that, indeed, goes nowhere fast—​was cancelled,
and Beethoven’s Ninth was brought in to speak up for freedom. What the concert
organisers did not realise was that they had replaced a fast ride with the ultimate
‘joy’-​ride of humanity—​a Freude-​mobile ignited by joy’s divine spark plug.
The text in the Alla Marcia of the finale says it all (bs 331ff ). Accompanied
by the militaristic noise of Turkish percussion, Beethoven invites us to ‘hurtle
through the heavens … as joyful as a hero on the way to triumph’.188 Here, the
speed and transcendence of the Beethovenian Augenblick are not only put into
words, but made palpable by a music that gathers force. As with the form of the
Choral Fantasy,189 the Alla Marcia enlists us to join in; the music gets bigger and
louder, until it takes leave of the percussion and chorus, launching into a contra-
puntal gallop that spirals upwards into some abstract celestial realm (bs 431ff ).
With the hunt as the topos of the fugal subject and martial rhythms in the coun-
tersubject, this ‘battle music’, as Wagner calls it,190 moves at full speed—​no longer
a march but a stampede (see ­example 1.15). Eventually, the contrapuntal advance

as clear as that in Paul Guyer’s and Eric Matthew’s recent translation of Kant’s third critique, where the phrase
is rendered ‘purposiveness … without an end’; see Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, eg 105, 111, and 112.
187
See Balthasar, Theo-​Drama II, in particular the section titled ‘Freedom as autonomous motion’, 213ff.
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Balthasar is building on a long Aristotelian tradition; see Slow Introduction, n47.


188
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen /​Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan, /​Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn, /​Freudig,
wie ein Held zum Siegen.
189
While composing the finale of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven was clearly aware of its earlier model in
the Choral Fantasy, and may have designed the structure of the finale as an allegory of the ‘improvisatory’
manner that is evident in the Fantasy. On the improvisatory connections between the Ninth Symphony and
the Choral Fantasy, see Robert Pascall, ‘Beethoven’s Vision of Joy in the Finale of the Ninth Symphony’,
Beethoven Forum, 14/​2 (2007), 103–​116. The translation is from Pascall’s article, 104. Also see n64.
190
Wagner, ‘Zum Vortrag der neunten Symphonie Beethoven’s’, Gesammelte Schriften 9:241; see also Pascall,
‘Beethoven’s Vision of Joy’, 124.
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90 Beethoven & Freedom

screeches to a halt, reined in by unison commands (bs 517ff ), but these merely
prepare for the chorus to return at full force, transformed into an army united in
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joy and carried forward by the same contrapuntal surge (bs 534ff ). The hero fly-
ing triumphantly through the heavens is now a universal brotherhood speeding
en masse. By the close of the Alla Marcia, everyone is caught up in the speed and
transcendence of the Augenblick.

EXAMPLE 1.15  Beethoven, Symphony No 9 in D minor, Op 125, Finale—​bs 428–​447.


U.S. or applicable copyright law.

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Movement I: Nothing 91
EXAMPLE 1.15 Continued.
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But the result is death. Speed kills. When the Turkish music returns at the very
end of the symphony in its full glory (bs 843–​940), it arrives as an acceleration,
rocketing the finale into a fast-​forward mode of such speed that its joy has often
been (mis)construed as aggression (see ­example 1.16). The sheer force and excess
of volume bleaches out the details of each individual part as if to incite the mob
to violence with its ‘white noise’. In fact, this was exactly what Wagner did; his

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92 Beethoven & Freedom

performances of the symphony so inspired the audience with political fervour that
when revolutionary fires broke out in Dresden, a guard shouted to Wagner from the
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barricades: ‘schöner Götterfunken’.191 But the violence does not stop there in the
concrete particulars of the political realm. With the failure of the 1848 revolutions,
Wagner simply transferred the general will of the mob to the equally violent and
but far more mindless metaphysics of Schopenhauer’s Will. This logic is a reversed
displacement: the divine will, displaced to the human will, progresses towards the
totality only to return to a divine form, but this time made in the image of modern
autonomy: Schopenhauer’s Will is a blank malignant force that reveals the sheer

EXAMPLE 1.16  Beethoven, Symphony No 9 in D minor, Op 125, Finale—​bs 843–​855.


U.S. or applicable copyright law.

Richard Wagner, Braunes Buch, 8 May 1849, cited in Kropfinger, Wagner und Beethoven, 44.
191

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EXAMPLE 1.16 Continued.
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94 Beethoven & Freedom

indifference and destructive power latent within a voluntarist concept of freedom.


For Schopenhauer, Beethoven’s symphonic forms are a direct representation of this
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Will.192 Wagner’s acolyte, Nietzsche, in The Birth of Tragedy, sums up the mean-
ing of joy under such a Will. The final section of the Ninth Symphony represents
a Bacchanalian orgy of intoxicated violence that affirms tragedy as the foundation
of its exuberance: in true heroic spirit, it embraces annihilation as a festival of joy:
amor fati.193 The militarised speed that closes the symphony is a celebration of anni-
hilation before an irresistibly violent Will; it is a deliberate leap of fate with no exit
strategy.
Virilio writes: ‘if the freedom of movement (habeas corpus) would seem to be one of
the first freedoms, the liberation of speed, the freedom of speed, seems to be the ful-
fillment of all freedoms. … The progress of speed is nothing other than the unleash-
ing of violence’.194 As with the Eroica, speed, states Varilio, is ‘the sublimation of
the hunt’ and the ‘potential for war’.195 And inasmuch as battle, claims Kant, trains
the will for freedom, so Beethoven’s heroic symphonies exert their freedom with
a violence that disciplines the formless materials until they are trained to move en
masse at speed in formation as an autonomous force against the world.196 Perpetual
warfare is the only universal for such an Augenblick. Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast
Machine may have been inappropriate to perform just a few days after 9/​11, but by
avoiding the recent past for the transcendence of the Ninth, the concert organisers
inadvertently projected the future, where the resilience of the human spirit would

192
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2:450.
193
In 1818, Beethoven jotted down some ideas for several works including a symphony with voices entering in
the finale and an Allegro depicting a ‘festival of Bacchus’. The final section of the Ninth Symphony assumes
this Bacchanalian spirit, although, as Robert Pascall points out, it is a Bacchanal without the wine (Beethoven
had, after all, removed all references to drinking in Schiller’s poem). The composer probably imagined a spir-
itual intoxication of joy to drown the sorrows of the world, but the music by its sheer speed and military
noise inverts this joy into violence, bringing about their coexistence, as Nietzsche imagined in his Dionysian
vision of the Ninth. The relation between the Ninth Symphony and violence continues to the present. It is
explicitly gratuitous in Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, for example. Hollywood has deployed
the symphony both as a soundtrack for violence in the trailer to A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) where it
accompanies multiple explosions, as well as a plot for violence in Peter Segal’s film Get Smart (2008), in which
the villain, Siegfried (Terence Stamp), plants a bomb in the Walt Disney Concert Hall to be triggered by the
sound of the Ninth’s final chords. See Pascall, ‘Beethoven’s Vision of Joy’, 120–​121; Friedrich Nietzsche, The
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Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1969); to grasp
the latent violence behind Nietzsche’s imagery of Beethoven’s ‘Hymn to Joy’, the description of intoxicated
‘universal harmony’ in the Ninth Symphony (37–​38) should be read in the context of Schopenhauer’s met-
aphysics, where joy is witnessed in the act of heroic annihilation before the Will (104–​105 and 126); also see
Chua, Absolute Music, 228–​234.
194
Varilio, Negative Horizon, 42
195
Varilio, Negative Horizon, 42 and 38.
196
See Milbank’s discussion of Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason, in Being Reconciled, 15 and 18.

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Movement I: Nothing 95
manifest its freedom as the technological speed of a hero waging a ‘war on terror’, at
times with a ‘purposiveness without purpose’.197
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The humanitarian violence of the Ninth Symphony is a moral act of freedom


that contains within itself an oppressive and totalitarian spirit. As Wagner puts
it: ‘war is, so to speak, a dance performed with the most dreadful of powers, like a
Beethoven finale in which he unleashes all the demons in a magnificent dance’.198
Adorno was well aware of freedom’s underbelly, even at its most transcendent in
Beethoven’s music. Indeed, such moments of transcendence, according to Adorno,
contain a ‘Fichtean element … [of ] untruth’; the revolutionary ego, posited by
Fichte, manipulates it own transcendence by violently coercing nature under its
will.199 Its freedom is predicated on oppressing everything else that is not ‘I’. After
all, what is left for this subject to transcend except that which is different to itself ?200
Everything is necessarily blank; the world is an empty sign for its aesthetic imagi-
nation, a pure surface for acceleration, and an absolute zero for self-​generation and
self-​determination. Even the difference within itself is reduced to an impersonal
force indifferent to the world it devours. Thus the heroic Augenblick for Adorno
is simultaneously the site of ‘freedom and domination’;201 it sucks everything into
its totality at blinding speed in order to declare its liberty universal. As with the
Turkish music in the Ninth Symphony, the Beethovenian Augenblick enlists us into
its epiphanic stampede: it closes in on us until we are swept up into the violence
of the chase. As with the ‘sonic zoom’ of the Eroica, sound suddenly accelerates at
the speed of light, distance collapses into an instant, and we are transported into
the totality. ‘Its integral form, the triumph of its autonomy’, writes Adorno, ‘is what
casts a spell on the listener, leaves no one out and subjects everyone to its speechless

197
Beethoven’s militarised humanism was realised when the United States justified its invasion of Iraq as a ‘hu-
manitarian intervention’. On the issue of humanitarianism and military intervention, see Craig Calhoun,
‘The Idea of Emergency: Humanitarian Action and Global (Dis)Order’, in Contemporary States of Emergency:
The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions, eds Didier Fassin and Mariella Pandolfi (New York:
Zone Books, 2010), 29–​58.
198
Dennis, Beethoven in German Politics, 15–​16, cited in Cosima Wagner’s Diaries, trans Geoffrey Skelton, 2 vols
(New York; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978–​1980), 1:246. In this sense, Nietzsche was right to connect the
final moments of the Ninth Symphony to the Birth of Music through the Spirit of Tragedy: the shaping of the
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symphony from primeval chaos to universal brotherhood arrives at a state of moral perfection where joy is the
stoical internalisation of death celebrated before an indifferent Will.
199
Adorno, Beethoven, 78.
200
In fact, this moment of transcendence signals the end of metaphysics, since, as Gianni Vattimo points out,
transcendence depends on a difference that is erased as soon as it is self-​generated. Gianni Vattimo, The End
of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-​modern Culture, trans Jon R Snyder (Cambridge: Polity,
1988), iii–​iv.
201
Adorno, Quasi una Fantasia, 34.

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performance’. There is no space to stand back, no time to reflect, no silence in which


to think in. There is simply ‘Kraft’—​the only word that Beethoven wanted to retain
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in the Choral Fantasy—​pressing down on us in all its abstract universality. And it is


only by resisting the allure of the Augenblick’s close-​up metaphysics that Adorno can
gain the necessary distance to hear the untruth of its freedom. If you ‘listen to the
humane Beethoven from the outside’, he writes, ‘from a sufficiently great distance’,
then you will hear ‘the terror aroused by the Tamasese’. For all its humanity, ‘the
command to kill’, concludes Adorno, echoes within Beethoven’s music.202
Such a terrifying reversal is a logic built into the very term ‘heroic freedom’. These
two words cannot coexist without contradiction. The heroic paradigm is inherently
tragic, since the hero’s moral code demands an ‘ascetic self-​overcoming’ that is will-
ing to sacrifice his life for the higher cause of the whole. His moral alliance with
death ties his being to fate,203 as the funeral rites that follow the first movement of
the Eroica Symphony testify.204 But freedom under fate is no freedom at all; the ne-
cessity of freedom is a form of self-​imprisonment. It is, in Kantian terms, a self-​given
law that legitimises human sovereignty. Such heroic virtue, writes John Milbank, is
‘the essence of manhood in action, virtus, the male force which sustains the bounds
of self, or the bounds of the city’. By fortifying himself against his own passions
and his community from external encroachments,205 the hero functions as an in-
different, impervious force against a violent order.206 He lives his life as a perpetual
Augenblick-​at-​the-​ready, waiting for his sudden moment of glory amidst the unpre-
dictable forces of fortune. His legitimacy is therefore always based on threat, requir-
ing a prior evil to react against in order to celebrate a virtue that merely replicates
the violence it resists. Thus the heroic will on which the Kantian subject is modelled
merely wills itself as a disciplinary force, projecting an autonomy that reproduces the
very force that Kant would classify as ‘radical evil’. Milbank puts the matter more
starkly: ‘Evil is self-​governing autonomy—​evil is the Kantian good, the modern
good’. ‘It is this very promotion of abstract free autonomy’, he concludes, ‘that it-
self enshrines what is evil, and radically deficient’.207 And it is precisely this Kantian

202
Adorno, Quasi una Fantasia, 34. Tamasese refers to a tribal chief who uses the severed heads of his prisoners
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as drums.
203
On the moral basis of heroic societies, see Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed
(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 124.
204
The heading of the first London publication of the score from 1809 is titled: ‘Sinfonia Eroica composta per
celebrare la morte d’un’ Eroe’ [Heroic Symphony to celebrate the death of a hero].
205
Milbank, The Word Made Strange, 220.
206
See Dorinda Outram, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class, and Political Culture (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989), 39–​40 and 78–​82.
207
Milbank, Being Reconciled, 18 and 25. Perhaps Kant already indicated the instability of his own position
in his late Essay on Radical Evil. Instead of the usual attribution of evil to ignorance among the Aufklärer,

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Movement I: Nothing 97
‘evil’ that Adorno hears in Beethoven: ‘[M]‌oral self-​determination’, writes Adorno,
‘is ascribed to human beings as an absolute advantage … while being covertly used
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to legitimise dominance—​dominance over nature. … [H]umanity threatens inces-


santly to revert to the inhumane. … And to this the somber aspects of Beethoven
are precisely related’.208
Such a conclusion would make anyone blink twice before the heroic Augenblick.
The moral ideals embodied in Beethoven no longer stand as a monument to human
freedom but a crime against humanity. But this has always been the case with modern
freedom, even from its inception. Certainly, the early romantics, who first champi-
oned the autonomy of ‘pure music’, knew that the source of this purity was far from
innocent. Hegel may have proclaimed freedom as ‘the highest destiny of spirit’,
but he was well aware that, like the French Revolution, it can slide ineluctably into
Terror.209 The philosopher aligns what he calls ‘absolute Freiheit’ with the will of the
Revolution. The freedom of the General Will, he writes, ‘annihilates every difference’
in order to maintain the abstraction of its total liberty;210 its unique and universal
task, he states, ‘is death’. ‘Absolute Freiheit’ is the terror of the guillotine, negating
the individual ‘with no more significance than cutting off a head of cabbage’, warns
Hegel.211 It seems that the only thing gratuitous about this freedom is its violence.
How is the guillotine an instrument of ‘absolute freedom’? This machine was the
technological means through which article 3 of the French Code of 1791 could be
carried out rationally, efficiently, painlessly, and universally: ‘Every man condemned
to death will have his head cut off ’. With the guillotine, executions were meted out
both equally and liberally to all classes with total indifference. It made death humane

Kant locates its source in the very will that is the agent of autonomy. In effect, modern freedom results in a
power crisis, a fundamental inability of the Will to will its goals from within. For Kant, ‘radical evil concerns
freedom in its process of totalization’, comments Paul Ricoeur. ‘The demand for a complete object of the will
is basically antinomic’, for, ultimately, the will to freedom turns against itself. See Paul Ricoeur, The Conflict
of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics (London and New York: Continuum, 2004), 417–​418. On Radical
Evil, see Gordon E Michalson Jr, Fallen Freedom: Kant on Radical Evil and Moral Regeneration (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990).
208
Adorno, Beethoven, 80. Also see Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 62.
209
See Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 355–​363 (§582–​595), where Hegel subjects the idea of absolute freedom
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to critique, describing it as ‘a death … which has no inner significance or filling’, and as ‘the empty point of
the absolutely free self ’ (360).
210
Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 361 (§592); the translation is from Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans
Howard P Kainz (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 139.
211
Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 360 (§590). Strangely, Adorno, despite his debt to Hegelian philosophy,
ignores the discussion of absolute liberty and terror in Hegel’s Phenomenology. The omission may be a delib-
erate ploy to target Hegel as the philosopher of ‘the Whole’, an idea that Adorno criticises and subsequently
negates. See Nigel Gibson, ‘Rethinking an Old Saw: Dialectical Negativity, Utopia, and Negative Dialectic
in Adorno’s Hegelian Marxism’, in Adorno: A Critical Reader, eds Nigel Gibson and Andrew Rubin (Oxford:
Blackwell, 2002), 268–​270.

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on an industrial level. An execution was no longer a long-​drawn (and quartered)


spectacle of torture but an ‘instantaneous event’—​an Augenblick realised through
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the sheer power of speed.212 As Edme-​Théodore Bourg (Saint-​Edme) writes: with the


guillotine, the law could be executed ‘in a single moment and with a single blow …
by an invariable mechanical means’.213 It was an abstract force that took on the
‘abstraction of the law itself ’ and carried out decapitations with same abstraction,
power, and speed as the revolutionary hero. The Eroica and the guillotine have little
in common, but what they share in the name of freedom is sobering: they are both
lean, mean killing machines.
The Eroica and the guillotine? Surely not. But if, as Heinrich Heine claims,
‘German philosophy is nothing but the dream of the French Revolution’, then its cut-
ting-​edge virtues would have cutting-​edge consequences in its aesthetic realisation
in Beethoven.214 Indeed, Heine called Kant the German Robespierre who decapi-
tated God with his guillotine of pure reason.215 Is Beethoven’s moral stance not also
the Terror in virtuous disguise? The notion that Beethoven’s humanity and his quest
for freedom should be association with such ‘evil’, however, should not lead to an
indictment of his music. After all, music has always glorified gods and the divine
rights of their earthly representatives, and now that sovereignty has been made uni-
versal in the human subject under the crown of liberty, why shouldn’t music reflect
the contradictions of humanity in its attempt to glorify the self ? Whatever violence
the music harbours, it is an inescapable symptom of modernity and not some evil
intent with malice aforethought. What the music demonstrates is that the highest
good of the Enlightenment is not good enough. It is precisely this lack—​this priva-
tion of the good—​that turns a righteous desire into an inadequate ethics in which
evil can manifest itself radically.216 Any music great enough to capture the spirit of
modern freedom will inevitably model the contradiction inherent in it. If it did not,
it would not be true. As Adorno states: ‘[T]‌his is the tribute Beethoven was forced
to pay to the ideological character whose spell extends even to the most sublime

212
See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage
Books, second edition, 1991), 12–​13.
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213
Saint-​Edme (Edme-​Théodore Bourg), Dictionnaire de pénalité (Paris, 1825), 4:161; quoted in Foucault,
Discipline and Punish, 12.
214
Heinrich Heine, ‘Introduction to Kahldorf: Concerning the Nobility in Letters to Count M von Moltke’, in
Heinrich Heine: The Romantic School and Other Essays, eds Jost Hermand and Robert C Holub (New York:
Continuum Publishing Company, 2002), 45. Heine then compares Fichte to Napoleon, Schelling to the New
Restoration, and Hegel to the Duke of Orléans.
215
Heinrich Heine, Religion and Philosophy in Germany:  A  Fragment, trans John Snodgrass (Albany:  State
University of New York Press, 1986), 107–​109.
216
See Milbank, Being Reconciled, 1–​25, on the Augustinian definition of evil as a privation of good rather than
a positive attribute.

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Movement I: Nothing 99
music ever to aim at freedom under continued unfreedom’. 217 Beethoven and free-
dom, then, is a cultural trope that readily inverts the highest destiny of the human
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spirit to its basest instincts. The subject in dominating the world and mastering itself
becomes the object of its own oppression. Adorno famously calls this inversion ‘the
dialectic of Enlightenment’.218

VI.  The Dialectic of Enlightenment

How do you hear this dialectic beneath Beethoven’s declarations of independence?


Let’s return to that cold December night in 1808 at the Theater-​an-​der-​Wien. When,
for the final act, the Choral Fantasy rocketed that E♭-major dyad like a firework to
light up the sky with freedom, it was meant to comment on the programme that
evening, and in particular the Fifth Symphony that had preceded it. The declaration
on ‘und Kraft’ is supposedly the noumenal high point of the work, but its transcend-
ence is achieved at the cost of estranging itself from the world it inhabits, turning
its will into a blank, impersonal object deracinated from its harmonic surroundings.
It represents, in Colin Gunton’s term, ‘a rootless will’.219 Sovereignty is an exception
enclosed within a capsule and propelled at speed from some nondescript C-​major
context to blare out its freedom in glorious isolation, alienating humanity from its
own empirical nature.
Not surprisingly, Adorno would hear this symbol of the divine and sublime in
Beethoven’s music merely as a ‘sound effect’ that hides its structural weakness with its
overwhelming boom. In fact, Adorno comes close to calling the effect ceremonially
pompous because the chord claims more than it should, puffing itself up as though it
were speaking universally, when in reality it lacks structural integrity. In other words,
it’s a fake Augenblick, serving up the noumenon as if it were a phenomenon. 220
This superficial ‘effect’, however, points to a deeper truth. After all, the Choral
Fantasy was supposed to refer back to the Fifth Symphony as a commentary on

217
Adorno, Beethoven, 44.
218
The musical counterpart to the Dialectic of Enlightenment is Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music. The dialectic
is exemplified in Schoenberg’s rationalisation of atonality through the serial technique where a row of the
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complete twelve pitches of the chromatic scale is used to structure the music: ‘The subject rules over the music
by means of a rational system in order to succumb to this rational system itself ’ (54).
219
See Gunton, The One, the Three, and the Many, 101–​125
220
Adorno, Beethoven, 144–​145. Adorno does not hear this chord in the Choral Fantasy but in the Ninth
Symphony and the Missa solemnis. Adorno is not explicit about which section of the Missa he is referring
to, but he mentions one section in the Ninth as a ‘decisive’ moment: ‘Ihr stürzt nieder’ (bs 643–​646). This
passage in the Ninth, and Adorno’s mention of Beethoven’s Six Lieder, Op 48 No 4, the well-​known ‘Die
Himmel rühmen des Ewigen Ehre’, point to similar high-​decibel and stratospheric E♭ chords in the Missa
solemnis, mostly likely the opening chord of the Credo and its subsequent reappearances; also see Movement
III, 191–193, and example 3.1.

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