Beethoven and his time - between Enlightenment and Congress of Vienna

From 1770 to 1827, Europe underwent fundamental changes. As a young man, Beethoven experienced the end of the monarchy; he saw Napoleon subdue the continent; and the Congress of Vienna brought Beethoven his greatest success.

By Beethoven-House Bonn

Pi Louis Xiv King Of France Ports #1 Of 2 (1601)LIFE Photo Collection

A Europe of Kings

When Beethoven was born in 1770, Europe had already been ruled by emperors and kings for centuries. According to their representation they received their power directly from the God of Christianity.

Bestorming van de Bastille, 14 juli 1789 (1789 - 1838) by Thévenin, CharlesRijksmuseum

New hope

In 1789, the French overthrew their king Louis XVI. From now on, freedom, equality and fraternity should apply to all. An idea that spread over Europe in no time at all.

Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798) (1780) by Engraving by Gottlob August Liebe after a drawing by Johann Georg RosenbergBeethoven-House Bonn

Beethoven comes into contact with the Enlightenment

In Beethoven's liberal birthplace Bonn, the ideas of the Enlightenment fall on fertile ground. Beethoven came into contact with them through his teacher Christian Gottlieb Neefe.

LIFE Photo Collection

Republic becomes dictatorship

But the young republic develops into a dictatorship. Anyone who does not support the new form of government ends up under the sharp knife of the guillotine. This hits the nobility above all. King and queen and much more are beheaded.

Maximilian Franz (1756-1801), since 1784 Elector and Archbishop of Cologne (1800) by AnonymousBeethoven-House Bonn

The European nobility is appalled

Many nobles from all over Europe have relatives in France. The Elector of Cologne and Beethoven's employer Maximilian Franz is the brother of the French Queen Marie Antoinette. And so several states under Austrian leadership decide to go to war against France.

Napoleon at the Great St. Bernard (1801) by Jaques-Louis DavidBelvedere

France subjugates large parts of Europe

A commander excels in particular. Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Italy for France practically single-handedly and finally also seized power in Paris. At first, he seems to want to protect the republic and its values of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

The Theater an der Wien, around 1800 (1929) by AnonymousBeethoven-House Bonn

Beethoven cannot return

Beethoven only wanted to stay in Vienna for a short time to study. But the French invasion of the Rhineland changed everything. The electoral court no longer existed - and with it no court orchestra.

Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of NapoleonHallwyl Museum

The Republic is abolished

In 1804 Napoleon crowns himself emperor and thus makes himself the sole ruler of France - and large parts of Europe. The republic and its ideal are thus abolished.

Ivory Miniature (1802) by Christian HornemanBeethoven-House Bonn

Beethoven is disappointed

After Beethoven, too, had placed so much hope in Napoleon, he is disappointed by the megalomania: "Is he nothing more than an ordinary man! Now he will also trample all human rights underfoot!

Nocturnal bombardment of Vienna by French troops (1920) by Johann Nepomuk HoechleBeethoven-House Bonn

Vienna falls to Napoleon

After Napoleon had already crushed Prussia and destroyed the Russian army, he conquered Vienna in 1809. This was a great misfortune for Beethoven - the performance of his "Fidelio" was lost in the thunder of the cannons. Napoleon is now at the height of his power.

Withdrawal of the French from Russia in 1812 (1869) by Franz AdamAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

End of the winning streak

But Napoleon overestimates himself and attacks Russia. Surprised by the hard winter, the French army is worn down and has to retreat. Thus, the wars of liberation begin and in the "Battle of the Nations near Leipzig" Napoleon is defeated.

The Congress of Vienna (1819) by Jean GodefroyWien Museum

Return to the pre-revolutionary period

Napoleon leaves behind a power vacuum in Europe. People were still burning for the ideas of the French Revolution. But the conservative and aristocratic circles seized the opportunity to divide Europe again at the "Congress of Vienna" so that they could hold on to their power.

Title page "Glorious moment" by Ludwig van BeethovenBeethoven-House Bonn

Beethoven writes opening music

For the opening of the congress Beethoven composed the "Glorious Moment". Among the 3,000 listeners were all the princes of Europe. "Such a moment will never return," reported Beethoven's biographer Schindler. And indeed, it was his greatest success so far.

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