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This passage prompts the question—why do we tend to classify Beethoven as a Romantic artist and Jacques-Louis David as Neoclassical? After all, both artists combined Romantic and Neoclassical elements in their composition. Perhaps the answer is that when we listen to a composition by Beethoven, we feel as listeners that we have gained a sense of who Beethoven was like as a man, the emotions that moved him as a human being. David, in contrast, although he had clear political views that shifted and evolved over the course of the French Revolution to the rule of Napoleon is not an emotional presence in his paintings. David’s paintings seem to be historical, almost photographic depictions of ‘real life’ or imagined real life in the classical past like the “Oath of the Horatii.” His paintings seem to be about other people, like Napoleon or Marat, not about himself, unlike Beethoven’s works, where Beethoven’s emotions seem to bubble beneath the surface..
Your question, “why do we tend to classify Beethoven as a Romantic and David as Neoclassical?” is GREAT!!!
I see you advocating for David as an early Romantic and I would agree with you (as would many art historians). Jacques-Louis David combines the clarity of Neoclassicism with the moodiness and emotion of Romanticism.
This shift occurs under Napoleon’s reign. The man who began the Revolution with democratic principles in mind and who later crowned himself emperor, followed his predecessors predilictions for manipulation of power in all ares, including the arts. The Emperor brought Neoclassicism into the service of politics just as Louis the XIV appropriated Classical and Baroque religious style to immortalize himself.
Napoleon commissioned paintings and architecture that reinforced his — and France’s — image as powerful.The Arc de Triumphe in Paris reflects the strong Roman arch and implies imperial status. David’s NAPOLEON CROSSING THE ALPS reflects the confidence and forward motion of a leader urging his troops forward. I am always more than a little impressed with the powerful steed upon which he rides, especially when history has him crossing the Alps on a donkey.
As in the visual arts, music has no clear cut dividing lines, but Beethoven was also influenced by Napoleon–particularly in his EROICA, Symphony no 3 in which he conveys the Romantic idea of the hero in proportion and content. This piece is one to compare with Beethoven’s earlier works which are much more (like David’s) Classical in nature. In EROICA we hear the composers dramatic, personal, powerful statement in support of the French revolution and its leader. As you may have read in the course materials, Beethoven intended to dedicate this piece to Napoleon, but when the latter crowned himself emperor, Beethoven tore up the title page and revised the dedication ‘To the memory of a great man’ — a living epitaph.
Thread: Kristy writes “they combined Romantic and Neoclassical elements ,yet David was always painting for someone else,or depicting an event, not just painting to express his personal emotions”
Kris responds: Absolutely interesting statement! Shall we say David was always in control of his emotions?
I would also say that Beethoven, like David, continued to use form and traditional mediums from the Classical era in music, but with more personal flair and freedom. Do you think the same could be said of David?
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