John Clubbe
 
Beethoven contra Napoleon:
the Akademie of 22 December 1808


 
Beethoven's Akademie, or benefit concert, of December 1808 is an event of extraordinary resonance in the composer's career. It marks the first public performance in Vienna of a number of his major works including the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Choral Fantasy, most of the Mass in C, and several other works. It also marks an important landmark in the composer's intense, passionate, and virtually lifelong obsession with Napoleon. Most people know that Beethoven intended to dedicate his Third Symphony, the "Eroica" to Napoleon, then withdrew the dedication. But the story continues, and it becomes even more interesting. In 1806, after the Emperor had humiliated Prussia at Jena and Auerstadt, Beethoven did become disillusioned, at least temporarily, with Napoleon. Wishing to rival the French Emperor, he intended his 1808 Akademie to constitute a riposte to Napoleon. This paper explores Napoleon's impact, many-faceted and complex, on a key event in Beethoven's career. It is no less a key event in his response to Napoleon.