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Beethoven, Eroica symphony /

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The admirable Cambridge Music Handbooks series now offers more than 40 titles, each devoted to a single piece of music and each by a different author. Among the wide range of works represented (from Monteverdi's Vespers to the Beatles) is an especially fine volume on Berg's Violin Concerto. The task for the Eroica must have been especially daunting, but Thomas Sipe offers a notably thorough consideration of the symphony in the space of about a hundred pages. Readers might do well to concentrate on the last chapter ("Interpretation"), which lays out a convincing reading of each movement of the Eroica. Among the many ideas touched on is Sipe's provocative theory that Beethoven is able "to delineate form not with periodic regularity but with overpowering syntactic necessity." Focus in the earlier chapters on historical background to the French Revolution leads to considerations of the relationship between Beethoven and Napoleon, to whom the symphony was originally dedicated, and of political utopianism. Sipe incorporates this into his larger theme of heroism, with particular emphasis on the classical figures of Prometheus and Hector. An earlier chapter ("Reception") summarizes two interpretations of the Eroica by M. Miel (on the Homeric model) and Richard Wagner (an idealized vision of redemption through love). Sipe also offers well-chosen examples showing the gradual shift in musical analysis from programmatic considerations to the more objective, almost scientific style we are used to today. Readers will benefit from having scores (easily available from Dover) on hand to consult. --William R. Braun

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