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America's Beethoven

Beethoven Notices in 19th-century Newspapers

The history of Beethoven reception in the United States dates back to the newspapers from the composer’s own lifetime. Announcements of concerts containing his music, reprints of biographical anecdotes, and even premature announcements of his death appear in these newspapers from 1821-48. By the 1840s, Beethoven’s music was firmly planted on U. S. soil, mainly in the larger Eastern cities, and spread throughout the country. Looking back from our modern perspective, it is difficult to imagine the profound impact that Beethoven’s music, particularly the symphonies, had on 19th-century Americans who were hearing them for the first time. As writers struggled to explain the phenomenon, Beethoven came to epitomize the Romantic composer and his music Romanticism itself. There was a twist, however: American writers on music understood Romanticism within a framework of Transcendentalism. The Transcendentalists’ visions played an important part in establishing an image that affected not only Beethoven but classical music itself well into the twentieth century. Even today the image remains an important aspect of the American musical world.

Through the Transcendental writers, Beethoven’s music came to be understood as having special spiritual and hence sacred qualities, something that was soon transferred to Beethoven himself. Margaret Fuller and John S. Dwight were pivotal in this development. Beethoven was also associated with nature, an area not only important to the Transcendentalists but fundamental to any understanding of a country of vast wilderness. Because Transcendentalism, nature, and sacralization were closely related in the nineteenth century, any discussion of one often bleeds into a discussion of the others.

A fourth issue, however, stands somewhat apart. To a country reveling in its conquest of the continent, in Manifest Destiny, and in the dynamic and macho nature of the Gilded Age, Beethoven’s music was perceived as having special masculine or manly qualities. This fed into the complex gender minuet that the nineteenth century played in regard to music, where for the most part it belonged to women’s sphere. For many, Beethoven’s music was different. He was a colossus and a titan, an ideal exemplar of Guilded Age America. —Michael Broyles

National Gazette and Literary Register, Philadelphia, April 23, 1821

Notices of rehearsals and performances by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, including schedule of “rehearsals and Practisings” and notice about the upcoming concert, which included Beethoven’s “Grand Sinfonia, in C”

Caption for the National Gazette, Philadelphia, April 1821
Notice from the National Gazette, April 23, 1821

Boston Recorder and Telegraph, Friday, February 10, 1826

Notice about Beethoven taken from John Russell’s A Tour in Germany, and Some of the Southern Provinces of the Austrian Empire, in the Years 1820, 1821, 1822 (Boston: Wells & Lily, 1825)

Caption for the Boston Recorder, 1826
Notice about Beethoven in the Boston Recorder, 1826

Boston Commercial Gazette, Monday, March 19, 1827

A premature notice of Beethoven’s death

Caption for the Boston Commercial Gazette, 1827
Premature notice of Beethoven's death in the Boston Commercial GAzette, March 19, 1827

The Albion: British, Colonial and Foreign Weekly Gazette, March 11, 1848

“Memoir of Beethoven” by Miss Thomasina Ross

Caption for the Albion, March 11, 1848
First page of notice about Beethoven in The Albion
-Second page of notice about Beethoven in The Albion
Third page of notice about Beethoven in The Albion