Beethoven, Wordsworth & the French Revolution

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250th Anniversary Double Celebration for 2020


After its acclaimed Hyperion debut with Mozart, The Jupiter Ensemble turns its attention to the arrangement of the Egmont Overture by Ignaz Moscheles, and to Hummel’s version of the Eroica, interspersed with the Revolutionary poetry of William Wordsworth – he and Beethoven were both born in 1770. The programme’s first outing was at Turner Sims, Southampton, on January 9th 2020, with Zeb Soanes reading the poems.


In 1789, Ludwig van Beethoven was in Bonn playing viola in Mozart’s revolutionary opera The Marriage of Figaro, where Beaumarchais’ working-class hero turns the tables on the Count and his droit de seigneur. That same summer, William Wordsworth was even closer to revolution – he was actually in Paris.

As Wordsworth wrote later:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress—to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!

Beethoven and Wordsworth, both born in 1770, were both at first enchanted by the French Revolution; and later both men arrived at the same disappointment, famously expressed by Beethoven’s furious deletion of Napoleon’s name from the title page of his Eroica symphony.

Wordsworth’s political poems, like ‘I grieved for Bonaparté’, ‘Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour’, ‘After Visiting the Field of Waterloo’ – one of the great memorials to the Pity of War – and many more, and his moving meditations on his journey to France in 1802 to visit the daughter he had never seen, complement the music that the revolution inspired in Beethoven, each artist illuminating the other.

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