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Influence of Napoleon Bonaparte to Classical Art Essay

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Introduction

Classical music has remained relevant in music for a long period even after the end of classical period. Classical period, between 1950 and 1825 brought great changes in Europe. The influence of this period was also reflected in the classical music. Among the major event in this era were rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the fall of Monarchy rule in France. As it has always been, musicians tried to understand and interpret the events in this era. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are some of re-known artists that featured Napoleon in their works.

Classical Period

Classical period came between the year 1750 and 1825. This period experienced various discoveries, famous individual and events. Among the important happenings experienced in this period, include the discovery of electricity, American Revolution to French revolution (Bour, 1967, p121). Among famous individuals in this period includes, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte and King Lois XIV of France. Likewise, famous classical artists such as Francisco de Gova Eugene Delacroix, John Constable, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven also marked the period (Burrows, 2005, p89).

The term, classical, as used in art is used to show the characteristic of works of art in this period. Starting from around 1750’s artist, architects and musician wanted to separate them from opulence observed in Baroque period. Instead, the artist wanted to frame their works of art to clean, uncluttered style used in classical Greece. In consequence, the period is referred to as classic to show the desire of the artists to emulate ancient Greeks’ works.

Classical art had characteristic that were different from the early Baroque period. Unlike the Baroque period where most works of arts were dedicated to the church, classical arts addressed subjects that are more secular. Due to political upheavals experienced in Europe in this period, the Church and Monarchs failed to be the only benefactors of works of art. From this changed, new aristocratic leader became the main feature in art. The aristocracy were appealed by music that were impersonalized but with good melody. The result of this was music aimed at entertainment that characterised classical music. Most of the classical music composer composed and performed their work for commercial purpose (Burrows, 2005, p123). For instance, most of classical music was composed for ceremonies, parties of for individuals. Although Vienna was the main place where most classical music were composed, there was pockets of composers were found across Europe.

Among the major achievement in classical period, include development of symphonic form, sonata, string quartets, popularity of opera, and invention of modern piano and development of various themes. Among famous composers in this period, include Christopher Willibald, Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Von Beethoven and Peter Tchaikovsky.

Works of arts of classical era reveals the issues that touched people during the period. French revolution is one of the major events that marked the period. The main figure the French revolution is Napoleon Bonaparte. Due to his dramatic influence in France other part of Europe, Napoleon became a subject to many artists. His influence to classical art if evident is paintings, sculptures and music from classical era.

Napoleon Bonaparte and the French revolution

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in the city of Ajaccio, Corsica. He was son to Carlo, an attorney and representative to Louis XVI court. For his education, he was taken to a French military school where his interests in military developed. Napoleon joined the military immediately after completing his studies and given the rank of left lieutenant. In a short period, Napoleon rose in the ranks to become a commander.

Napoleon great success in military came in 1795 when he organised a successful armed protest against the National Convention. His role in this protest earned him the favour of new rulers in France. Other military success followed when Napoleon was made the head of France military (Bour, 1967, p14). He was able to lead a successful military attach against Austrians in Lombardy and defeat the army of Papal. Under his leadership, France won military battles after military battles. These successes earned him adoration from his fellow military officer and people in general.

In 1798, Napoleon led the French army in an effort to prevent British entry into India. Although his army made some victories, he was forced to retreat and go back to France. In France, he met a bankrupt country divided by internal politics and decided to overthrow it. After managing to overthrow the government, Napoleon made himself as a Consul (Snipe, 1998, p54). This move highly welcomed by people France and other parts of Europe. People had great hope and confidence in his leadership especially after the revolution. Against expectation of many, Bonaparte established himself as Emperor of France in 1799. After this, Napoleon started to lead his army against other nation, conquering many of them.

Effect of Napoleon to classical art

Napoleon military success during the struggle with British occupation in France, foreign military success leader of French army, his role as Consul and event in Bonaparte war of many works of art. Various paintings, Sculptures and graphical art were made to depict events or individuals during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (Burrows, 2005, p119). Among the Napoleonic works of art includes Napoleon on Campaign, which shows Napoleon and his officer as they retreat from Moscow and Bonaparte Crossing the Great Saint Bernards Pass. Some of the works of arts from individuals’ artist interest while others were used as political tool for Bonaparte.

Influence in Classical Music

Napoleon Bonaparte era came during the classical period when classical music were on the rise. Napoleon personality, character and military success appealed to many classical music artists. Some artists praised Bonaparte and his endeavours while others were critical of him.

Ludwig Von Beethoven

Beethoven was a German classic musician that is considered as one of the most successful musicians in history. He begun his career as a skilled improviser at the piano and composer of piano music. Afterward he started to compose, string quartet, opera, chamber music and symphonies (Bour, 1967, p 33). His Symphony number 9 in D minor is perhaps the most famous work of classical music in existence. Beethoven works such as his Opera, Fidelio and his symphonies shows the artist’s interest in freedom and social harmony.

Symphony no 3: Eroica Symphony

Erotica Symphony is the most referred work of Beethoven. The connection of this work to Napoleon Bonaparte makes Eroica Symphony an important source of discussion on Classical music. Eroica Symphony was composed in E flat major. The orchestration required two oboes, two flutes, two bassoons, two clarinets three horns, stings and timpani. It is claimed that the work was originally composed to be dedicated to Napoleon by Beethoven later changed his mind (Whit tall, 1994, p 79). As the work was initially aimed for Bonaparte, the ideas in the music were influenced by Napoleon.

Napoleon success in French revolution was admired by many people in Europe. Most countries in Europe before the classical era were ruled by Monarchy. Most monarchies were oppressive to their people. This made success in French revolution to be viewed as a hope for other nations.

The inspiration to compose a symphony on Bonaparte could have come from General Bernadotte. By then, Bernadotte was the French Ambassador I Vienna. Beethoven was greatly moved by Napoleons personality. He saw him as a sign of hope for Europe. Beethoven saw Napoleon as a figure that would bring great positive changes to Europe; he hoped that Napoleon would bring in justice, freedom and fraternity (Whit tall, 1994, p 56). Eroica symphony reflects this hope as it is curled in the structure of a music. He considered Napoleon a rebirth of Roman consuls who once brought justice in Roman Empire. Erotica symphony reflects these ideas conceived of Napoleon.

Originally, Beethoven intended to name the work as Bonaparte Symphony, as a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte. This was to honour the French Consul role in reforming Europe. This was after Napoleon had succeeded in leading military campaigns across the Europe. However, in 1784, Napoleon made himself emperor against the expectation of many. This act disappointed and angered Beethoven that he decided to change the title of the work (Whit tall, 1994, p 76). As it is legendary told, Beethoven cut the title from the work with a knife as a show of his disappointment. The new title, Erotica implied his refusal to name the work to Napoleon, whom he considered as a tyrant. Despite of this, Beethoven allowed the part of the title, composed to celebrate a great man, to be included in the title.

Tchaikovsky: 1812 overture

1812 Overture is theatrical and thunderous music made in 1880’s. The music is thought to have been prepared to depict the Battle of Borodino. The Battle of Borodino is a battle fought in classical era where Napoleon’s strong army advanced to meet the Russian army. In this battle, neither of the armies was defeated but it had significant effect to the relationship between the French and the Russians (Bour, 1967, p76). The deep vibration in the overture brings about the situation during the war. The work is an important work that features the feeling during the battle. The music continues to be important on how it capture the heart of many battles and celebrate success.

Tchaikovsky was a Russian and started to be involved in music at a tender age. At the age of five, Tchaikovsky started to attend piano lessons (Tchaikovsky, 1996, p71). He proved to be good at piano that he marched his teacher in less than years. Although Tchaikovsky was naturally good at music, his parent sent him to a school that would have ensured him a career in civil service. Despite of this, at age fourteen, he turned his attention to music again. After completing his service in civil service, Tchaikovsky started to attend classes in music under Nikolai Zaremba. 1812 Overture is an evidence of Tchaikovsky ability in music. The melody of this classical music is still relevant in music industry.

Before encountering Russian in the battle of Baroba, Napoleon army had trampled over almost every army in Europe. Knowing Napoleon’s success in other parts of Europe, Russia was greatly trouble by this advance. Russia was poorly developed with few industries (Bour, 1967, p55). War with France meant that its economy mould be affected severely due hindered trade. Faced with this reality, Russian leaders resolved to face France in a war. Napoleon sent correspondence to Russia requiring it to conform to its economic requirement bur received no response from Russia (Tchaikovsky, 1996, p51). After failing to get response from Russia Napoleon decided to send his troupes to fight with it.

1812 Overture can be interpreted as a campaign made to gain support for the war. Since, the victorious Napoleon army troubled the Russian army; they needed to be motivated to go war. The music achieved it motive when the French started to retreat.

Conclusion

Events in classical era provided artist with ideas to base their work. Classical works of art show the idea, inspirations and event in the most important era in Europe. Classical era was a break away from Baroque era. The work of art focused on more secular issues rather than religious issues. One of the classical figures that influenced classical art is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon leadership in French Revolutions together with Napoleonic wars that followed attracted artists’ interest. Beethoven, Erotica symphony show the confidence and hope that the artist had on Napoleon. On the other hands, 1812 Overture reflect Russia campaign in war against France.

Reference List

Bour, R. (1967). Classical art. Birmingham: W. C. Brown Co.

Burrows, J. (2005). Classical Music. New York: DK Pub.

Snipe, T. (1998). Beethoven, Erotica symphony. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tchaikovsky, P. (1996). 1812 overture: Marche slave, and; Francesca da Rimini. Oxford: Courier Dover Publications.

Whit tall, M (1994). Ludwig van Beethoven: approaches to his music. London: Oxford University Press.

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