chapter  1
The rubble of the other
Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens
WithTekla Babyak
Pages 15

The 1809 War of the Fifth Coalition, in which Austria and Britain joined forces against Napoleon’s France, produced architectural and financial devastation in Austria. This chapter investigates how the ruinous aftermath of this war might have had an impact on Beethoven’s music, as well as on Austrian musical culture more generally. This chapter examines these questions through one specific work that engages with the theme of ruins: Beethoven’s music for August von Kotzebue’s play Ruins of Athens (1811). In the play, the goddess Minerva awakens after having been asleep for 20 centuries. To her horror, she discovers that Greece is in shambles, its artifacts and cultural life having long since been destroyed by Turkish invaders. Despite this tragic beginning, the play ultimately ends on a triumphant note with the rebirth of Greek culture in the Austro- Hungarian Empire. My conclusion is that the historical ruins of Athens function for Beethoven and Kotzebue as a vehicle for allegorical commentary on their own culture. I argue that the play enacts a symbolic representation of Austria’s own ruins in the wake of the 1809 war.