How Beethoven went from Napoleon’s biggest fan to his worst critic

Beethoven planned to dedicate his Third Symphony to Napoleon—before the French revolutionary crowned himself emperor.

Two giants who shook the foundations of 18th- and 19th-century Europe, Ludwig van Beethoven and Napoleon Bonaparte were born just one year apart—Beethoven in Bonn, near Cologne (now Germany) in 1770 and Bonaparte in Ajaccio, Corsica, in 1769. These two men radically transformed their respective fields, leaving behind legacies that all of their followers were forced to acknowledge while attempting to transcend.

Napoleon’s military prowess after the French Revolution led to a quick rise to power. Victory after victory burnished the young man’s reputation, bringing him acclaim all over Europe as a triumph over the old ways.

Beethoven’s innovative compositions took music to new heights. His symphonies told entire stories without words, unfurling emotions and painting pictures that immersed listeners like nothing before it. Beethoven dominated the musical world the same way Napoleon reigned over the military and political spheres. These two men never met, but a shared critical moment in the early 19th century revealed a stark contrast between these two icons.

Metered Paywall - Domestic

Read This Next

Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems in the world. Can we save them?

The world’s oldest known wild bird just turned 70—why she’s so special

Buried for 4,000 years, this ancient culture could expand the 'Cradle of Civilization'

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet