In my music appreciation class, I remarked on a section of the movie Amadeus by saying that the stirrings before the French Revolution were something like Occupy Wall Street. It was an on-the-fly comparison for the sake of relevance in the context of lecturing about Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and the socioeconomic status of European musicians in the 18th century. I did not know I had joined several Wall Street Journal bloggers as well as a host of other writers until my Google search for “french revolution” “occupy wall street” yielded “about 436,000 results” a couple of days later. A few people shared the reference to Zhou Enlai’s “it’s too soon to tell,” and several pondered whether the movement would or should remain non-violent. Comments on the methods and outcomes of Mahatma Gandhi’s work also surfaced as well as mention of the approaches of Che Guevara and Thomas Jefferson. Most illuminating to my remark, however, was historian David Andress’ critique that reflected his research on the French and American Revolutions:
“Real ‘world-historical’ revolutions, to use a time-honored phrase, are rare. That’s a good thing, because they are also, in their grandeur, terrible…. Glorious outcomes do sometimes emerge from revolutionary trauma, but at the expense of years of strife, tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, often military dictatorship (Cromwell, Napoleon), and the unleashing of unexpected consequences that bring drastic shifts away from the original revolutionaries’ hopes.”
I look forward to applying this brief investigation to my discussion of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”
If you click on one of the affiliate links in this post and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission.