Last night the KP Spouse and I went to Fidelio at the Lyric Opera. I have been looking forward to it for a long time, because I really like Beethoven. Unlike Lucy in Room With A View, who says that her mother asks her not to play Beethoven because it makes her peevish, I find Beethoven stirring (in fact, Fidelio makes me want to open up a can o’ whup-ass on authoritarianism, which I will not indulge here).
But there’s something really interesting about Fidelio, and about Beethoven (and my other favorite composer Schubert) in general. Beethoven wrote and revised Fidelio over the course of about 12 years, from 1804 to 1816. Tempestuous times, those, in Central Europe. The result is a real amalgam of classical themes and composition and romantic themes and composition, and he vascillates between them throughout the whole opera. Parts of it are clearly more strictly metered and more in the classical style, while others are more lush and dramatic. And he also spends a lot of time somewhere in between. As a consequence Fidelio is not the most smooth or fluid piece of composition on the planet, but I find it intellectually compelling because you can see where he came from, where he’s going, and how he’s contributing to getting us there.
Oh, the benefits of hindsight.
Even more interestingly, we discussed John Stuart Mill in class yesterday. One of the ways I characterize Mill in the history of economic thought is as a bridge between classical economics (based largely on the labor theory of value, transitioning to the production cost theory of value) and neoclassical economics (based on the subjective utility theory of value). Clearly, as one of the premiere consequentialist utilitarian philosophers, Mill focuses more on utility than Smith or Ricardo or other classical economists, and that makes him a step toward the neoclassical. But Mill also articulated supply and demand as separate functions, as opposed to the ratio that they were always presumed to be in classical economics. He made other steps that pushed the ideas toward the neoclassical, while still retaining much of the focus and the structure of classical economics. As I like to say, he kicked the door open for neoclassical economics.
So in that sense both Mill and Beethoven are bridges; in hindsight we can look back and see where they came from, how their work builds upon that foundation, what they contribute to the evolution from that foundation, and their shaping and foresight that will subsequently lead to very interesting and novel places.