1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Beethoven, Ludwig van
BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN (1770–1827), German musical composer, was baptized (probably, as was usual, the day after birth) on the 17th of December 1770 at Bonn. His family is traceable to a village near Louvain, in Belgium, in the 17th century. In 1650 a lineal ancestor of the composer settled in Antwerp. Beethoven’s grandfather, Louis, quarrelled with his family, came to Bonn in 1732, and became one of the court musicians of the archbishop-elector of Cologne. He was a genial man of estimable character, and though Ludwig van Beethoven was only four years old when his grandfather died, he never forgot him, but cherished his portrait to the end of his life. Beethoven’s father, a tenor singer at the archbishop-elector’s court, was of a rough and violent temper, not improved by his passion for drink, nor by the dire poverty under which the family laboured. He married Magdelina Leim or Laym, the widow of a vâlet-de-chambre of the elector of Trier and daughter of the chief cook at Ehrenbreitstein. Beethoven’s father wished to profit as early as possible by his son’s talent, and accordingly began to give him a severe musical training, especially on the violin, when he was only five years old, at about which time they left the house in which he was born (515 Bonngasse, now preserved as a Beethoven museum, with a magnificent collection of manuscripts and relics). By the time Beethoven was nine his father had no more to teach him, and he entered upon a perhaps healthier course of clavier lessons under a singer named Pfeiffer. A little general education was also edged in by a certain Zambona. Van den Eeden, the court organist, and an old friend of his grandfather, taught him the organ and the pianoforte, and so rapid was Beethoven’s progress that when C. G. Neefe succeeded to Van den Eeden’s post in 1781, he was soon able to allow the boy to act as his deputy. With his permission Beethoven published in 1783 his earliest extant composition, a set of variations on a march by Dressler. The title-page states that they were written in 1780 “par un jeune amateur Louis van Beethoven âgé de dix ans.” Beethoven’s father was very clumsy in his unnecessary attempts to make an infant prodigy of his son; for the ante-dating of this composition, implying the correct date of birth, contradicts the post-dating of the date of birth by which he tried to make out that the three sonatas Beethoven wrote in the same year were by a boy of eleven. (Beethoven for a long time believed that he was born in 1772, and the certificate of his baptism hardly convinced him, because he knew that he had an elder brother named Ludwig who died in infancy.) In the same year, 1783, Beethoven was given the post of cembalist in the Bonn theatre, and in 1784 his position of assistant to Neefe became official. In a catalogue raisonné of the new archbishop Max Franz’s court musicians we find “No. 14, Ludwig Beethoven” described “as of good capacity, still young, of good, quiet behaviour and poor,” while his father (No. 8) “has a completely worn-out voice, has long been in service, is very poor, of fairly good behaviour, and married.”
In the spring of 1787 Beethoven paid a short visit to Vienna, where he astonished Mozart by his extemporizations and had a few lessons from him. How he was enabled to afford this visit is not clear. After three months the illness of his mother, to whom he was devoted, brought him back. She died in July, leaving a baby girl, one year old, who died in November. For five more years Beethoven remained at Bonn supporting his family, of which he had been since the age of fifteen practically the head, as his father’s bad habits steadily increased until in 1789 Ludwig was officially entrusted with his father’s salary. He had already made several lifelong friends at Bonn, of whom the chief were Count Waldstein and Stephan Breuning; and his prospects brightened as the archbishop-elector, in imitation of his brother the emperor Joseph II., enlarged the scale of his artistic munificence. By 1792 the archbishop-elector’s attention was thoroughly aroused to Beethoven’s power, and he provided for Beethoven’s second visit to Vienna. The introductions he and Count Waldstein gave to Beethoven, the prefix “van” in Beethoven’s name (which looked well though it was not really a title of nobility), and above all the unequalled impressiveness of his playing and extemporization, quickly secured his footing with the exceptionally intelligent and musical aristocracy of Vienna, who to the end of his life treated him with genuine affection and respect, bearing with all the roughness of his manners and temper, not as with the eccentricities of a fashionable genius, but as with signs of the sufferings of a passionate and noble nature.
Beethoven’s life, though outwardly uneventful, was one of the most pathetic of tragedies. His character has had the same fascination for his biographers as it had for his friends, and there is probably hardly any great man in history of whom more is known and of whom so much of what is known is interesting. Yet it is all too much a matter of detail and anecdote to admit of chronological summarizing here, and for the disentangling of its actual incidents we must refer the reader to Sir George Grove’s long and graphic article, “Beethoven,” in the Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and to the monumental biography of Thayer, who devoted his whole life to collecting materials. These two biographical works, read in the spirit in which their authors conceived them, will reveal, beneath a mass of distressing, grotesque and sometimes sordid detail, a nobility of character and unswerving devotion to the highest moral ideas throughout every distress and temptation to which a passionate and totally unpractical temper and the growing shadow of a terrible misfortune could expose a man.
The man is surpassed only by his works, for in them he had that mastery which was denied to him in what he himself calls his attempt to “grapple with fate.” Such of his difficulties as lay in his own character already showed themselves in his studies with Haydn. Haydn, who seems to have heard of him on his first visit to Vienna in 1787, passed through Bonn in July 1792, and was so much struck by Beethoven that it was very likely at his instigation that the archbishop sent Beethoven to Vienna to study under him. But Beethoven did not get on well with him, and found him perfunctory in correcting his exercises. Haydn appreciated neither his manners nor the audacity of his free compositions, and abandoned whatever intentions he may have had of taking Beethoven with him to England in 1794. Beethoven could do without sympathy, but a grounding in strict counterpoint he felt to be a dire necessity, so he continued his studies with Albrechtsberger, a mere grammarian who had the poorest opinion of him, but who could, at all events, be depended on to attend to his work. Almost every comment has been made upon the relations between Haydn and Beethoven, except the perfectly obvious one that Mozart died at the age of thirty-six, just at the time Beethoven came to Vienna, and that Haydn, as is perfectly well known, was profoundly shocked by the untimely loss of the greatest musician he had ever known. At such a time the undeniable clumsiness of Beethoven’s efforts at academic exercises would combine with his general tactlessness to confirm Haydn in the belief that the sun had set for ever in the musical world, and would incline him to view with disfavour those bold features of style and form which the whole of his own artistic development should naturally have predisposed him to welcome. It is at least significant that those early works of Beethoven in which Mozart’s influence is most evident, such as the Septet, aroused Haydn’s open admiration, whereas he hardly approved of the compositions like the sonatas, op. 2 (dedicated to him), in which his own influence is stronger. Neither he nor Beethoven was skilful in expressing himself except in music, and it is impossible to tell what Haydn meant, or what Beethoven thought he meant, in advising him not to publish the last and finest of the three trios, op. 1. But even if he did not mean that it was too daring for the public, it can hardly be expected that he never contrasted the meteoric career of Mozart, who after a miraculous boyhood had produced at the age of twenty-five some of the greatest music Haydn had ever seen, with the slow and painful development of his uncouth pupil, who at the same age had hardly a dozen presentable works to his credit. It is not clear that Haydn ever came to understand Beethoven, and many years passed before Beethoven realized the greatness of the master whose teaching had so disappointed him.
From the time Beethoven settled permanently in Vienna, which he was soon induced to do by the kindness of his aristocratic friends, the only noteworthy external features of his career are the productions of his compositions. In spite of the usual hostile criticism for obscurity, exaggeration and unpopularity, his reputation became world-wide and by degrees actually popular; nor did it ever decline, for as his later works became notorious for their extravagance and unintelligibility his earlier works became better understood. He was no man of business, but, in a thoroughly unpractical way, he was suspicious and exacting in money matters, which in his later years frequently turned up in his conversation as a grievance, and at times, especially during the depreciation of the Austrian currency between 1808 and 1815, were a real anxiety to him. Nevertheless, with a little more skill his external prosperity would have been great. He was always a personage of importance, as is testified by more than one amusing anecdote, like those of his walks with Goethe and his half-ironical comments on the hats which flew off more for him than for Goethe; and in 1815 it seemed as if the summit of his fame was reached when his 7th symphony was performed, together with a hastily-written cantata, Der glorreiche Augenblick and the blazing piece of descriptive fireworks entitled Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria, once popular in England as the Battle Symphony. The occasion for this performance was the congress of Vienna; and the government placed the two halls of the Redouten-Saal at his disposal for two nights, while he himself was allowed to invite all the sovereigns of Europe. In the same year he received the freedom of the city, an honour much valued by him. After that time his immediate popularity, as far as new works were concerned, became less eminent, as that of his more easy-going contemporaries began to increase. Yet there was, not only in the emotional power of his earlier works, but also in the known cause of his increasing inability to appear in public, something that awakened the best popular sensibilities; and when his two greatest and most difficult works, the 9th symphony and parts of the Missa Solemnis, were produced at a memorable concert in 1824, the storm of applause was overwhelming, and the composer, who was on the platform in order to give the time to the conductor, had to be turned round by one of the singers in order to see it.
Signs of deafness had given him grave anxiety as early as 1708. For a long time he successfully concealed it from all but his most intimate friends, while he consulted physicians and quacks with eagerness; but neither quackery nor the best skill of his time availed him, and it has been pointed out that the root of the evil lay deeper than could have been supposed during his lifetime. Although his constitution was magnificently strong and his health was preserved by his passion for outdoor life, a post-mortem examination revealed a very complicated state of disorder, evidently dating almost from childhood (if not inherited) and aggravated by lack of care and good food. The touching document addressed to his brothers in 1802, and known as his “will,” should be read in its entirety, as given by Thayer (iv. 4). No verbal quotation short of the whole will do justice to the overpowering outburst which runs almost in one long unpunctuated sentence through the whole tragedy of Beethoven’s life, as he knew it then and foresaw it. He reproaches men for their injustice in thinking and calling him pugnacious, stubborn and misanthropical when they do not know that for six years he has suffered from an incurable condition, aggravated by incompetent doctors. He dwells upon his delight in human society, from which he has had so early to isolate himself, but the thought of which now fills him with dread as it makes him realize his loss, not only in music but in all finer interchange of ideas, and terrifies him lest the cause of his distress should appear. He declares that, when those near him had heard a flute or a singing shepherd while he heard nothing, he was only prevented from taking his life by the thought of his art, but it seemed impossible for him to leave the world until he had brought out all that he felt to be in his power. He requests that after his death his present doctor, if surviving, shall be asked to describe his illness and to append it to this document in order that at least then the world may be as far as possible reconciled with him. He leaves his brothers his property, such as it is, and in terms not less touching, if more conventional than the rest of the document, he declares that his experience shows that only virtue has preserved his life and his courage through all his misery.
And, indeed, his art and his courage rose far above any level attainable by those artists who are slaves to the “personal note,” for his chief occupation at the time of this document was his 2nd symphony, the most brilliant and triumphant piece that had ever been written up to that time. On a smaller scale, in which mastery was the more easily attainable as experiment was more readily tested, Beethoven was sooner able to strike a tragic note, and hence the process of growth in his style is more readily traceable in the pianoforte works than in the larger compositions which naturally represent a series of crowning results. Only in his last period does the pianoforte cease to be Beethoven’s normal means of expression. Accordingly, if in the discussion of Beethoven’s works, with which we close this article, we dwell rather more on the pianoforte sonatas than on his greater works, it is not only because they are more easily referred to by the general reader, but because they are actually a key to his intellectual development, such as is afforded neither by his life nor by the great works which are themselves the crowning mystery and wonder of musical art.
Deafness causes inconvenience in conversation long before it is noticeable in music, and in 1806 Beethoven could still conduct his opera Fidelio and be much annoyed at the inattention to his nuances; and his last appearance as a player was not until 1814, when he made a great impression with his B flat trio, op. 97. At the end of November 1822 an attempt to conduct proved disastrous. The touching incident in 1824 has been described, but up to the last Beethoven seems to have found or imagined that ear-trumpets (of which a collection is now preserved at Bonn) were of use to him in playing to himself, though his friends were often pained when the pianoforte was badly out of tune, and were overcome when Beethoven in soft passages did not make the notes sound at all. The instrument sent him by Broadwood in 1817–1818 gave him great pleasure and he answered it with a characteristically cordial and quaint letter in the best of bad French. His fame in England was often a source of great comfort to him, especially in his last illness, when the London Philharmonic Society, for which the 9th symphony was written and a 10th symphony projected, sent him £100 in advance of the proceeds of a benefit concert which he had begged them to give, being in very straitened circumstances, as he would make no use of the money he had deposited in the bank for his nephew.
This nephew was the cause of most of his anxiety and distress in the last twelve years of his life. His brother, Kaspar Karl, had often given him trouble; for example, by obtaining and publishing some of Beethoven’s early indiscretions, such as the trio-variations, op. 44, the sonatas, op. 49, and other trifles, of which the late opus number is thus explained. In 1815, after Beethoven had quarrelled with his oldest friend, Stephan Breuning, for warning him against trusting his brother in money matters, Kaspar died, leaving a widow of whom Beethoven strongly disapproved, and a son, nine years old, for the guardianship of whom Beethoven fought the widow through all the law courts. The boy turned out utterly unworthy of his uncle’s persistent devotion, and gave him every cause for anxiety. He failed in all his examinations, including an attempt to learn some trade in the polytechnic school, whereupon he fell into the hands of the police for attempting suicide, and, after being expelled from Vienna, joined the army. Beethoven’s utterly simple nature could neither educate nor understand a human being who was not possessed by the wish to do his best. His nature was passionately affectionate, and he had suffered all his life from the want of a natural outlet for it. He had often been deeply in love and made no secret of it; but Robert Browning had not a more intense dislike of “the artistic temperament” in morals, and though Beethoven’s attachments were almost all hopelessly above him in rank, there is not one that was not honourable and respected by society as showing the truthfulness and self-control of a great man. Beethoven’s orthodoxy in such matters has provoked the smiles of Philistines, especially when it showed itself in his objections to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and his grounds for selecting the subject of Fidelio for his own opera. The last thing that Philistines will ever understand is that genius is far too independent of convention to abuse it; and Beethoven’s life, with all its mistakes, its grotesqueness and its pathos, is as far beyond the shafts of Philistine wit as his art.
At the beginning of 1827 Beethoven had projects for a 10th symphony, music to Goethe’s Faust, and (under the stimulus of his newly acquired collection of Handel’s works) any amount of choral music, compared to which all his previous compositions would have seemed but a prelude. But he was in bad health; his brother Johann, with whom he had been staying, had not allowed him a fire in his bedroom, and had sent him back to Vienna in an open chaise in vile weather; and the chill which resulted ended in a fatal illness. Within a week of his death Beethoven was still full of his projects. Three days before the end he added a codicil to his will, and saw Schubert, whose music had aroused his keen interest, but was not able to speak to him, though he afterwards spoke of the Philharmonic Society and the English, almost his last words being “God bless them.” On the 26th of March 1827, during a fierce thunderstorm, he died.
Beethoven’s Music.—The division of Beethoven’s work into three styles has become proverbial, and is based on obvious facts. The styles, however, are not rigidly separated, either in themselves or in chronology. Nor can the popular description of Beethoven’s first manner as “Mozartesque” be accepted as doing justice to a style which differs more radically from Mozart’s than Mozart’s differs from Haydn’s. The style of Beethoven’s third period is no longer regarded as “showing an obscurity traceable to his deafness,” but we have, perhaps, only recently outgrown the belief that his later treatment of form is revolutionary. The peculiar interest and difficulty in tracing Beethoven’s artistic development is that the changes in the materials and range of his art were as great as those in the form, so that he appears in the light of a pioneer, while the art with which he started was nevertheless already a perfectly mature and highly organized thing. And he is perhaps unique among artists in this, that his power of constructing perfect works of art never deserted him while he revolutionized his means of expression. No doubt this is in a measure true of all the greatest artists, but it is seldom obvious. In mature art vital differences in works of similar form are generally more likely to be overlooked than to force themselves on the critic’s attention. And when they become so great as to make a new epoch it is generally at the cost of a period of experiment too heterogeneous and insecure for works of art to attain great permanent value. But in Beethoven’s case, as we have said, the process of development is so smooth that it is impossible to separate the periods clearly, although the ground covered is, as regards emotional range, at least as great as that between Bach and Mozart. No artist has ever left more authoritative documentary evidence as to the steps of his development than Beethoven. In boyhood he seems to have acquired the habit of noting down all his musical ideas exactly as they first struck him. It is easy to see why in later years he referred to this as a “bad habit,” for it must often take longer to jot down a crude idea than to reject it; and by the time the habit was formed Beethoven’s powers of self-criticism were unparalleled, and he must often have felt hampered by the habit of writing down what he knew to be too crude to be even an aid to memory. Such first intuitions, if not written down, would no doubt be forgotten; but the poetic mood, the Stimmung, they attempt to indicate, would remain until a better expression was forthcoming. Beethoven had acquired the habit of recording them, and thereby he has, perhaps, misled some critics into over-emphasizing the contrast between his “tentative” self-critical methods and the quasi-extempore outpourings of Mozart. This contrast is probably not very radical; indeed, we may doubt whether in every thoughtful mind any apparently sudden inspiration is not preceded by some anticipatory mood in which the idea was sought and its first faint indications tested and rejected so instantaneously as to leave no impression on the memory.
The number and triviality of Beethoven’s preliminary sketches should not, then, be taken as evidence of a timid or vacillating spirit. But if we regard his sketches as his diary their significance becomes inestimable. They cover every period of Beethoven’s career, and represent every stage of nearly all his important works, as well as of innumerable trifles, including ideas that did not survive to be worked out. And the type of self-criticism is the same from beginning to end. There is no tendency in the middle or last period, any more than in the first, to “subordinate form to expression,” nor do the sketches of the first period show any lack of attention to elements that seem more characteristic of the third. The difference between Beethoven’s three styles appears first in its full proportions when we realize this complete continuity of his method and art. We have ventured to cast doubts upon the Mozartesque character of his early style, because that is chiefly a question of perspective. While he was handling a range of ideas not, in a modern view, glaringly different from Mozart’s, he had no reason to use a glaringly different language. His contemporaries, however, found it more difficult to see the resemblance; and, though their criticism was often violently hostile, they saw with prejudice a daring originality which we may as well learn to appreciate with study. Beethoven himself in later years partly affected and partly felt a lack of sympathy with his own early style. But he had other things to do than to criticize it. Modern prejudice has not his excuse, and the neglect of Beethoven’s early works is no less than the neglect of the key to the understanding of his later. It is also the neglect of a mass of mature art that already places Beethoven on the same plane as Mozart, and contains perhaps the only traces in all his work of a real struggle between the forces of progress and those of construction. We will therefore give special attention to this subject here.
The truth is that there are several styles in Beethoven’s first period, in the centre of which, “proving all things,” is the true and mature Beethoven, however wider may be the scope of his later maturity. And he did not, as is often alleged, fail to show early promise. The pianoforte quartets he wrote at the age of fifteen are, no doubt, clumsy and childish in execution to a degree that contrasts remarkably with the works of Mozart’s, Mendelssohn’s or Schubert’s boyhood; yet they contain material actually used in the sonatas, op. 2, No. 1, and op. 2, No. 3. And the passage in op. 2, No. 3, is that immediately after the first subject, where, as Beethoven then states it, it embodies one of his most epoch-making discoveries, namely, the art of organizing a long series of apparently free modulations by means of a systematic progression in the bass. In the childish quartet the principle is only dimly felt, but it is nevertheless there as a subconscious source of inspiration; and it afterwards gives inevitable dramatic truth to such passages as the climax of the development in the sonata, op. 57 (commonly called Appassionata), and throughout the chaos of the mysterious introduction to the C major string-quartet, op. 59, No. 3, prepares us for the world of loveliness that arises from it.
Although with Beethoven the desire to express new thoughts was thus invariably both stimulated and satisfied by the discovery of the necessary new means of expression, he felt deeply the danger of spoiling great ideas by inadequate execution; and his first work in a new form or medium is, even if as late as the Mass in C, op. 89, almost always unambitious. His teachers had found him sceptical of authority, and never convinced of the practical convenience of a rule until he had too successfully courted disaster. But he appreciated the experience, though he may have found it expensive, and traces of crudeness in such early works as he did not disown are as rare as plagiarisms. The first three pianoforte sonatas, op. 2, show the different elements in Beethoven’s early style as clearly as possible. Sir Hubert Parry has aptly compared the opening of the sonata, op. 2, No. 1, with that of the finale of Mozart’s G minor symphony, to show how much closer Beethoven’s texture is. The slow movement well illustrates the rare cases in which Beethoven imitates Mozart to the detriment of his own proper richness of tone and thought, while the finale in its central episode brings a misapplied and somewhat diffuse structure in Mozart’s style into direct conflict with themes as “Beethovenish” in their terseness as in their sombre passion. The second sonata is flawless in execution, and entirely beyond the range of Haydn and Mozart in harmonic and dramatic thought, except in the finale. And it is just in the adoption of the luxurious Mozartesque rondo form as the crown of this work that Beethoven shows his true independence. He adopts the form, not because it is Mozart’s, but because it is right and because he can master it. The opening of the second subject in the first movement is a wonderful application of the harmonic principle already mentioned in connexion with the early piano quartets. In all music nothing equally dramatic can be found before the D minor sonata, op. 31, No. 2, which is rightly regarded as marking the beginning of Beethoven’s second period. The slow movement, like those of op. 7 and a few other early works, shows a thrilling solemnity that immediately proves the identity of the pupil of Haydn with the creator of the 9th symphony. The little scherzo no less clearly foreshadows the new era in music by the fact that in so small and light a movement a modulation from A to G sharp minor can occur too naturally to excite surprise. If the later work of Beethoven were unknown there would be very little evidence that this sonata was by a young man, except, perhaps, in the remarkable abruptness of style in the first movement, an abruptness which is characteristic, not of immaturity, but of art in which problems are successfully solved for the first time. This abruptness is, however, in a few of Beethoven’s early works carried appreciably too far. In the sonata in C minor, op. 10, No. 1, for example, the more vigorous parts of the first movement lose in breadth from it, while the finalé is almost stunted.
But Beethoven was not content to express his individuality only in an abrupt epigrammatic style. From the outset breadth was also his aim, and while he occasionally attempted to attain a greater breadth than his resources would properly allow (as in the first movement of the sonata, op. 2, No. 3, and that of the violoncello sonata, op. 5, No. 1, in both of which cases a kind of extempore outburst in the coda conceals the collapse of his peroration), there are many early works in which he shows neither abruptness of style nor any tendency to confine himself within the limits of previous art. The C minor trio, op. 1, No. 3, is not more remarkable for the boldness of thought that made Haydn doubtful as to the advisability of publishing it, than for the perfect smoothness and spaciousness of its style. These qualities Beethoven at first naturally found easier to retain with less dramatic material, as in the other trios in the same opus, but the C minor trio does not stand alone. It represents, perhaps, the most numerous, as certainly the noblest, class of Beethoven’s early works. Certainly the smallest class is that in which there is unmistakable imitation of Mozart, and it is significant that almost all examples of this class are works for wind instruments, where the technical limitations narrowly determine the style and discourage the composer from taking things seriously. Such works are the beautiful and popular septet, the quintet for pianoforte and wind instruments (modelled superficially, yet closely and with a kind of modest ambition, on Mozart’s wonderful work for the same combination) and, on a somewhat higher level, the trio for pianoforte, clarinet and violoncello, op. 11.
It is futile to discuss the point at which Beethoven’s second manner may be said to begin, but he has himself given us excellent evidence as to when and how his first manner (as far as that is a single thing) became impossible to him. Through quite a large number of works, beginning perhaps with the great string quintet, op. 29, new types of harmonic and emotional expression had been assimilated into a style at least intelligible from Mozart’s point of view. Indeed, Beethoven’s favourite way of enlarging his range of expression often seems to consist in allowing the Titanic force of his new inventions and the formal beauty of the old art to indicate by their contrast a new world grander and lovelier than either. Sometimes, as in the C major quintet, the new elements are too perfectly assimilated for the contrast to appear. The range of key and depth of thought is beyond that of Beethoven’s first manner, but the smoothness is that of Mozart. In the three pianoforte sonatas, op. 31, the struggle of the transition is as manifest as its accomplishment is triumphant. The first movement of the first sonata (in G major) deals with widely separated keys on new principles. These are embodied in a style which for abruptness and jocular paradox is hardly surpassed by Beethoven’s most nervous early works. The exceptionally ornate and dilatory slow movement reads almost like a protest; while the finale begins as if to show that humour should be beautiful, and ends by making fun of the beauty. The second sonata (in D minor) is the greatest work Beethoven had as yet written. Its first movement, already cited above in connexion with the dramatic sequences in op. 2, No. 2, is, like that of the Sonata Appassionata, a locus classicus for such powerful means of expression. And it is worth noting that the only sketch known of this movement is a sketch in which nothing but its sequential plan is indicated. In the third sonata Beethoven enjoys on a higher plane an experience he had often indulged in before, the attainment of smoothness and breadth by means of a delicately humorous calm which gives scope to the finer subtleties of his new thoughts.
Beethoven himself wrote to his publisher that these three sonatas represented a new phase in his style; but when we realize his artistic conscientiousness it is not surprising that they should be contemporary with larger works like the 2nd symphony, which are far more characteristic of his first manner. His whole development is entirely ruled by his determination to let nothing pass until it has been completely mastered, and long before this his sketch-books show that he had many ambitious ideas for a 1st symphony, and that it was a deliberate process that made his ambitions dwindle into something that could be safely realized in the masterly little comedy with which he began his orchestral career. The easy breadth and power of the 2nd symphony represents an amply sufficient advance, and leaves his forces free to develop in less expensive forms those vast energies for which afterwards the orchestra and the string-quartet were to become the natural field.
In the “Waldstein” sonata, op. 53, we see Beethoven’s second manner literally displacing his first; that is to say, we reach a state of things at which the two can no longer form an artistic contrast. The work, as we know it, is not only perfect, but has all the qualities of art in which the newest elements have long been familiar. The opening is on the same harmonic train of thought as that of the sonata, op. 31, No. 1, but there is no longer the slightest need for a paradoxical or jocular manner. On the contrary, the harmonies are held together by an orderly sequence in the bass, and the onrush is that of some calm diurnal energy of nature. The short introduction to the finale is harmonically and emotionally the most profound thing in the sonata, while the finale itself uses every new resource in the triumphant attainment of a leisure more splendid than any conceivable in the most spacious of Mozart’s rondos. Yet it is well known that Beethoven originally intended the beautiful andante in F, afterwards published separately, to be the slow movement of this sonata. That andante is, like the finale, a spacious and gorgeous rondo, which probably Beethoven himself could not have written at an earlier period. The modulation to D flat in its principal theme, and that to G flat near the end, are its chief harmonic effects and stand out in beautiful relief within its limits. After the first movement of the Waldstein sonata they would be flat and colourless. The sketch-books show that Beethoven, when he first planned the sonata, was by no means inattentive to the balance of harmonic colour in the whole scheme, but that at first he did not realize how far that scheme was going to carry him. He originally thought of the slow movement as in E major, a remote key to which, however, he soon assigned the more intimate position of complementary key in the first movement. He then worked at the slow movement in F with such zest that he did not discover until the whole sonata was finished that he had raised the first and last movements to an altogether higher plane of thought, though the redundancy of the two rondos in juxtaposition and the unusual length of the sonata were so obvious that his friends ventured to point them out. Beethoven’s revision of his earliest works is now known to have been extensive and drastic; but this is the first instance, and Fidelio and the quartet in B flat, op. 131, are the only other instances, of any later work needing important alteration after it was completely executed. From this point up to op. 101 we may study Beethoven’s second manner entirely free from any survivals of his first, even as a legitimate contrast; though it is as impossible to fix a point before which his third manner cannot be traced as it is to ignore the premonitions of his second manner in his early works. The distinguishing features in Beethoven’s second style are the result of a condition of art in which enormous new possibilities have become so well known that there is no need for stating them abruptly, paradoxically or emphatically, but also no need for working them out to remote conclusions. Hence these works have become for most people the best-known and best-loved type of classical music. In their perfect fusion of untranslatable dramatic emotion with every beauty of musical design and tone they have never been equalled, nor is it probable that any other art can show a wider range of thought embodied in a more perfect form. In music itself there is nothing else of so wide a range without grave artistic defects from which Beethoven is entirely free. Wagnerian opera aims at an ideal as truly artistic, and in so far of wider range than Beethoven’s that it passes beyond the bounds of pure music altogether. Within those bounds Beethoven remained, and even the apparent exceptions (such as Fidelio and his two great examples of “programme music,” the Pastoral Symphony and the sonata, Les Adieux) only show how universal his conception of pure music is. Extraneous ideas had here struck him as magnificent material for instrumental music, and he never troubled to argue whether instrumental music is the better or worse for expressing extraneous ideas. To describe the works of Beethoven’s second period here would be to describe a library of well-known classics, and we must refer the reader for further details to the articles on Sonata Forms, Contrapuntal Forms, Harmony and Instrumentation. It remains for us to attempt to indicate the essential features of his third style, and to conclude with a survey of his influence on the history of music.
Beethoven’s third style arose imperceptibly from his second. His deafness had very little to do with it, for all his epoch-making discoveries in orchestral effect date from the time when he was already far too much inconvenienced to test them in a way which would satisfy any one who depended more upon his ear than upon his imagination. It is indeed highly probable that there are no important features in Beethoven’s latest style that may not be paralleled by the tendencies of all great artists who have handled their material until it contains nothing that has not been long familiar with them. Such tendencies lead to an extreme simplicity of form, underlying an elaboration of detail which may at first seem bewildering until we realize that it is purely the working out to its logical conclusions of some idea as simple and natural as the form itself. The form, however, will be not merely simple, but individual. Different works will show such striking external differences of form that a criticism which applies merely a priori or historic standards will be tempted by the fallacy that there is less form in a number of such markedly different works than in a number of works that have one scheme in common. All this is eminently the case with Beethoven’s last works. The extreme simplicity of the themes of the first two movements of the quartet in B flat, op. 131, and the tremendous complexity of the texture into which they are woven, at first impress us as something mysterious and intangible rather than astonishing. The boldness with which the slow introduction is blended in broad statement and counter-statement with the allegro, is directly impressive, as is also the entry of the second subject with its dark harmony and tone, but the work needs long familiarity before its vast mass of thought reveals itself to us in its true lucidity. Such works are “dark with excessive bright.” When we enter into them they are transparent as far as our vision extends, and their darkness is that of a depth that shines as we penetrate it. In all probability only a veil of familiarity prevents our finding the same kind of difficulty in Beethoven’s earlier works. What is undoubtedly newest in the last works is the enormous development of those polyphonic elements which are always essential to the life of a composition, but which have very different functions and degrees of prominence in different forms and stages of the art. Polyphony inevitably draws attention to detail, and thus Beethoven in his middle period found its more obvious manifestations but little conducive to the breadth of designs which were not as yet sufficiently familiar to take any but the foremost place. Hence, among other interesting features of that second period, his marked preference for themes founded on rhythmic figures of one note, e.g. the famous “four taps” in the C minor symphony; an identical rhythm in a melodious theme of very different character in the G major concerto; a similar figure in the Sonata Appassionata; the first theme of the scherzo of the F major quartet, op. 59, No. 1, and the drum-beats in the violin concerto. Such rhythms give thematic life to an inner part without causing it to assume such melodic interest as might distract the attention from the flow of the surface. But in proportion as polyphony loses its danger so does the prominence of such rhythmic figures decrease, until in Beethoven’s last works they are no more noticeable than other kinds of simplicity. The impression of crowded detail is naturally more prominent the smaller the means with which Beethoven works and the less outwardly dramatic his thought. Thus those most gigantic of all musical designs, the 9th symphony, and the Mass in D, are, but for the mechanical difficulties of the choral writing, almost like works of the second period as far as direct impressiveness is concerned; and in the same way the enormous pianoforte sonata, op. 106, is in its first three movements easier to follow than the extremely terse and subtle works on a smaller scale that preceded it (sonata in A major, 101, and the two sonatas for violoncello, op. 102).
His enormous development of polyphonic interest soon led Beethoven to employ the fugue, not only, as in previous works, by way of episodic contrast to passages and designs in which the form and not the texture is the main object of interest, but as the culminating expression of a condition or art in which the unity of form and texture is so perfect that the mind is free to concentrate itself on the texture alone. This union was not effected without a struggle, the traces of which present a close parallel to that abrupt emphasis which we noticed in some of Beethoven’s early works. In his fugue-writing the notion that the chief interest lies in the texture is as yet so difficult to hold together with the perception that these fugues are based on a modern firmness and range of form, that the texture is forced upon the listener’s attention by a continual series of ruthlessly logical bold strokes of harmony. From this and from the notorious violence of Beethoven’s choral writing, and also from his well-known technical struggles in his years of pupilage, the easy inference has been drawn that Beethoven never was a great master of counterpoint, an inference that is absolutely irreconcilable with such plain facts as, to take but one early example, the brilliant piece of triple counterpoint in the andante of the string quartet in C minor, op. 18, No. 4, and the complete absence of anything like crudeness in his handling of harmonies, basses or inner parts at any period of his career. Beethoven may have mastered some things with difficulty, but he mastered nothing incompletely; and where he is not orthodox it is safest to conclude that orthodoxy is wrong. Had he lived for another ten years he would certainly have produced an immense amount of choral work, and with it many other great instrumental works in which this last remaining element of conflict between texture and form would have dwindled away. But while this would doubtless result in such work being easier to follow and might even have given us a version of the great fugue, op. 133 (discarded from the string-quartet, op. 131), that did not surpass the bounds of practical performance, it would yet be no sound criterion by which to stigmatize as an immaturity the roughness of the polyphonic works that we know. That roughness is, like the abrupt epigrammatic manner of some of his early works, the necessary condition in which such material realizes mature expression. Without it that material could receive but the academic handling of a dead language. And by it was created that permanent reconciliation of polyphony and form from which has arisen almost all that is true in “Romantic” music, all that is peculiar to the thematic technique of Wagnerian opera, and all the perfect smoothness of Brahms’s polyphony.
The incalculable depth of thought and closeness of texture in Beethoven’s later works are, of course, the embodiment of a no less incalculable emotional power. If we at times feel that the last quartets are more introspective than dramatic, that is only because Beethoven’s dramatic sense is higher than we can realize. The subject is too large and too subtle for dogmatism to be profitable; and we cannot in Beethoven’s case, as we can in Bach’s, cite a complete series of illustrations of his musical ideas from his treatment in choral music of words which themselves interpret the intention of the composer. There is so little but the music itself by which one can express Beethoven’s thought, that the utmost we can do here is to refer the reader, as before, to the articles on Sonata Forms, Harmony, Instrumentation, Opera and Music, where he will find further attempts to indicate in what sense pure music can be described as dramatic and expressive of emotion.
As our range of investigation widens, and thoroughness of analysis and study increases, so we shall surely find in ourselves an ever-deepening conviction that Beethoven, whether in range, depth and truth of thought, perfect sense of beauty, or absolute conscientiousness of execution, is the greatest musician, perhaps the greatest artist, that ever lived. There is no means of measuring Beethoven’s influence upon subsequent music. Every composer of every school claims it. The immense changes he brought about in the range of music have their most obvious effect in the possibilities of emotional expression; and so any outbreak of vulgarity or sentimentality can with impunity claim descent from Beethoven, though its ancestry may be no higher than Meyerbeer. Again, we have already referred to that confusion of thought which regards a series of works markedly different in form as containing less form than any number of works cast in one mould. Hence the works of Beethoven’s third period have been cited in defence of more than one “revolution,” attempted in a form which never existed in any true classic, for the purpose of setting up something the revolutionist has not yet succeeded in inventing. To measure Beethoven’s influence is like measuring Shakespeare’s. It is an influence either too vaguely universal to name or too profoundly artistic to analyse. Perhaps the truest account of it would be that which ignored its presence in the works of ill-balanced artists, or even in the works of those who profited merely by an increase of technical and harmonic resource which, though effected by Beethoven, would, after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, almost certainly have to some extent arisen from sheer necessity of finding expression for the new experience of humanity, if Beethoven had never existed. Setting aside, then, all instances of mere domination, and of a permanently established new world of musical thought, and omitting Schubert and Weber as contemporaries, the one attracted and the other partly repelled, we may, perhaps, take three later composers, Schumann, Wagner and Brahms, as the leading examples of the way in which Beethoven’s influence is definitely traceable as a creative force. The depth and solemnity of Beethoven’s melody and later polyphonic richness is a leading source of Schumann’s inspiration, though Schumann’s artistic schemes exclude any high degree of formal organization on a large scale. Beethoven’s late polyphony is carried on by Brahms to the point at which perfect smoothness of style is once more possible, and there is no aspect of his form which Brahms neglects or fails to realize with that complete originality which has nothing to fear from its ancestry. Wagner does not handle the same art-forms; his task is different, but Beethoven was the inspiring source, not only of his purely musical sense, but also of his whole sense of dramatic contrast and fitness. When he had shaken off the influence of Meyerbeer, which has so often been confused with that of Beethoven, there remained to him, pre-eminently in his music and more imperfectly realized in his drama, a power of combining contrasted emotions such as is the privilege of only the very greatest dramatic artists. Bach and Beethoven are the sources of the polyphonic means of expression by which he attains this. Beethoven alone is the extraneous source of his knowledge that it was possible. And it is as certain as anything in the history of art that there will never be a time when Beethoven’s work does not occupy the central place in a sound musical mind.
Annotated List of Beethoven’s Works
Up to 1823 we give in most cases the dates of publication, the date of composition being generally from one to three years earlier. Beethoven seldom had less than a dozen projects in hand at once, and their immediate chronology is inextricable; whereas publication generally means final revision. This list is purposely incomplete in order that unimportant works may not distract attention, even when they are late and on a large scale.
- Sonata = Pianoforte sonata.
Violin or violoncello sonata = for pianoforte, V. or Vc.
Pianoforte trio = Pfte., V., Vc.
Pianoforte quartet = Pfte., V., viola and Vc.
String trio = V., Va., Vc.
String quartet = VV., Va. and Vc.
Pianoforte or violin concerto = Concerto with orchestra.
- Sonata = Pianoforte sonata.
|1785.||3 pfte. quartets, of which the third contains important material for the sonatas, op. 2, Nos. 1 and 3.
(Thayer’s attribution of the masterly bagatelles, op. 33, published 1803, to this period can only be rationalized by some similar rough first idea.)
|1790.||24 variations on an air by Righini (published 1801). A very remarkable work, anticipating Schumann’s Papillons in its humorous close. It was Beethoven’s chief early tour-de-force in pianoforte playing.|
|1795.||3 pfte. trios, op. 1 (E♭, G, C minor).|
|1796.||3 pfte. sonatas, op. 2 (F minor, A and C, dedicated to Haydn).|
|1797.||String trio, op. 3, 2 violoncello sonatas, op. 5, F and G mi., sonata, op. 7, E♭.|
|1798.||3 string trios, op. 9; G, D, C mi., 3 sonatas, op. 10 (C mi., F, D). Trio for pfte., clarinet and violoncello in B♭, op. 11.|
|1799.||3 violin sonatas (D, A, E♭), op. 12. Pfte. sonata (Pathétique not Beethoven’s title) C mi., op. 13, 2 pfte. sonatas, op. 14, E, G (the first arranged by the composer as a string quartet in F).|
|1801.||Pianoforte concertos, op. 15 in C, op. 19 in B♭ (the latter composed first). Quintet for pianoforte and wind instruments, op. 16 (also arranged, with new details, as quartet for pianoforte and strings), composed 1797. 6 string quartets, op. 18 (F, G, D, C mi., A, B♭). 1st symphony (C), op. 21. 2 violin sonatas, A mi., op. 23; F ma., op. 24 (made into two opus-numbers by an accident in the format of the volumes).|
|1802.||Pianoforte score of the Prometheus ballet, op. 24 (ousted by the F ma. violin sonata, and reissued as op. 43). Sonata in B♭, op. 22. Sonata in A♭, op. 26 (with the funeral march). 2 sonatas (“quasi fantasia”), op. 27, E♭, C♯ mi. Sonata in D, op. 28 (Pastorale not Beethoven’s title). String quintet in C, op. 29.|
|1803.||3 violin sonatas, op. 30 (A, C mi., G). 3 sonatas, op. 31, G, D mi., E♭ (the last appearing in 1804).
Variations, op. 34. 15 variations and fugue on theme from Prometheus, op. 35.
|1804.||2nd symphony (D), op. 36 (1802). 3rd pfte. concerto (C mi.), op. 37 (1800).|
|1805.||The “Kreutzer” sonata, op. 47, for pfte. and violin (A) (finale at first intended for op. 30, No. 1).
“Waldstein” sonata for pfte., op. 53 (C). First version of opera Leonore in three acts (with overture “No. 2”).
|1806.||Sonata in F, op. 54. Eroica Symphony, No. 3, op. 55 (E♭), written in 1804 in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was just finished when news arrived that Napoleon had made himself emperor, and Beethoven was with difficulty restrained from destroying the score. It is still the longest extant perfect design in instrumental music. The finale glorifies the material (and much of the form) of the variations, op. 35. The scherzo is the first full-sized example of Beethoven’s special type.
Leonore reproduced in two acts with overture No. 3. 32 variations in C mi. (no opus-number, but a very important work on the lines of a modernized chaconne).
|1807.||Triple concerto (pfte., V. and Vc.), op. 56, chiefly interesting as a study for the true concerto-form which had given Beethoven difficulty. Sonata, op. 57 (F mi., Appassionata, not Beethoven’s title). New overture, Leonore, “No. 1,” composed for projected performance of the opera at Prague (posthumously published as op. 138).|
|1808.||4th pfte. concerto, op. 58 (G). 3 string quartets, op. 59, F, E mi., C (dedicated to Count Rasoumovsky, in compliment to whom Russian tunes appear in the finale of No. 1 and the scherzo of No. 2). Overture to Coriolanus, op. 62.|
|1809.||4th symphony, op. 60 (B♭). Violin concerto (D), op. 61 (also arranged by the composer for pianoforte). 5th symphony, op. 67 (C mi.) (1806), the first in which trombones appear. 6th symphony (Pastorale), op. 68; violoncello sonata, op. 69 (A). 2 pianoforte trios, op. 70 (D, E♭).|
|1810.||Pianoforte score of Leonore (2nd version) published. String quartet, op. 74 (E♭, called “Harp” because of pizzicato passages in first movement). Fantasia, op. 77, interesting as consisting of a long and capricious series of dramatic beginnings and breakings off of themes, as if in search for a firm idea, which is at last found and developed as a set of variations. This scheme thus foreshadows the choral finale of the 9th symphony even more significantly than the Choral Fantasia.
Sonata, op. 78, F♯ (extremely terse and subtle, and a great favourite with Beethoven, who preferred it to the C♯mi.).
|1811.||5th pfte. concerto, op. 73, E♭ (The Emperor not Beethoven’s title). Fantasia for pfte., orchestra and chorus, op. 80. Sonata, op. 81a (Les Adieux, l’absence, et le retour), first movement written when the archduke Rudolph had to leave Vienna (4th May 1809), and the rest on his return on the 30th of January 1810. It was an anxious time both for Beethoven and his excellent royal friend, for whom he had great affection. (Battle of Wagram, 6th July 1809.) (We may here note that op. 81b is an unimportant and very early sextet.) The overture to Egmont, op. 84; Christus am Oelberge (the Mount of Olives), op. 85, oratorio (probably composed between 1800 and its first performance in 1803).|
|1812.||The rest of the Egmont music, op. 84. 1st mass, op. 87 (C) (first performance, 1807).|
|1814.||Final version of Leonore, performed as Fidelio with great alterations, skilful revision of the libretto, very important new material in the music and a new overture.|
|1815.||Sonata, op. 90 (E mi.).|
|1816.||7th symphony, op. 92 (A); 8th symphony, op. 93 (F) (Beethoven was planning a group of three of which the last was to be in D mi., which we shall find significant). String quartet, op. 95 (F mi.). Violin sonata, op. 96 (G). Pianoforte trio, op. 97 (B♭); Liederkreis, op. 98.|
|1817.||Sonata, op. 101 (the first indisputably in Beethoven’s “third manner”). 2 violoncello sonatas, op. 102 (C, D, the second containing Beethoven’s first modern instrumental strict fugue).|
|1819.||Arrangement for string quintet, op. 104, of C mi. trio, op. 1, No. 3 (a wonderful study in translation, comparable only to Bach’s arrangements and very unlike Beethoven’s former essays of the kind). Sonata, op. 106 (B♭), the largest and most symphonic pianoforte work extant, surpassed in length only by Bach’s Goldberg variations and Beethoven’s 33 variations on Diabelli’s waltz.|
|1821.||25 Scotch songs accompanied by pfte., V. and Vc., op. 108 (the first set of a large and much neglected collection, mostly posthumous, many of great interest and beauty and very Beethovenish, which has shocked persons who expect sympathetic insight into folk-music to prevail over Beethoven’s artistic impulse). Sonata, op. 109 (E).|
|1822.||Sonata, op. 110 (A♭). Overture, Die Weihe des Hauses, op. 124 (C), a magnificent essay in orchestral free fugue, published 1825.|
|1823.||Sonata, op. 111 (C mi., the last pianoforte sonata). 33 variations on a waltz by Diabelli, who sent his waltz round to fifty-one musicians in Austria asking each to contribute a variation; the whole to be published for the benefit of the widows and orphans left by the war. Beethoven answered with the greatest set ever written, and it was published in a separate volume. Among the other fifty composers were Schubert and an infant prodigy of eleven, Franz Liszt!
The mass in D (Missa Solemnis), op. 123, begun in 1818 for the installation of the archduke Rudolph as archbishop of Olmütz, was not finished until 1826, two years after the installation.
The 9th symphony, op. 125 D mi. (see note on 7th and 8th symphonies); sketches begun 1817; project of setting Schiller’s Freude already in Beethoven’s mind before he left Bonn.
6 bagatelles, op. 126, Beethoven’s last pianoforte work a very remarkable and unaccountably neglected group of carefully contrasted lyric pieces.
|1824.||String quartet, op. 127 (E♭, published 1826).|
|1825.||String quartet, op. 130 (B♭), with finale, op. 133 (grand fugue); string quartet, op. 132 (A mi., with slow movement in Lydian mode, a Heiliger Dankgesang on recovery from illness. Theme of finale first thought of as for instrumental finale to 9th symphony).|
|1826.||String quartet, op. 131 (C♯, mi.). String quartet, op. 135 (F). New finale to op. 130, Beethoven’s last composition.|
Authorities.—A. W. Thayer, Beethovens Leben (1866–1879); L. Nohl, Life of Beethoven (Eng. trans., 1884), and Letters (Eng. trans., 1866); Sir G. Grove, Beethoven and his Symphonies (1896), and in Grove’s Dictionary of Music.