Open main menu

Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/214

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Symphonies already mentioned, and the Coda of the Finale to the 2nd Symphony. From this youthful period he passes by the 3 Sonatas op. 31—which we have seen him speaking of as a change in his style—by the Kreutzer Sonata (March, 1803), by the Pianoforte Concerto in C minor,[1] and by the Eroica (1804), to his mature period, a time of extraordinary greatness, full of individuality, character, and humour, but still more full of power and mastery and pregnant strong sense.

This splendid and truly astonishing period contains the opera of Leonora-Fidelio, with its 4 overtures; the Mass in C; six Symphonies, from the Eroica to the No. 8 inclusive; the overture to Coriolan; the Egmont music; the Pianoforte Concertos in G and E flat; the Violin Concerto; the Rassoumoffsky Quartets, and those in E♭ and F minor; the 3 later P. F. Trios; the Liederkreis; and last not least, a dozen Sonatas for Piano solo, of which the chiefs are the D minor and the 'Appassionata,' though the others are closely akin and hardly inferior.

From this period of extraordinary force and mastery—though abounding also in beauty and sentiment—he passes by a second transition to his third and final style. This transition is perhaps more obvious than the former. The difference between the 9th Symphony and its predecessors—not only in dimensions and in the use of the chorus, but in elevation and sentiment, and in the total impression produced—is unmistakable. The five Pianoforte Sonatas, op. 101 to 111, are perfectly distinct from any of the earlier ones, not only in individuality—for all Beethoven's works are distinct—but in a certain wistful yearning, a sort of sense of the invisible and vision of the infinite, mingled with their power. The last Quartets, op. 127 to op. 135, have the same characteristics as the Sonatas; but they are also longer, full of changes of time, less observant than before of the traditional forms of expression, less careful to make obvious the links of connection, and still more full of intense personality and of a wild unimprisoned spirit. All the sentiment and earnestness of Schumann, all the grace and individuality of Schubert, are there; with an intensity, breadth, and completeness, which those masters might perhaps have attained if they had bestowed the time and pains on their work which Beethoven did. In this period he passes from being the greatest musician to be a great teacher, and in a manner which no one ever did before and possibly no one will ever do again, conveys lessons which by their intense suggestiveness have almost the force of moral teaching. The cause of this is not far to seek. As we have seen in the preceding portion of this sketch the year 1814 was the culminating period of Beethoven's prosperity. He had produced his latest and then greatest works under such favourable circumstances as no musician had before enjoyed. He had been fêted and caressed by emperors and empresses, and others of the greatest of this world's great; he had for the first time in his life been able to put by money, and feel at all independent of daily labour. Immediately on this came an equally great and sudden reverse—and that not a material reverse so much as a blow to his spirit, and a series of misfortunes to mind and heart such as left all his former sufferings far behind. His brother's death; the charge of the nephew; the collision with the widow and with his other relatives and friends; the law-suits; the attempts to form a home of his own, and the domestic worries and wretchedness consequent thereon; the last stages of his deafness; the appearance of chronic bad health; the actual want of money—all these things, which lasted for many years, formed a Valley of the Shadow of Death, such as few men have been called to traverse, and which must inevitably have exercised a great influence on a nature so sensitive and in some respects so morbid. That this fiery trial did not injure his power of production is evident from the list of the great works which form the third period—from op. 101 inclusive. That it altered the tone and colour of his utterance is equally evident from the works themselves. 'He passes,' as Mr. Dannreuther has finely [2]said, 'beyond the horizon of a mere singer and poet, and touches upon the domain of the seer and the prophet; where, in unison with all genuine mystics and ethical teachers, he delivers a message of religious love and resignation, identification with the sufferings of all living creatures, deprecation of self, negation of personality, release from the world.'

Beyond the individual and peculiar character which distinguishes his works and makes them Beethovenish, as Haydn's are Haydnish and Mozart's Mozartish, though in a greater degree because of the stronger character of the man—there are definite peculiarities in Beethoven's way of working which should be specified as far as possible. That he was no wild radical, altering for the mere pleasure of alteration, or in the mere search for originality, is evident from the length of time during which he abstained from publishing or even composing works of pretension, and from the likeness which his early works possess to those of his predecessors. He began naturally with the forms which were in use in his days, and his alteration of them grew very gradually with the necessities of his expression. The form of the sonata is 'the transparent veil through which Beethoven seems to have looked at all [3]music.' And the good points of that form he retained to the last—the 'triune[4] symmetry of exposition, illustration, and repetition,' which that admirable method allowed and enforced—but he permitted himself a much greater liberty than his predecessors had done in the relationship of the keys of the different movements and parts of movements, and in the proportion of the clauses and sections with which he built them up. In other words, he

  1. In the Finale of this work we almost surprise the change of style in the act of being made.
  2. Macmillan's Magazine, July. 1876.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.