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