University Musical Encyclopedia/Great Composers: A Series of Biographical Studies/Ludwig van Beethoven
One day in the summer of 1787, when Mozart was busy with "Don Giovanni," which was to be produced at Prague in October, he was asked by a friend to hear a young pianist who had come to Vienna from Bonn in the hope of gaining a footing in what was then the German metropolis of music.
Mozart's time was precious, but he was too good-natured to refuse, and he went to his friend's house at the time appointed. The aspirant to musical fame was an ugly, shock-headed boy of seventeen, ill-dressed and awkward in manner. Mozart asked him to play something, which he did. The great man listened politely, waiting for the signs of genius which he had been told to expect, but he had much to think about just then, and his mind wandered. Frankly, he was bored, and probably a little annoyed with his friend for wasting his time in this way. The pianist stopped, and Mozart rose to go, probably saying a few words of kindly encouragement and advice. But the boy was not to be put off so. He knew that he had not done himself justice, and he was determined to show what was in him. He took his courage in both hands and begged Mozart to give him a subject to improvise upon. Mozart, who was amiability itself, did as he was asked, and the boy began. This was a very different story. The boy was on his mettle, and all his shyness and nervousness disappeared as if by magic. He played like one inspired, and at the end of the séance Mozart, completely won, said to his friend: "Pay attention to him; he will make a noise in the world some day or other." Mozart never saw the boy again, but his prophecy came true, for the boy was Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven was born December 16, 1770, at the lovely town of Bonn, on the Rhine, in Germany, where his father, Johann van Beethoven, was tenor singer in the Elector of Cologne's private chapel. Very little is known authentically of Beethoven's infant years, except that they were passed in the midst of poverty and misery, the result of the wretchedly small income which his father received, ad of the drunken and dissolute habits to which he was a victim. However, this sad deficiency was to some extent counterbalanced by the kindness and liberality of Ludwig's grandfather, who was spared to behold the first three years of Ludwig's existence.
On his father's death, Johann had to confront matters, and consider how he could best make up the deficit it caused to his income. This, no doubt, led him to form a plan respecting Ludwig, who had already evinced a liking for the clavier. Urged by the poverty staring him in the face, now more deplorably than ever, and also by the growing accounts of the successes of Mozart as an infant prodigy, Johann resolved to make a similar wonder of the infant Ludwig, and at once commenced his musical education. At first the lessons were given in play, but were soon made sad and wearisome, for the poor child was kept at the piano day and night. Often, when his father and his companion Pfeiffer returned from the tavern, the child was called from bed to sit at the instrument till daybreak. Of course, with this kind of tuition, he made but little progress, and it soon became evident that if he was to become as wonderful as Mozart and others had been, a change must be made in the mode of instruction. Fortunately for the world, it took place in time to save the first sparks of genius in the baby boy from being extinguished by the inhuman Johann, and Ludwig was placed under the care of Pfeiffer, an excellent pianist.
This change was of very short duration, for Beden dying soon after, the boy once more changed hands, and this time fell into those of Eeden's successor, Christian Gottlieb Neefe, a masterly musician, and at one time cantor at the Thomasschule at Leipzig. From what Beethoven afterward said, he does not appear to have been on very harmonious terms with Neefe; and he also relates that he did not profit by his instruction. Whether this be so or not, the master seems to have been proud enough of his pupil, for, writing in "Cramer's Magazine" of that time, he says of him, "Louis van Beethoven, son of the court tenor singer of that name, a boy of eleven years old, possesses talent of great promise. He plays the piano with wonderful execution, and reads very well at sight—in short, he plays almost the whole of Sebastian Bach's 'Wohltemperirte Clavier,' which Herr Neefe has put into his hands. All who know this collection throughout all the keys (which might almost be called the ne plus ultra) will understand what this implies. Herr Neefe had also given him, so far as his other engagements will permit, some instruction in thorough-bass. He also exercises him in musical composition; and to encourage him, has had his nine variations on a march published at Mannheim. The young genius deserved help, that he may travel. He will certainly be a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, if he continues as he has begun."
Under Neefe, Ludwig remained till 1787. During that time, though he was chiefly engaged in teaching, he filled the post of assistant organist at the church of St. Remigius—to which he was appointed by the Elector Max Franz, at a salary of a hundred thalers a year—and conducted the rehearsals of the Grossman Operatic Troupe, in the room of Neefe.
It was in this year, as we have seen, that Beethoven made his memorable visit to Vienna and won Mozart's prophetic commendation. Ludwig, however, did not remain long in Vienna, for, receiving information that his mother's health was in a very precarious state, he at once returned home, and arrived there only in time to see his loving parent breathe her last. She died July 17, 1787. This was a heavy blow to him. How his sensitive spirit received it is best told in his own words. Writing to a friend, Dr. Schaden, he says:" "She was, indeed, a kind mother to me, and my best friend. Ah! who was happier than I when I could still utter the sweet name of mother, and it was heard? To whom can I now say it? Only to the silent form whom my imaginations pictures to me."
Once more was our young genius surrounded with disheartenings which would have daunted the courage of many. Yet not so with him. He fearlessly and nobly looked matters in the face, and more earnestly than ever set about a task to which he never could, to the end of his days, insure himself—that of teaching. Still, teach he must to provide for his younger brothers and sisters, who were now dependent on him for support, for the father was getting more extravagant than ever in his habits. For years was Beethoven compelled to succumb to this distasteful alternative. But he had his reward; for it was in the pursuance of that which he disliked so much, that he made such acquaintances as Count Waldstein, the Archduke Rudolph, and the Breuning family. His associations with them were of the pleasantest kind, and especially with the Breunings, with whom he was as one of the family, and they were proud of him. It was at their house that he first became acquainted with that literature of his country which afterward he so much delighted to read, and to which he wedded some of his most splendid music. In this cheerful society he lived till, 1792, but with little to break the everyday round of teaching.
In 1792 Beethoven again started for Vienna, which he had so suddenly quitted some five years previously, and with a somewhat similar object as before. It was not, however, to see Mozart, but Haydn, and to receive the benefit of his instruction. Arrived in Vienna, Beethoven soon procured lodgings, and enrolled himself among the list of Haydn's pupils. Haydn instantly perceived his marvelous talent. Before long Beethoven felt dissatisfied with Haydn's instructions, and placed himself under the tuition of Albrechtsberger, for the purpose of thoroughly grounding himself in the mysteries of counterpoint and fugue.
It was during this time that the young maestro made the acquaintance of another among the great dilettanti who flocked to hear and to see him. This was Prince Karl Lichnowski, who, together with his wife, took such an interest in Ludwig that they wished him to reside with them at the Lichnowski palace. This kind offer Beethoven accepted, on condition that he should not be compelled to observe court etiquette, and for about ten years this sort of friendly intercourse continued. So great a favorite did he become, that he used afterward to day that "the Princess Christiane would have put a glass case over me, so that no evil might come nigh me." Many were the happy days passed in the Lichnowski palace, and many were the worked penned within its walls. It was there that the three wonderful and unsurpassed trios for violin, violoncello, and pianoforte were first performed; also many of his quartets, the appealing Pathétique sonata, his first concerto in C major, for piano and orchestra, and other works. He remained a resident at the palace till 1795, when we find him appearing in public, as a virtuoso, for the first time. Hitherto he had confined his performances to palaces and private mansions. His fame, however, had spread so far and wide that the public would see him, and the curiosity of the Viennese was at length gratified on the occasion of his appearing at the "annual concert for the widows and orphans of musicians." From that time to the year 1827, when he died, he never quitted for more than a day or so the town which he made his début.
Behold this colossal genius, but twenty-five years old, the greatest virtuoso of the day, and already over-stepping the summit which others had reached as composers. He was now sought after by the highest and noblest in Vienna. What a contrast to the time when he came there to see Mozart!
But what is this cloud before him? Beethoven has forebodings of a fearful nature. His hearing occasionally fails him. Gradually the cloud creeps nearer and nearer, till, in 1800, his fears culminate—Beethoven is deaf! How heavy a burden was now laid upon him! Other misfortunes he had gotten over; how was he to shake off this heaviest of them all? Such thoughts as these must have passed through his mind. And what was his reply? "Resignation! what a miserable refuge, and yet the only one left for me." How keenly Beethoven felt his affliction will be best perceived by a few extracts from his letters. Writing to a friend, he says:
"If I had not read that man must not of his own free will end this life, I should long ago have done so by my own hands. … I may say that I passed my life wretchedly. For nearly two years I have avoided society, because I cannot shout 'I am dead!' … I have often already cursed my existence.
In his 'will' also, he refers to his tearful calamity.
"Thus, with a passionate, lively temperament, keenly susceptible to the charm of society, I was forced early to separate myself from men, and lead a solitary life. If at times I sought to break away from my solitude, how harshly was I repulsed by the renewed consciousness of my condition; and yet it was impossible for me to say to people, 'Speak louder—shout—I am deaf!' Nor could I proclaim an imperfection in that organ which in me should have been more perfect than in others. … What humiliation, when some one near me hears the note of a far-off flute, and I do not; or the distant shepherd's song, and I not."
Gradually was Beethoven compelled to give up his piano-playing and conducting, for he could not hear sufficiently what he or others played, and in 1802 he settled down to composition for the remainder of his life.
The first great work to which he directed his attention after his affliction, was the Third symphony, in E flat major, better known as the "Simfonia Eroica."
After this massive work, Beethoven published a few piano sonatas, trios, and songs; then we come to that grand form of writing in which he had left us but a solitary specimen—"Fidelio." On November 20, 1805, this opera was given to the world, under the title of "Leonore, or Conjugal Affection," and met with quite an indifferent reception! After three representations, Beethoven withdrew it from the stage, but it was brought forward again in the following year, with one act completely taken out, and a new overture. Still his enemies at the theater would not have it, and succeeded in preventing its performance. Thus it was put aside for some years. In 1814, with several alterations, and another overture in E—the most beautiful and vigorous of the four Leonore overtures—it was again presented, under the title of "Fidelio." Since then it has found a place on every stage in Europe, and Leonore, the heroine, has supplied the part in which some of the greatest singers have earned their laurels—Schroder-Devrient, Milder-Hauptmann, Pasta, Malibran, and, to come nearer the present day, Mme. Titiens.
Although this is the only opera Beethoven wrote, it is sufficient to prove his aptness for this branch of composition. The music to "Fidelio" stands supreme in the estimation of some critics, and it is to this alone that its success can be attributed; for, from a dramatic point of view, the opera possesses but little interest beyond that of the heroine Leonore.
This brings us to what some writers regard as the "matured period" of Beethoven's life, 1804–14; the period when his writings bear unmistakably the stamp of his individuality and genius, and to this period belongs a list of colossal works which cannot in this brief sketch be treated of singly. Among the most important are the music to Goethe's "Egmont"—alone sufficient to place its composer in the first rank, had he written nothing more—the Fourth symphony in B flat major, and the Fifth in C minor.
The Sixth symphony followed immediately after the Fifth. It is in F major, and may be better known by the title given to it by the composer himself—the "Pastoral." This symphony was followed by the mass in C, in which the composer made such a deviation from the path that Haydn and Mozart had trodden before him. It was first performed in 1810, at the palace of Prince Esterhazy, at Eisenstadt, where the prince, his kapellmeister Hummel, and a host of artists and dilettanti were assembled to hear this new mass, so different from those of the Mozart school to which they were accustomed.
Five years elapsed between the "Pastoral" symphony and the Seventh, during which a long list of somewhat smaller works flowed without intermission from his prolific pen. These included sonatas, trios, and songs, the music to Kotzebue's "Ruins of Athens" and "King Stephen"; till, in 1813, the Seventh symphony in A major, which he dedicated to Count Fries, was given to the world. It was first performed—together with the "Battle of Vittoria," composed by Beethoven in honor of Wellington's victory—at a concert given for the benefit of Austrian and Bavarian soldiers wounded in the battle of Hanau. At this concert Beethoven himself wielded the baton, Schupanzigh led the first violins, Spohr the seconds, Salieri marked the time for the cannonades and drums, while Hummel and Sivori occupied subordinate places. In a circular Beethoven afterward wrote concerning it, he says:
"It was a rare assemblage of distinguished artists, every one of whom was anxious to employ his talents for the benefit of the Fatherland; and without any thought of precedence or merit, they all took their place in the orchestra. The direction of the whole was intrusted to me, but only because the music was of my composition. If any one else had written it, I would as cheerfully have taken my place at the big drum; for we had no other motive but the serving of our Fatherland, and whose who had sacrificed so much for us."
The next year (1814) brought with it "Der Glorreiche Augenblick," a cantata for voices and orchestra, composed at the request of the authorities of Vienna, upon the occasion of the great congress of kings and princes in that year. In recognition of his composition, Beethoven was presented with the freedom of the city of Vienna, and received also other marks of esteem from the gay throng of visitors who crowded the city.
But this joyous time came to an end, and Beethoven was doomed to have further burdens to bear. His brother Karl died, and left him his only child to support. Beethoven cheerfully undertook the charge, and the first thing he did was to place the boy out of the reach of his mother—the Queen of the Night, as he called her—who was considered by Beethoven an unfit person to train up the child. But this "the queen" would not submit to, and the result was that for four years a lawsuit was pending between her and the great maestro as to who should possess the boy.
Eventually, Beethoven gained the day, and at once sent his young relative to the university. But Karl was soon expelled; for the mother's character was rooted in him, and he had chosen to walk in the steps of his shiftless father. Yet after this, Beethoven got his ungrateful nephew admitted to a school where his coguardian was supervisor. It was, however, of little use. Karl went from bad to worse; till after attempting self-destruction, he was placed in an asylum.
During the years of the lawsuit, the composer published and wrote but little. The Eighth symphony, however, made its appearance in 1817; but it is most probable that it was composed some time before it was published.
In the latter part of 1819 Beethoven sat himself down to the mass in D major, intended for the occasion of the installation of his friend the Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmutz, in 1821; but so engrossed did the composer become in this colossal work for solo voices and chorus, full orchestra and organ, that he did not complete it till two years had passed beyond the event it was intended to celebrate. By Beethoven it was regarded as his most successful effort. It was first performed on April 1, 1824.
The next and last great work with which Beethoven's name is associated is the Ninth symphony, better known, perhaps, as the "Choral symphony" (it employs voices), which the composer dedicated to Frederick William III of Prussia. It was first performed in Vienna, under the composer's own direction, and met with unprecedented success. Such was the delight of the vast concourse assembled to hear it, that at times their shouts of joy completely overwhelmed the orchestra and singers. But Beethoven could not hear this!
About this time, he received an intimation that his nephew was in a fit state to be restored to him; and accordingly, Beethoven made a journey to the asylum, and brought Karl away with him. From the asylum they went to the house of Johann van Beethoven, where they were to reside during the arrangements for Karl to join Baron Stutterheim's regiment. A few days of his brother's company provide sufficient for Beethoven. He could not put up with his taunts, and on a wet and miserably raw day in December, 1826, Beethoven, with his nephew, started for Vienna in an open conveyance, for his brother would not lend him his close one. This exposure to the cold and rain brought about an attack of inflammation of the lungs from which he never recovered.
On reaching his home at Vienna, he laid himself on the bed which he was never again to leave. His friend Dr. Wawruch was in constant attendance, and performed several operations, which gave Beethoven partial relief; but dropsy set in, and made his case more than ever precarious. Still, his naturally strong constitution enabled him to linger on till March in the next year, 1827. It then became evident that he could not long battle against his disease, which was fast gaining the mastery over him; and on the morning of the 24th his friend Schindler visited him, and found him with a distorted face, sinking, and unable to speak more than a few words. His bedside gathering, which included Hummel, Schindler, Herr Ferdinand Hiller, Stephan Breuning, and A. Hüttenbrenner, saw that he could bear up but little longer; and on the doctor arriving, they begged Beethoven that he would allow the holy sacrament to be administered to him, to which he calmly replied, "I will."
The pastor came and the holy office was performed with the greatest solemnity. Beethoven then requested his friend Schindler not to forget to thank Herr Schott and the Philharmonic Society for the assistance they had rendered him during his illness; and in a few minutes afterward he lost all consciousness. He continued gradually to sink, till, on the evening of the 26th, Nature sang her requiem over him. Amid a fearful storm of thunder and lightning, his spirit took its flight.
His remains were followed to their resting place by over twenty-five thousand persons—kings, princes, poets, painters, artists, composers, and the public of Vienna—all anxious to pay their last tribute of respect. A simple stone was all that was deemed necessary to mark the spot where his ashes lie; but when time shall have swept that and all his associations away, his sublime music will still preserve his name in every home, and in every heart.
It is deplorably commonplace to speak of Beethoven as a colossus, but so in truth he is, standing with one foot on the old world of music and one on the new. His early works are essentially of the eighteenth century. Many of them might have been written by Haydn. His latest works are so modern that we have hardly got abreast of them yet. What Beethoven did for music obviously cannot be summed up in two words. His extension of the forms of music, his breaking of the fetters in which his predecessors loved to dance were enormously important, but perhaps more far-reaching still was his introduction of the personal element into music.
Before Beethoven's day men had pictured themselves in their music—no one can write music or anything else without doing do—but they did so unconsciously and we perceive them as in a glass darkly. Beethoven mirrored his soul in music of set purpose. Music was to him just as much a means of expressing his feelings as poetry was to Shelley. Sometimes he has told us in words what he is writing about, as in the Pastoral symphony, the "Adieux" sonata, and the "Canzone di ringraziamento" in the posthumous quartet in A minor, and then even the most stiff-necked critics of the classical school have to admit that he is writing programme music. But in the truest and best sense of the word all Beethoven's music, all at least that was written after he reached maturity, is programme music. All of it is a musical expression of ideas or feelings. As to what these ideas were people will differ. One man will read a symphony or a sonata in one way, and one in another, but read them we must, or if we cannot we call them obscure, as for generations the world did, and still does, in the case of the posthumous quartets.
Programme music is now a term of abuse in the mouths of many men, partly because of the excesses of modern composers, who in default of ideas of their own have been reduced to tell in music stories intrinsically incapable of musical expression. But when Beethoven in his "Eroica" paints for us his ideal hero in all the changing scenes of life, or when in the symphony in A he sings the praises of the dances, from the dance of the spheres when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy to the dance of happy peasants in the riotous jot of life, he is putting music to its noblest use, he is lifting music from being merely an agreeable entertainment, and using it for a noble ethical purpose, as Wordsworth used poetry and Watts used painting.
The value of Beethoven's music and of all good music is a moral value. Great musicians are great teachers, and great educators, and it is only when we realize this, and can understand the lessons that they teach, that music begins to have that educational value of which we hear so much and know so little.
Beethoven's method of working was entirely different from that of Mozart. He had nothing of the latter's inspired facility. His method was painstaking and laborious. His sketch-books, some of which are preserved in the British Museum, show plainly the extraordinary amount of pains he took to elaborate his ideas. It was his habit to carry one of these always with him, and to jot down anything that occurred to him during his walks or meals. Then he would work at these ideas with the most minute care, writing and rewriting until the original idea took the shape that satisfied him. He hardly wrote a bar that was not submitted to this process of revision, while in some cases he would rewrite a passage, such as the great air "Komm' Hoffnung" in "Fidelio," some twenty times.
Another interesting fact is proved by these priceless sketch-books; namely, that it was his habit to work at three or four things at the same time, consecrating to each and all of them he same loving and conscientious care. A mind that worked in this way was bound to be slow in developing, and as a matter of fact it was not until he reached his thirtieth year that Beethoven really found himself. In his earlier works, among much that he inherited directly from Haydn and Mozart there are passages of thoroughly characteristic originality; his first two symphonies are precious to students of his development, but it is not until we reach the period of the "Eroica" that we find Beethoven in possession of a style of mature individuality.
With that noble work he broke forever with the traditions of the past, and soared into realms unknown before. The story of its dedication is well known, but it is too characteristic to be omitted. The work was written as a tribute of admiration to Napoleon; it as finished in the spring of 1804, and the fair copy was inscribed with the words "Sinfonia grande Napoleon Bonaparte." Beethoven was thinking of sending it to Paris, when the news reached Vienna that Napoleon had assumed the title of emperor. Beethoven's idol was shattered; his hero, the savior of France, was an ambitious tyrant. In the passion of his disappointment he tore the title from his symphony and trampled it under foot. Later the symphony was rechristened an "Heroic Symphony to celebrate the memory of a great man." After the production of the "Eroica" Beethoven may be regarded as fully emancipated from the bondage of the eighteenth century.
Here Beethoven on his own showing has painted the portrait of a great man. The symphony is not, like Strauss's "Heldenleben," a connected story. Beethoven's respect for symphonic form was too great for him to compel it to subserve whatever programme he had in view. His symphony is a series of scenes and impressions, not necessarily connected but all illustrating one main idea. The opening movement with its heroic ardor, its noble enthusiasm, and its magnificent joy in life, is followed by the funeral march, to which Beethoven referred when he said on receiving news of Napoleon's death: "I have already written music for this event." In this noble movement he ushers his hero to his last rest with all the pomp and solemnity of which music is capable. What the scherzo signified has been often debated. But whatever the scherzo may be, there is no doubt of what Beethoven means by the finale. Here the "eternal feminine" makes its appearance, and in the union of the masculine and feminine elements wonderfully typified in the two subjects, he shows us the marriage of two minds, each exalted and ennobled by the other to heights of celestial beauty. Beethoven never surpassed the accents of divine purity in which this union of human souls is sung. We seem to have here a musical realization of that burning desire which in his own case was never to be fulfilled: "O that at the last I may find her who is destined to be mine, and who shall strengthen me in virtue!"
The Fourth and Fifth symphonies are far more autobiographical than any of the others, for in them we have the tale of Beethoven's unhappy passion for the Countess Theresa. The Fourth is the pæan of joy and triumph sounded over their betrothal; the Fifth is a picture in brief of that stormy and passionate episode in Beethoven's career which wrung his heart and tried his manhood more profoundly than any of the troubles that darkened his life. Never did poet sing of his love in strains nobler and more heart-stirring than these.
The Fourth symphony is the gayest and brightest that Beethoven ever wrote. It is pleasant to think that even that much-enduring soul had its moments of sunshine, and in such a moment was this symphony written. The slow movement is a love-song of profound and tender feeling, but the rest of the work is joyous and frolicsome, even rollicking in its humor. There is hardly a touch of the rough horse-play which characterizes the lighter movements in some of his later works, but the symphony—and particularly the finale—suggests irrepressible life and vigor, abundant health and high spirits. Rarely in after life was Beethoven to know this radiant mood of happiness.
Very different is the world into which we are plunged in the C minor symphony. Here all is storm and tempest, and the tide of passion sweeps along with resistless fury. Sir George Grove, in his most sympathetic and illuminating book upon Beethoven and his symphonies, has pointed out how strikingly the first movement is illustrated by a passage in the work entitled "Beethoven's unsterbliche Geliebte," which is an account of the relations between Beethoven and the Countess Theresa. Few of the contemporary descriptions of the composer that have come down to us give a more lifelike impression of his stormy and imperious nature, and we cannot forbear quoting some passages from it. The story, it should be explained, is told by the Countess Theresa herself.
"One stormy winter's day in 1794, while the snow stood deep in the streets of Vienna, Countess Theresa Brunswick, then a girl of fifteen, was waiting for Beethoven to come and give her her pianoforte lesson. Weather never stopped him, but when he appeared it was plain that as fierce a storm was raging in his soul as in the streets. He entered with hardly a movement of his head, and she saw that everything was wrong.
"'Practiced sonata?' said he, without looking at her. His hair stood more upright than ever, his splendid eyes were half-closed, and his mouth—oh, how wicked it looked! She stammered a reply: 'Yes, I have practised it a great deal, but—' 'Let's see,' She sat down to the piano, and he took his stand behind her. The thought crossed her mind, 'If only I am lucky enough to play well!' But the notes swam before her eyes, and her hands trembled. She began hurriedly. Once or he said 'Tempo,' but it made no difference, and she felt that he was getting more impatient as she became more helpless. At last she struck a wrong note. She knew it at once, and could have cried. But then the teacher himself struck a wrong note, which hurt his pupil both in body and mind. He struck—not the keys, but her hand, and that angrily and hard; strode like a madman to the door of the room and from thence to the street-door, through which he went, banging it after him.
Such are the man and woman, and such are the scenes depicted in the Fifth symphony. No words of ours can make clearer the contrast between the first and second subjects of the opening movement, the one tremendous in its overbearing passion, the other meek, yearning, and tender. Beethoven has here painted himself and his beloved in colors that can never fade. Like the story of their love, the music whirls upon its tumultuous course, fierce and terrible, at times almost incoherent for all its strict form, rising and falling in waves of passion, yet with touches of ineffably pathetic tenderness—surely never was the tragedy of a man's love told in accents of such irresistible sincerity and force. But the course of their love, if it did not run smooth, was not all storm and tempest. In the slow movement we have its calmer and more dignified side, when hope blessed the composer with visions of peace and happiness, here set forth in the form of variations upon a noble and beautiful melody such as only he could write. Between the composition of this movement and the next came the rupture of the engagement, and the final shattering of all Beethoven's dreams. In the scherzo, that embodiment of indescribable mystery and horror, he treads the valley of the shadow of death, relieved only by the grim and cynical humor that peeps out in the trio. But Beethoven was a man of heroic mold; he was not to be crushed by sorrows that would have driven a weaker man to destruction, and after a passage of unutterable weirdness, in which the pulse of life is at its lowest, he bursts forth into a magnificent song of triumph. God is still God, and the world is fair, he seems to say. For a moment the shadows of the scherzo gather again, but his manhood triumphs once more, and the symphony ends in the radiant splendor of a glorious day.
We hear a great deal nowadays of the educational value of music, and a very definite educational value it undoubtedly has. But its educational value depends entirely upon the manner in which we listen to it, and upon what it means to us. Viewed only as a clever and ingenious development of certain themes, we do not think that the C minor symphony will educate any one to a very serious extent, but viewed as a record of Beethoven's struggle with misery and despair, and of his ultimate victory, it will educate any one who is susceptible of education much more than the average lecture or sermon. It would be impossible for any one in whom the moral sense was not completely dead to rise from hearing it without feeling that his faith in himself and in mankind was strengthened.
Very different is the Sixth symphony, the "Pastoral," a lovely picture of the sights and sounds of out-of-door life. Beethoven was a passionate lover of the country. His summers were always spent in one or other of the villages near Vienna, where he passed whole days in the open air, wandering the fields or sitting in the fork of a tree, sketch-book in hand. In the Pastoral symphony his worship of nature is transmuted into music, but it is music that is something more than merely picturesque. As he said himself, he dealt with impression rather than with painting. It is the emotion engendered by nature rather than nature herself hat he describes, and this reaches its highest point in the glorious song of thankfulness that succeeds the marvelously realistic picture of the storm.
Different as the Seventh and Eighth symphony are in scope and general character, they are alike in giving us an insight into one feature of Beethoven's personality, which it is impossible to ignore if we wish to know what the man really was. While comparatively few of Beethoven's contemporaries seem to have realized the grandeur of his moral nature and the towering force of his intellect, all of them agree in recording the rougher and more uncouth traits of his character. Hundreds of stories have come down to us illustrating his boorish manners and his fondness for the broadest and most obvious form of joking. Perhaps he inherited a taste for intellectual horse-play from some remote Flemish ancestor, but at any rate it must be admitted that if from one point of view he appears as the Michael Angelo of music, from another he is certainly its Teniers.
In the finales of both of these symphonies we find him in the guise of the latter. Here his love of riotous fun bursts forth in uncontrolled vivacity. Here he gives himself up whole-heartedly to a boisterous humor that can be paralleled in the works of no other great composer. His music teems with quaint surprises and whimsical tricks. It is the incarnation of practical joking, very different in character from the rippling merriment of the Fourth symphony, and though less engaging it is nevertheless profoundly interesting as a revelation of a curious corner of Beethoven's mind. In other ways the symphonies are utterly different, the Seventh being one of the most romantic of Beethoven's inspirations, while the Eighth is intimate and personal in character and conceived on a much smaller scale than its predecessor.
Wagner's description of the Seventh symphony as an apotheosis of the dance gives the key to its meaning, but we must take the word dance in the widest signification. In the majestic introduction we seem to be ascending a mighty staircase, and when the gates of the palace are flung open the scenes that pass before our eyes seem to embrace all earth and heaven in their scope. In the first movement the rhythm of the universe is set to music, from the ordered beauty of the rolling spheres of heaven to the voices of nature and the wild music that burdens every bough. The allegretto suggests the dim mysterious rites of some ancient religion, with strange processions in the shadow of rock-hewn temples; while in the scherzo we are in primeval forest with fauns and dryads, and in the finale with boisterous peasants in a rustic merrymaking.
The Eighth symphony, even to Sir George Grove, who disliked programmes, suggests a conscious pieces of autobiography. He calls it the picture of a day in the composer's life. Such it may well be. It is a genre picture of the Dutch school, curiously indoor in feeling compared with most of Beethoven's works, and elaborated with the most delicate nicety of detail. Beethoven's peculiar affection for this work, which was little understood by his contemporaries, suggests its strongly personal nature, and in it we seem to come closer to Beethoven the man than in almost anything that he has left us.
In the Choral symphony we are in the world far removed from the intimate subjectivity of the symphony in F. Before that last and greatest of his symphonies was written the clouds had gathered heavily over Beethoven's head. His deafness isolated him entirely from the world of men. He was poor and ill-cared for, neglected if not actually deserted by the friends whom his suspicions had estranged. Bitterest of all was the grief caused by the behavior of his scoundrelly nephew, who repaid the more than paternal love lavished upon him by his uncle with the blackest of ingratitude and deceit. Yet from this abyss of sorrow arose the voice that was to sing for all time the song of human joy.
The Choral symphony is in one sense the easiest and in another most difficult of Beethoven's works to grasp. By using some stanzas of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in the finale, he makes plain what is the general aim of the work. It is the quest of the human soul for joy, which in this marvelous and unequaled finale finds its goal. But what the various stages of that quest are, what Beethoven intended by the first three movements of the work, is a question that is not yet satisfactorily settled. It is this doubt, this difficulty that has earned for the Choral symphony, as for certain other of his later works, the title of obscure. So long as the hearer feels that the music to which he listens has a definite meaning, which he fails to grasp, so long will he have that sense of baffled endeavor which will not be dismissed by all the assurances of programme-writers that he should regard music simply as music, and not to trouble to look behind the mere notes of the work for the secret of the composer's inspiration. Wagner once wrote a programme for the Ninth symphony, illustrated by numerous quotations from Goethe, of which the gist is that the first movement expresses the titanic struggle of the soul, athirst for joy, against the veto of that hostile power which rears itself between us and earthly happiness; the second a feverish flight from old ideals to a new and unknown bliss; the third a memory of purest happiness from early days. In the last movement, in a series of variations on a tune of unsurpassable nobility and beauty, Beethoven gives us his conception of joy in all its manifestations, thus crowning his career as a composer with a sublime picture of the possibilities of human nature.
The personality of Beethoven is revealed no less clearly in his sonatas and quartets, some would say even more clearly than in his more elaborate orchestral works. In the pianoforte sonatas particularly, we seem to come almost nearer to the composer than in anything that he wrote, and there are certain movements in listening to which one can almost fancy that one is hearing with the ear of faith one of those marvelous improvisations in which the composer poured forth his soul in music, oblivious of all save the passionate emotions that burned within him.
To describe the marvelous series of his chamber works and to record the impressions which they produce would take a volume in itself, and we dare not linger over the too fascinating task. Yet we will venture to say something about one of them—the Kreutzer sonata—not because it is one of the most famous things that Beethoven ever wrote, but because it has been the subject of most unsympathetic and unjust criticism in Tolstoi's celebrated novel, called by its name. If it were necessary to prove that Tolstoi is totally without the power of appreciating music, a reference to his "Kreutzer Sonata" would be quite enough. Surely the fact that he speaks of Beethoven's inspired work as sensual, and as having been written to arouse sensual feelings, brands Tolstoi forever as a Philistine of the Philistines. No man's music is freer from the taint of sensuality than Beethoven's, and no work of his moves in an atmosphere of more radiant purity than the Kreutzer sonata. If we may venture to propose a reading in mere words of that incomparable masterpiece, we would term it the story of the adventures of a soul. In the first movement we seem to see the soul of man, a newly arrived guest moving about in a world not realized. Confronted by the glitter and splendor of life she halts, timid and uncertain. How self-satisfied and complacent is the theme that typifies the marshaled orderliness of modern society! "See my riches, my power!" it seems to say: "how compact is my organization, how firm my foundations; there is no joint in my armor, I am perfect and complete." But the soul asks timidly, "Is that all? Has life no more to give?" and to all the boasts of the triumphant colossus she still replies, "Is this all?" In the next movement the soul turns to Art—Art in her myriad phases, radiant in beauty, gleaming with the thousand hues of the palette of romance. The soul wanders through scene after scene of ever-changing delight, each one more enchanting than the last. But still satisfaction comes not. In the last movement comes the answer to her often-repeated question. Nature rises before her like a tree springing from the soil, throwing aloft a thousand arms and rushing to the sun. Rapture crowds upon rapture, climax is hurled upon climax. The horizon widens, the air grows purer, till in the end the mighty symbol of growth and strength and purity covers the heavens and fills the earth.
The soul of Beethoven is mirrored no less clearly in his choral and dramatic works than in those for instruments alone. In all that he wrote, in "Fidelio" and the "Missa Solemnis," a much as in his symphonies and sonatas, we feel the man's heart beating behind his music more unmistakably than in the works of any other composer. In the "Missa Solemnis" mass Beethoven put into his music his deepest feelings on religion, which were all the more profound and sincere because they had soared because they had soared beyond the world of dogma. In the "Credo" he set the words of the Catholic creed, but there is nothing Catholic in his music. Behind the mere words we seem to see that mighty symbol of growth and strength and purity and death, trammeled by no priestly doctrines or worn-out formulas. The tremendous accents of the "Credo," in their veiled and mysterious majesty, recall very strikingly that curious confession of faith, if so it can he called, which Beethoven copied out himself and kept constantly before him.
I am that which is.
I am all that is, that was, and that shall be.
No mortal man hath lifted my veil.
He is alone by Himself, and to Him alone do all things owe their being.
Beethoven's faith was one that, as the poet sings, "had center everywhere, nor cared to fix itself to form." In the "Sanctus," no less than in the "Credo," we feel the grandeur of the religious instinct that is here clothed in music. There is very little Christian feeling in that awful vision of Deity. It recalls rather some vast image of Buddha, tremendous in its eternal tranquility lifting its marble forehead far above the clouds of warring sects and systems. The mass is throughout, like all Beethoven's music, curiously personal in tone. It is no world hymn of prayer and praise, like Bach's mass in B minor. It is the voice of one man, the record of a personality, molded in undying bronze. It is not the greater music for that, but as a human document it stands alone among the many famous settings of the Roman service. This in fact sums up Beethoven's musical legacy to the world. He made music definitely a vehicle of personal emotion—not that the great men who had gone before him had not written themselves, their thoughts, feelings and aspirations, large upon their works. They had done so, but as it were unconsciously. With Beethoven music took its stand, as a means of personal expression, by the side of painting and poetry. It is scarcely too much to say of him, so considered, that he found music a science and left it an art.
The following description of Beethoven, with its illustration of certain of his personal traits, is taken from the writings of Sir George Grove.
He was below the middle height—not more than five feet five inches; but broad across the shoulders and very firmly built—"the image of strength." His hands were much covered with hair, the fingers strong and short (he could barely span a tenth), and the tips broad, as if pressed out with long practicing from early youth. He was very particular as to the mode of holding the hands and placing the fingers, in which he was a follower of Emanuel Bach, whose "Method" he employed in his earlier days. In extempore playing he used the pedal far more than one would expect from his published sonatas, and this made his quick playing confused, but in adagios he played with divine clearness and expression.
His attitude at the piano was perfectly quiet and dignified, with no approach to grimace, except to bend down a little toward the keys as his deafness increased. This is remarkable, because as a conductor his motions were most extravagant. At a pianissimo he would crouch down so as to be hidden by the desk, and then as the crescendo increased, would gradually rise, beating all the time, until at the fortissimo he would spring into the air with his arms extended as if wishing to float on the clouds. When, as was sometimes the case after he became deaf, he lost his place, and these motions did not coincide with the music, the effect was very unfortunate, though not so unfortunate as it would have been had he himself been aware of the mistake.
In the orchestra, as at the piano, he was urgent in demanding expression, exact attention to piano and forte, and the slightest shades of nuance, and tempo rubato. Generally speaking, he was extremely courteous to the band, though to this rule there were now and then exceptions. Though so easily made angry, his pains as a teacher must have been great. "Unnaturally patient," says one pupil, "he would have a passage repeated a dozen times till it was to his mind; "infinitely strict in the smallest detail," says another, "until the right rendering was obtained." "Comparatively careless as to the right notes being played, but angry at once at any failure in expression or nuance, or in apprehension of the character of the piece; saying that the first might be an accident, but that the other showed want of knowledge, or feeling, or attention." What his practice was as to remuneration does not appear, but it is certain that in some cases he would accept no pay from his pupils.
His simplicity and absence of mind were now and then oddly shown. He could not be brought to understand why his standing in his nightshirt at the open window should attract notice, and asked with perfect simplicity "what those boys were hooting at." At Penzing in 1823 he shaved at his window in full view, and when the people collected to see him, changed his lodging rather than forsake the practice. Like Newton he was unconscious that he had not dined, and urged on the waiter payment for a meal which he had neither ordered nor eaten. He forgot that he was the owner of a horse until recalled to the fact by a long bill for its keep. In fact he was not made for practical life; never could play at cards or dance, dropped everything that he took into his hands, and overthrew the ink into the piano. He cut himself horribly in shaving. "A disorderly creature" was his own description, and "an addlepate" that of his doctor, who wisely added the saving clause "though he may still be the greatest genius in the world.
His ordinary handwriting was terrible, and supplied him with many a joke. "Yesterday I took a letter myself to the post-office, and was asked where it was meant to go to. From which I see that my writing is as often misunderstood as I am myself." It was the same twenty years before—"this cursed writing that I cannot alter." Much of his difficulty probably arose from want of pens, which he often begs from Zmeskall and Breuning; for some of his manuscripts are as clear and flowing as those of Mozart, and there is a truly noble character in the writing of some of his letters.
John Russell, a traveler in Germany, presents a vivid picture of Beethoven at about the age of fifty, and with an extract from that writer's account we close our sketch of "the greatest master of the classical school."
"I have heard him play, but to bring him so far required some management, so great is his horror of being anything like exhibited. Had he been plainly asked to do the company that favor, he would have flatly refused; he had to be cheated into it. Every person left the room except Beethoven and the master of the house. … The gentleman, as if by chance, struck the keys of the open piano beside which they were sitting, gradually began to run over one of Beethoven's own compositions, made a thousand errors, and speedily blundered one passage so thoroughly that the composer condescended to stretch out his hand and put him right. It was enough; the hand was on the piano; his companion immediately left him, on some pretext, and joined the rest of the company, who, in the next room, from which they could see and hear everything, were patiently waiting the issue of this tiresome conjuration.
"Beethoven, left alone, seated himself at the piano. At first he only struck now and then a few hurried and interrupted notes, as if afraid of being detected in a crime; but gradually he forgot everything else, and ran on during half an hour in a phantasy, in a style extremely varied, and marked, above all, by the most abrupt transitions. The amateurs were enraptured; to the uninitiated it was more interesting to observe how the music of the man's soul passed over his countenance. He seems to feel the bold, the commanding, and the impetuous, more than what is soothing or gentle. The muscles of the face swell, and its veins start out; the wild eyes roll doubly wild; the mouth quivers, and Beethoven looks like a wizard overpowered by the demons whom he himself has called up.