Transcriber's Notes: 1. Corrected spelling of Maelzel's invention in one place from 'Panharmonican' to 'Panharmonicon'.
2. In the index, corrected 'Krumpholtz' to 'Krumpholz', 'Origen of the dance' to 'Origin of the dance', and 'Neafe' to 'Neefe'.
A Character Study together with Wagner's Indebtedness to Beethoven
GEORGE ALEXANDER FISCHER
Es kann die Spur von meinen Erdentagen Nicht in Aeonen untergehn.
New York Dodd, Mead and Company The Trow Press, New York
TO THE MEMORY OF My father
CHAPTER I. Early Promise II. The Morning of Life III. The New Path IV. Heroic Symphony V. Fidelio VI. The Eternal Feminine VII. Victory from Defeat VIII. Meeting with Goethe IX. Optimistic Trend X. At the Zenith of His Fame XI. Methods of Composition XII. Sense of Humor XIII. Missa Solemnis XIV. Ninth Symphony XV. Capacity for Friendship XVI. The Day's Trials XVII. Last Quartets XVIII. In the Shadows XIX. Life's Purport
WAGNER'S INDEBTEDNESS TO BEETHOVEN
God acts upon earth only by means of superior chosen men. —HERDER: Ideas Toward a History of Mankind.
As life broadens with advancing culture, and people are able to appropriate to themselves more of the various forms of art, the artist himself attains to greater power, his abilities increase in direct ratio with the progress in culture made by the people and their ability to comprehend him. When one side or phase of an art comes to be received, new and more difficult problems are invariably presented, the elucidation of which can only be effected by a higher development of the faculties. There is never an approach to equilibrium between the artist and his public. As it advances in knowledge of his art, he maintains the want of balance, the disproportion that always exists between the genius and the ordinary man, by rising ever to greater heights.
If Bach is the mathematician of music, as has been asserted, Beethoven is its philosopher. In his work the philosophic spirit comes to the fore. To the genius of the musician is added in Beethoven a wide mental grasp, an altruistic spirit, that seeks to help humanity on the upward path. He addresses the intellect of mankind.
Up to Beethoven's time musicians in general (Bach is always an exception) performed their work without the aid of an intellect for the most part; they worked by intuition. In everything outside their art they were like children. Beethoven was the first one having the independence to think for himself—the first to have ideas on subjects unconnected with his art. He it was who established the dignity of the artist over that of the simply well-born. His entire life was a protest against the pretensions of birth over mind. His predecessors, to a great extent subjugated by their social superiors, sought only to please. Nothing further was expected of them. This mental attitude is apparent in their work. The language of the courtier is usually polished, but will never have the virility that characterizes the speech of the free man.
As with all valuable things, however, Beethoven's music is not to be enjoyed for nothing. We must on our side contribute something to the enterprise, something more than simply buying a ticket to the performance. We must study his work in the right spirit, and place ourselves in a receptive attitude when listening to it to understand his message. Often metaphysical, particularly in the work of his later years, his meaning will be revealed only when we devote to it earnest and sympathetic study. No other composer demands so much of one; no other rewards the student so richly for the effort required. The making a fact the subject of thought vitalizes it. It is as if the master had said to the aspirant: "I will admit you into the ranks of my disciples, but you must first prove yourself worthy." An initiation is necessary; somewhat of the intense mental activity which characterized Beethoven in the composition of his works is required of the student also. There is a tax imposed for the enjoyment of them.
Like Thoreau, Beethoven came on the world's stage "just in the nick of time," and almost immediately had to begin hewing out a path for himself. He was born in the workshop, as was Mozart, and learned music simultaneously with speaking. Stirring times they were in which he first saw the light, and so indeed continued with ever-increasing intensity, like a good drama, until nearly his end. The American Revolution became an accomplished fact during his boyhood. Nearer home, events were fast coming to a focus, which culminated in the French Revolution. The magic words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and the ideas for which they stood, were everywhere in the minds of the people. The age called for enlightenment, spiritual growth.
On reaching manhood, he found a world in transition; he realized that he was on the threshold of a new order of things, and with ready prescience took advantage of such as could be utilized in his art. Through Beethoven the resources of the orchestra were increased, an added range was given the keyboard of the piano, the human voice was given tasks that at the time seemed impossible of achievement. He established the precedent, which Wagner acted on later, of employing the human voice as a tool, an instrument, to be used in the exigencies of his art, as if it were a part of the orchestra.
Beethoven's birthplace, Bonn, no doubt proved a favorable soil for the propagation of the new ideas. The unrest pervading all classes, an outcome of the Revolution, showed itself among the more serious-minded in increased intellectuality, and a reaching after higher things. This Zeitgeist is clearly reflected in his compositions, in particular the symphonies and sonatas. "Under the lead of Italian vocalism," said Wagner, speaking of the period just preceding the time of which we write, "music had become an art of sheer agreeableness." The beautiful in music had been sufficiently exploited by Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven demonstrated that music has a higher function than that of mere beauty, or the simple act of giving pleasure. The beautiful in literature is not its best part. To the earnest thinker, the seeker after truth, the student who looks for illumination on life's problem, beauty in itself is insufficient. It is the best office of art, of Beethoven's art in particular, that it leads ever onward and upward; that it acts not only on the esthetic and moral sense, but develops the mental faculties as well, enabling the individual to find a purpose and meaning in life.
* * * * *
Ludwig van Beethoven was born at Bonn, December 16, 1770. He came of a musical family. His father and grandfather were both musicians at Bonn, at the Court of the Elector of Cologne. The family originally came from Louvain, and settled in Antwerp in 1650, from which place they moved to Bonn.
This old city on the Rhine, frequently mentioned by Tacitus, older than Christianity, the scene of innumerable battles from Roman times up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, has much that is interesting about it, but is distinguished chiefly on account of having been Beethoven's birthplace. It was for five centuries (from 1268 to 1794) in the possession of the Electors of Cologne. The last one of all, Max Franz, who succeeded to the Electorate when Beethoven was fourteen years of age, and who befriended him in various ways was, in common with the entire Imperial family, a highly cultivated person, especially in music. He was the youngest son of Maria Therese, Empress of Austria, herself a fine singer and well versed in the music of the time. The Elector played the viola and his chief interest in life seems to have been music. In Beethoven's time and long before, the aristocracy led lives of easy, complacent enjoyment, dabbling in art, patronizing music and the composers, seemingly with no prevision that the musicians whom they attached to their train, and who in the cases of Mozart and Haydn were at times treated but little better than lackeys, were destined by the irony of fate to occupy places in the temple of fame, which would be denied themselves.
Ludwig van Beethoven, the grandfather of the composer, received his appointment as Kapellmeister at Bonn in March of 1733, then twenty-one years of age. A little more than a century afterward a statue was erected there in the Muenster Platz to his illustrious grandson, Liszt being the moving spirit in the matter. The grandfather was in every way a worthy man, but he died when our composer was three years of age, and from that time poverty and hardship of all kinds was the portion of the family. Beethoven's father was careless and improvident. His salary of 300 florins, about $145, was all they had upon which to live. The mother was the daughter of a cook and the widow of a valet de chambre to one of the Electors. She was kind-hearted, of pleasant temper and lovable disposition, and the affection between mother and son was deep and lasting. The father was stern, and a strict disciplinarian, as so often happens in such cases. He was determined that the son should do better than himself, being willing to furnish the precept, if not the example.
Reared in this school of adversity the boy had a hard life. His father was his first teacher, teaching him both violin and clavier. He began with him as early as his fourth year; he seems to have been aware of the boy's ability, but had no consideration, and was a hard taskmaster. Before he was nine years of age, however, the boy's progress was so great that the father had no more to teach him.
In those times the musical life centered about the Court. Beethoven studied the organ under the court organist, Van den Eeden, an old friend of his grandfather's. Van den Eeden was succeeded shortly after by Christian Neefe, and Beethoven, then eleven years of age, was transferred to him. Neefe had an important bearing on Beethoven's life. He was in his best years, thirty-three, when he began teaching him, and was a thorough musician, who had had a varied experience before assuming this post. He was a university man as well, and it was fortunate for Beethoven in every way that he was brought in childhood under the influence of so cultivated and enthusiastic a musician. Neefe saw the boy's talent and became his friend. On one occasion the Elector took his musicians to Muenster where he had a palace, Neefe's duties requiring that he go with them. Beethoven, then under twelve years of age, was left behind as organist. Frimmel states that Neefe, on assuming the position, reserved the privilege of absenting himself frequently from his post, on condition that he provide a substitute. After the Muenster episode, the twelve-year-old Beethoven became the regular substitute. When we consider the important role that church music played in those times, such precocity is remarkable. This connection with church music bore good fruit in later years.
Neefe was soon after promoted, the Elector giving him charge of the secular as well as the sacred music of the Court, upon which Beethoven received his first appointment, that of cembalist of the orchestra. The duty of the cembalist is to preside at the piano. Only a good musician would be capable of filling such a position, as all the accompaniments were played from the score. He held this for two years, afterward playing viol in the orchestra for several years more. This work in the orchestra was later of the greatest possible benefit to him in composing. There was no salary at first, but the post had an important bearing on his life, as he was obliged to attend all the rehearsals as well as the performances of the opera, always taking an active part. Before he reached the age of fifteen he was appointed second court organist. During this year he studied the violin with Franz Ries, which enabled him a few years later to play in the band.
It was in Beethoven's fifteenth year that he played the organ every morning at the six o'clock mass in the Minorite church. For some years before and during this period he was busy trying his hand at musical composition, but nothing which he composed during his youth amounts to much. He could improvise in a marvelous manner and he attracted much attention by the exercise of this talent, becoming famous in this connection long before he was known as a composer.
His creative talent unfolded itself slowly. He had high ideals and worked faithfully toward their attainment. Failure to reach the level of his aspirations did not dishearten him; rather it spurred him on to greater effort.
The discerning intellect is always in advance of the creative. His delight in Bach was great; he studied him to such purpose that, at twelve years, he was able to play the greater part of the Well-tempered Clavichord. His wonderful interpretation of Bach, later, on his arrival in Vienna, immediately placed him in the front rank of virtuosi, according to Huettenbrenner, Schubert's friend.
As a boy he was docile, shy and reserved, caring nothing for the ordinary games of boys, or at least not participating in them to any extent. At an age when other boys begin learning their games, he began in composition, being forced to it, no doubt, by his father. He is said to have written a cantata at the age of ten to the memory of an English friend of the family, who died early in the year 1781. Some variations on a march in C minor bear the following statement: Composees par un jeune amateur L v B age de dix ans.
From year to year he kept on in musical composition, feeling his way, not discouraged by his inability to produce anything great, although Mozart's precocity and genius were no doubt frequently held up to him by others as an example to profit by. When he was seventeen he went to Vienna, the funds for the trip probably being furnished by the Elector. Here he met Mozart, then at the height of his fame, whose operas were frequently produced in Bonn and throughout Germany. He probably had some lessons from him. Mozart was very much occupied with the approaching production of Don Giovanni, which took place in Prague shortly after the young man's arrival. As Beethoven's visit terminated in three months, it is not likely that he derived much benefit from these lessons. On his first meeting with the master he extemporized for him on a subject given him by Mozart. That this was a momentous occasion to the impressionable Beethoven is certain. The emotions called up by the meeting enabled him to play with such effect that when he had finished, the well-known remark was elicited from Mozart: "Pay attention to him. He will make a noise in the world some day."
Beethoven, however, was compelled to return to Bonn, owing to the serious illness of his mother, who died of consumption July 17, 1787. He now took charge of the family and had a hard life from almost every point of view, his one enjoyment probably being in the exercise of his art. The affection between mother and son was one of the few bright spots in a boyhood of toil and privation. The father's harshness served to accentuate the kindness of the mother, and he felt her death keenly. He gave a few lessons, most unwillingly, the money from which, together with his salary as assistant organist and a portion of the father's salary, kept the family together, affording them some degree of comfort.
His return, no doubt, retarded his artistic development. The musical atmosphere of Vienna would have been much better for him, especially at this period, when he was entering manhood and eager to get at the works of contemporary composers. In those times only a small amount of the music that was written, was published. Many of the lesser works were composed merely to grace some social function, with but little thought given them as to their ultimate fate. It was customary to play from manuscript, copies of which were not readily attainable. In a city like Vienna new music was constantly being produced, occasionally at public concerts, but most often at social gatherings. The freemasonry existing among musicians and the wealthy amateurs was such that a musician of any talent was sure to be received, and put on a friendly footing. No other city in Europe afforded such opportunities for musical culture as did Vienna. It was the home of Mozart and Haydn and a host of lesser composers, as well as instrumentalists and singers. Music in one form or another was the chief diversion of the better classes, the wealthier of whom maintained their private orchestra. Many of these latter were fine performers, taking part regularly in the concerts given by their orchestras.
The next year we find Beethoven taking his meals at the Zehrgarten, where artists, professors from the university, and other notable people congregated. It was at this period that he made the acquaintance of Count Ferdinand Waldstein, the first of the aristocratic circle of friends which surrounded him all his life. Count Waldstein at twenty-four, on coming of age, entered the Germanic order, passing the year of his novitiate at the Court of the Elector at Bonn. The senior by eight years, his influence over Beethoven was considerable, as is evidenced in many ways. The Count was an enthusiastic amateur, visiting him frequently. He gave him a piano, and was useful to him in many ways. The social position of Count Waldstein was such that his friendly attitude toward Beethoven at once attracted the attention of others to the young musician. From this time on he was able to choose his friends from among the best people of his native city. The young man commemorated the friendship by taking an air of the Count's, who was somewhat of a composer, and composing twelve variations for four hands for the piano from it. Later, in 1805, after the Eroica Symphony and Fidelio, when the master had become famous, he composed the great Waldstein Sonata, opus 58, and dedicated it to him. The Waldstein family became extinct with Ferdinand, but the name will live for centuries through these compositions.
About the time of his first meeting with Count Waldstein, Beethoven made another acquaintance, which had an important bearing on his subsequent life. This was Von Breuning. He and Beethoven took violin lessons of Franz Ries. Stephen von Breuning liked Beethoven from the start and introduced him at his mother's house. The Breunings were in good circumstances, cultivated, good-natured and hospitable. They delighted in having him about, and treated him with the utmost consideration. Madame von Breuning formed a sincere, motherly affection for him; he was soon on a footing in their house almost equal to that of a member of the family. He went with them about this time on a visit to some of their relations in another city. They were instrumental in shaping his destiny in various ways, and their friendship was of great moment to him throughout life. Beethoven, then in his eighteenth year, gave lessons to the daughter Eleonore, as well as to the youngest son, Lenz. Eleonore afterward married Dr. Wegeler, who was in the same circle. Many years later he collaborated with Ries's son Ferdinand in writing reminiscences of the master.
The names of Count Waldstein and the Von Breunings are indelibly associated with Beethoven's name as friends from the beginning. When we consider how every circumstance of Beethoven's family and mode of life tended against his forming desirable friendships, how rough in exterior and careless of his appearance he was, we can ascribe it only to the force of his character that he should have the friendship of such people. He had done nothing as yet to lead people to believe that he would ever become a great composer. As has been stated, however, he was a pianist of great originality, with a remarkable talent for improvising, which, no doubt, had much to do in making him a welcome guest wherever he went.
Madame von Breuning, with her woman's tact, and the fine intuitive perceptions that were characteristic of her, looked after his intellectual development, and was helpful to him in various ways, encouraging him as well in his musical studies. But Beethoven was by no means an easy person to get along with, as she soon found out. He was fiery and headstrong, disliking all restraint, being especially impatient of anything that savored of patronage. She seems to have known that in Beethoven she had before her that rarest product of humanity, a man of genius, and had infinite patience with him. His dislike for teaching was pronounced, then, as in after years, and she was often at her wits' end to get him to keep his engagements in this respect. She, in short, did for Beethoven what Madame Boehme did for Goethe many years before, when the poet left his native Frankfort and came to Leipsic. He was but sixteen, and found in her a friend, counsellor, almost a mother, who not only instructed him about dress and deportment, which soon enabled him to obliterate his provincialism, but showed a motherly solicitude for him, which must have been of great help to him in many ways.
Madame von Breuning interested Beethoven in the classics, as well as in contemporary philosophical literature. Lessing, Goethe and Schiller became favorite authors with him. A much-thumbed translation of Shakespeare was a valued part of his small library in after years. He devoted much study to Homer and to Plato. Beethoven left school at the age of thirteen, and could not have given much time to his studies even when at school, as so much was required of him in his music. He learned a little—a very little, of French, also some Latin and Italian, and made up for his deficiencies by studying at home. Intellectual gifts were valued by the Von Breunings; to the youth, in his formative period, association with people like these was an education in itself.
About this time the Elector enlarged the sphere of his musical operations by establishing a national opera at Bonn, modeled after the one maintained by his imperial brother at Vienna. The works were produced on a good scale, and some excellent singers were engaged. Beethoven was appointed to play the viola, and this connection with the orchestra was of inestimable value to him in many ways. It not only gave him a knowledge of orchestration; it also made him familiar with the noted operas, which must have been greatly enjoyed by him. Mozart's operas were given a prominent place in the repertoire, and many others that were noteworthy were introduced. But it was not opera alone which was being performed; the drama was also represented, and his connection with the orchestra gave him an intimate acquaintance with the masterpieces of literature, which greatly influenced his subsequent career. The tragedies of Shakespeare were occasionally produced, special prominence, however, being given to the works of the great Germans, Lessing, Schiller and other philosophers and poets of the Fatherland, the exalted sentiments and pure intellectuality of which are unmatched by any people. This early acquaintance with the best literature of his time gave him an intellectual bias which served him well all his life. It is fortunate that his opportunity came so early in life, when the activity of the brain is at its highest and when lasting impressions are produced. The mental pictures called up by the portrayal of these tragedies came to the surface again in after years sublimated, refined, in symphony and sonata, in mass and opera. Every one of his works has its own story to tell; sometimes it is just the record of the events of a day as in the Pastoral Symphony, but told with a glamour of poetry and romance, that for the time gives us back our own youth in listening to it; sometimes it is a tragedy which is unfolded, as in the Appassionata Sonata or the Fifth Symphony; or it will be a Coriolanus Overture, that seething, boiling ferment of emotion and passion, the most diverse, contradictory, unlike, that can be imagined. From these impressions, acquired in the ardor of youth, when the intellect grasps at knowledge and experience with avidity, when its capacity is at its greatest, and the whole world is laid under contribution, came a rich harvest which untold generations may enjoy. No one of the many that made up the audiences night after night, probably ever formed a guess at what was going on in the brain of this quiet reserved youth during the progress of these plays. The keen discriminating intelligence which was always sifting and sorting these pictures and stowing them away for use in after years,—the flashes of enthusiasm,—the intuitive discernment of intellectual subtleties that brought him into rapport with the author and gave him the perception of being on an equality with the great ones of the earth, here were forces already in operation which were destined to influence the world for generations to come. To fall from this ideal world of the intellect and the emotions, at the cue of the conductor, back to the cognitions of ordinary life, and a realization of its limitations, must have been as tragic an experience to this youth, who said of himself: "I live only in my art," as any he had seen depicted on the stage. Mental processes like these write their lines deeply on the faces of gifted people.
Of the thirty-one members of the orchestra some had already attained fame, and others achieved it in after years. In this collection of geniuses the attrition of mind on mind must have been of benefit to each. The conductor, Joseph Reicha, had a nephew, Anton Reicha, whom he adopted, who played the flute in the orchestra. He and Beethoven were intimate, and the prominence which Beethoven gives to the flute in his orchestral works may in part be explained by this intimacy. Reicha afterward joined Beethoven at Vienna, remaining there until 1808, when he took up his residence in Paris. He was a prolific composer and the author of numerous theoretical works. Many of his operas were produced in Paris during his lifetime. He taught at the Paris Conservatoire, and was a member of the Institute. Then there was Bernhard Romberg, and his cousin Andreas Romberg. The latter was a musical prodigy, having played the violin in concerts as early as his seventh year. At seventeen, his virtuosity was such that he was engaged for the Concerts Spirituels at Paris. Some years later he journeyed to Bonn to be near his cousin Bernhard, with whom he was intimate, and accepted a position in the Elector's orchestra as violinist. He later went to Vienna, then Hamburg, and afterward became Kapellmeister at Gotha. He composed all kinds of music, instrumental and vocal, symphonies, operas, etc. His setting of Schiller's "Song of the Bell" is well known at the present day, as well as the oratorio, "The Transient and the Eternal." He was made Doctor of Music by Kiel University. Bernhard Romberg was a distinguished violoncellist. When his connection with the Elector's orchestra ceased, he made a professional tour to Italy and Spain with his more famous cousin Andreas and was very successful. In 1796 they came to Vienna and gave a concert at which Beethoven assisted. Bernhard afterward was a professor in the Paris Conservatoire and later became Kapellmeister at Berlin. He was a composer of operas, concertos, etc. While he and Beethoven were not in accord on the subject of musical composition, each disliking the other's works, there is no question but that his proximity to him at Bonn, was one of the forces that had much to do with Beethoven's artistic development.
Then there was Franz Ries, pupil of Salomon, the distinguished violinist. Ries had already achieved fame in Vienna as soloist, and had been before the public since childhood. He was Beethoven's teacher, as stated. We must not forget Neefe, Beethoven's former teacher, who was pianist, or Simrock, all of whom formed a galaxy of virtuosi and composers unequalled by any similar organization. Beethoven greatly profited by his association with these chosen spirits, assimilating their experiences and endeavoring to emulate them.
Thus passed a few years pleasantly enough during this formative period at Bonn, music in one form or another taking up most of his waking moments. He fell in love a few times, first with a Mlle. de Honrath of Cologne, who visited the Von Breunings frequently and was their intimate friend. She had a bright, lively disposition, and like a true daughter of Eve, took great pleasure in bantering him. There was also a Miss Westerhold who made a deep impression on him. Both were the subject of conversation by him in after years.
The visit of Haydn, who with Salomon made a short sojourn at Bonn, on their return from London to Vienna in July of 1792, gave Beethoven an opportunity for an interview with the great master, which had an important bearing on the young man's career. Salomon was acquainted with the Beethovens as he was a native of Bonn. The fame of the young musician had reached his ears, and he brought about the meeting with Haydn. Beethoven at twenty-two, had, unlike so many promising children, fulfilled the promise of his youth. He was not only a distinguished performer: his compositions were also attracting attention in his circle. In honor of the distinguished guests, a breakfast was arranged at Godesburg, a resort near Bonn, at which some compositions of Beethoven's were performed by the Elector's orchestra. Some of this music had been submitted to the master previously. Haydn, who was in holiday humor, seems to have been specially attracted to it, and encouraged Beethoven to continue.
Some of the sketch-books of the Bonn period are in the British Museum, and an examination of them is of interest as it shows his method of composing. Beethoven all through life was a hard worker and a hard taskmaster to himself. He elaborated and worked over his first inspiration, polishing, cutting down, altering, making additions, never satisfied, always aiming after the attainment of his highest ideals, never considering himself, always placing his art first and personal comfort and convenience afterward. This is apparent in the sketch-books of this early date. His industry was extraordinary, although his work grew but slowly. It was elaborated bit by bit in much the same way in which Nathaniel Hawthorne built up his romances.
Haydn's approbation was an important link in the chain of circumstances that was soon to enable Beethoven to leave for Vienna. Count Waldstein was the moving spirit in this matter, the Elector furnishing the funds. He knew that the artistic atmosphere of Vienna would be of incalculable benefit to Beethoven and encouraged him in the project. Accordingly we find him setting out for Vienna in 1792, leaving Bonn never to return to it even for a visit.
THE MORNING OF LIFE
Thou, O God! who sellest us all good things at the price of labor. —LEONARDO DA VINCI.
Closely following his arrival in Vienna, Beethoven began studying composition with Haydn, applying himself with great diligence to the work in hand; but master and pupil did not get along together very well. There were many dissonances from the start. It was not in the nature of things that two beings so entirely dissimilar in their point of view should work together harmoniously. Beethoven, original, independent, iconoclastic, acknowledged no superior, without having as yet achieved anything to demonstrate his superiority; Haydn, tied down to established forms, subservient, meek, was only happy when sure of the approbation of his superiors. His attitude toward those above him in rank was characterized by respect and deference; he probably expected something similar from Beethoven toward himself. Haydn was then at the height of his fame, courted and admired by all, and his patience was sorely tried by the insolence of his fiery young pupil. He nicknamed Beethoven the Grand Mogul, and did not have much good to say of him to others. The pittance which he received for these lessons was no inducement to him, as he was in receipt of an income much beyond his requirements. The time given up to these lessons could have been better employed in composing.
Haydn and Beethoven, however, were in a measure supplementary to one another as regards the life-work of each. Haydn paved the way for Beethoven, who was his successor in the large orchestral forms. He and also Mozart were pioneers in the field which Beethoven made peculiarly his own. Haydn also directed Beethoven's attention to the study of Haendel and Bach, whose works Beethoven always held most highly in esteem. It is true that Beethoven, even in the old Bonn days, was familiar to some extent with the works of these masters; but his opportunity for getting at this kind of music was limited in Bonn. Vienna, the musical center of the world at that time, was, as may be supposed, a much better field in this respect. The study of these profound works of genius under the leadership and eulogy of so prominent a musician as Haydn had much to do with shaping Beethoven's ideals. These masters gave an example of solidity and earnestness which is characteristic of their work. Haydn and Mozart, on the other hand, appealed to him in his lighter moods, in the play of fancy, in the capricious and humorous conceits of which he has given such fine examples in the symphonies and sonatas.
The lessons to Beethoven continued for a little over a year, or until Haydn left on another visit to England in January of 1794. So eager was he for advancement, that he took lessons from another teacher at the same time, carefully concealing the fact from Haydn. Beethoven always maintained that he had not learned much from him.
Strangely, Haydn had no idea at this time or for some years after that his pupil would ever amount to much in musical composition. He lived long enough to find Beethoven's position as a musician firmly established, but not long enough to witness his greatest triumphs.
On the departure of Haydn he began with Albrechtsberger in composition, also having violin, and even vocal lessons from other masters. Beethoven realized, on coming to Vienna, more fully than before, the necessity for close application to his studies. Though a finished performer, he knew but little of counterpoint, and the more purely scientific side of his art had been neglected. That he applied himself with all the ardor of his nature to his studies we know. They were given precedence over everything else. He even delayed for a long while writing a rondo which he had promised to Eleonore von Breuning and when he finally sent it, it was with an apology for not sending a sonata, which had also been promised.
It is characteristic of Beethoven that his teachers in general were not greatly impressed by him. We have seen how it was in the case of Haydn. Albrechtsberger was more pronounced in his disapproval. "He has learned nothing; he never will learn anything," was his verdict regarding Beethoven. This was surely small encouragement. Beethoven's original and independent way of treating musical forms brought on this censure. As he advanced in musical knowledge he took the liberty to think for himself; a very culpable proceeding with teachers of the stamp of Albrechtsberger. The young man's intuitive faculties, the surest source of all knowledge according to Schopenhauer, were developed to an abnormal degree. By the aid of this inner light he was able to see truer and farther than his pedantic old master, with the result that the pupil would argue out questions with him on subjects connected with his lessons which subverted all discipline, and well-nigh reversed their relative positions. Beethoven's audacity—his self-confidence, is brought out still more strongly when we reflect on the distinguished position held by Albrechtsberger, both as teacher and composer. He was director of music at St. Stephen's and was in great demand as a teacher. Some of his pupils became distinguished musicians, among them Huemmel, Seyfried and Weigl. He excelled in counterpoint, and was a prolific composer, although his works are but little known at the present day. He was set in his ways, a strict disciplinarian, conservative to the backbone, and upward of sixty years of age. We can readily believe there were stormy times during these lessons. There is no doubt however, that Beethoven learned a great deal from him, as is evident from the exercises still in existence from this period, embracing the various forms of fugue and counterpoint, simple, double, and triple, canon and imitation. He was thorough in his teaching and Beethoven was eager to learn, so they had at least one point in common, and the pupil made rapid headway. But his originality and fertility in ideas, which showed itself at times in a disregard for established forms when his genius was hampered thereby—qualities which even in Albrechtsberger's lifetime were to place his pupil on a pinnacle above all other composers of the period, were neither understood nor approved by the teacher. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the lessons continued but little over a year. His studies in theory and composition seem to have come to an end with Albrechtsberger; we hear of no other teacher having been engaged thereafter.
Shortly after Beethoven came to Vienna, his father died, and soon after the two brothers Johann and Caspar, having no ties to keep them in Bonn, followed the elder brother, who kept a fatherly watch over them. They gave him no end of trouble for the rest of his life, but Beethoven bore the burden willingly and was sincerely attached to them. All the honor and nobility of the family seems to have centered in him.
On his arrival in Vienna he carried letters of introduction from Count Waldstein and from the Elector, which opened to him the doors of the best houses. His intrinsic worth did the rest. One of his earliest Vienna friends was Prince Lichnowsky, a person who seems to have possessed a combination of all those noble qualities that go to make up the character of a gentleman. Highly cultivated and enthusiastic on the subject of music, he had the penetration to see that in Beethoven he had before him one of the elect of all time. The Prince had been a pupil of Mozart and an ardent admirer of the deceased master. Providentially, Beethoven appeared on the scene soon after Mozart's decease, and received the devotion and admiration that had formerly been given Mozart. In this he was ably seconded by his wife, who shared with him the admiration and reverential wonder which such highly endowed people would be apt to accord to a man of genius. One of the first acts of this princely couple was to give Beethoven a pension of 600 florins per year. This was but the beginning of unexampled kindness on their part. They followed this by giving him a home in their residence on the Schotten bastion, and we find him well launched in the social life of the gayest capital in Europe.
This practical help was invaluable to Beethoven, for with the aid which he had from the Elector, it was almost enough to assure him independence. It not only increased his opportunities for study, but, his mind being free from care, he was enabled to profit more by his studies. The Lichnowskys were older than Beethoven and were childless. He was allowed to do as he pleased; a privilege of which he availed himself without hesitation. They entertained considerably and their social position was unexceptionable. They maintained a small orchestra for the performance of the music he liked and for his own compositions. He was always the honored guest, and met the best people of Vienna. The devotion of the Princess, in particular, was always in evidence.
It can be readily understood that with such an original character as Beethoven, headstrong and impatient of restraint, a pleasant smooth life was not to be expected. The arrangement would seem to have been an excellent one for him, but he did not so regard it. Already at odds with the world, misunderstanding people and being misunderstood, he soon came to realize that a life of solitude was the only resource for a man constituted as he was. He never considered himself under any obligation to the Prince, or rather, he acted as though he felt the obligation to be the other way. He acted independently from the start, taking his meals at a restaurant whenever it suited his convenience, and showing an ungovernable temper when interfered with in any way. But the kindness and patience of the Princess never failed her; after any trouble it was she who smoothed the difficulty and restored harmony. She was like an indulgent mother to him; in her eyes he could do no wrong.
Prince Lichnowsky was wholly unaccustomed to this sort of thing. It is certain that he never met with anything of the kind from Mozart, and there were times when his patience was sorely tried by Beethoven. The Princess, with a sweetness and graciousness which Beethoven appreciated, always made peace between them. He afterward said that her solicitude was carried to such a length that she wished to put him under a glass shade, "that no unworthy person might touch or breathe on me."
Of course this kind of thing only confirmed the young man in his course. It was kindness, but it was not wisdom. Few people are so constituted as to be able to stand praise and adulation without the character suffering thereby. Censure would have been much better for him. When the individual is attacked, when he is made to assume the defensive, he first discovers the vulnerable points in his armor, and as opportunity offers strengthens them. Beethoven's ungovernable temper and apparent ingratitude are frequently commented on, but the ingratitude was only apparent. When he came to a knowledge of himself and discovered that he was in the wrong in any controversy or quarrel, and it must be admitted they were frequent enough all through his life, he would make amends for it so earnestly, with such vehement self-denunciation, and show such contrition, that it would be impossible for any of his friends to hold out against him. Then there would be a short love-feast, during which the offended party would possibly be the recipient of a dedication from the master, and things would go on smoothly until the next break. The Prince soon learned to make all sorts of concessions to his headstrong guest, and even went so far as to order his servant to give Beethoven the precedence, in case he and Beethoven were to ring at the same time.
But Beethoven did not like the new life. Even the little restraint that it imposed was irksome to him, and the arrangement came to an end in about two years. But the friendship continued for many years. Beethoven's opus 1 is dedicated to the Prince, as well as the grand Sonata Pathetique, and the Second Symphony, also the opus 179, consisting of nine variations, and the grand Sonata in A Flat. To the Princess Lichnowsky he dedicated opus 157, variations on "See the Conquering Hero Comes." He also dedicated several of his compositions to Count Moritz Lichnowsky, a younger brother of the Prince.
Among the other friends of this period may be mentioned Prince Lobkowitz, who was an ardent admirer of Beethoven, Prince Kinski, and also Count Browne to whose wife Beethoven dedicated the set of Russian variations. In acknowledgment of this honor, the Count presented Beethoven with a horse. He accepted it thankfully and then forgot all about it until some months after, when a large bill came in for its keep. There was also Count Brunswick and the Baron von Swieten, and most of the music-loving aristocracy of Vienna, who it appears could not see enough of him. His music and his individuality charmed them and he was beset with invitations. Baron von Swieten was one of his earliest and staunchest friends. His love and devotion to music knew no bounds. He gave concerts at his residence with a full band, and produced music of the highest order, Haendel and Sebastian Bach being his favorites, the music being interpreted in the best manner. It is related that the old Baron would keep Beethoven after the others had left, making him play far into the night and would sometimes put him up at his own house so that he might keep him a little longer. A note from the Baron to Beethoven is preserved, in which he says, "If you can call next Wednesday I shall be glad to see you. Come at half-past eight in the evening with your nightcap in your pocket."
These social successes, however, did not lead to idleness. He kept up the practise all his life of recording his musical thoughts in sketch-books, which latter are an object lesson to those engaged in creative work as showing the extraordinary industry of the man and his absorption in his work. Many of these are preserved in the different museums, those in the British Museum being a notable collection. Some of the work of this period was afterwards utilized by being incorporated into the work of his riper years.
Beethoven's talents as a performer were freely acknowledged by all with whom he came in contact. When we come to the question of his creative talent, we can only marvel at the slowness with which his powers unfolded themselves. His opus 1 appeared in 1795, when he was twenty-four years old. There was nothing of the prodigy about him in composition. At twenty-four, Mozart had achieved some of his greatest triumphs.
Beethoven's work however, shows intellectuality of the highest kind, and this, whether in music or literature, is not produced easily or spontaneously; it is of slow growth, the product of a ripened mind, attained only by infinite labor and constant striving after perfection, with the highest ideals before one.
He had been trying his hand at composition for many years, but was always up to this time known as a performer rather than as a composer, although he frequently played his own compositions, and had as we have seen, great talent at improvising, which in itself is a species of composition, and an indication of musical abilities of the highest order.
All the great masters of music delighted in the exercise of this talent, although it is now rarely attempted in public, Chopin having been one of the last to exercise it. Bach excelled in it, sometimes developing themes in the form of a fugue at a public performance. No preparation would be possible under these circumstances, as in many cases the theme would be given by one of the audience.
This art of improvising, as these masters practised it,—who can explain it or tell how it is done? All we know is that the brain conceives the thought, and on the instant the fingers execute it in ready obedience to the impulse sent out by the brain, the result being a finished performance, not only so far as the melody is concerned, but in harmony and counterpoint as well. Mozart, at the age of fourteen, at Mantua, on his second Italian tour, improvised a sonata and fugue at a public concert, taking the impressionable Italians by storm, and such performances he repeated frequently in after years. Beethoven excelled in this direction as greatly as he afterward did in composition, towering high over his contemporaries. Czerny, pupil of Beethoven and afterward teacher of Liszt, states that Beethoven's improvisations created the greatest sensation during the first few years of his stay in Vienna. The theme was sometimes original, sometimes given by the auditors. In Allegro movements there would be bravura passages, often more difficult than anything in his published works. Sometimes it would be in the form of variations after the manner of his Choral Fantasia, op. 80, or the last movement of the Choral Symphony. All authorities agree as to Beethoven's genius in improvising. His playing was better under these circumstances than when playing a written composition, even when it was written by himself.
Once Huemmel undertook a contest with Beethoven in improvising. After he had been playing for some time Beethoven interrupted him with the question, "When are you going to begin?" It is needless to say that Beethoven, when his turn came to play, distanced the other so entirely that there was no room for comparison.
THE NEW PATH
I tremble to the depths of my soul and ask my daemon: "Why this cup to me?" —WAGNER.
Life at last has found a meaning. —WAGNER: Letter to Frau Wille.
Reference has already been made to the fact that Beethoven's opus 1 was published in 1795, something like three years after taking up his residence in Vienna, and when he was twenty-four years of age. It consists of three Trios for piano and strings. When Haydn returned from London and heard these Trios, the master criticised one of them and advised him not to publish it. Beethoven thought this particular one the best of the three, and others concur with him in this opinion. Shortly after, he published his opus 2, consisting of three sonatas dedicated to Haydn, besides variations and smaller pieces. But this does not by any means give the amount of his compositions for this period, some of which were not published until many years afterward.
All this time, Beethoven, though playing frequently at the houses of his aristocratic friends, had not yet made his appearance in public, but about the time that his opus 1 appeared, he played at a concert given in aid of the Widow's Fund of the Artists' Society. He composed for this occasion a Grand Concerto (opus 15) in C major for piano and orchestra, taking the piano part himself. It was finished on the day preceding that on which the concert was held, the copyists waiting in another room for their parts. At the rehearsal, the piano being one-half note out of tune, he transposed it into C sharp, playing it without the notes. Very soon after, he appeared again in public, at a concert given for the benefit of Mozart's widow, when he played one of Mozart's concertos. The beginning once made, he appeared rather frequently as a performer, not only in Vienna, but extended his trips the next year as far as Berlin, where he encountered Huemmel.
But Beethoven's mind was always turned toward composition. It had been the aim of his life, even at Bonn, to become a great creative artist. For this he had left his native city, and the larger opportunities for musical culture afforded by his life in Vienna must have directed his thoughts still more strongly into this channel. An important social event of the period was the annual ball of the Artists' Society of Vienna. Suesmayer, pupil and intimate friend of Mozart, the composer of several of the "Mozart Masses," had composed music for this ball and Beethoven was asked to contribute something likewise, with the result that he composed twelve waltzes and twelve minuets for it. He also had in hand at the same time piano music, songs, and studies in orchestral composition. Nothing which he produced in these years, however, gave any forecast of what he would eventually attain to. This is paralleled in the case of Bach, who, up to his thirtieth year was more famous as a performer than as composer.
Beethoven's earlier compositions were regarded as the clever product of an ambitious young musician. Although later in life, he all but repudiated the published work of these years, some of the thoughts from the sketch-books of this period were utilized in the work of his best years.
He acquired a habit early in life of carrying a note-book when away from his rooms, in which he recorded musical ideas as they came to him. His brain teemed with them; these he entered indiscriminately, good and bad, assorting them later, discarding some, altering others, seldom retaining a musical thought exactly as it was first presented to his consciousness. Music became the one absorbing passion of his life. It took the place of wife and children; it was of more importance to him than home or any other consideration. His compositions show continual progress toward artistic perfection to the end of his life, and this was attained only by infinite labor.
It may not be out of place here to reflect on the essentially unselfish character of the man of genius. He lives and strives, not for himself, but for others; he pursues an objective end only. Among the forces making for the regeneration of mankind, he is foremost.
There is little of importance to record concerning Beethoven for the few years following the publication of his opus 1. He continued to perform occasionally in public, and also gave a few lessons, but his time was taken up with study and composition for the most part. It was a period of earnest endeavor, the compositions of which consist of the better class of piano music, as well as trios, quartets and occasional songs, his work being much in the style of Mozart and Haydn; the quality of emotional power and intellectuality not yet having appeared to any extent.
His great productions, those that show his genius well developed, are coincident with the beginning of the nineteenth century. The years 1800 and 1801 were an epoch with him as a composer. He was now thirty, and was beginning to show of what stuff he was made. These two years saw the production of some of the imperishable works of the master, namely: the First Symphony, the Oratorio Christus am Oelberg, and the Prometheus Ballet Music. It is probable that he had given earnest thought to these works for some years previously, and had had them in hand for two years or more before their appearance. The First Symphony calls for special mention as in it the future Symphonist is already foreshadowed. He was almost a beginner at orchestral work, but it marks an epoch in this class of composition, raising it far beyond anything of the kind that had yet appeared. Viewed in the light of later ones it is apparent that he held himself in; that he was tentative compared with his subsequent ones. Considered as a symphony and compared with what had been produced in this class up to that time, it is a daring innovation and was regarded as such by the critics. He broadened and enlarged the form and gave it a dignity that was unknown to it before this time.
Beethoven's sonatas are as superior to those that had preceded them as are his symphonies. He enlarged them, developed the Scherzo from the Minuet and made them of more importance in every way. With Haydn the Minuet was gay and lively, a style of music well adapted to Haydn's particular temperament and character; but Beethoven in the Scherzo carried the idea further than anything of which Haydn had dreamed. Before Beethoven's First Symphony appeared, he had composed a dozen or more sonatas and was in a position to profit by the experience gained thereby. He felt his way in these, the innovations all turning out to be improvements.
One has only to compare the sonatas of Mozart and Haydn with those of Beethoven to be at once impressed with the enormous importance of the latter. As has been stated, the experience gained with the sonata was utilized in the First Symphony, each succeeding one showing growth. Beethoven's artistic instinct was correct, but he did not trust to this alone. He proceeded carefully, weighing the matter well, and his judgment was usually right. There is evidence from his exercise books that he had this Symphony in mind as early as 1795. It was first produced on April 2, 1800, at a concert which he gave for his own benefit at the Burg theatre. On this occasion he improvised on the theme of the Austrian National Hymn, recently composed by Haydn, well known in this country through its insertion in the Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church, under the title of Austria. Beethoven's hearing was sufficiently intact at this time to enable him to hear his symphonies performed, an important matter while his judgment was being formed.
The Prometheus Ballet Music, opus 43, consisting of overture, introduction and sixteen numbers, was first performed early in 1801, and achieved immediate success, so much so that it was published at once as pianoforte music. In addition to the Prometheus, there is to be credited to this period the C minor concerto, opus 37, a septet for strings and wind, opus 20, a number of quartets, and other compositions. The Christus am Oelberg (The Mount of Olives), opus 85, Beethoven's first great choral work, has already been mentioned. In this oratorio Jesus appears as one of the characters, for which he has been severely criticised. His judgment was at fault in another respect also in having the concert stage too much in mind. The composition at times is operatic in character, while the text calls for a mode of treatment solemn and religious, as in Passion-music. If set to some other text, this work would be well nigh faultless; the recitatives are singularly good, and there is a rich orchestration. It is reminiscent of Haendel and prophetic of Wagner. The Hallelujah Chorus in particular is a magnificent piece of work. As is the case with the Messiah, its beauties as well as its defects are so apparent, so pronounced, that the latter serve as a foil to bring out its good qualities in the strongest relief. It was first performed in the spring of 1803, in Vienna, on which occasion Beethoven played some of his other compositions. It was repeated three times within the year.
Other contributions of 1801 are two grand sonatas, the "Pastorale" in D, opus 28, the Andante of which is said to have been a favorite of Beethoven's and was often played by him, and the one in A flat, opus 26, dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky and containing a grand funeral march. Then there are the sonatas in E flat and C sharp minor, published together as opus 27, and designated Quasi una Fantasia. The latter is famous as the "Moonlight" sonata, dedicated to Julia Guicciardi. Neither of these names were authorized by Beethoven. Besides these, there are the two violin sonatas, A minor, and F, dedicated to Count Fries, and lesser compositions. The Second Symphony (in D) is the chief production of 1802. In addition there are the two piano sonatas in G, and D minor, opus 31, and three sonatas for violin and piano, opus 30, the latter dedicated to the Emperor of Russia. They form a striking example of Beethoven's originality and the force of his genius, and must have been caviar to his public.
The Second Symphony is a great advance on the first, and consequently a greater departure from the advice laid down to him by others. His independence and absolute faith in himself and the soundness of his judgment are clearly illustrated here. The composition is genial and in marked contrast to the gloomy forebodings that filled his mind at this time. The second movement, the Larghetto, is interesting on account of the introduction of conversation among the groups of instruments, an innovation which he exploited to a much greater extent in subsequent works. In the Larghetto one group occasionally interrupts the other, giving it piquancy. There is a rhythm and swing to it which makes it the most enjoyable of the four movements. The critics hacked it again as might have been expected, the result being that the next one diverged still more from their idea of what a good symphony should be.
It was at this period that life's tragedy began to press down on him. He had left youth behind, and had entered on a glorious manhood. He was the idol of his friends, although his fame as a great composer had yet to be established. The affirmations of his genius were plainly apparent to him, if not to others, and he knew that he was on the threshold of creating imperishable masterpieces. A great future was opening out before him, which, however, was in great part to be nullified by his approaching deafness and other physical ailments. His letters at this time to his friend Dr. Wegeler, at Bonn, and to others, are full of misgivings.
But not alone is this unhappy frame of mind to be attributed to approaching deafness or any mere physical ailment. The psychological element also enters into the account and largely dominates it. The extraordinary character of the First and Second Symphonies seem to have had a powerful effect on his trend of thought making him introspective and morbidly conscientious. In a mind constituted as was his, it is quite within bounds to assume that the revelation of his genius was largely the cause of the morbid self-consciousness which appears in his letters of the period, and in the "Will." He recognized to the full how greatly superior this work was to anything of the kind that had yet appeared; singularly the knowledge made him humble. What he had accomplished thus far was only an earnest of the great work he was capable of, but to achieve it meant a surrender of nearly all the ties that bound him to life. The human qualities in him rebelled at the prospect. With the clairvoyance superinduced by much self-examination, he was able to forecast the vast scope of his powers, and the task that was set him. The whole future of the unapproachable artist that he was destined to become, was mirrored out to him almost at the beginning of his career, but he saw it only with apprehension and dread. There were periods when a narrower destiny would have pleased him more. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." He at times recoiled from the task, and would have preferred death instead. This was probably the most unhappy period of his life. He had yet to learn the hardest lesson of all, resignation, renunciation. That harsh mandate enunciated by Goethe in Faust: "Entbaeren sollst du, sollst entbaeren," had been thrust on him with a force not to be gainsaid or evaded.
With such a man but one issue to the conflict was possible: obedience to the higher law. In a conversation held with his friend Krumpholz, he expressed doubts as to the value of his work hitherto. "From now on I shall strike out on a new road," he said. He is now dominated by a greater seriousness; his mission has been shown him. Adieu now to the light-hearted mode of life characteristic of his friends and of the time. His new road led him into regions where they could not follow; from now on he was more and more unlike his fellows, more misunderstood, isolated, a prophet in the wilderness. Placed here by Providence specially for a unique work, he at first does not seem to have understood it in this light, and reached out, the spirit of the man, after happiness, occasional glimpses of which came to him, as it does to all sooner or later. He soon found, however, that happiness was not intended for him, or rather, that he was not intended for it. Something higher and better he could have, but not this. On coming to Vienna, and while living with Prince Lichnowsky, he made so much of a concession to public opinion as to buy a court suit, and he even took dancing lessons, but he never learned dancing, never even learned how to wear the court suit properly, and soon gave up both in disgust. The principle on which he now conducted his life was to give his genius full play, to obey its every mandate, to allow no obstacle to come in the way of its fullest development. That this idea controlled him throughout life, is apparent in many ways, but most of all in his journal. "Make once more the sacrifice of all the petty necessities of life for the glory of thy art. God before all," he wrote in 1818, when beginning the Mass in D. All sorts of circumstances and influences were required to isolate him from the world to enable him the better to do his appointed work. Probably no other musician ever made so complete a surrender of all impedimenta for the sake of his art as did Beethoven.
Music as an art does not conduce to renunciation, since its outward expression always partakes more or less of the nature of a festival. The claims of society come more insistently into the life of the musician than in that of other art-workers, the painter or literary man, for instance, whose work is completed in the isolation of his study. The musician, on the contrary, completes his work on the stage. He must participate in its rendering. He is, more than any other, beset by social obligations; he perforce becomes to a certain extent gregarious, all of which has a tendency to dissipate time and energy. It is only by a great effort that he can isolate himself; that he can retain his individuality. Beethoven's reward on these lines was great in proportion to his victory over himself.
Ach, der menschliche Intellekt! Ach "Genie"! Es ist nicht so gar viel einen "Faust" eine Schopenhauerische Philosophie, eine Eroika gemacht zu haben. —Friederich Nietzshe.
The immediate fruit of this mental travail was a sudden growth or expansion of his creative powers. This is apparent in his work, marking the beginning of the second period. His compositions now suggest thought. There is a fecundating power in them which generates thought, and it is in the moral nature that this force is most apparent. His work now begins to be a vital part of himself, the spiritual essence, communicating to his followers somewhat of his own strength and force of character. Once having entered on the new path, he reached, in the Third Symphony, the pinnacle of greatness almost at a bound. He was now, at thirty-four, at the height of his colossal powers. His titanic genius in its swift development showed an ability almost preternatural. One immortal work of genius succeeded another with marvelous rapidity.
The Third Symphony calls for more than passing notice. Beethoven's altruism is well known. The brotherhood of man was a favorite theme with him. By the aid of his mighty intellect and his intuitional powers, he saw more clearly than others the world's great need. The inequalities in social conditions were more clearly marked in those times than now. The French Revolution had set people thinking. Liberty and equality was what they were demanding. Beethoven personally had nothing to gain and everything to risk by siding with the people. All his personal friends were of the aristocracy. It was this class which fostered the arts, music in particular. From the time that Beethoven came to Vienna as a young man, up to the end of his life, he enjoyed one or more pensions given him by members of the upper classes. But his sympathies were with the people. By honoring Napoleon with the dedication of the Third Symphony, he would have antagonized the Imperial family, and perhaps many of the aristocracy, but this phase of the question may not have occurred to him, and if it had, it would not have deterred him.
Beethoven's attitude toward Napoleon could have had no other construction placed upon it than that of strong partisanship, since there was no artistic bond to unite them. The arch-enemy of Imperialism, as he was considered at this time, the mightiest efforts of the young Corsican had hitherto been directed specially against Austria. Beethoven did not approve of war; he expressed himself plainly on this point in after years, but at this period considered it justifiable and necessary as a means of abolishing what remained of feudal authority.
Austria had been the first to feel the iron hand of Napoleon. His first important military achievement, and what is generally conceded to be the greatest in his entire military career, was his campaign against the Austrians in Italy, which took place in the spring of 1796, shortly after his marriage. His victories over them first gave him fame, not only in France, but throughout Europe. Within a month from the time that he took command in the Italian campaign, he won six victories over them, giving the French army the command of the whole range of the Alps. Within a year he had driven the Austrians out of Italy, many thousands of prisoners were taken, ten thousand men had been killed or wounded, fifty-five pieces of cannon had been taken, besides rich provinces, which he looted to enrich France. He pursued his campaign into Austria, getting to within ninety miles of Vienna with his army, where he dictated terms of peace to the Emperor, which were highly advantageous to France. Appalled by these catastrophies, the court was even preparing to flee from Vienna and was arranging for the safe carriage of the treasure, when the Emperor accepted Napoleon's terms. The humiliation to Austria was accentuated by the fact that her armies were nearly twice that of France. They were also in good condition, while the French armies were ragged and half starved. With this inferior equipment Bonaparte humbled the most haughty nation in Europe in the space of a year. He defeated them again in 1800, at Marengo, and was at all times their arch-enemy.
All this happened some years before the period of which we are writing. Beethoven regarded Napoleon as a liberator, a savior, on account of his success in restoring order out of chaos in France. It showed considerable moral courage on his part to come out so plainly for Napoleon. A broader question than patriotism, however, was here involved. Patriotism seeks the good of a small section. Altruism embraces the good of all, thus including patriotism.
The idea of writing the symphony to Napoleon may have been suggested to Beethoven by General Bernadotte, who was then the Ambassador of the French at Vienna. He and Count Moritz Lichnowsky were intimate friends and saw a good deal of Beethoven at that time. The three young men no doubt discussed social conditions and politics, as well as music, and it would have been an easy task for the General, who had served under Napoleon, to excite Beethoven's enthusiasm for the Liberator of France. In after years, when General Bernadotte became King of Sweden, he still retained his interest in the events of this period.
This Symphony was the best work which Beethoven had yet accomplished; a work the grandeur and sublimity of which must have been a surprise to himself. It was conceived in the spirit of altruism, to show his appreciation of the man whom he believed was destined more than any other to uplift humanity. In the quality of its emotional expression, and also in its dimensions, it far exceeded anything of the kind that had yet appeared. Beethoven himself advised, on account of its great length, that it be placed at the beginning of a program rather than at its end. It is unique as a symphony, just as Napoleon was unique as a man. On finishing the work he put the name of Bonaparte on the title-page.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN.
With perfect propriety the concept is here established that two great men are before the world, Napoleon and Beethoven, and that the latter is as great in his own province as was Napoleon in his, each being the exponent of a new order of things, co-equal in the achievement of great deeds. Posterity, in exalting the one and debasing the other, shows how modest Beethoven was in the matter.
He was on the point of sending it to Paris when the news was brought him by his pupil Ries, that Napoleon was declared Emperor. In a rage Beethoven tore off the title-page containing the dedication, and threw it to the floor. "The man will become a tyrant and will trample all human rights under foot. He is no more than an ordinary man!" was Beethoven's exclamation. He finally gave it the name of Sinfonia Eroica, in memory of a great man. It is dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who had it performed before Prince Louis Ferdinand. The Prince was greatly taken with it, at once recognizing its worth and insisting on hearing it three times in succession the same evening.
This year saw the production of two of Beethoven's most famous pianoforte sonatas, the Waldstein, already referred to in this work, dedicated to the friend of his youth, Count Waldstein, and the Appassionata, dedicated to Count von Brunswick, sublime conceptions that glow with the fire of genius.
Mention must also be made of the famous Kreutzer Sonata, opus 47, for piano and violin, which was completed prior to the Third Symphony. This great work was originally intended for an English violinist resident at Vienna by the name of Bridgetower, and was first performed at a morning concert at the Augarten in May of 1803. Beethoven was at the piano and Bridgetower played the violin part. Beethoven had completed a portion of the work the previous year, but the violin part had to be played almost before the ink was dry, the piano accompaniment being made up by Beethoven as he went along. Notwithstanding this entire want of preparation, the value of the work was so apparent that it produced an encore.
Beethoven changed his mind about the dedication, and a year or two later this distinction was conferred on a friend, Rudolph Kreutzer, violinist and composer, who had come to Vienna in 1798 with Bernadotte, and as a matter of course, became acquainted with Beethoven. Kreutzer had been a protege of Marie Antoinette; afterward he was taken up by Napoleon, and still later by Louis XVIII, each of whom he served in his musical capacity. The Kreutzer Sonata has had a wide notoriety given it through Tolstoy's work of that name.
In the mind as in a field, some things may be sown and carefully brought up, yet that which springs naturally is most pleasing. —TACITUS.
The year 1805 saw Beethoven hard at work in a field new to him,—operatic composition. It had probably been in his mind for some years to write an opera. In those days almost every composer wrote operas, and to have written a successful one carried with it, not only a certain prestige, but substantial rewards in a financial sense. Outside of the church but little opportunity was afforded the general public to gratify its love for music other than in opera. Orchestral concerts were comparatively rare,—song recitals unknown. The development of the orchestra was just beginning, through the genius of Beethoven, and the Viennese were to a great extent, still unconscious of its importance, as a means of musical expression. The many symphonies, quartets, and other forms of chamber-music of Haydn, Mozart and contemporaneous composers, were for the most part written for private performance at musical functions in the houses of the nobility, or for friends of the composers.
Beethoven believed that if he were to write one or two operas, his income would be reinforced to such an extent as to enable him to give his attention wholly to the production of symphonies and masses, a style of composition to which he was inclined by temperament. In the early symphonies we already have a foreshadowing of what he could do in the production of great orchestral music, the desire for which in later years controlled him wholly. Like most men of genius Beethoven had little regard for money, and until middle age was reached, never thought of saving any. He valued it only in so far as he could use it for himself or others. It may be said in passing that he gave it away freely, glad to be of service to others. His income, augmented by his copyrights, did not keep pace with his expenditures; when a friend needed money and he had none, he would give him a composition instead, which the other would turn into cash.
The manager of the theatre, An der Wien, had, before this, made overtures to Beethoven to write an opera, and he went so far as to take up his quarters in the theatre, preparatory to this work; but a change in the management made it necessary to give up the idea for the time being. In 1804, the offer in regard to the opera was renewed, and work was begun upon it. It took up a large part of his time until its production in November of 1805. It is probable that he took more pains with this work than was devoted to any other of his compositions with the exception of the Mass in D. His capacity for work was extraordinary, particularly at this time, and the delight that he experienced in producing these masterpieces was still new to him, which in itself was an incentive to great exertion. His approaching deafness also had a good deal to do with his great activity. The ailment had progressed steadily from the time of its first appearance; at the time of which we write he had abandoned all hope of any aid from medical treatment; by throwing himself heart and soul into his work, he could forget for the time the misfortune which was closing in on him. He feared that a period of absolute deafness might set in when he would be unable to hear any of his works, and the desire must have been great to accomplish as much as possible before that time should come.
Beethoven does not seem to have been very hard to suit in the way of a libretto at this time. He probably gave the matter very little consideration except on one point,—its morality. His high ideals, and his innate purity of mind, caused him to dislike and condemn the sort of story which was usually worked up into operatic libretti in those days, in which intrigue and illicit love formed the staple material. He expressed himself strongly on this subject, even criticising Mozart for having set Don Giovanni to music, saying that it degraded the art. So strongly did he feel about it that he seems to have thought almost any libretto would do, provided the moral sentiment contained in it were sufficiently prominent. Later, the experience which he gained with Fidelio showed him that the libretto of an opera is indeed a very important matter; then he went to the other extreme, and was unable to find anything which would satisfy him, although many libretti were submitted to him at various times during the remainder of his life. A quantity of them were found among his papers after his death. Bouilly's libretto Leonore, which had been set to music by two different composers before Beethoven took it in hand, was finally selected, and Sonnleithner was employed to translate it from the French. The name of the opera was changed to Fidelio, but the various overtures written for it are still known as the Leonore overtures.
Beethoven took up his quarters in the theatre again as soon as the libretto was ready for him and went to work at it with a will. But he was not at his best in operatic writing,—this symphonist, this creator of great orchestral forms. The opera was an alien soil to him; composition—never an easy matter to Beethoven, was more difficult than ever in the case of Fidelio. The sketch-books show the many attempts and alterations in the work, at its every stage. In addition, he was handicapped at the outset by an unsuitable libretto. The Spanish background, for one thing, was a clog, as his trend of thought and sympathies were thoroughly German. But this is a slight matter compared with the forbidding nature of the drama itself, with its prison scenes, its dungeons and general atmosphere of gloom. One dreary scene after another is unfolded, and the action never reaches the dignity of tragedy nor the depth of pathos which should be awakened by the portrayal of suffering. We are unable to feel that the two principal characters are martyrs; as one tiresome scene succeeds another, we come to care nothing whatever about them and are unable to sympathize with them in their suffering or rejoice in their deliverance. The first requisite in opera, it would appear, is that it be pervaded by an atmosphere of romanticism. Other things are necessary; the libretto must have dramatic situations; but above all, the romantic element must prevail. If it is difficult for the listener to become interested in an opera with such a libretto as is Fidelio, it must be doubly so for the composer who undertakes the task of writing music for it. A dull story hinders the play of fancy; the imagination remains dormant, and the product under such conditions has the air of being forced. The musician is in bonds.
Musically, it is a work of surpassing beauty; but there is a dissonance between music and libretto which gives the impression of something lacking; there is not the harmony which we expect in a work of this kind. Wagner has taught us better on these points. The music of Fidelio has force and grandeur; some of it has a sensuous beauty that reminds us of Mozart at his best. Had Beethoven's choice fallen to a better libretto, the result might have been an altogether better opera.
Fidelio affords a good instance of the fact that operatic composition, considered strictly as music, is not the highest form in which the art can be portrayed, and that, in itself, it is not so strictly confined to the domain of music as is the symphony, or the various forms of sacred music (the oratorio or the mass, for instance). It may, in the right hands, come to be a greater work of art, viewed in its entirety, than either of the forms just mentioned. In the hands of a man like Wagner, it undoubtedly is, but in such a case the result is achieved by means other than those obtained through the domain of music. Much is contributed by the literary quality of the libretto, its poetic and romantic qualities, its dramatic possibilities, as well as its stage setting and the ability of the singers to act well their parts. An opera is a combination of several arts, in which music is often subordinated. Not so in the case of sacred music, in which the entire portrayal rests absolutely on the musician's art. Of the works of the great composers who wrote both classes of music, those which are devoted to religious subjects will be found vastly superior in almost every instance, with the one exception of Mozart's and in the case of this composer, his Mass in B flat and the Requiem will bear comparison with any of his operas. With no regular income, Mozart was compelled to write operas in order to live, but his preference was for sacred music. Haydn, on the other hand, spent no time on grand opera. Through his connection with the Princes Esterhazy, which gave him an assured income from his twenty-ninth year to the end of his life, he was in a position to write only the style of music to which he was best adapted by his talents and preference.
Above all other considerations, the opera must be made to pay. The composers expected to make money from it, and its presentation was always accompanied by enormous expense. Everything conspired to get them to write what their audience would like, without considering too closely whether this was the best they were capable of producing. In those times all that people required of an opera was that it should entertain. If we compare the best opera before Wagner's time with such works as Bach's Grand Mass in B minor, or Beethoven's Mass in D, we will readily see that the composers of those times put their best thought into their sacred compositions. Bach, Protestant that he was, but with the vein of religious mysticism strong in him, which is usually to be found in highly endowed artistic natures (Wagner is an instance, also Liszt), was attracted by the beautiful text of the Mass, its stateliness and solemnity, and the world is enriched by an imperishable work of genius. It is significant that he wrote no opera, and Beethoven only one. Both composers probably regarded the opera as being less important artistically than the other great forms in which music is embodied.
In operatic composition, as we have seen, the musicians of those times were too apt to write down to their public. No such temptation came to them in their religious works, as no income was expected from this source. Here the composer could be independent of his public, so this branch of the art was developed to a much greater degree than the other. A high standard was thus reached and maintained in religious music.
Beethoven by temperament was not adapted to operatic composition. He was too much the philosopher, his aims being higher than were desired by an operatic audience of that time. He could best express himself in orchestral music, and his genius drew him irresistibly in this direction. This predilection appears throughout his works. In his purely orchestral compositions, his genius has absolute freedom. When he came to opera he found himself constantly hampered by new and untried conditions. He soon found that opera has to do with something besides music. Having once begun, however, he carried it through, perforce, by almost superhuman efforts.
Wagner, poet that he was, builded better. He had the temperament for opera. He was adapted to operatic composition as if he had been specially created for the purpose. Here was the union of the poet and the musician in the same individual. Knowing the importance of the drama, and aided by his literary instinct, he was able to select interesting subjects which were well adapted to musical treatment. It was the spirit of romanticism pervading these dramas of Wagner's which enabled him to weave such music about them. We cannot imagine him making good music to a poor libretto,—with Wagner the libretto and the music were of equal importance, the two usually having been produced simultaneously; his music fits the words so well that no other would be desired.
Early in the summer, Beethoven left his quarters in the theatre and went into the country nearby, where he could work with more freedom than in the city. No labor seems to have been too great for him in the composition of this work. The opera was finished early in the fall of 1805, and as soon as he returned to town he began with the rehearsals. Then he had almost as much work as in writing the opera, everything possible having been done to worry him. His simplicity and want of tact seem to have been very much in evidence at this time; he was like a child compared with the astute men of affairs with whom he now came in contact. His greatest difficulty, however, was with his singers. A man following so faithfully the intimations of his genius as did Beethoven, withal a man of such striking individuality and force of character, would be sure to disregard to some extent the capacity of his performers. His singers made no end of trouble, stating that their parts were unsingable and asking for alterations. Some of the members of the orchestra also complained about technical difficulties, but the master was obdurate, refusing to make any changes. Instead of placating them, by which means only, a good performance was possible as things went at that time, he overrode their wishes and would make no concessions whether in large or in small matters. To Beethoven, music as an art was the most serious fact in his existence; to the others, it was no more than a means of enjoyment or of subsistence. His point of view being so different from that of the others, it is not surprising that he was always at odds with them. Trifles often annoyed him more than gross derelictions. At one of the rehearsals the third bassoon player was absent and Beethoven was enraged. That anything short of illness or disaster should keep this man from his post was a piece of insolence, an insult to the art. Prince Lobkowitz was present, and in the effort to pacify him, made light of the affair; he told him that this man's absence did not matter much, as the first and second bassoonists were present, a line of argument that served to include the Prince in Beethoven's wrath. Hofsekretaer Mahler relates the denouement of the incident. On the way home, after the rehearsal, as he and Beethoven came in sight of the Lobkowitz Platz, Beethoven, with the delinquent third bassoonist still in his mind, could not resist crossing the Platz, and shouting into the great gateway of the palace, "Lobkowitzscher Esel" (ass of a Lobkowitz).
Meanwhile, the French army, with Napoleon at its head, was advancing on Vienna and almost at the time that the opera was ready for presentation, took possession of the city. This was on November 13, 1805. The imperial family, the members of the nobility and every one else who could do so, had left the city on the approach of the French forces, but this did not discourage Beethoven. The opera was ready and must be presented. He could not have expected much of an audience as the very people who were interested in the subject had left the city. It was actually put on the stage on November 20, the audience consisting, it appears, mainly of French officers. It is not to be supposed that such a work would appeal to them, as there was no ballet, and the melodrama, instead of containing good jokes and risque anecdotes, was simply the tale of a wife's devotion. No doubt the intendant of the theatre, as well as Beethoven and the whole company were anathematized freely. It was continued for three nights and then withdrawn.
The work involved was enormous, both in the composition and in getting it ready for the stage. The rewards during Beethoven's lifetime were always slow. In its original form the opera was considered too long for the patience of the average audience, and also in parts too abstruse, which latter was probably its chief fault. The idea of revising it does not seem to have occurred to Beethoven, even after it was withdrawn; it required the utmost diplomacy on the part of his friends, Prince Lichnowsky in particular, to bring this about.
Beethoven had taken extraordinary pains with it up to the time of its representation. To make alterations now would be to acknowledge himself in error. The opera, however, was the most ambitious work he had yet attempted; to make it a success it was necessary that it be revised and altered considerably. With this object in view, Beethoven was invited by Prince Lichnowsky to meet some friends at his house to discuss the opera. The singers, Roeke and Meyer, who appeared in the cast, were of the party; also Stephen von Breuning and Sonnleithner. The score was studied at the piano and freely criticised. When one of the singers plainly stated that several pieces should be omitted entire and other portions shortened, Beethoven's rage knew no bounds. The conflict lasted well into the night, Beethoven at bay, with all his friends pitted against him. He defended every attack on this child of his brain, the latest product of his genius, and at first refused any compromise, but better counsels finally prevailed, aided probably by the Princess Lichnowsky, who so often assumed the part of peacemaker. Beethoven consented to some important excisions, and an entire revision of the opera. Stephen von Breuning, who was somewhat of a poet, and had considerable literary ability, was commissioned to make the desired changes in the libretto, cutting it down to two acts from three. The conference lasted until one in the morning, when, the point being gained, the Prince ordered supper to be brought in. Being Germans and musicians, they finished the night in the utmost good humor, Beethoven being the best natured of all, once his consent to the revision had been gained.
He immediately set about writing a new overture for it, and that imperishable work of genius, the Third Leonore overture appeared. Here we have an epitome of the succeeding music of the opera, foreshadowing in dramatic language, the grief and despair, and the final deliverance and joy of the principal actors of the drama. Wagner says of this work, "It is no longer an overture, but the mightiest of dramas in itself." Here Beethoven could use his accustomed freedom once more. He was back again in the familiar realm of instrumental music, and the storm and stress of recent experiences no doubt supplied some of the material which went into it. It is frequently used as a concert work.
The opera was produced the following spring in the revised form and with the new overture. The wisdom of the revision was at once apparent, but a quarrel between Beethoven and the intendant of the theatre led to its final withdrawal after two representations. It did not see the light again until 1814.
It was about this time that Beethoven first met Cherubini, whose operas were favorites with the Vienna public. The Italian master made a stay of several months' duration in Vienna, and attended a performance of Fidelio.
THE ETERNAL FEMININE
If that beauty of Shiraz would take my heart in hand, I would give for her dark mole Samarkand and Bokhara. —HAFIZ.
In Beethoven's time, Vienna was the gayest capital in Europe, the Paris of the world. The population was 300,000, every nationality in Europe being represented. It was cosmopolitan in the widest sense. The Germans of course predominated; then there were Hungarians, Italians, Sclavs, Sczechs, Magyars, Poles and Turks. The Italian element was particularly strong, and these southern and eastern races with their tendency toward art in any form, and the particular bias of the Italians toward music had an important influence on the Germans, modifying their seriousness.
The theatres were splendidly equipped and there were at least four large orchestras. Concerts for the general public were not common, the orchestras being required for operatic performances in private houses, which were splendidly given, as well as for state balls and other functions. The chief business of the well-to-do (and Vienna was a rich city), was to gratify a love for music. The cultivated class lived a life of elegant leisure, music being its alpha and omega. As already stated, it was an established custom with the wealthy to maintain a small orchestra, consisting of four or five pieces for the performance of chamber-music in their homes. Prince Karl Lichnowsky gave concerts every Friday evening, frequently taking a part in the orchestra. Regular weekly concerts were given by Baron von Swieten, Prince Lobkowitz, Count Rasoumowsky and many others. It is stated that at this period there were ten private theatres in Vienna, each with its complement of actors. It was a common occurrence to give operettas at these private theatres,—the ordinary parts being taken by amateurs.
How could they, we naturally ask, get an audience, when so many performances were in progress, and how could the people get around to so many places? The answer is: these performances were given daily, including Sunday, and at all hours of the day, some concerts being given as early as six o'clock in the morning. It was indeed a "golden age for Beethoven," as Schindler remarks. Thayer gives a list of twenty-one great houses open to Beethoven, nine of which belonged to princes. The young musician was often the guest of honor at the various musical functions given by these people, and received much attention from illustrious persons who were attracted to him by the force of his character as well as his genius. Not in any degree a society man, rough in exterior and careless of appearance, he was sought after by the most exclusive of Vienna society.
That a man of such force and originality, such independence, should have won the lifelong friendship of those of his own sex, goes without saying. His very scorn for the conventions and refinements of life, the manliness which was reflected in his every act, in the tones of his voice and the expression of his face, all this, united to such talents, would be sure to win the enthusiastic admiration of his fellow-men. But that the beautiful society women of the capital should have been attracted to a man so uncouth may at first sight seem surprising, until we consider that he attracted them in spite of these drawbacks and on account of other qualities, such as his sensibility, his earnestness and devotion to his art, and the wealth of his emotional and intellectual nature. He thoroughly enjoyed standing so well socially with these ladies, who in family connections were above him, but who were willing to sit at his feet in homage to his genius. Beginning with hero worship on the part of these devotees, the sentiment usually developed into the more intimate relation of friendship or love. The "Ewig Weibliche" appears constantly in his music and was always in his life. He formed many romantic attachments which may not always have been Platonic, but they were always pure. Beethoven had as chivalrous a regard for women as had any knight of the middle ages.
Among those with whom he became intimate are the Baroness Ertmann, the Countess Erdoedy, the sisters of the Count of Brunswick and many others. It is interesting to note the affectionate familiarity which these ladies permitted him. Taking into account the extreme sensibility of the artistic temperament and the sentimental character of the Germans, it is still surprising to meet with a letter to the Countess Erdoedy, which he begins: "Liebe, liebe, liebe, liebe, liebe Graefin" ("Dear, dear, dear, dear, dear Countess"), although the letter itself is simple enough and ends: "Ihr wahrer Freund und Verehrer." He begins another letter to this lady in a strain courtly and dignified, in marked contrast to the excessive warmth of the previous example: "Alles Gute und Schoene meiner lieben, verehrten, mir theure Freundin, von ihrem wahren und verehrenden Freund." The Countess Erdoedy, who is described as being witty, cultivated and beautiful, exercised a very strong fascination on the susceptible heart of our master, and on her side, she seems to have been powerfully drawn to him. The friendship lasted many years. Music, the bond that united them, sanctified their intimacy and kept it always on a high level. Beethoven lived at her house for a time. He used to allude to her as his father confessor. Madame Erdoedy erected in honor of Beethoven, in the park of one of her seats in Hungary, a temple, the entrance to which is decorated with a characteristic inscription expressing her homage to the great composer. Later in life she was banished and died in Munich.