Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/176

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
164
BEETHOVEN.

second girl to the Beethovens—Marie Margaretha Josepha, May 4.

In 1787 occurred the first real event in Beethoven's life—his first journey to Vienna. Concerning this there is an absolute want of dates and details. Some one must have been found to supply the means for so expensive a journey, but no name is preserved. As to date, his duties as organist would probably prevent his leaving Bonn before the work of Holy Week and Easter was over. The two persons who were indelibly impressed on his recollection by the visit[1] were Mozart and the Emperor Joseph. From the former he had a few lessons, and carried away a distinct—and not very appreciative[2]—recollection of his playing; but Mozart must have been so much occupied by the death of his father (May 28) and the approaching production of 'Don Giovanni' (Oct. 29) that it is probable they had not much intercourse. The well-known story of Beethoven's introduction to him, when divested of the ornaments[3] of Seyfried and others, stands as follows:—Mozart asked him to play, but thinking that his performance was a prepared piece, paid little attention to it. Beethoven seeing this entreated Mozart to give him a subject, which he did; and the boy, getting excited with the occasion, played so finely that Mozart, stepping softly into the next room, said to his friends there, 'Pay attention to him; he will make a noise in the world some day or other.' His visit seems not to have lasted more than three months, but, as we have said, all certain information is wanting. He returned by Augsburg, where he had to borrow three Carolins (£3) from Dr. von Schaden. His return was hastened by the illness of his mother, who died of consumption July 17, 1787, and his account of himself in a letter[4] to Von Schaden, written seven weeks after that date, is not encouraging. A short time more and the little Margaretha followed her mother, on Nov. 25, so that 1787 must have closed in very darkly. The only compositions known to belong to that year are a Trio in E♭,[5] and a Prelude in F minor for Piano solo.[6] However, matters began to mend; he made the acquaintance of the von Breuning family—his first permanent friends—a mother, three boys, and a girl. He gave lessons to the girl and the youngest boy, and soon became an inmate of the house, a far better one than he had before frequented and on terms of close intimacy with them all. The family was a cultivated and intellectual one, the mother—the widow of a man of some distinction—a woman of remarkable sense and refinement; the children, more or less of his own age. Here he seems to have been first initiated into the literature of his country, and to have acquired the love of English authors which remained with him through life. The intimacy rapidly became strong. He often passed whole days and nights with his friends, and accompanied them on excursions of several weeks duration to their uncle's house at Kerpen, and elsewhere. At the same time he made the acquaintance of Count Waldstein, a young nobleman eight years his senior, an amateur musician, whose acquaintance was peculiarly useful in encouraging and developing Beethoven's talent at a time when it naturally wanted support. On Waldstein Beethoven exercised the same charm that he did later on the proud aristocracy of Vienna. The Count used to visit him in his poor room, gave him a piano, got him pecuniary help under the guise of allowances from the Elector, and in other ways sympathised with him. Either now or shortly afterwards, Beethoven composed a set of variations for 4 hands on a theme of the Count's,[7] and in 1805 made him immortal by dedicating to him the grand sonata (op. 53), which is usually known by his name. Another acquaintance was the Countess of Hatzfeld, to whom he dedicated a set of Variations, which were for long his showpiece.

In the summer of 1788, when Beethoven was 17½ years old, the Elector altered the plan[8] of his music, and formed a national theatre on the model of that of his brother the Emperor Joseph. Reicha was made director, and Neefe pianist and stage-manager. The band was 31 strong, and contains names such as Ries, the two Rombergs, Simrock, Stumpff—which often recur in Beethoven's life. He himself played second viola, both in the opera and the chapel, and was still assistant Hof-organist. In this position he remained for four years; the opera répertoire was large, good, and various, the singers were of the best, and the experience must have been of great practical use to him. Among the operas played in 89 and 90 were Mozart's 'Entführung,' 'Figaro,' and 'Don Giovanni'—the two first apparently often. Meantime Johann Beethoven was going from bad to worse. Stephen Breuning once saw Ludwig take his drunken father out of the hands of the police, and this could hardly have been the only occasion. At length, on Nov. 20, 1789, a decree was issued ordering a portion of the father's salary to be paid over to the son, who thus, before he was nineteen, became the head of the family.

The compositions of 1789 and 90 are 2 Preludes for the Piano (op. 39), 24 Variations on Righini's 'Venni[9] Amore,' a Song 'Der[10] freie Mann,' and probably a Cantata on the death of the Emperor Joseph II, still in MS.[11] The only extra musical event of this year [App. p.533 "1790"] was the visit of Haydn and Salomon on their road to London. They arrived on Christmas Day. One of Haydn's Masses was performed; he was complimented by the Elector, and entertained the chief musicians at dinner at his lodgings. 1791 opened well for Beethoven with a 'Ritter Ballet,' a kind of masked ball, in antique style. Count Waldstein appears to have arranged the plan, and Beethoven composed the music; but his name does not seem to have been connected with it at the time, and it remained unpublished till 1872, when it appeared arranged for piano. In the autumn the troupe accompanied the Elector to Mergentheim, near Aschaffenburg,

  1. Schindler 1. 15.
  2. Thayer II. 363.
  3. See Jahn, in Thayer, 1. 164.
  4. Nohl, Briefe, No. 2.
  5. B. & H. 86.
  6. Ibid. 45.
  7. B. & H. 122.
  8. Thayer, i. 182.
  9. B. & H. 178.
  10. Ibid. 232.
  11. Thayer, i. 232. He died Feb. 20, 1790.