Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/182

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
170 BEETHOVEN.

in the fashion, wore silk stockings, perruque, long boots, and sword, carried a double eye-glass and a seal-ring. But dress must have been as unbearable to him[1] as etiquette, and it did not last; 'he was meanly dressed,' says one of his adorers, 'and very ugly to look at, but full of nobility and fine feeling, and highly cultivated.'[2] Czerny first saw him in his own room, and there his beard was nearly half an inch long, his black hair stood up in a thick shock, his ears were filled with wool which had apparently been soaked in some yellow substance, and his clothes were made of a loose hairy stuff, which gave him the look of Robinson Crusoe. But we know that he never wore his good clothes at home;[3] at any rate the impression he usually made was not so questionable as this. Those who saw him for the first time were often charmed by the eager cordiality of his address, and by the absence of the bearishness and gloom[4] which even then were attributed to him. His face may have been ugly, but all admit that it was remarkably expressive. When lost in thought and abstracted his look would naturally be gloomy, and at such times it was useless to expect attention from him; but on recognising a friend his smile was peculiarly genial and winning.[5] He had the breadth of jaw which distinguishes so many men of great intellect; the mouth firm and determined, the lips protruded with a look almost of fierceness: but his eyes were the special feature of the face, and it was in them that the earnestness and sincerity of his character beamed forth. They were black, not large but bright, and when under the influence of inspiration—the raptus of Madame von Breuning—they dilated in a peculiar way. His head was large, the forehead both high and broad, and the hair abundant. It was originally black, but in the last years of his life, though as thick as ever, became quite white, and formed a strong contrast to the red colour[6] of his complexion. Beard or moustache he never wore. His teeth were very white and regular, and good up to his death;[7] in laughing he shewed them much. The portraits and busts of Beethoven are with few exceptions more or less to blame; they either idealise him into a sort of Jupiter Olympus, or they rob him of all expression. It must have been a difficult face to take, because of the constant variety in its expression, as well as the impatience of the sitter. The most trustworthy[8] likenesses are (1) the miniature by Hornemann, taken in 1802, and photographed in Breuning's 'Schwarzspanierhaus' (Vienna, 1874); (2) the head by Latronne, engraved by Höfel, and (badly) by Riedel for the A. M. Z., 1817; (3) the little full length sketch by Lyser, to the accuracy of which Breuning expressly testifies, except that the hat should be straight on the head, not at all on one side.

Page 182 (A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1).jpg

He was below the middle height not more than 5 feet 5 inches; but broad across the shoulders and very firmly built—'the image of strength.'[9] His hands were much covered with hair, the fingers strong and short (he could barely span a tenth), and the tips broad, as if pressed out with long practising from early youth. He was very particular as to the mode of holding the hands and placing the fingers, in which he was a follower of Emanuel Bach, whose Method he employed in his earlier days. In extempore playing he used the pedal far more than one would expect from his published sonatas, and this made his quick playing confused, but in Adagios he played with divine clearness and expression.[10] His attitude at the piano was perfectly quiet and dignified, with no approach to grimace, except to bend down a little towards the keys as his deafness increased.[11] This is remarkable, because as a conductor his motions were most extravagant.[12] At a pianissimo he would crouch down so as to be hidden by the desk, and then as the crescendo increased, would gradually rise, beating all the time, until at the fortissimo he would spring into the air with his arms extended as if wishing to float on the clouds. When, as was sometimes the case after he became deaf, he lost his place, and these motions did not coincide with the music, the effect was very unfortunate, though not so unfortunate as it would have been had

  1. 'It is no object to me to have my hair dressed,' says he, à propos to a servant who possessed that accomplishement, Feb. 25, 1818.
  2. Countess Gallenberg, in Thayer, ii. 172.
  3. Letter of June 15, 1825.
  4. Spohr, Selbstbiog. 198. E.B., in Thayer ii, 297.
  5. Bochlitz, Für Freunde d. Tonkwast, iv. 380; and the charming account (by a niece of Dr. Burney) in the Harmonincon, Dec. 1825.
  6. Sir Julius Benedict's recollection.
  7. Breuning, Aus dem Schwarspanierhaus, p. 67.
  8. I heartily wish it were in my power to give these two portraits, so full of character and so unlike the ordinary engravings. The first of the two has a special interest as having been sent by Beethoven to Breuning as a pledge of reconciliation. See the letter p. 192.
  9. Seyfried, Biogr. Notizen, 13.—'In that limited space was concentrated the pluck of twenty battalions.'—Eothen, ch. xviii.
  10. Czerny, in Thayer, ii. 318.
  11. Thayer, ii. 236.
  12. Seyfried, p. 17. confirmed by Spohr. Selbstbiog. I. 201.