Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/185

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BEETHOVEN.
173
 

hands at once. The result was a violent quarrel, which drove Beethoven off to Baden, and estranged the two friends for a time. We have Beethoven's version of the affair in two letters to Ries—July, and July 24, 1804—angry implacable letters, but throwing a strong light on his character and circumstances, showing that it was not the loss of the money that provoked him, but an imputation of meanness; showing further that here, as so often elsewhere, his brother was his evil genius; and containing other highly interesting personal traits.

Besides the difficulties of the apartments there were those with servants. A man whose principles were so severe as to make him say of a servant who had told a falsehood that she was not pure at heart, and therefore could not[1] make good soup; who punished his cook for the staleness of the eggs by throwing the whole batch at her one by one, and who distrusted the expenditure of every halfpenny—must have had much to contend with in his kitchen. The books give full details on this subject, which need not be repeated, and indeed are more unpleasant to contemplate than many other drawbacks and distresses of the life of this great man.

In the earlier part of his career money was no object to him, and he speaks as if his purse were always open to his friends.[2] But after the charge of his nephew was thrust upon his hands a great change in this, as in other respects, came over him. After 1813 complaints of want of money abound in his letters, and he resorted to all possible means of obtaining it. The sum which he had been enabled to invest after the congress he considered as put by for his nephew, and therefore not to be touched, and he succeeded in maintaining it till his death.

It is hard to arrive at any certain conclusion on the nature and progress of Beethoven's deafness, owing to the vagueness of the information. Difficulty of hearing appears first to have shown itself about 1798 in singing and buzzing in his ears, loss of power to distinguish words, though he could hear the tones of voice, and great dislike to sudden loud noise. It was even then a subject of the greatest pain to his sensitive nature;[3] like Byron with his club-foot he lived in morbid dread of his infirmity being observed, a temper which naturally often kept him silent; and when a few years later[4] he found himself unable to hear the pipe of a peasant playing at a short distance in the open air, it threw him into the deepest melancholy, and evoked the well-known letter to his brother in 1802, which goes by the name of his Will. Still many of the anecdotes of his behavour in society show that during the early years of the century his deafness was but partial; and Ries, intimate as he was with his master, admits that he did not know it till told[5] by S. Breuning. It is obvious from Schindler's statement that he must have been able to hear the yellowhammers in the trees above him when he was composing the Pastoral Symphony in 1807 and 1808. A few facts may be mentioned bearing on the progress of the malady. In 1805 he was able to judge severely of the nuances in the rehearsal of his opera. In 1807, 1809, 1813 he conducted performances of his own works. In 1814 he played his B flat trio—his last appearance in public in concerted music. From 1816 to 1818 he used an ear trumpet.[6] At the opening of the Josephstadt Theatre in 1822, he conducted the performance—nearly to ruin it is true, but at the same time he was able to detect that the soprano was not singing in time, and to give her the necessary advice. A subsequent attempt (in Nov. 1822) to conduct 'Fidelio' led to his having to quit the orchestra, when his mortification was so great that Schindler treats the occurrence as an epoch in his life.[7] At this time the hearing of the right ear was almost completely gone; what he did hear—amongst other things a musical box[8] playing the trio in 'Fidelio,' and Cherubini's overture to 'Medea'—was with the left ear only. After this he conducted no more, though he stood in the orchestra at the performance of the 'Choral Symphony,' and had to be turned round that he might see the applause which his music was evoking. From this to the end all communication with him was carried on by writing, for which purpose he always had a book of rough paper, with a stout pencil, at hand.

The connexion between this cruel malady and the low tone of his general health was closer than is generally supposed. The post mortem examination showed that the liver was shrunk to half its proper size, and was hard and tough like leather, with numerous nodules the size of a bean woven into its texture and appearing on its surface. There were also marks of ulceration of the pharynx, about the tonsils and Eustachian tubes. The arteries of the ears were athrumatous, and the auditory nerves—especially that of the right ear—were degenerated and to all appearance paralysed. The whole of these appearances are most probably the result of syphilitic affections at an early period of his life.[9] The pains in the head, indigestion, colic, and jaundice, of which he frequently complains, and the deep depression which gives the key to so many of his letters, would all follow naturally from the chronic inflammation and atrophy implied by the state of the liver, and the digestive derangements to which it would give rise, aggravated by the careless way in which he lived, and by the bad food, hastily devoured, at irregular intervals, in which he too often indulged. His splendid constitution and his extreme fondness for the open air must have been of great assistance to him. How thoroughly he enjoyed the country we have already seen, for, like Mendelssohn, he was a great walker, and in Vienna no day, however busy or however wet, passed without its 'constitutional'—a walk, or rather run, twice round the ramparts,

  1. See Nohl, Leben, iii, 1941.
  2. Letter to Wegeler, June 29, 1801.
  3. Letters to Amanda (1800); Wegeler, June 29 Nov. 16 (1803). Ries, p. 98.
  4. Ries, p. 98
  5. Schindler, ii. 170.
  6. Ibid. 11.
  7. Ibid. 3.
  8. This diagnosis, which I owe to the kindness of my friend Dr. Lander Brunton, is confirmed by the assistance of two prescriptions of which, winse the passage in the text was written, I have been told by Mr. Thayer, who heard of them from Dr. Bartolini.