Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/186

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174 BEETHOVEN.

a part of the city long since obliterated; or farther into the environs.

Beethoven was an early riser, and from the time he left his bed till dinner which in those days was taken at, or shortly after, noon—the day was devoted to completing at the piano and writing down the compositions which he had previously conceived and elaborated in his sketch-books, or in his head. At such times the noise which he made playing and roaring was something tremendous. He hated interruption while thus engaged, and would do and say the most horribly rude things if disturbed. Dinner—when he remembered it—he took sometimes in his own room, sometimes at an eating-house, latterly at the house of his friends the Breunings; and no sooner was this over than he started on his walk. He was fond of making appointments to meet on the glacis. The evening was spent at the theatre or in society. He went nowhere without his sketch-books, and indeed these seem to distinguish him from other composers almost as much as his music does. They are perhaps the most remarkable relic that any artist or literary man has left behind him. They afford us the most precious insight into Beethoven's method of composition. They not only show—what we know from his own admission—that he was in the habit of working at three, and even four, things at once,[1] but without them we should never realise how extremely slow and tentative he was in composing. Audacious and impassioned beyond every one in extemporising, the moment he takes his pen in hand he becomes the most cautious and hesitating of men. It would almost seem as if this great genius never saw his work as a whole until it actually approached completion. It grew like a plant or tree, and one thing produced another.[2] There was nothing sudden or electric about it, all was gradual and organic, as slow as a work of nature and as permanent. One is prompted to believe, not that he had the idea first and then expressed it, but that it often came in the process of finding the expression. There is hardly a bar in his music of which it may not be said with confidence that it has been re-written a dozen times. Of the air 'O Hoffnung' in Fidelio the sketch-books show 18 attempts, and of the concluding chorus 10. Of many of the brightest gems of the opera, says Thayer, the first ideas are so trivial that it would be impossible to admit that they were Beethoven's if they were not in his own handwriting. And so it is with all his works. It is quite astonishing to find the length of time during which some of his best-known instrumental melodies remained in his thoughts till they were finally used, or the crude vague commonplace shape in which they were first written down. The more they are elaborated the more fresh and spontaneous do they become.

To quote but two instances out of many. The theme of the Andante in the C minor Symphony, completed in 1808, is first found in a sketch-book of the year 1800, mixed with memoranda for the 6 Quartets, and in the following form:[3]

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \clef bass \key aes \major \partial 4 \relative a { aes8. bes16 c4 c8.[ bes16 aes8. g16] | g4 f bes8. c16 | des8. c16 c8. bes16 bes8. aes16 | aes4 g } }

Another is the first subject of the Allegro in the Sonata Op. 106. It first appears[4] thus—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \time 5/4 \key bes \major \relative d''' { d2 d8 d ees d r4 } }

then, with a slight advance,

{ \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \key bes \major \time 3/2 \clef bass \partial 8 \relative d { d8 d'2 \clef treble r4. d'8 d d ees d d4 r r2 } }

next

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn \clef bass \relative e, {ees8 \bar "|" ees''1 \clef treble g'8 g[ g aes g] \bar "|" g4 ees r2 \bar "|" } }

then

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \key d \major \relative f''' { \ottava #1 fis2 fis4 g8 fis fis4 d r2 } }

and finally, after several pages more of writing and rewriting, it assumes its present incisive and spontaneous shape.

In these books every thought that occurred to him was written down at the moment; he even kept one by his bedside for use in the night.[5] Abroad or at home it was all the same, only out of doors he made his notes in pencil, and inked them over on his return to the house. It is as if he had no reliance whatever on his memory. He began the practice as a boy[6] and maintained it to the last. In the sale catalogue of his effects more than 50 of such books are included. Many of them have been parted and dispersed, but some remain intact. They are usually of large coarse music paper, oblong, 200 or even more pages, 16 staves to the page, and are covered from beginning to end, often over the margin as well, with close crowded writing. There is something very affecting in the sight of these books,[7] and in being thus brought so close to this mighty genius and made to realise the incessant toil and pains which he bestowed on all his works, small and great. In this he agreed with Goethe, who says, à propos to his 'Ballad,' 'Whole years of reflection are comprised in it, and I made three or four trials before I could bring it to its present shape.'[8] The sketch-books also show how immense was the quantity of his ideas. 'Had he,' says Nottebohm,[9] 'carried out all the symphonies which are begun in these books we should have at least fifty.'

But when, after all this care and hesitation, the works were actually completed, nothing ex-

  1. Letter to Wegeler, June 1800.
  2. Thus the 3-bar rhythm of the Scherzo of the 9th Symphony gradually came as he wrote and re-wrote a fugue subject apparently destined for a very different work. Nottebohm N. B. XXIII
  3. First given by Thayer, Chron. Verseichniss. No. 140. For further information on this interesting subject see Nottebohm's Ein Skissenbuch Beethoven's.
  4. Nottebohm, N. B. VII.
  5. Breuning, 98.
  6. Letter, July 23, 1815.
  7. There is one in the MS. department of the British Museum.
  8. Conversations with Echermann, Oxenford's translation, ii, 112.
  9. Neue Beethoveniana, XIII.