Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/187

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BEETHOVEN.
175
 

ternal made him change them. No convenience of singers or players weighed for a moment against the integrity of his finished composition. When Sonntag and Ungher protested against the unsingable passages in the Ninth Symphony, and besought him to bring them within the compass of their voices, 'Nein und immer nein,' was the dry answer.[1] When Kraft, the cellist in the Schuppanzigh Quartet, complained that a passage 'did not lie within his hand,' the answer was 'it must lie'—'muss liegen.'[2]

A man to whom his art was so emphatically the business of his life, and who was so insatiable in his standard of perfection, must have been always advancing. To him more than to any other musician may be applied Goethe's words on Schiller:—'Every week he altered and grew more complete, and every time I saw him he appeared to me to have advanced since the last in knowledge, learning, and judgment.'[3] It is no wonder then that he did not care for his early works, and would sometimes even have destroyed 'Adelaide,'[4] the Septet, and others of his youthful pieces, if he could. Towards the end of his life he heard a friend practising his 32 Variations[5] in C minor. After listening for some time he said 'Whose is that?' 'Yours,' was the answer.' 'Mine? That piece of folly mine?' was his retort; 'Oh, Beethoven, what an ass you were in those days!' A good deal of this may have been momentary caprice; but making all allowance, one can imagine his feelings at the close of his life on receiving a commission from an English amateur for a 'Symphony in the style of his Second or of his Septet,' or on reading the contemporary effusions on the Eroica and C minor Symphonies, in which his honest and well-meaning critics[6] entreated him to return to the clearness and conciseness of his early works.

Hardly less characteristic than the sketch- books are his diaries or journals, in which the most passionate and personal reflections, resolutions, prayers, aspirations, complaints, are mixed up with memorandums of expenses and household matters, notes about his music, rules for his conduct, quotations from books, and every other conceivable kind of entry. These books have been torn up and dispersed as autographs; but a copy of one extending from 1812 to 1818 fortunately exists, and has been edited with copious notes and elucidations by Heir Nohl, the whole throwing great light on that unfortunate period of his life. A ray of light is also occasionally to be gained from the conversation-books already mentioned, some of which have been preserved, though as Beethoven's answers were usually spoken this source is necessarily imperfect.

If now we ask what correspondence there is between the traits and characteristics thus imperfectly sketched and Beethoven's music, it must be confessed that the question is a difficult one to answer. In one point alone the parallel is obvious—namely, the humour, which is equally salient in both. In the finale of the 7th and 8th Symphonies there are passages which are the exact counterparts of the rough jokes and horseplay of which we have already seen some instances. In these we almost hear his loud laugh. The Scherzo of Symphony No. 2, where the F# chord is so suddenly taken and so forcibly held, might almost be a picture of the unfortunate Kellner forced to stand still while the dish of stew was poured over his head. The bassoons in the opening and closing movements of No. 8 are inimitably humorous; and so on in many other instances which will occur to every one. But when we leave humour and go to other points, where in the life shall we look for the grandeur and beauty which distinguish the music? Neither in letters nor anecdotes do we find anything answering to the serene beauty of the slow movements (No. 2, No. 4, No. 9), or the mystic tone of such passages as those of the horns at the end of the Trio of the Eroica or of certain phrases in the finale of the Choral Fantasia and of the Choral Symphony, which lift one so strangely out of time into eternity. These must represent a state of mental absorption when all heaven was before his eyes, and in which he retired within himself far beyond the reach of outward things, save his own divine power of expression.

Equally difficult is it to see anything in Beethoven's life answering to the sustained nobility and dignity of his first movements, or of such a piece as the 'Overture to Leonora, No. 3.' And then if we come to the most individual and characteristic part of all Beethoven's artistic self, the process by which his music was built up—the extraordinary caution which actuated him throughout, the hesitation, the delays, the incessant modification of his thoughts, the rejection of the first impressions—of the second—of the third—in favour of something only gradually attained to, the entire subordination of his own peculiarities to the constant thought of his audience, and of what would endure rather than what pleased him at first—to all this there is surely nothing at all corresponding in his life, where his habit was emphatically a word and a blow. The fact is that, like all musicians, only in a greater degree than any other, in speech Beethoven was dumb, and often had no words for his deepest and most characteristic feelings. The musician has less connexion with the outside world than any other artist, and has to turn inward and seek his art in the deepest recesses of his being only.[7] This must naturally make him less disposed to communicate with others by the ordinary channels of speech and action, and will account for much of the irritability and uncertainty which often characterise his dealings with his fellow men. But the feelings are there, and if we look closely enough into the life we shall be able to detect their existence often where we least expect it. In Beethoven, for example, what was his treatment of his nephew—the strong devotion which seized him

  1. Schindler, p. 154.
  2. Thayer, ii. 58.
  3. Eckermann. Jan, 18, 1825.
  4. Letter to Matthison, Aug. 4, 1800. Czerny, in Thayer, ii. 98; also 195.
  5. Thayer, ii. 324.
  6. See the quotations in Thayer, ii. 275.
  7. Goethe, Wilhem Meisters Wunderjahre, Bk. 11, chap. 9.