Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/197

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
BEETHOVEN.
185
 

together, and agreed as well as two men of such strong character and open speech were likely to agree. Cherubini presented the composer of 'Fidelio' with a copy of the Méthode of the Conservatoire, and the scores of Médée and 'Faniska' are conspicuous in the sale catalogue of Beethoven's scanty library.[1]

One proof that 'Fidelio' was complete before his return to town is afforded by the fact that he allowed others to hear it. On one occasion he played it to a select set of friends,[2] when Ries (as already mentioned) was excluded; and thus—as he was shortly afterwards called to Bonn by the conscription—lost his chance of hearing the opera at all in its first shape. That Beethoven's voice in singing was 'detestable'[3] will not have diminished the interest of the trial. The work of rehearsing the music now began, and was evidently attended with enormous difficulties, especially in regard to the singers. They complained that their passages were unsingable, while Beethoven on his part was determined to make no alterations and apparently none were made.[4] With the band he fared little better. He even invokes his deafness as an assistance. Writing only two days before the first performance, he says,[5] 'Pray try to persuade Seyfried to conduct my opera to-day, as I wish to see and hear it from a distance; in this way my patience will at least not be so severely tried by the rehearsal as when I am close enough to hear my music so bungled. I really do believe it is done on purpose. Of the wind I will say nothing, but—. All pp. cresc., all decresc., and all f. ff. may as well be struck out of my music, since not one of them is attended to. I lose all desire to write anything more if my music is to be so played.' And again,[6] 'the whole business of the opera is the most distressing thing in the world.'

The performance was fixed for Wednesday, Nov. 20. External events could hardly have been more unpropitious. The occupation of Ulm and Salzburg had been followed on Nov. 13 by the entry of the French army into Vienna. Bonaparte took up his quarters at Schönbrunn; the Emperor of Austria, the chief nobility and other wealthy persons and patrons of music had deserted the town, and it was a conquered city tenanted by Frenchmen. It was in such circumstances that 'Fidelio, oder die eheliche Liebe' was produced. The opera was originally in 3 acts. It was performed on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd, and was then withdrawn by the composer.[7] The overture on these occasions appears to have been that known as 'Leonora No. 2'. It was felt by Beethoven's friends that, in addition to the drawbacks of the French occupation and of the advanced character of the music, the opera was too long; and a meeting was held at Prince Lichnowsky's house, when the whole work was gone through at the piano, and after a battle lasting from 7 till 1 in the morning, Beethoven was induced to sacrifice three entire numbers. It is characteristic of Beethoven that though furious and unpleasant to the very greatest degree while the struggle was going on, yet when once the decision was made he was in his most genial temper.[8] The libretto was at once put into the hands of Stephen Breuning, by whom it was reduced to two acts and generally improved, and in this shortened form, and with the revised Overture known as 'Leonora No. 3,' it was again performed on March 29, 1806, but, owing to Beethoven's delays over the alterations, with only one band rehearsal. It was repeated on April 10, each time to fuller and more appreciative houses than before, and then, owing to a quarrel between Beethoven and Baron Braun, the intendant of the theatre, suddenly and finally withdrawn. Attempts were made to bring it out at Berlin, but they came to nothing, and this great work was then practically shelved for seven or eight years.

It is an astonishing proof of the vigour and fertility of the mind of this extraordinary man that in the midst of all this work and worry he should have planned and partly carried out three of his greatest instrumental compositions. We have the assurance of Mr. Nottebohm[9] that the Piano Concerto in G and the Symphony in C minor were both begun, and the two first movements of the latter composed, in 1805. The two last of the String Quartets, op. 59, appear to have been written during this winter before that in F,[10] which now stands first. There are many indications in his letters that his health was at this time anything but good, and the demands of society on him must have been great. Against them he could arm himself by such reflections as the following pencil[11] note in the margin of a sketch-book of this very date. 'Struggling as you are in the vortex of society, it is yet possible, notwithstanding all social hindrances, to write operas. Let your deafness be no longer a secret—even in your Art!'

On April 10, 1806, 'Fidelio' was performed for the last time; on May 25[12] the marriage contract of Caspar Carl Beethoven with Johanna Reis was signed—harbinger of unexpected suffering for Ludwig—and on May 26 he began the scoring of [App. p.533 "he was at work on"] the first of the three Quartets, which were afterwards dedicated to the Russian Ambassador, Count Rasoumoffsky, as op. 59. So says his own writing at the head of the autograph.[13] These Quartets, the Russian airs in which it is natural to suppose were suggested by the Ambassador (a brother-in-law of Prince Lichnowsky), are another link in the chain of connection between the republican composer and the great Imperial court of Petersburg, which originated some of his noblest works.

His favourite summer villages had been defiled by the French, and perhaps for this reason

  1. Thayer, Chron. Verseichniss, pp. 180, 181.
  2. Ries, 102.
  3. Aberheulish; Czerny, in Thayer, ii. 202.
  4. Schindler (1860), 1. 125, 126.
  5. Letter to Meyer.
  6. To Treitschke, im Schindler, i. 136.
  7. Breuning's letter of June 2, 1804.
  8. See Rosckel's account of the whole transaction in Tahyer, ii. 285.
  9. Nottebohm, Catalogue', op. 67 and 68.'
  10. Letter to Brunswick, May 11.
  11. Thayer, ii. 311.
  12. Thayer, ii, 311.
  13. Catalogue, op. 59.