Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/216

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
204
BEETHOVEN.
 

creations, founded on nothing previous, but absolutely new in style, idea, and form.

In the later quartets, it must be admitted that he wandered further away from the old paths; the thought there seems everything and the form almost nothing. And this fact, as much as the obscurity and individuality of the thoughts themselves and their apparent want of connexion until they have become familiar, is perhaps the cause that these noble works are so difficult to understand. The forms, depend upon it, were founded in reason and nature. They grew through long periods to be what Haydn fixed them at; and as long as the thoughts of composers did not burst their limits they were perfect. Beethoven came, and he first enlarged and modified them, adhering however to their fundamental principle of recurrence and recapitulation, till in the end, withdrawn more and more into himself by his deafness, he wrote down what he felt, often without thinking of the exigences of those who were to hear him. This however only applies to the later Quartets. The ninth Symphony and the last Pianoforte Sonatas are as strictly in form, and as coherent and intelligible, as could be desired.

4. A striking instance of this loyalty is found in Beethoven's treatment of the 'Introduction.' This—a movement in slow time, preceding the first Allegro—forms part of the original design of the overture by Lully, and is found in nine out of ten of Handel's overtures. Haydn often has one in his symphonies, usually 8 to 12 bars long, occasionally as much as 20. Mozart has prefixed similar prefaces to some of his works, such as the Symphony in E flat, the Quintet for Piano and Wind instruments, and the famous Quartet in C, dedicated to Haydn. Beethoven, besides placing one before his Quintet for Piano and Wind (op. 16), which, as already remarked, is like a challenge to Mozart, has one to the Sonata Pathétique and to the first Symphony. In the last of these cases it is 12 bars long. In the 2nd Symphony it expands to 33 bars long, and increases largely in development. But even this is a mere preface when compared with the noble and impressive movements which usher in the Allegros of the 4th and 7th Symphonies—long and independent movements, the latter no less than 80 bars in length, full of important and independent ideas, and of the grandest effect.

In all the instances mentioned—the Succession of Keys, the Episodes, the Coda, the Introduction—Beethoven's modifications seem to have sprung from the fact of his regarding his music less as a piece of technical performance than his predecessors had perhaps done, and more as the expression of the ideas with which his mind was charged. The ideas were too wide and too various to be contained in the usual limits, and therefore the limits had to be enlarged. He regards first what he has to say—his thought—and how he shall convey and enforce and reiterate that thought, so as to express it to his hearer exactly as he thinks it, without being careful to find an old formula in which to couch it. Even consecutive fifths were no hindrance to him—they gave the exact sound in which he wished to convey his idea of the moment; and therefore he used them as naturally, as a speaker might employ at a particular juncture, with the best effect, an expression usually quite inadmissible. No doubt other musicians had used similar liberties; but not to the same extent, because no one before had been gifted with so independent and original a nature. But in Beethoven the fact was connected with the peculiar position he had taken in society, and with the new ideas which the general movement of freedom at the end of the eighteenth century, and the French Revolution in particular, had forced even into such strongholds as the Austrian courts. People who were the servants of archbishops and princes, and moved about with the rest of the establishment in the train of their master, who wore powder and pigtail and red-heeled shoes, and were forced to wait in ante-rooms and regulate their conduct strictly by etiquette, and habitually keep down their passions under decorous rules and forms, could not give their thoughts and emotions the free and natural vent which they would have had without the perpetual curb of such restraints and the habits they must have engendered. But Beethoven, like Mirabeau, had 'swallowed the formulas' of the day; he had thrown over etiquette, and, roturier as he was, lived on absolute equality with the best aristocracy of Vienna. What he felt he said, both in society and in his music, and the result is before us. The great difference is, as we have already remarked, that whereas in his ordinary intercourse he was extremely abrupt and careless of effect, in his music he was exactly the reverse; painstaking, laborious, and never satisfied till he had conveyed his ideas in unmistakeable language.

5. The Scherzo stands perhaps in a different category from the three features already mentioned. It is less of a modification and more of a distinct new creation. The word is met with in Haydn and Mozart, but in a different sense to that in which Beethoven uses it, and apparently neither of those masters have it in a symphony. To both of them the third movement of a symphony was a minuet. All that a minuet could be made they made of it, but it was never given them to go beyond. The minuet remained a dance tune to the end of its days, and is so even in Beethoven's No. 8 Symphony. In fact Haydn actually lamented that he could not make more of it than he had. When discussing a rule of Albrechtsberger's by which fourths were prohibited in strict composition, he [1] said, 'Such trifling is absurd; I wish, instead, that some one would try to compose a really new minuet.' This Beethoven did. The third movement of his first Symphony is what Haydn wished to [2]see. Though labelled 'menuetto' it is quite unlike a

  1. Griesinger, p. 114.
  2. One would like to know if Haydn ever heard the First or any other of Beethoven's Symphonies, and what his real feelings were about them. He lived on till 1809, and might thus have heard the Eroica and even the C minor.