Elliott Graeme.

Beethoven: A Memoir (2nd Ed.) online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibraryElliott GraemeBeethoven: A Memoir (2nd Ed.) → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by David E. Brown, Jane Hyland, Bryan Ness and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This book was produced from scanned
images of public domain material from the Google Print

[Illustration: BEETHOVEN.

Maclure & Macdonald, Lith. London]


A Memoir




"How glorious it is to live one's life a thousand times!"




[_The right of translation is reserved._]


The following brief sketch can lay no claim to originality; it is merely
a slight _résumé_ of the principal events in the master's life (from the
works of Schindler, Ries, and Wegeler, and more especially from Marx and
Thayer), and is intended for those who, without the leisure to go deeply
into the subject, yet desire to know a little more about the great
Tone-poet than can be gathered from the pages of a concert programme,
however skilfully annotated.

* * * * *

The few letters introduced have been translated as nearly as possible in
the manner in which they were written. Beethoven's epistolary style was
simple, fervent, original, but certainly not polished.

* * * * *

The author feels convinced that any shortcomings in the "Memoir" will be
more than atoned for by Dr. Hiller's eloquent and appreciative
"_Festrede_," which seems to have been dictated by that poetic genius,
the possession of which he so modestly disclaims.


_17th December, 1870._


The first edition of this little book was exhausted within a few months
of publication, and I have repeatedly been asked since to reprint it,
but have hitherto withheld my consent, trusting to be able to undertake
a more comprehensive work on the subject. As, however, the necessary
leisure for this is still wanting to me, and the demand for the "Memoir"
continues, it is fated to reappear, and I can but commend it again to
the kind indulgence of the reader.

Several rectifications as to dates, &c., have been made throughout, in
accordance with the recent researches of ALEXANDER THAYER, and the
chapter entitled _Lehrjahre_ has been partly rewritten on the basis of
NOTTEBOHM'S _Beethoven's Studien_ (_Part I., Unterricht bei Haydn und
Albrechtsberger_) by far the most important contribution to
Beethoven-literature which has appeared for some time. It may, indeed,
be considered the first step to the _systematic_ study of the Master,
and as such deserves to be better known in England than is at present
the case.

_August, 1876._



ESSAY _quasi_ Fantasia "On the Hundredth Anniversary of Beethoven's
Birth," by Dr. Ferdinand Hiller vii

CHAP. I. - INTRODUCTORY: Origin of the Family Van Beethoven - The
Electorate of Cologne - Court of Clemens August the Magnificent - Ludwig
van Beethoven the Elder - Johann van Beethoven - Bonn in 1770 1

CHAP. II. - BOYHOOD: Birth - Early Influences and Training - Neefe - First
Attempts at Composition - The Boy-Organist - Max Friedrich's National
Theatre - Mozart and Beethoven - Disappointment 12

CHAP. III. - YOUTH: Despondency - The Breuning Family - Literary
Pursuits - Count Waldstein - National Theatre of Max Franz - King Lux and
his Court - The Abbé Sterkel - Appointment as Court Pianist - First
Love - Second Visit of Joseph Haydn 31

CHAP. IV. - LEHRJAHRE: Arrival in Vienna - Studies with Haydn - Timely
Assistance of Schenk - Albrechtsberger - Beethoven as a Student - His
Studies in Counterpoint - What did Beethoven compose in Bonn? - Why have
we so few examples of _fugue_ in his early works? - Letters to Eleanore
v. Breuning 46

CHAP. V. - THE VIRTUOSO: Family Occurrences - Music in Vienna - Van
Swieten - Prince Lichnowski - Beethoven's Independence, Personal
Appearance, Manners - Rasoumowski Quartet - Occurrences in Lichnowski
Palace - First Three Trios - Artistic Tour to Berlin - Woelfl - Beethoven
as an Improvisatore - Steibelt 69

CHAP. VI. - CONFLICT: Deafness and its Consequences - His Brothers'
Influence - Letters to Wegeler - "Mount of Olives" - Beethoven's
Will - Beethoven as a Conductor - As an Instructor - Sinfonia
Eroica - "Leonora" ("Fidelio") - "Adelaïde" 93

CHAP. VII. - LOVE: The Fourth Symphony - Julia Guicciardi - Letters to an
Unknown - To Bettina Brentano - Beethoven's Attachments - Domestic
Troubles - Frau Nanette Streicher - Daily Life - Composing "_im Freien_"

CHAP. VIII. - VICTORY AND SHADOW: Period of Greatest Creative
Activity - Hummel - The Battle of Vittoria - Congress of
Vienna - Maelzel - Pecuniary Difficulties - Adoption of Nephew - The
Philharmonic Society - The Classical and Romantic Schools - The Jupiter
Symphony - His Nephew's Conduct - Last Illness 147






"_Quasi Fantasia._"

The year 1749 brought us Goethe; 1756, Mozart; 1759, Schiller; and 1770,
Beethoven. Thus, within the short space of twenty-one years four of the
greatest poetic geniuses were born - four men of whom not only the German
Fatherland, but all mankind must be proud.

And even more happy than proud, since the most splendid gift which the
Divine Being from time to time vouchsafes to poor humanity is that of
genius. Through it we receive the highest good in which we are capable
of participating - the forgetfulness of self in a nobler life. Genius it
is that gives us, if but for a few short hours, that which the believer
awaits with earnest hope in another and a better world.

Has there ever existed a poet who transported our souls into his ideal
kingdom with more irresistible force than our Beethoven? Certainly not.
More universal effects have been achieved by others, but none more deep
or noble. Nay, we may say without exaggeration that never did an artist
live whose creations were so truly _new_; - his sphere was the

Amidst so much that is trivial and dispiriting in art and life, the
widely diffused interest, the delight in the creations of the wondrous
man is a bright sign of our times. I do not say the _comprehension_ of
them; that is not, and cannot be the case. But there are, perhaps, no
poems in the love and admiration of which so many of the highest
intellects concur as the tone-poems of our master. To the essential
nature of our Art, which bears within itself the all-reconciling element
of love, must we attribute the fact that against it the most violent
differences in religious, political, and philosophical opinion make no
stand - it is the might of Beethoven's genius which subdues the proudest
minds, while quickening the pulsations of the simplest hearts.

If in anything the will of man shows itself weak, nay, helpless, it is
in the matter of intellectual creation. A very strong will (is not even
this beyond the reach of most?) may lead to great learning, to brilliant
technical acquirements, to virtue itself - a spontaneous poetic thought
in word, tone, or colour, it will never be able to bring forth. Thus,
the true relation of genius to us is that of a star, diffusing light and
warmth, which we enjoy and admire. Since, however, to the higher man
recognition and gratitude are necessities, since he desires to add
intelligence and reverence to his admiration, and would willingly offer
up love also to the subject of it, he begins to investigate. He asks,
what the divine germ, existing even in the lisping child, demanded for
its development; what brought it out into blossom - what influences
worked upon it beneficially - to what extent he who was so nobly gifted
was supported and furthered by moral strength - how he used the talent
committed to him - finally, how he fought through the life-struggle from
which no mortal is exempt.

And then he inquires again and further; which of his qualities, which of
the properties peculiar to himself, affect us most strongly? - in what
relation does he stand to the development of his art - in what to that of
his nation? - how does he appear with regard to his own century?

A mere attempt at answering these questions, and the many connected with
them, would require an enormous apparatus of a biographic and æsthetic
nature, including a knowledge of the history of art and culture, and an
acquaintance with musical technicalities. It does not fall either within
our power or the scope of these pages to make any approach to such a
task. A few slight hints may suffice to prevent our forgetting (amid the
extraordinary and all-engrossing occurrences of the present time) the
day which sent to us a hundred years ago the no less extraordinary man,
who, a prophet in the noblest sense of the word, foresaw and declared
(though only in tones) the nobleness and greatness which will be
revealed by the German people, if friendly stars shine upon their

A species of caste seems to have been implanted in man by nature - there
are families of statesmen, warriors, theologians, artists. It will
nevertheless be admitted that while it is often the case that
circumstances, family traditions, cause the sons to follow in their
fathers' footsteps, it frequently happens that the calling lays hold of
the man, becomes, in the truest sense of the word, a _calling_.

Several of our first composers have sprung out of families in which the
profession of music was chiefly followed - but certainly not many. One
thing, however, was common to nearly all - they were marvellous children,
prodigies. _Prodigy!_ now-a-days an ominous word, recalling immediately
to mind industrious fathers, who force on concerts, and musical
attainments which do not refresh by their maturity, but only excite
astonishment at the precocity of those from whom they are exacted. The
abuse of the phenomenon has brought the latter itself into a bad light.
A musical hothouse plant forced into premature bloom through vanity or
the thirst for money may soon become stunted; none the less, however,
does the fact remain, that no intellectual gift shows or develops itself
earlier than that of music. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Hummel, Rossini,
Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Liszt, Joachim, were prodigies. Nature
knows what she is about. He alone to whom this wondrous tone-language
has become a second mother tongue, will be able to express himself with
freedom in it; but how soon do we begin to attempt our mother tongue!
And how few succeed in really learning to _speak_ it!

It would be inexplicable had not our Beethoven been also a prodigy. He
was one, but after such a sound, healthy sort, that those about him were
more struck by the thought of his great future, than enthusiastic about
his achievements at the time. The compositions which have been preserved
to us from his boyish days bear traces, even then, of the frank, honest
mode of expression which remained his to the end of his career.
Naturally, their contents are trifling; what has a boy of twelve years
to communicate to the world, if his inner life develop itself according
to nature? Borne onwards by his artistic readiness, he attained,
however, at a very early age an honourable, independent position with
regard to the outer world. He had barely quitted childhood when he was
organist at the Elector's Court in Bonn. At a later period he occupied
for several years the post of violist in the orchestra. The viola was
then one of the most neglected orchestral instruments, and we must form
but a slight estimate of Beethoven's achievements upon it. It was,
however, invaluable for him, the future Commander of the instrumental
tone-world, to have served _in the line_. In fact, every striving young
composer ought, as a matter of duty, to act for at least one year as
member of an orchestra, were it only at the great drum. It is the surest
method of making the individuality of the different sound organs
ineffaceably one's own. When the latter are entrusted to capable
executants (as was the case in the Electoral orchestra), the idea of a
definite personality is added to the peculiarity of the instrument,
which is not at all a bad thing. How often in later years may the image
of one or other of his former colleagues have presented itself vividly
and helpfully to the mind of the master, as he sat meditating over a
score! How often may he have heard in spirit an expressive solo
performed by one of them!

The stimulus which Beethoven received from singers in those early days
at Bonn did not work very deeply. His own father, indeed, was one of the
Elector's vocalists, and sang both in church and on the stage. But he
was a sorry fellow, who saw in his gifted son only a means of
extricating himself from his gloomy pecuniary difficulties, and
certainly not the man to inspire him for the wedding of Word to
Tone - the noblest union ever contracted.

Even in the most magnificent of Beethoven's vocal works there exists a
certain roughness; the words domineer over the melody, or the latter
over the poem. That perfect union - that melting in one another of both
factors - which is peculiar to Mozart and Handel is found only separately
(_vereinzelt_) in him. Would a youth spent in the midst of a great
song-world have led our master along other paths?

Certainly not without significance for his development was the fact,
that he was born on the lovely banks of our joyous old Rhine. Do we not
sometimes hear it surging like a wave of the mighty stream through the
Beethoven harmonies? Do we not feel ourselves blown upon by the fresh
mountain air? And do not the cordial, true-hearted melodies, which so
often escape from the master, breathe the very magic of one of those
enchanting evenings which we talk or dream away on the shore of the most
truly _German_ stream? The taste for an open-air life (a life _im
Freien_, in freeness, as the German language so nobly expresses it)
remained faithful to him until the end; and we can scarcely picture him
to ourselves better than as wandering in forests and valleys, listening
for the springs which sparkled within himself.

Scientific knowledge, even in its most elementary form, was hardly
presented to the notice of the young musician, and if at a later period
any interest in such pursuits had arisen within him, he would have been
obliged to dismiss it. On the other hand, he buried himself with his
whole soul in the loftiest works of poetry, that second higher world,
and always came back with renewed delight upon the works of Homer,
Shakspere, Goethe, and Schiller. Many and varied were the influences
which they exerted upon him. They were to him "intellectual wine," as
Bettina once named his music. But those are completely mistaken who
expect to find, either in them or anywhere else, positive expositions or
elucidations of Beethoven's compositions, as some have occasionally
attempted to do, building their theory partly on utterances of the
master. When the latter refers the constantly inquiring secretary,
Schindler (I know not on what occasion), to Shakspere's "Tempest," it
was, after all, only an answer - nothing more. The awakening of pure
musical imagination is just as inexplicable as are its results. One
thing alone stands firm, - that which speaks to the heart, came from the
heart, - but the life-blood which pulsates at the heart of the true
artist is a thousand times more richly composed than that which flows in
our veins. No æsthetic physiologist will ever be able to analyze it
completely. And, in life, is it only the deep thoughts, the
extraordinary occurrences, which call forth all our sensations, out of
which alone our happiness and our misery are formed? Is not a calm,
serene autumn day enough to entrance our inmost nature? a single verse
to console us? the friendly glance of a maiden to throw us into the
sweetest _reverie_? What trifling influences affect the eternally rising
and falling quicksilver of our hopes! And thus the smallest occasions
may have been sufficient to cause vibration in a soul so highly strung
as Beethoven's. Most powerfully, however, in such a genius, worked the
pure creative impulse, that eternally glowing fire in the deepest
recesses of his nature, with its volcanic - but, in this instance,
blissful eruptions.

We know that Beethoven proceeded as a young man to Vienna, which he
never afterwards left. He found there (at least in the first half of his
residence) enthusiastic admirers, intelligent friends, admission to
distinguished circles, and lastly, that most necessary evil - money.
Nobody will grudge to the lively, good-humoured, imperial city the fame
of being able to designate as her own a brilliant line of our greatest
tone-poets. But then she ought not to take it amiss that we should
wonder how, within her walls, at _that_ time, so magnificent an artistic
development as Beethoven's should ever have been accomplished. Shall we
say, not _because_, but - _in spite of_ her? or shall we utter the
supposition that no agglomeration of men can be sufficient for genius,
since it treads a way of its own, which bears no names of streets? When,
however, the question comes under discussion, of the relation of a great
composer to _that_ public among whom his lot is cast, we cannot deny
that it is easier to understand how a Handel created his oratorios in
the so-called unmusical London, than how Beethoven composed his
symphonies in the musical Vienna of the period. The former found himself
in London in the midst of a grand public life, - grand were the powers
over which he held sway, like the continually increasing throngs of
listeners who streamed to his performances. When, on the other hand, we
hear of the difficulty with which Beethoven, during the course of a
quarter of a century, succeeded in giving about a dozen concerts in
which his Titanic orchestral poems were performed _for the first time_,
we become faint at heart. And I cannot do otherwise than express my
conviction that, under other conditions, no inconsiderable portion of
his works, which are (to use Schumann's expression) _veiled symphonies_,
would have revealed their true nature. The world of the musician would
hardly have been more enriched thereby, but the musical public would
have benefited. For millions would have been edified, where now hundreds
torment themselves (with quartets and sonatas) for the most part in

Yes! these symphonies and overtures, with their unpretending
designations, are the first poems of our time, and they are _national
poems_ in a far truer sense than the songs of the Edda, and all
connected with them, ever can or will be for us, despite the efforts of
littérateurs and artists. Yes! in the soul of this Rhinelander, who
every day inveighed against the town and the state in which he lived,
who was zealous for the French Republic, and ready to become
Kapellmeister to King Jerome - in this soul was condensed the most ideal
Germania ever conceived by the noblest mind. With the poet we may
exclaim, "For he was ours!" - _ours_ through what he uttered - _ours_
through the form in which he spoke - _ours_, for we were true to the
proverb in the way we ill-treated and misunderstood him.

"Industry and love" Goethe claims for his countrymen. No artist ever
exercised these qualities with regard to his art in a higher degree than
did Beethoven. _She_ was to him the highest good - no care, no joy of
life could separate him from her. Neither riches nor honours estranged
him from the ideal which he perceived and strove after so long as he
breathed. He never could do enough to satisfy himself either in single
works or in his whole career. He spared himself no trouble in order to
work out his thoughts to the fullest maturity, to the most transparent
clearness. To the smallest tone-picture he brought the fullest power.
His first sketches, like the autographs of his scores, show in the
plainest manner that inflexible persistency, that unwearied patience,
which we presuppose in the scientific investigator, but which, in the
inspired singer, fill us with astonishment and admiration. In all
conflicts (and every artistic creation is a conflict) the toughest
difficulty is _to persevere_.

Truth was a fundamental part of Beethoven's character. What he sang came
from his deepest soul. Never did he allow himself to make concessions
either to the multitude and its frivolity, or to please the vanity of
executants. The courage which is bound up with this resembles the modest
bravery of the citizen, but it celebrates even fewer triumphs than the

Beethoven was proud, not vain. He had the consciousness of his
intellectual power - he rejoiced to see it recognised - but he despised
the small change of every-day applause. Suspicious and hasty, he gave
his friends occasion for many complaints, but nowhere do we find a trace
of any pretension to hero-worship. He stood too high to feel himself
honoured by such proceedings; but, at the same time, he had too much
regard for the independent manliness of others to be pleased with a
homage which clashed against that.

What a fulness of the noblest, the sublimest conceptions must have lived
and moved in him to admit of their crystallizing themselves into the
melodies which transport us! - softness without weakness, enthusiasm
without hollowness, longing without sentimentality, passion without
madness. He is deep but never turgid, pleasant but never insipid, lofty
but never bombastic. In the expression of love, fervent, tender,
overflowing with happiness or with melancholy, but never with ignoble
sensuality. He can be cordial, cheerful, joyful to extravagance, to
excess - never to vulgarity. In the deepest suffering he does not lose
himself - he triumphs over it. He has been called humorous - it is a
question whether music, viewed in its immediateness and truth, be
capable of expressing humour - yet it may be that he sometimes "smiles
amid tears." With true majesty does he move in his power, in his
loftiness, in the boldness of his action, which may rise to
defiance - never to senseless licence. A little self-will shows itself
here and there, but it suits him well, for it is not the self-will of
obstinacy, but of striving. He can be pious, never hypocritical; his
lofty soul rises to the Unspeakable; he falls on his knees with
humility, but not with slavish fear, for he feels the divinity within. A
trace of heroic freedom pervades all his creations, consequently they
work in the cause of freedom. The expression, "_Im Freien_" - liberty!
might serve as the inscription on a temple dedicated to his genius!

Like Nature herself, he is varied in his forms, without ever
relinquishing a deep-laid, well-concerted basis; he is rich in the
melodies which he produces, but never lavish; he acts in regard to them
with a wise economy. In the working out of his thoughts he unites the
soundest musical logic to the richest inventive boldness. Seldom only
does he forget the words of Schiller, - "In what he leaves _unsaid_, I
discover the master of style."

This wise economy does not forsake him either in the selection or the
number of the organs which he employs. He avoids every superfluity, but
the spirits of sound which he invokes must obey him. Nevertheless, not
to slavish servitude does he reduce them; on the contrary, he raises
them in their own estimation by that which he exacts from them. What
might be urged against him, perhaps, is that he sometimes makes demands
upon them to which they are not adequate, that his ideal conception goes
beyond their power of execution.

He has spoken almost exclusively in the highest forms of instrumental
music, and where, in one way or other, words are added to these, he has
always been actuated by high motive. He sings of Love and Freedom with
Goethe, of Joy with Schiller, of the heroism of Conjugal Love in
"Fidelio;" in his solemn Mass he gives expression to all those feelings

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryElliott GraemeBeethoven: A Memoir (2nd Ed.) → online text (page 1 of 13)