Elliott Graeme.

Beethoven: A Memoir (2nd Ed.) online

. (page 3 of 13)
Online LibraryElliott GraemeBeethoven: A Memoir (2nd Ed.) → online text (page 3 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not afterwards allow that he had profited by his instructions? The
question is not easily solved. Beethoven himself wrote from Vienna to
his old teacher in 1793, "I thank you for the advice which you often
gave me whilst striving in my divine art. If I ever become a great man
you have a share in it."

Notwithstanding this tribute there was a coldness between them. It may
be that master and pupil had not that entire sympathy with each other
which is essential to any worthy result from the relationship.

Beethoven, as we know, was self-willed, and overflowing with an
originality which, even at that early age, would not easily brook
dictation. Neefe, on the other hand, was a _young_ man, and endowed, as
he himself tells us in his Autobiography, with a certain satirical
tendency, which he may have allowed somewhat too free play in
criticising his young pupil's efforts in composition. If the latter
conjecture be correct, it gives the clue to the earnest advice Beethoven
was wont to give the critics in after years - never to judge the
performances of a beginner harshly, as "many would thus be deterred from
following out what they might, perhaps, have ultimately succeeded in."
Contempt to a sensitive, shrinking nature is like the blast of the east
wind on a tender flower; downright condemnation is easier to bear than
the sneer which throws the young aspirant, smarting and humiliated, back
into himself - his best energies withered for the moment.

Whatever Beethoven's feeling to Neefe may have been, it did not, at any
rate, prevent his making very decided progress under his tuition, at
which the organist himself rejoiced, as we learn from the following
letter written by him, and published in _Cramer's Magazine_ - the first
printed notice of Beethoven: - "Louis van Beethoven, son of the Tenor
mentioned above, a boy of eleven years, with talent of great promise. He
plays the pianoforte with great execution and power, reads very well at
sight, and, to say all in brief, plays almost the whole of Sebastian
Bach's 'Wohl-temperirte Clavier,' which Herr Neefe has put into his
hands. He who knows this collection of preludes and fugues through all
the keys (which one might almost call the _non plus ultra_) will
understand what this implies. Herr Neefe has also given him, so far as
his other occupations permit, some introduction to the study of
thorough-bass. Now he exercises him in composition, and for his
encouragement has had printed in Mannheim nine variations for the
pianoforte written by him on a March. This young genius deserves help in
order that he may travel. He will certainly be a second Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart if he continue as he has begun."

What could be kinder than the tone of this letter?

The allusion to Mozart in the last sentence does credit to Neefe's
discernment, as the great composer was at that time comparatively little
known. It is to be presumed that at this period Beethoven also studied
the works of C.P.E. Bach, since there is evidence that he was familiar
with them. His progress, in short, was such that we find him in 1782,
when he had not completed his twelfth year, installed as Neefe's
representative at the organ, while the latter was absent on a journey of
some duration.

Thus we may picture the boy Beethoven to ourselves, at an age when other
children are frolicsome and heedless, as already a little man, earnest,
grave, reserved, buried in his own thoughts, his Bach, and his organ. He
had no time to join his young companions in their games, even had his
inclination prompted him to do so; for besides the hours devoted to
music, he attended the public school, where he went through the usual
elementary course, and learned besides a little Latin. His knowledge of
the latter must, however, have been very slight, as when composing his
first Mass he was obliged to make use of a translation, which,
considering that he was brought up in a Catholic family, is singular
enough. Johann v. Beethoven was not the man to waste money, as he
thought, on giving his son a liberal education, so that the degree of
culture attained by Beethoven was due only to his own efforts and the
influences afterwards thrown around him.

In the year 1783 the three sonatas already alluded to were published,
Beethoven at the time being nearly thirteen - not _eleven_ years of age
as was stated, - the falsifying of his age being part of his father's
plan with regard to him. We give the dedication entire, because (though
probably not written wholly by Beethoven himself) it offers a curious
contrast to his subsequent ideas regarding the princes and great ones of
the earth: -

"Most illustrious Prince! From my fourth year music has been my
favourite pursuit. So early acquainted with the sweet Muse, who
attuned my soul to pure harmonies, I won her, and methought was
loved by her in return. I have now attained my eleventh year, and my
Muse has often whispered to me in hours of inspiration, Try to write
down the harmonies of thy soul! Eleven years old, thought I, how
would the character of author become me? and what would riper
artists say to it? I felt some trepidation. But my Muse willed it - I
obeyed, and wrote.

"And dare I now, most Serene Highness, venture to lay the first
fruits of my youthful labour before your throne? and may I hope that
you will cast on them the encouraging glance of your approval? Oh
yes! for knowledge and art have at all times found in you a wise
protector, a generous patron; and rising talent has thriven under
your fatherly care. Filled with this cheering conviction I venture
to approach you with these youthful efforts.

"Accept them as the pure offering of childlike reverence, and look
with favour,

"Most illustrious Prince,

"On them and their young composer,


It has been generally imagined that Neefe was paid by the Elector for
the instruction given to Beethoven, but this is merely a supposition,
without any proof whatever. It is more than likely that Neefe considered
the assistance rendered to him by the boy an equivalent for his lessons.
We have seen how, as early as 1782, he was qualified to relieve him in
the organ duty, rather a heavy task, owing to the number of services at
which the organist was expected to be present.

In addition to this, Neefe soon found another way of employing him - but
this will require a little explanation.

Whilst awaiting his appointment as court organist, Neefe had acted as
musical director to a troupe of singers known as the Grossmann Company,
from the name of the leader and organizer. This was one of the best
operatic companies in Germany, all its members being actors of
experience and reputation.

Now it had entered the Elector's head to take this company into his own
service, and found a national theatre (in imitation of that at Vienna)
which should serve as a school of refinement for the worthy citizens of
Bonn. Neefe found himself, therefore, burdened with double duties as
conductor and organist, and in the season of 1783, owing to the absence
of one of his colleagues (the well-known Lucchesi), was almost
overwhelmed with work. He found it impossible to attend the morning
rehearsals in the theatre, and accordingly young Ludwig was appointed
_cembalist_ in the orchestra, _i.e._, to preside at the pianoforte. In
those days this was considered a distinction (as such Haydn regarded it
in London), and in fact only an accomplished musician could fill the
post, as all the accompaniments were played from the score.

To this early initiation may be attributed the extreme facility with
which Beethoven read, _a prima vista_, the most involved and complicated
scores, even when in manuscript, and that manuscript written by a Bach
in a manner calculated to drive any ordinary reader to despair.

For two seasons young Ludwig was the accompanist at all rehearsals, and
in addition to the advantage of thus working out in the most practical
way all that he learned of theory, he also gained a thorough
acquaintance with the works of Grétry and Gluck.

The operas were varied by dramatic representations, and these must have
had an immense influence on the observant, reflective boy; for the
_répertoire_ of the company was large, and embraced not only the
standard pieces of the day, but the new plays of Lessing, and "The
Robbers" of Schiller, which had begun to create a ferment of excitement
throughout Germany; besides translations from Molière, Goldoni, and our
own Garrick and Cumberland.

To return to our young _cembalist_, the two years 1783-84 must have been
a busy time to him between the chapel and the orchestra, but not a penny
did he receive for his services, although he may have earned a trifle by
playing the organ every morning at the six o'clock mass in the church of
St. Remigius.

When he was thirteen, however, through Neefe's influence he was
nominated officially to the post he had so long filled in reality, that
of assistant organist, and would have drawn a salary but for an event
which threw him back again.

The Elector Max Friedrich died, the operatic company was dismissed, and
Neefe, having nothing to do but play his organ, had no further need of
an assistant.

This must have been a great blow to the boy; not that he cared for the
money in itself, but he knew how it would have lightened his poor
mother's cares, and shed a gleam of sunshine over the poverty-stricken

His father was now beginning to throw off all restraint; his failing was
generally known, and more than once he was rescued from the hands of the
police and brought home by his son in a state of unconsciousness. Long
ere this, two sons, Caspar Anton Carl and Nikolaus Johann, respectively
four and six years younger than Ludwig, had been added to the family,
and doubtless many were the secret councils between the boy and his
mother as to how the few thalers of Johann (_minus_ what was spent in
the alehouse) could be made to meet the needs of the household. It was
probably about this time that Beethoven began to give lessons, that most
wearisome of all employments to him, and so for more than a year, to the
great hindrance of his own studies, contributed his mite to the general

The year 1785, however, brought with it a little heartening; Ludwig's
former appointment as assistant organist was confirmed by the new
Elector, and with the yearly stipend of a hundred thalers an era of hope
dawned for the lad.

Max Franz, Archbishop of Cologne, was the youngest son of Maria Theresa,
and the favourite of his brother, the Emperor Joseph II., whom he
strongly resembled in character and disposition.

To any one familiar with the musical history of the period and the
Emperor's relation to Mozart, this will be sufficient to indicate the
pleasure with which the Bonn musicians must have hailed his advent. Nor
were their expectations disappointed; Max Franz surpassed his
predecessors not only in the munificence of his support, but (what is
perhaps of more importance) in the real interest shown by him in the
progress of art at his court. Neither did he confine his patronage to
music alone (though, as was natural in a son of Maria Theresa, this was
his first care); painting, science, and literature alike felt the
influence of his generous mind. The university was founded and endowed
by him, and the utmost efforts made to meet that universal demand for a
higher culture, and that striving after truth in art, which the works of
Schlegel, Lessing, Schiller, Goethe, and others were rapidly
disseminating throughout the length and breadth of Germany. As Wegeler
(the friend and biographer of Beethoven, at that time a medical student
of nineteen) writes, "It was a splendid, stirring time in many ways at
Bonn, so long as the genial Elector, Max Franz, reigned there." It can
readily be imagined, therefore, that a youth so full of promise as
Beethoven could not escape the notice of such a prince, and that to his
own talents, backed by the recommendation of Neefe - not to the influence
of any patron - he owed the only official appointment ever held by him.

For the next year he seems to have had a comparatively easy life, his
salary no doubt going to his mother, and the little he could make by
teaching carefully put aside for a great purpose he had formed. A
characteristic anecdote of this period is worth repeating, inasmuch as
Beethoven himself used often to speak of it with glee in after life as a
specimen of his boyish achievements.

In the old style of church music, on the Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday
of Passion Week it was usual to sing select portions from the
Lamentations of Jeremiah, consisting of short phrases of from four to
six lines. In the middle of each phrase a pause was made, which the
accompanist was expected to fill up as his fancy might dictate by a
free interlude on the pianoforte - the organ being prohibited during
these three days. Now it so happened that the singer to whom this was
allotted in the Electoral Chapel was one Heller, a thoroughly
well-practised but somewhat boastful musician. To him Beethoven declared
that he was able to throw him out in his part without employing any
means but such as were perfectly justifiable. Heller resented the
insinuation, and rashly accepted a wager on the subject. When the
appropriate point was reached, Beethoven ingeniously modulated to a key
so remote from the original one, that although he continued to hold fast
the key-note of the latter, and struck it repeatedly with his little
finger, Heller was completely thrown out, and obliged abruptly to stop.
Franz Ries the violinist, father of the afterwards celebrated Ferdinand,
and Lucchesi, who were present, declared themselves perfectly astounded
at the occurrence, and the mystified singer rushed in a tumult of rage
and mortification to the Elector and complained of Beethoven. The
good-humoured Max Franz, however, rather enjoyed the story, and merely
ordered the young organist to content himself with a more simple
accompaniment for the future.

In the spring of 1787, Ludwig at length reached the height of his boyish
aspirations. His little savings had accumulated to what was in his eyes
a large sum, and he looked forward with eagerness to a journey to
Vienna. It has been supposed that the funds for this visit were supplied
by others, but this is improbable. At that time Beethoven had no
wealthy friends; there is no evidence to show that the Archbishop
assisted him, and certain is it that no money was forthcoming from his
father. We are obliged to fall back upon the supposition that his own
scanty earnings, eked out perhaps by his mother, were his only means,
especially as we know that they proved insufficient for his purpose, and
that he was obliged to borrow money for his journey home.

What were Beethoven's intentions with regard to this visit?

His father's conduct, which must have many a time brought the flush of
shame to his young brow, his mother's evidently failing health, the
numerous unsupplied wants of the family, now increased by the birth of a
daughter,[3] - all these circumstances combined to urge on his sensitive,
loving nature the necessity of making some exertion, of taking some
decided step for the assistance of his dear ones.

Vienna, so far away, was his goal; there were assembled all the great
and noble in art - Gluck, Haydn, Mozart! the very mention of these names
must have roused the responsive throb of genius in the lad. To Vienna he
would go, and surely if there were any truth in the adage that "like
draws to like," these men must recognise the undeveloped powers within
him; and help him to attain his object.

That some such hopes as these must have beat high in Beethoven's breast,
animating him for the effort, is evident from the reaction that set in,
the despair that took possession of him when he found himself forced by
the iron course of events to abandon his project.

Arrived in the great capital he obtained an interview with Mozart, and
played before him. The maestro, however, rewarded his performance with
but feeble praise, looking upon it as mere parade; and probably in
technical adroitness the boy before him was far behind the little
Hummel, at that time under his tuition; for Beethoven's style, through
his constant organ-playing, was somewhat heavy and rough.

Beethoven, sensitively alive to everything, perceived Mozart's opinion,
and requested a thema for an improvisation. Somewhat sceptically Mozart
complied, and now the boy, roused by the doubt cast upon his abilities,
extemporized with a clearness of idea and richness of embellishment that
took his auditor by storm. Mozart went excitedly to the bystanders in
the anteroom, saying, "Pay heed to this youth - much will one day be said
about him in the world!"

The amiable Mozart did not live to see the fulfilment of his prophecy,
but he appears to have taken an interest in the boy, and to have given
him a few lessons.

Beethoven afterwards lamented that he had never heard Mozart play, which
may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that the master was much
occupied at the time with his "Don Giovanni," and also had that year to
mourn the loss of his father.

The following letter fully explains the cause of Beethoven's sudden
departure from Vienna, and the apparent shipwreck of all his hopes: -

"_Autumn._ _Bonn_, 1787.

"MOST WORTHY AND DEAR FRIEND, - I can easily imagine what you must
think of me - that you have well-founded reasons for not entertaining
a favourable opinion of me, I cannot deny.

"But I will not excuse myself until I have explained the reasons
which lead me to hope that my apologies will be accepted.

"I must tell you that with my departure from Augsburg, my
cheerfulness, and with it my health, began to decline. The nearer I
came to my native city, the more frequent were the letters which I
received from my father, urging me to travel as quickly as possible,
as my mother's health gave great cause for anxiety. I hurried
onwards, therefore, as fast as I could, although myself far from
well. The longing to see my dying mother once more did away with all
hindrances, and helped me to overcome the greatest difficulties. My
mother was indeed still alive, but in the most deplorable state; her
complaint was consumption; and about seven weeks ago, after enduring
much pain and suffering, she died.

"Ah! who was happier than I, so long as I could still pronounce the
sweet name of mother, and heard the answer! and to whom can I now
say it? To the silent images resembling her, which my fancy presents
to me?

"Since I have been here, I have enjoyed but few happy hours.
Throughout the whole time I have been suffering from asthma, which I
have reason to fear may eventually result in consumption. To this is
added melancholy, for me an evil as great as my illness itself.

"Imagine yourself now in my position, and then I may hope to receive
your forgiveness for my long silence.

"With regard to your extreme kindness and friendliness in lending me
three carolins in Augsburg, I must beg you still to have a little
indulgence with me, as my journey cost me a great deal, and here I
have not the slightest prospect of earning anything. Fate is not
propitious to me here in Bonn.

"You will forgive my having written at such length about my own
affairs; it was all necessary in order to excuse myself.

"I entreat you not to withdraw your valuable friendship from me;
there is nothing I so much desire as to render myself worthy of it.

"I am, with all esteem,

"Your most obedient servant and friend,


"_Cologne Court Organist_.

"_To_ Monsieur de Schaden,

"_Counsellor at Augsburg_."

When years afterwards Ferdinand Ries came as a boy of fifteen to
Beethoven in Vienna, and solicited his help and countenance, the
master, who was much occupied at the time, told him so, adding, "Say to
your father that I have not forgotten how my mother died. He will be
satisfied with that." Franz Ries had, in fact, at the time of the
mother's illness, lent substantial assistance to the impoverished
family; and this to the heart of the son was a sure claim on his lasting


[Footnote 3: Margaret, who died while still an infant.]




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.

How "flat, stale, and unprofitable" must everything in Bonn have
appeared to our Beethoven after the charms of Vienna - charms real in
themselves, and surrounded by the ideal nimbus of his fresh young hopes
and strivings! The desolate, motherless home, his neglected orphan
brothers, his drunken father, the weary round of teaching, - it was no
light task for an impetuous, ardent genius to lift; but it had to be
faced, and with a noble self-sacrifice he entered on the dreary path
before him.

He had his reward - the very occupation which he disliked more than any
other, opened up to him a friendship which secured to him more peace and
happiness than he had yet known, and whose influence was potent
throughout his whole life - that, namely, with the family Von Breuning.

Madame von Breuning was a widow; her husband, a state councillor and a
member of one of the best families in Bonn, had perished in the attempt
to rescue the Electoral Archives from a fire that had broken out in the
palace, and since this calamity she had lived quietly with her brother,
the canon and scholar, Abraham v. Keferich, solely engaged in the
education of her children. These were four in number: three
boys - Christoph, Stephan, and Lenz; and one girl - Eleanore. It appears
that Beethoven (who was about four years older than Stephan) was
receiving violin lessons at the same time with the latter from Franz
Ries; and Stephan, struck, no doubt, with the genius of his
fellow-pupil, managed to get him introduced to his mother's house in the
capacity of pianoforte teacher to the little Lenz. Madame von Breuning
was not slow to perceive the extraordinary gifts of her son's new
acquaintance; and learning incidentally, with her woman's tact, the sad
state of matters at home, opened her heart as well as her house to the
motherless boy. He soon became one of the family, and used to spend the
greater part of the day and often the night with his new friends.

It is impossible to over-estimate the value of this friendship to the
young man. What a contrast to his own neglected home did the
well-ordered house of Madame v. Breuning present! Now for the first time
he was admitted to mix on equal terms with people of culture; here he
first enjoyed the refining influence of female society (did any
remembrance of Leonore suggest his ideal heroine?); and here also he
first became acquainted with the literature of his own and other

The young Breunings were all intellectual, and in the pursuit of their
studies they were encouraged and assisted by their uncle, the canon.
Christoph wrote very good verses, and Stephan also tried his hand at
some, which were not bad. The striving of these young people would
naturally lead our sensitive musician to reflect on his own defective
education, and to endeavour so to rectify it as to render himself worthy
of their friendship. Beethoven's love of the ancient classical writers
may be traced to this period, when Christoph and Stephan were studying
them in the original with their uncle, though it is not probable that he
ever learned Greek. His knowledge of Homer was gained through Voss's
translation, and his well-worn copy of the "Odyssey" testifies to the
earnest study it had received from him. French and Italian he seems to
have been acquainted with so far as he deemed it necessary; but his
principal literary studies were confined to Lessing, Bürger, Wieland,
and Klopstock. The last especially was his favourite, and his constant
companion in the solitary rambles among the mountains which he was fond
of indulging in. There, alone with the nature he venerated, the sonorous
lines and rolling periods of the German Milton sank deeply into his
mind, to be reproduced years after in immortal harmonies. At a later
period Klopstock was replaced in Beethoven's esteem by Goethe, of whose

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryElliott GraemeBeethoven: A Memoir (2nd Ed.) → online text (page 3 of 13)