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ous smaller works. In all musical biography there is
nothing so terrible to read about as the deafness of



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 95

Beethoven. For a musician to lose his sight is calamity
enough, and several musicians besides Bach and Handel
have suffered it. But the blind musician can still hear
his own creations. The deaf musician may write, as
Beethoven wrote, some of the grandest inspirations
ever given to the world, but while others are hearing
these inspirations, he cannot hear. Such was Beet-
hoven's painful experience. It is staggering to reflect
that he never himself felt the thrill of that noble music
of his own, produced in his later years.

Yet it is thus, and ever thus

The glory is in giving ;
Those monarchs taste a deathless joy

That agonised while living.

This distressing affliction of Beethoven's life had
begun to show itself as early as 1778, but it was two
years later before it became acute. When he awoke to
his danger, a cry of woe went forth that touched the
hearts of all his friends, who, alas ! with the most
skilful aurists, were powerless to help.

" How miserable my future life will be," he exclaims,
"to have to shun all that is most dear to me! Oh, how
happy I should be if I had my perfect hearing ; but as
it is, my best years will fly away without my being able
to do all that my talent and power would have bid
me do. I can say that I spend a most miserable life ;
for two years I have been shunning all society, because
I find it impossible to tell the people ' I am deaf.' If I
were of any other profession, this deficiency would not
be felt, but with my music, it is a terrible condition to



96 MASTER MUSICIANS

be in. Add to this, my enemies not a few in number
what will they say to it ? "

In the theatre he had to lay his ears close to the
orchestra in order to understand the actors ; and the
higher notes of the instruments and voices he could not
hear at all when only a little distance away. " When
in conversation," he says, " I often wonder that some
people never get acquainted with my state, but, having
much amusement, their attention is drawn away. Some-
times I can scarcely hear a soft speaker I hear some
sounds but no words ; however, as soon as some one
screams out to me this is unbearable." Who can gauge
the mental anguish of a musician thus tortured. Read
this : " He softly struck a full chord. Never will another
so woefully, with such a melancholy effect, pierce my
soul. With his right hand he held the chord of C major,
and in the bass he struck B, looking at me and repeating
in order to let the sweet tone of his piano fully come
out the wrong chord and the greatest musician in
the world did not hear the dissonance ! " These are the
words of an eye-witness, written in the year 1825. The
" greatest musician in the world " struck a wrong chord,
and he had no hearing to acquaint him with the fact !

Several efforts were made by the surgeons to allevi-
ate the malady, but while some of these gave a little
temporary relief, the clouds gathered thicker and darker
than ever, and in the end every ray of hope became
obscured. Need we be surprised that Beethoven took
to debating with himself whether life was really worth
living ? He did indeed discuss the question seriously



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 97

in his own mind, and it was only after a keen struggle
that virtue and art prevailed. " I will meet my fate
fearlessly, and it shall not wholly overwhelm me," he
said. It was about this time that he wrote that pitiful
letter to his brothers which was to be opened only
after his death. It begins : " Oh, ye who think or
declare me to be hostile, morose, and misanthropical,
how unjust you are, and how little you know the secret
cause of what appears to you ! My heart and mind
were ever from childhood prone to the most tender feel-
ings of affection, and I was always disposed to accom-
plish something great. But you must remember that
six years ago I was attacked by an incurable malady,
aggravated by unskilful physicians, deluded from year
to year, too, by the hope of relief, and at length forced
to the conviction of a lasting affliction."

Proceeding to detail, he says : " Alas ! how could I
proclaim the deficiency of a sense which ought to have
been more perfect with me than with other men ? Alas !
I cannot do this. Forgive me, therefore, when you see
me withdraw from you with whom I would so gladly
mingle. Completely isolated, I only enter society when
compelled to do so. I must live like an exile." In the
country he was thrown into the deepest melancholy.
" What humiliation when any one beside me heard a
flute in the far distance, and I heard nothing ; or when
others heard a shepherd singing, and I heard nothing.
Such things brought me to the verge of desperation,
and well-nigh caused me to put an end to my life.
Art, art alone deterred me." Was there ever such a

H



98 MASTER MUSICIANS

wail of despair ? " I joyfully hasten to meet death," he
writes at another time. " If death come before I have
had the opportunity of developing my artistic powers,
then, notwithstanding my cruel fate, he will come too
early for me, and I should wish for him at a more distant
period. But even then I shall be content, for his advent
will release me from a state of endless suffering."

In that birth-house museum at Bonn we have the
most melancholy signs of Beethoven's deafness. There
are the ear-trumpets and the pianoforte by whose help
he strove so long and so hopelessly to remain in com-
munion with the world of sound. The piano was made
specially for him, with extra strings. So long as he could
hear a tone, Beethoven used this instrument. Then
Maelzel, the metronome man, who invented and made
the ear-trumpets for him, built a resonator for the piano.
It was fixed on the instrument so that it covered a
portion of the sounding-board and projected over the
keys. " Seated before the piano, his head all but inside
the wooden shell, one of the ear-trumpets held in place
by an encircling brass band, Beethoven would pound
upon the keys till the strings jangled discordantly with
the violence of the percussion, or flew asunder with
shrieks as of mortal despair." Though the ear-trumpets
had been useless for five years, they were kept in Beet-
hoven's study till his death. Then they found their way
into the Royal Library at Berlin, where they remained
until Emperor William II. presented them to the Bonn
collection.

The deafness affected Beethoven in other than pro-



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 99

fessional affairs. Directly or indirectly, it prevented
him marrying, as he had wished to do. As a young
man he had been very sensible to the charms of female
society. Ladies would knit him comforters, and make
him light puddings, and he would even condescend to
lie on their sofas after dinner while they played his
sonatas. His early friend Wegeler says that he was
never without a love affair ; and these affairs took, in
more than one case, the serious form of an offer of
marriage. But no bride was Beethoven destined to
bring to the altar. Writing to his pupil Ries in 1816
he says : " My best wishes to your wife. Unfortunately
I have none. I found One only, and her I have no
chance of ever calling mine." The "one only" was
most likely the " immortal beloved " of the passionate
letters found in the composer's desk after his death
the beautiful Giulietta, Countess Guicciardi, to whom
the so-called " Moonlight " sonata is dedicated. The
Countess married a Count Gallenberg, and Beethoven
said of the marriage : " Heaven forgive her, for she
did not know what she was doing ! " He wrote further :
" I was much loved by her far better than she ever
loved her husband." But Beethoven was poor, in bad
health, and deaf; and marriage in his case was out
of the question. One does not fancy that he would
commend himself as a possible husband. A man who
afterwards threw books and even chairs at the head of
a stupid, dishonest servant, was a trifle too tempestuous
for a domestic companion. And, indeed, he came to
realise this himself, for he said he was " excessively



ioo MASTER MUSICIANS

glad that not one of the girls had become his wife,
whom he had passionately loved in former days, and
thought at the time it would be the highest joy on
earth to possess." Alas ! poor Beethoven.

And this may serve us as a suggestion for intro-
ducing some details of Beethoven's character as a man,
and of his general relations towards life and his fellows.
In his younger years he was rather particular about
his appearance. Before he left Bonn, we find him
wearing a sea-green dress coat, green short-clothes
with buckles, silk stockings, white flowered waistcoat
with gold lace, white cravat, frizzed hair tied in a queue
behind, and a sword. When he went first to Vienna
he dressed in the height of fashion, sported a seal ring,
and carried a double eyeglass. Later, he became ex-
tremely negligent about his person. An artist who
painted his portrait in 1815 described him as wearing
a pale-blue dress coat with yellow buttons, white waist-
coat and necktie, but his whole aspect bespeaking
disorder. Even if he did dress neatly, nothing could
prevent him removing his coat if it were warm, not even
in the presence of princes or ladies. Geniuses are gener-
ally Bohemian, often outr&. Beethoven was no excep-
tion. He began by disdaining to have his hair cut. He
wanted a servant, and one applicant mentioned the
accomplishment of hair-dressing. " It is no object to
me to have my hair dressed," growled Beethoven.
Remembering the characteristic portraits, one agrees
with him. Fancy a portrait of Beethoven with those
fine Jupiter Olympus locks reduced to order 1



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 101

But it was not his hair only that he refrained from
dressing : he hardly even, as we would say, dressed
himself. When Czerny first saw him in his rooms, he
found him clad in a loose, hairy stuff, which made him
rather more like Robinson Crusoe than the leading
musician in Europe. His ears were filled with wool,
which he had soaked in some yellow substance ; his
beard showed more than half an inch of growth ; and
his hair stood up in a thick shock that betokened an
unacquaintance with comb and brush for many a day.
Moscheles tells that he could not be made to under-
stand clearly why he should not stand in his night-
shirt at the open window ; and when he attracted a
crowd of juveniles by this eccentricity, he inquired with
perfect simplicity " what those confounded boys were
hooting at."

He seems to have been rather fond of the open
window, for he generally shaved there. He " cut him-
self horribly," according to one biographer, and doing it
at the window he enabled the people in the street to
share in the diversion. He had none of the graces of
deportment which we expect from the modern artist.
It was dangerous for him to touch anything fragile,
for he was sure to break it. More than once, in a fit
of passion, he flung his inkstand among the wires of
the piano. He had a habit, when composing, of pour-
ing cold water over his hands, and the people below
him often suffered from a miniature flood in conse-
quence. When he first arrived in Vienna he took
dancing lessons, but, curiously enough in a musician,



loz MASTER MUSICIANS

could never dance in time. He was absent-minded to
the point of insanity. Whether he dined or not was
immaterial to him, and there is one authentic instance
of his having urged on the waiter payment for a meal
which he had neither ordered nor eaten. Somebody
once presented him with a horse, but he forgot all
about the animal, and had its existence recalled to him
only when the bill for its keep was sent in. At one
time he forgot his own name and the date of his birth !
A friend, not having seen him for days, asked if he
had been ill. " No," he said, " but my boots have, and
as I have only one pair, I was condemned to house
arrest." As a matter of fact he had a pair for every
day of the week, though he forgot all about that too.
He was in perpetual trouble about his rooms and
his servants. He would flit on the merest pretext, and
usually it was himself who was in fault. He had
no patience with any sort of conventional etiquette ;
and thus it often happened that he would prefer
the discomforts of a bachelor's apartments to the free
and luxurious housing offered him by more than one
noble family. Baron Pronay prevailed upon him one
summer to stay with him at Hetzendorf. But the
Baron persisted in raising his hat to him whenever
they met, and Beethoven was so annoyed by this that
he took up his lodgings with a poor clockmaker near
by. He seems to have been specially opposed to this
act of courtesy. Once when he was walking along the
street, he met a group of society notables, among
whom he observed a particular friend of his own ; but



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 103

the revulsion against empty formalities was so strong
in him that he kept his hat tight on his head and
passed by on the other side.

Every lodging turned out worse than its pre-
decessor. Either the chimneys smoked, or the rain
came through the roof, or the chairs were rickety, or
the doors creaked on their hinges, or something else
interfered with the comfort of the occupant. And
then the servants oh, the servants ! But really Beet-
hoven was over-exacting here. Nancy might indeed
be " too uneducated for a housekeeper," but surely the
fact of her telling a lie did not imply, as Beethoven
said it implied, that she could not make good soup.
"The cook's off again," he tells one of his corre-
spondents, who could hardly be surprised at the news
when he learned that Beethoven had punished the
cook for the staleness of the eggs by throwing the
whole batch, one by one, at her head. This habit of
throwing the dishes at the heads of domestics who
displeased him had its comic aspect for the onlookers,
but it cannot have been pleasant for the domestics.
And the waiters suffered too. On one occasion when
he was dining at a restaurant the waiter brought him
a wrong dish. Beethoven had no sooner uttered some
words of reproof (to which the offender retorted in no
very polite fashion) than he took the dish of stewed
beef and gravy and discharged it at the waiter's head.
The poor man was heavily loaded with plates full of
different viands, so that he could not move his arms.
The gravy meanwhile trickled down his face. Both he



104 MASTER MUSICIANS

and Beethoven swore and shouted, while the rest of
the party roared with laughter. At last Beethoven
himself joined in the merriment at the sight of the
waiter, who was hindered from uttering any more in-
vectives by the streams of gravy that found their way
into his mouth.

It was probably after the cook went " off again "
that Beethoven determined to try cooking for himself.
Early in the morning he went off to the market, and
the astonished neighbours saw him return home with
a loaf of bread and a piece of meat, while greens and
other vegetables peeped out of the pockets of his over-
coat. Now for a time he left off playing and writing
music, and devoted himself to the study of a popular
cookery book. One day, when he thought himself
sufficiently advanced in his new studies, he took it into
his head to invite his best friends to a dinner prepared
by himself. Everybody was naturally curious as to the
result, and the guests were punctual to the minute.
They found Beethoven busy in the kitchen with a
nightcap on his head and a white apron before him.

After considerable waiting, they at length sat down
to table. The composer himself was the waiter, but it
is impossible to picture the dismay of the visitors and
the horrors of that meal. A soup not unlike the famous
black porridge of the Spartans, in which floated some
shapeless and nondescript substances, a piece of boiled
beef as tough as shoe-leather, half-cooked vegetables,
a roast joint burnt to a cinder, and pudding like a lump
of soapstone swimming in train oil such was the




BEETHOVEN AND HIS FRIENDS



HANFSTAENGL COLLECTION



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 105

Beethoven dinner. The guests were unable to swallow
a morsel. Beethoven alone ate with a keen appetite,
praised every dish, and declared that the whole thing
was a gigantic success. When they got into the street
two hours afterwards with empty stomachs, his friends
gave vent to their hilarity, and never, we may be sure,
did they forget that Beethoven dinner.

The composer's behaviour to his pupils, even to
ladies, was often atrocious. He would sometimes tear
the music in shreds, and scatter it on the floor, or even
smash the furniture. Once when an aristocratic pupil
struck a wrong note he fled into the street without
taking his hat from the hall. If he did consent to play
in company he must have perfect silence and atten-
tion. On one occasion when this was denied him, he
rose from the keyboard declaring that he would no
longer play for " such hogs." He called Prince Lob-
kowitz an ass, and he called Hummel a " false dog."
In Mme. Ertmann's drawing-room he took up the
snuffers and used it as a tooth-pick.

As a conductor he was little more use than to raise
a laugh. We read that " now he would vehemently
spread out his arms ; then when he wanted to indicate
soft passages, he would bend down lower and lower
until he disappeared from sight. Then as the music
grew louder he would emerge, and at the fortissimo
he would spring up into the air." One time when play-
ing a concerto he forgot himself, jumped from his seat,
and began to conduct. At the very outset he knocked
the two candles from the piano. The audience roared.



106 MASTER MUSICIANS

Beethoven, quite beside himself, began the piece again.
The director now stationed a boy on each side of the
piano to hold the candles. The same scene was re-
enacted. One of the boys dodged the outstretched arm ;
the other, interested in the music, did not notice, and
received the full blow in the face, falling in a heap,
candle and all ! " The audience," says Siegfried, who
conducted, " broke out into a truly bacchanal howl of
delight, and Beethoven was so enraged that when he
started again, he smashed half a dozen strings at a
single chord." Such was this Colossus of music when
he lost his temper.

But he had a sense of humour, too, and now and
again would indulge in the most boyish of horse-play
and practical jokes. He could even make fun of his
troubles with servants. Writing to Holz a note of in-
vitation to dinner, he says : " Friday is the only day
on which the old witch, who certainly would have
burned two hundred years ago, can cook decently,
because on that day the devil has no power over her."
In one letter he has a sly dig at the Vienna musicians
when he tells of having made a certain set of variations
" rather difficult to play," that he may " puzzle some
of the pianoforte teachers here," who, he feels sure, will
occasionally be asked to play the said variations ! He
was often sarcastic to brother artists of a lesser order.
One day he found himself in the company of Himmel,
when he asked Himmel to extemporise on the piano.
After Himmel had played for some time, Beethoven
suddenly exclaimed: " Well, when are you going to



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 107

begin in good earnest?" Himmel, who had no mean
opinion of his own powers, naturally started up in a
rage ; but Beethoven only added to his offence by
remarking to those present : " I thought Himmel
had just been preluding." In revenge for this insult,
Himmel shortly after played Beethoven a trick. Beet-
hoven was always eager to have the latest news from
Berlin, and Himmel took advantage of this curiosity
to write to him : " The latest piece of news is the in-
vention of a lantern for the blind." Beethoven was com-
pletely taken in by the childish joke, repeated it to his
acquaintances, and wrote to Himmel to demand full
particulars of the remarkable invention. The answer
received was such as to bring both the correspondence
and the friendship to a close. Beethoven never enjoyed
a joke at his own expense.

In this respect he did not always do to others as he
would have others do to him. A certain lady admirer
was very anxious to have a lock of Beethoven's hair.
A common friend undertook to approach the master
on the subject, and the result was that Beethoven sent
a tuft of hair cut from a goat's beard ! The lady was
overjoyed at possessing her treasure, but, unfortun-
ately, the secret soon leaked out. Her husband wrote
a letter of expostulation to Beethoven, who, conscious
of his offence, at once cut off a lock of his own hair,
and enclosed it in a note in which he asked the lady's
forgiveness for what had occurred. Even when he was
dying his sense of humour did not forsake him. When
he had to be " tapped," he remarked to the doctor :



io8 MASTER MUSICIANS

" Better water from the body than from the pen." Two
days before his death, Schindler, one of his biographers,
who was then with him, wrote to a friend : " He feels
that his end is near, for yesterday he said to Breuning
and me : ' Clap your hands, friends ; the play is over.'
He advances towards death with really Socratic wisdom
and unexampled equanimity."

And what a weary, tragic advance it had been, all
these years ! From the time of his deafness onwards,
he was constantly adding to the world's stores of the
highest and best in music, and the legacy we now
enjoy as the result of his genius is the most universal
gift of music that has ever come from human hand
and human head. The years, as they passed, brought
nothing very eventful ; and in December 1 826 Beet-
hoven found himself on a sick-bed, in great poverty,
and unable to compose a single line. On the afternoon
of March 26, 1827, he was seized with his last mortal
faintness. " Thick clouds were hanging about the sky ;
outside, the snow lay on the ground ; towards evening
the wind rose ; at nightfall a terrific thunderstorm
burst over Vienna, and whilst the storm was still raging,
the spirit of the sublime master departed." He died in
his fifty-seventh year, and was buried in the cemetery
of Wahring, near Vienna.

It was generally felt that a man of the most power-
ful character and of unique genius had been lost to the
world. And yet, to the public of that day, his music
was not a tithe of what it is to us now. Nay, we
can say more than that, for Beethoven is one of the



THE DEAF BEETHOVEN 109

few creators of art whom one, ever so blessed with
musical intelligence, may study for a lifetime and never
exhaust. Beethoven speaks a language no composer
before him had spoken, and treats of things no one had
dreamt of before. Yet it seems as if he were speaking
of matters long familiar in one's mother tongue as
though he touched upon emotions one had lived
through in some former existence. The warmth and
depth of his ethical sentiment is now felt all the world
over, and it will ere long be universally recognised that
he has leavened and widened the sphere of human
emotions in a manner akin to that in which the con-
ceptions of great philosophers and poets have widened
the sphere of men's intellectual activity.

Beethoven might be described as the Carlyle of
music. Wagner said of him that he faced the world
with a defiant temperament, and kept an almost savage
independence. Like Carlyle, he detested sham, and
humbug, and conventionality above all things. He
believed that " a man's a man for a' that," whether he
be prince or plebeian, so that he be honest, and true,
and good. There is a capital story of him in connection
with the visit of a bumptious, ignorant brother who had
amassed a fortune and purchased a fine estate. The
brother had called when Beethoven was from home, and
had left a card inscribed " Johann van Beethoven, Land
Proprietor." This enraged the composer, who simply
wrote on the other side, "Ludwig van Beethoven, Brain
Proprietor," and returned the card without comment.

Of Beethoven's personal appearance we have several



i io MASTER MUSICIANS

descriptions. Thayer, his leading biographer, says he
was small and insignificant-looking, dark-complex-
ioned, pock-marked, black-eyed, and black-haired.
The hair was luxuriant, and when he walked in the
wind it gave him "a truly Ossianic and demoniac
appearance." His fingers were short and nearly all
of the same length. One lady said his forehead was
"heavenly." Another once pointed to it and exclaimed :
" How beautiful, how noble, how spiritual that brow ! "
Beethoven was silent for a moment and then said :
" Well, then, kiss this brow." Which she did. But per-


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