Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

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days, to compare a composer of one generation, or even of a century, with
the composer of earlier or later years. Music itself is in a measure the
expression of its time. When counterpoint was regarded as the only medium
of music, the opera itself was stiffened by its contrapuntal dress, and
religion could only find vent in a fugue. When the singer waxed arrogant,
music existed only for his vain glory. Now we are taught to believe that
absolute music, music that does not "paint" or "personate" or follow a
"program," is of little account; that unless it puts in clearer light
some poetical thought or some determined emotion or natural phenomenon,
it is worthless; that music is not merely the vehicle of musical thought,
but is rather a means of expressing many ideas that might be better
expressed in poetry, in prose, or on the canvas. So the times change and
with them the fashions in art of every species. There is then perhaps no
greatest composer. Plutarchian comparisons between the men of different
centuries are of little avail in determining true values. A man must be
judged by the conditions of his own time and compared with the men who
worked by his side. And what compositions of Mozart's day, instrumental
or operatic, have stood the test of the revenger Time? Even the mighty
Gluck with his noble theories and statuesque music has bowed the knee
to the younger rival. Figaro and Papageno and the dissolute Don Juan
Tenorio y Salazar live to-day upon the stage; they are as familiar as
the characters of the Old Testament; as Robinson Crusoe or Don Quixote;
they are immortalized by the genius of the music-maker of Vienna. It may
be said without exaggeration that no composer began his work with such a
natural endowment; that Nature created him the greatest musician. His dear
friend Haydn, a man not given to vain compliments, a man of hard sense,
declared that posterity would not see such talent as his for the next
hundred years. And Rossini at the height of his glory, conscious of his
own prodigious natural gifts, pronounced the final judgment so far as this
century is concerned: "He is the greatest, he is the master of us all.
He is the only one whose genius was as great as his knowledge, and whose
knowledge equalled his genius."

[Illustration: Signature: Philip Hale]

[Illustration: The Graces. Figaro. Magic Flute. Don Giovanni. Religion.



_Reproduction of a life-size portrait by F. A. von Klober (1793-1864) made
in 1817. Lithographed by Theo. Neu. This is the best known portrait of the
master and the basis for many idealized portraits of later days. At this
time Beethoven was in his forty-seventh year and began the composition of
the Ninth Symphony, which he finished six years later._]

[Illustration: Beethoven]




The town of Louvain, in Belgium, is now a dull place, with a Hôtel de
Ville, Gothic church, detestable beer, and about 34,000 inhabitants. In
the 14th century it was the capital of the Duchy of Brabant, the residence
of the princes, the home of 2,000 manufactories. Near this city, whose
ruin was wrought by turbulent weavers, are villages called Rotselaer,
Leefdæl, and Berthem; and in the 16th century people by the name of
Van Beethoven were found in these same villages or hard by. If Léon de
Burbure's researches are not in vain, these Van Beethovens were simple
Flemish peasants, who ate beans during the week, and on a Sunday welcomed
the sight of bacon. _Van_ is not in Dutch a sign of nobility. Nor was the
spelling of the name invariable. It was Biethoven, Biethoffen, Bethof,
Betthoven; and there were other variations.

About 1650 one of these farmers grew weary of the smell of fresh earth
and the life with the beasts of the field, and he entered into Antwerp to
make his fortune. There he married, begot a son, and named him Guillaume;
and Guillaume was the great-great-grandfather of the composer of the Nine
Symphonies. Guillaume, or Wilhelm, grew up, trafficked in wines, was
apparently a man of parts, and was held in esteem. He married Catherine
Grandjean. He named one of his eight children Henri-Adélard, and this
Henri, the godson of the Baron de Rocquigny, became a prominent tailor,
and wedded Catherine de Herdt, by whom he had a dozen children. The third,
a son, was baptized Dec. 23, 1712, and his name was Louis. Louis was
brought up in the Antwerp choirs, and there seems to be no doubt that he
received a thorough musical education. His father, Henri, a year after
the birth of Louis, fell into poverty, and it is probable that the boy,
following the fortunes of some choir-master, lived for a time at Ghent.
In 1731 he was a singer in Louvain. In 1733 he was named a musician of
the court of the Elector of Cologne at Bonn. His salary was fixed at
about $160, and he married, in September, 1733, Maria Josepha Poll, aged
nineteen. Louis, or Ludwig, prospered. He rose from "Musicus" to "Herr
Kapellmeister." Maria, his wife, with increasing good fortune and the
addition of a wine shop to music lessons, took to drink, and died in 1775
in a convent at Cologne. Johann, their son, born towards the end of 1739
or in the beginning of 1740, inherited her thirst. He sang tenor and
received his appointment as court singer March 27, 1756. For thirteen
years he had served without pay as soprano, contralto, and tenor, and in
1764 he was granted one hundred thalers by Maximilian Friedrich, who had
succeeded Clemens August as Elector. In 1767 he married Maria Magdalena
Kewerich, the widow of Johann Laym, a valet. Maria was the daughter of a
head cook, nineteen, comely, slender, soft-hearted. Old Ludwig objected
to the match on account of the low social position of the woman. The
young couple lived in the house No. 515 in the Bonngasse. Ludwig Maria
was born in 1769 and lived six days. Ludwig, the great composer, was
baptized the 17th of December, 1770, and he was probably born the day
before the baptism. Of the five children born afterward, only Caspar Anton
(1774-1815) and Nikolaus Johann (1776-1848) grew up. A brother, August,
lived two years; a sister, Anna, four days, and Maria Margaretha about a


The seat of the electoral government of Cologne was transferred in 1257
from Cologne to Bonn. The ecclesiastical principality was a source of
large revenue to the Elector, and his income was derived from rights of
excise and navigation, church dues, benefits of games and lotteries,
and secret sums paid the Elector by Austria and France for serving
their interests. The Elector was also powerful in politics, and he
had the privilege of putting Charlemagne's crown on the head of the
emperor at Aix-la-Chapelle. The founder of the musical organization in
Bonn was Joseph Clemens, ugly, humpbacked, witty, fond of practical
jokes, music-mad. He was continually chasing after artists of merit.
He introduced French and Flemish musicians. In 1722 the state of the
electoral music-chapel was as follows: a director-in-chief of singing, and
two concert-masters; six musicians who were sub-chiefs, organists, etc.;
twelve singers, men and women, and to them must be added choir boys, and
assistants chosen from the domestics of the court; seventeen players of
stringed instruments; four trumpets, two horns and two drums; six players
of oboes and bassoons. Joseph died in 1724. Clemens August succeeded
him, and shared his musical taste. He in turn was followed in 1761 by
Maximilian Friedrich, whose habits were sumptuous; but his prime minister
cut down the expenses. He dismissed comedians, lessened the number of
concerts, and so the Beethoven family suffered in pocket.

The death of the first grandchild healed the breach between old Ludwig
and Johann. The old man died in 1773, but his grandson Ludwig remembered
him and preserved his portrait painted by Radoux to the day of his own
death. Dressed in court costume and wrapped in a red cloak, with great and
sparkling eyes, he made an indelible impression on the three-year-old boy,
as on his neighbors, who respected and admired him. It was his father who
first taught Ludwig the rudiments of his art. It is said, and the reports
are unanimous, that when the boy was hardly four years old, he was obliged
to practise for hours on the pianoforte, and was often urged by blows.
He was soon put under the instruction of Tobias Pfeiffer, the tenor of a
strolling company. Pfeiffer was a good musician and a man of unquenchable
thirst. Johann and he would spend hours in the tavern; and Pfeiffer,
suddenly remembering that his pupil had received no lesson that day,
would return home, drag him from his bed, and keep him at the instrument
until daybreak. Or, locked in a room, young Ludwig practised the violin,
and he was kept there until he had finished the daily allotted task. At
the primary school he learned to read, write, and reckon. Before he was
thirteen, his father declared that his scholastic education was finished.
This limited education was a source of mortification to Beethoven
throughout his life, and no doubt influenced strongly his character. He
spelled atrociously, he was never sure of the proper expression, and the
washerwoman disputed angrily his addition and subtraction.

After the death of the grandfather poverty entered the house. The
second-hand buyer became the warm friend of the family, and the household
furniture fed Johann's appetite. In response to a singular petition of
the tenor, a pension of sixty thalers was granted to the poor woman in
the convent at Cologne, who died a few months after it was given to
her. Beethoven's patient mother was always sewing and mending, and the
baker at least was paid. Meanwhile Johann meditated over his cups the
possibility of fortune gained by his son. Pfeiffer left Bonn. The boy
took a few lessons of Van den Eeden. They were gratuitous; the teacher
was old and infirm; and Neefe, who succeeded Van den Eeden, took charge
of Ludwig and gave him his first instruction in composition. Neefe was
an excellent musician. The son of a tailor, he first studied law, and
gained the title of "Doctor" by his thesis "A father has no right to
disinherit his son because the latter has turned opera-singer." Now Neefe
left on record a description of Ludwig at the age of eleven, which was
published in Cramer's Music Magazine. According to him Beethoven played
the pianoforte with "energetic skill." He played "fluently" Bach's
"Well-tempered Clavichord." "To encourage him he had nine variations which
the child wrote on a march theme engraved at Mannheim. This young genius
deserves a subsidy that he may travel. If he goes on as he has begun, he
will certainly be a second Mozart." Years after, Beethoven acknowledged
gladly his many obligations to this master. In 1782 Neefe went to Munster
for a visit, and Ludwig, then eleven years and a half old, took his place
at the organ. In the following year he was promoted to the position of
_maestro al cembalo_, i.e., he assisted at operatic rehearsals and played
the pianoforte at the performances. During these years, operas by Grétry,
Piccini, Cimarosa, Guglielmi, Sácchini, Sarti, Monsigny, Gluck, and Mozart
were given. According to the recollections of those who then knew him, he
was sombre, melancholy. He did not enter into the sports of his age. Once
a year he assisted in the celebration of the birthday of his mother. There
was music, there was drinking, and there was eating; there was dancing in
stockings, so that the neighbors might not be disturbed.

[Illustration: Beethoven's first authenticated likeness - a silhouette by
Neesen, made between 1787 and 1789.]

In 1783, Beethoven published the first three sonatas, dedicated to
the Elector. A year after, he was named second-organist, through the
intervention of Neefe and Count Salm, but "without appointments."
Maximilian died in 1784, and Maximilian of Austria, the brother of Marie
Antoinette, ruled in his stead. He at once began the work of reforming the
court-music. In a record of the day, Johann is spoken of as a worn-out
singer, "but he has been long in service and is very poor." Ludwig is
referred to as a possible successor to Neefe, and they could secure him
for about $60 a year. "He is poor, very young, and the son of a court
musician." In July, 1784, Ludwig was awarded a salary of $60, although
Neefe was not removed; and at the installation of the new Elector in 1785,
the boy, in court dress with sword at side, was permitted to kiss the
hands of his august master.

At that time Bonn was a sleepy town of about 10,000 inhabitants, who were
chiefly priests and people of the court. There were no factories; there
was no garrison, and the only soldiers were the body guard of the elector.
The theatre was in a wing of the palace. Strolling companies tarried there
for a season. Concerts, or "academies," as they were called, were given
in a handsome hall. The musicians lived bunched together in a quarter of
the town. Franz Ries, the violinist; the horn player, Simrock, the founder
of the publishing house; the singing daughters of Salomon; - these worthy
people were neighbors of the Beethovens. There were many skilled amateurs
in society. The Elector himself was passionately fond of music; he played
the viola and the pianoforte.

There is a story that in 1781, Ludwig made a concert tour in Holland,
or at least played in Rotterdam, but, with this possible exception, he
did not leave Bonn from his birth until the spring of 1787, and then he
went to Vienna. The Elector probably paid the expenses, and he gave him a
letter to Mozart. This great composer was apt to look askew at any infant
phenomenon. He listened at first impatiently to the playing of Beethoven,
but when the latter invented a fantasia on a given theme, Mozart said to
the hearers, "Pay attention to this youngster; he will make a noise in
the world, one of these days." He gave the boy a few lessons. There is a
story that Beethoven also met the Emperor Joseph. His stay was cut short
by lack of money and the news that his mother was dying. In July, Franz
Ries paid her burial expenses. Johann kept on drinking, and his son, who
was now the head of the house, rescued him occasionally from the hands
of the police. In 1789 it was decreed that a portion of the father's
salary should be paid to the son, and December 18, 1792, the unfortunate
man died. The Elector, in a letter to Marshall Schall, pronounced this
funeral oration: "Beethoven is dead; it is a serious loss to the duties on

Ludwig looked after the education of his brothers; Caspar learned music,
and Johann was put under the Court Apothecary. And now he found devoted
friends in Count Waldstein and the Breuning family. The widow von Breuning
was a woman of society, accomplished and kind-hearted. She was one of
the few people who had an influence over the actions of Beethoven, and
her influence was no doubt strengthened by the sweetness of her daughter
Eleonore. He gave Eleonore lessons, and she in turn acquainted him with
the German poets, and Homer and Shakespeare. Was he in love with her?
We know that he was of amorous temperament. Dr. Wegeler, Stephen von
Breuning, Ries, Romberg, all bear witness that he was never without an
object of passion in his heart. Mr. Thayer says that we have no proof
that Beethoven loved her, but such affairs are not often matters for
cross-examination and a jury. No doubt the susceptible young man was
smitten deeply with every fair girl he met, and in the new-comer forgot
the old flame. There was Miss Jeannette d'Honrath of Cologne; there was
Miss Westerhold, whose eyes he remembered for forty years; nor must pretty
Babette Koch be forgotten, the daughter of a tavern keeper, and afterward
a Countess. And so he passed his days in music, conversation, and innocent
pleasures. He went with the Elector to Mergentheim; at Aschaffenburg he
played in friendly rivalry with the Abbé Sterkel. It was at Mergentheim
that the modest and unassuming pianist touched hearts by his telling,
suggestive, expressive improvisations; for so Chaplain Junker bore record.
In 1792, Haydn passed through Bonn on his return from London to Vienna,
and praised a cantata by Beethoven on the succession of Leopold II.,
and in November of the same year Ludwig left Bonn for ever. The Elector
realized the extent of his genius, and gave him a small pension. The
political condition of France affected the Rhenish town; there was panic,
and in October there was a general exodus. His many friends bade Beethoven
warm God-speed, and Count Waldstein in a letter prayed him to receive
"through unbroken industry from the hands of Haydn the spirit of Mozart."
Nearly twenty-two, he was known chiefly by the remarkable facility of his
extempore playing, and the record of his compositions during the Bonn
period is insignificant. At the age of twenty-three, Mozart was famous as
a writer of operas, symphonies, cantatas, and masses, and his pieces were
in number about three hundred.

[Illustration: BEETHOVEN.

Miniature portrait on ivory painted by C. Hernemann, in 1802.]

On his arrival at Vienna he bought clothing and took dancing lessons, that
he might be an acceptable guest in houses to which he was recommended by
Count Waldstein. He never was able to dance, by the way, for he could not
keep step to the music. The 12th of December, he recorded the fact that
he had only about $35. The Elector, fearing hard times, did not fulfill
his first promises. Beethoven took a garret, - and afterwards moved to
a room on the ground-floor - in a printer's house in the Alservorstadt;
there he began a student-life of three years. He took lessons of Haydn,
and although they drank coffee and chocolate at Beethoven's expense,
the lessons were unsatisfactory. Haydn looked on the pupil as a musical
atheist, who had not the fear of Fux before his eyes, and the pupil
thought that Haydn was not diligent and that he did not correct carefully
his mistakes. "It is true he gave me lessons," he once said to Ries,
"but he taught me nothing." Then he took secretly lessons of Schenk,
and when Haydn went to London in 1794, he put himself under the rigid
disciplinarian Albrechtsberger. He studied with Salieri the art of
writing for the voice and the stage. He also took lessons on the viola,
violin, violoncello, clarinet and horn. There were a few exceptions, but
Beethoven was unpopular with his masters. They considered him obstinate
and arrogant. Haydn spoke of him as "the great Mogul"; Albrechtsberger
once said, "He has learned nothing, and will never do anything in decent
style." Nor was Beethoven's continual "_I_ say it is right" calculated to
win the affection of his masters.


Reproduced from a photograph of a painting in which the two composers are
not faithfully represented, as may be seen by referring to authenticated

Meanwhile Beethoven made influential friends. Vienna at that time numbered
about 250,000 inhabitants. The life was gay, even frivolous. Reichardt
considered the city a most agreeable dwelling place for musicians. "You
find there a rich, educated, and hospitable aristocracy, devoted to music;
the middle class is wealthy and intelligent; and the common people,
jolly and good-natured, have always a song in the mouth." Princes hired
orchestra and singers for their own theatres. Others had musicians in
their employment, and even those in moderate circumstances retained an
organist or pianist. These Viennese were the patrons of composers who
wrote especially for them. In common with other South Germans they were
pleased with music that appealed to the heart rather than to the brain,
and the neighborhood of Italy influenced their melodies and taste. This
influence was also marked in the sympathetic performance of the Vienna
players, for the abandon and the swing were opposed to the rigidity of
Northern orchestras. The amateurs were many and of the noblest families.
There was Van Swieten who bowed the knee to Handel; Count Kinsky, whose
son was in after years the devoted friend of Beethoven; Prince Lobkowitz,
who played the violin and spent his fortune in the pursuit of musical
pleasure; the Esterhazy family; Von Rees and Von Meyer; and princes and
counts without number, in whose houses symphonies, oratorios, and chamber
music were performed from manuscript. Public concerts were then rare. The
court opera house was devoted to Italian opera; at the Theatre Marinelli
German operettas were seen; at the theatre _an der Wien_, farces and
operettas were given. The chief composers in Vienna were Haydn, Salieri,
Weizl, Schenk, Süssmayr, Wranitzky, Kozeluch, Förster, Eberl and Vanhall.

Two of the warmest friends of Beethoven were the Prince Lichnowsky and his
wife, formerly the Countess of Thun. They mourned the death of Mozart, and
saw in Haydn's pupil a possible successor. In 1794 they took Beethoven
to their house and humored him and petted him. They were childless, and
their affection was spent on the rude, hot-tempered, trying young man.
The princess saw through the rugged exterior, and the stories of her
tact and forbearance are many. "She would have put me in a glass case
that no evil might come nigh me," said the composer in after years. In
their palace Beethoven was free in action and in dress. He studied or
gave lessons by day, and at night he was associated with the Schuppanzigh
quartet - afterward the Rasoumoffsky quartet - the members of which met
every Friday at Lichnowsky's house.

At this time he was chiefly known as a virtuoso, and his first appearance
in public was March 29, 1795, in a concert at the Burgtheatre for the
benefit of the widows of the Society of Musicians. An oratorio by
Cartellieri was given, and Beethoven played his pianoforte concerto in C
major, which was published six years after as Op. 15. At rehearsal there
was a difference of half a tone between the pitch of the pianoforte and
that of the orchestral instruments, and the composer played the concerto
in C sharp major. In the same year he made a contract with Artaria for
the publication of his first three pianoforte trios. Two hundred and
forty-two copies were subscribed for, and the composer netted about $400,
a respectable sum at that time, especially for the early works of a young

In 1796 Beethoven went to Nuremberg, where he met his Bonn friends, the
Breuning brothers, and for some reason not clearly known, they were
arrested at Linz by the police, but were quickly released. On his return
to Vienna he busied himself in overseeing the publication of sonatas
(Op. 2), minuets and variations. His brothers were in the city. Johann,
"tall, black, handsome, a complete dandy," found a place in an apothecary
shop. Caspar, "small, red-haired, ugly," gave music lessons. In February
Beethoven was in Prague and in Berlin, the only occasion on which he
visited "the Athens of the Spree." Frederick William II. was gracious to
him, heard him play, and gave him a snuff-box filled with gold pieces;
"not an ordinary box," as Beethoven proudly said when he showed it, "but
such a one as they give to ambassadors." Beethoven also met Prince Louis
Ferdinand and complimented him by saying, "you play like an artist, not
like a prince." He jeered at Himmel's improvisation, and Himmel in turn
persuaded him that a lantern had been invented for the benefit of the
blind. He saw Fasch and Zelter. When he returned to Vienna the talk was of
Napoleon conquering in Italy.

In 1797 Beethoven, through imprudent exposure when he was heated,
contracted a dangerous illness, and Zmeskall relates that it "eventually
settled in the organs of hearing." He worked at his trade. He entered
into a contest with Wölfl, a virtuoso of remarkable technique, and they
vied with each other in friendly spirit; whereas in a similar and later
trial of skill between Beethoven and Steibelt, the latter sulked at the
power of his rival. In 1798 he met Prince Rasumowsky, Count Browne,
Rudolphe Kreutzer (who introduced him to Bernadotte, the suggestor of
the "Heroic" symphony and the French ambassador), and in the following
year he saw Dragonetti, the great player of the double-bass, who without
doubt influenced him in his treatment of that instrument, and Cramer the
pianist. The few recorded events of the next years are chiefly connected
with music. The septet and first symphony were produced in 1800, and
April 2 of the same year Beethoven gave the first concert in Vienna for

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 9 of 32)