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In one of his letters to Frau von Streicher, at Baden, Beethoven writes: "When you visit the ancient ruins, do not forget that Beethoven has often lingered there; when you stray through the silent pine-forests, do not forget that Beethoven often wrote poetry there, or, as it is termed, composed." He was always fond of claiming the title "Ton-dichter, poet in music;" and surely of all the great geniuses who have walked the earth, to none can the glorious name of "poet" more truly be given than to Ludwig von Beethoven.
An Anecdote about Beethoven.
Beethoven was never a very easy man to get on with, and his intercourse with Haydn, who used to call him the "Great Mogul," does not seem to have been the most friendly. He was dissatisfied with the instruction given him, and suspicions were awakened in his mind that the elder musician was jealous of him, and did not wish him to improve. These thoughts were strengthened by the result of a chance meeting one day, as he was walking home with his portfolio under his arm, with Johann Schenk, a scientific and thoroughly accomplished musician. Beethoven complained to him of the little advance he was making in counterpoint, and that Haydn never corrected his exercises or taught him anything. Schenk asked to look through the portfolio, and see the last work that Haydn had revised, and on examining it he was astonished to find a number of mistakes that had not been pointed out. It is difficult to understand Haydn's conduct in this matter, for the perfidious treatment suspected by Beethoven is quite at variance with the ordinarily accepted character of the old man, and I cannot help fancying that the only foundation for Beethoven's suspicion was that Haydn did not quite understand the erratic genius of the youth till some time afterward. Beethoven dedicated his three pianoforte sonatas, Op. II., to Haydn, and when the latter suggested that he should add on the title page "Pupil of Haydn," the "Great Mogul" refused, bluntly saying "that he had never learnt anything from him." After Haydn, Albrechtsberger and Salieri were for a time his teachers, but Beethoven got on no better with them, and Albrechtsberger said, "Have nothing to do with him; he has learnt nothing, and will never do anything in decent style." Perhaps not in your pedant's style, O great contrapuntist!
Beethoven cannot be said to have been unfortunate in his friends. He had many true and faithful ones throughout his life, and though he suffered from pecuniary troubles, caused by the conduct of his brothers, he was never in such a state of grinding poverty as some other artists, such as Schubert, have been--never compelled to waste precious years of his life in producing "pot-boilers"--working not for art so much as for mere food and shelter. In 1794 Prince Karl Lichnowski, who had been a pupil of Mozart, and who, as well as his wife Christiane, was fanatico per la musica, proposed that Beethoven should come and live at his palace. They had no children; a suite of rooms was placed at the musician's disposal; no terms were proposed; the offer was the most delicate and friendly imaginable, and was accepted by Beethoven in the spirit in which it was made. For ten years he resided with the Lichnowskis, and these were probably the years of purest happiness in the great composer's life, although early in their course the terrible affliction of deafness began to be felt by him. He at this time freely frequented the salons of the Viennese nobility, many of whom were accomplished virtuosi themselves, and were able to appreciate the great genius of the new-comer, rough and bearish as oftentimes he must have appeared to them--a great contrast to the courtly Haydn and Salieri, who might be seen sitting side by side on the sofa in some grandee's music-room, with their swords, wigs, ruffles, silk stockings, and snuff-boxes, while the insignificant-looking and meanly dressed Beethoven used to stand unnoticed in a corner. Here is a description of his appearance given by a Frau von Bernhard: "When he visited us, he generally put his head in at the door before entering, to see if there were any one present he did not like. He was short and insignificant-looking, with a red face covered with pock-marks. His hair was quite dark. His dress was very common, quite a contrast to the elegant attire customary in those days, especially in our circles.... He was very proud, and I have known him refuse to play, even when Countess Thun, the mother of Princess Lichnowski, had fallen on her knees before him as he lay on the sofa to beg him to. The Countess was a very eccentric person.... At the Lichnowskis' I saw Haydn and Salieri, who were then very famous, while Beethoven excited no interest."
It was in the year 1800 that Beethoven at last was compelled to acknowledge to himself the terrible calamity of almost total deafness that had befallen him. He writes to his friend Wegeler, "If I had not read somewhere that man must not of his own free will depart this life, I should long ere this have been no more and that through my own act.... What is to be the result of this the good God alone knows. I beg of you not to mention my state to any one, not even to Lorchen [Wegeler's wife]. But," he continues, "I live only in my music, and no sooner is one thing completed than another is begun. In fact, as at present, I am often engaged on three or four compositions at one time."
But at first all was not gloom; for Beethoven was in love--not the love of fleeting fancy that, like other poets, he may have experienced before, but deeply, tragically, in love; and it seems that, for a time at least, this love was returned. The lady was the Countess Julia Guicciardi; but his dream did not last long, for in the year 1801 she married a Count Gallenberg. Hardly anything is known of this love affair of Beethoven's. A few letters full of passionate tenderness, and with a certain very pathetic simple trustfulness in her love running through them all--on which her marriage shortly afterward is a strange comment; the "Moonlight Sonata," vibrating, as it is throughout, with a lover's supremest ecstasy of devotion, these are the only records of that one blissful epoch in the poor composer's life; but how much it affected his after life, how it mingled in the dreams from which his loveliest creations of later years arose, it is impossible now to say. In a letter to Wegeler, dated November 16, 1801, he says, "You can hardly realize what a miserable, desolate life mine has been for the last two years; my defective hearing everywhere pursuing me like a spectre, making me fly from every one, and appear a misanthrope; and yet no one in reality is less so! This change [to a happier life] has been brought about by a lovely and fascinating girl who loves me and whom I love. After the lapse of two years I have again enjoyed some blissful moments, and now for the first time I feel that marriage can bestow happiness; but alas! she is not in the same rank of life as myself.... You shall see me as happy as I am destined to be here below, but not unhappy. No, that I could not bear. I will grasp Fate by the throat; it shall not utterly crush me. Oh, it is so glorious to live one's life a thousand times!" No misanthropy this, surely; he could not always speak the speech of common men, or care for the tawdry bravery of titles or fine clothes in which they strutted, but what a heart there was in the man, what a wondrous insight into all the beauty of the world, visible and invisible, around him! The most glorious lovesong ever composed, "Adelaide," was written by him; but Julia Guicciardi preferred a Count Gallenberg, keeper of the royal archives in Vienna, and Beethoven, to the end of his days, went on his way alone.
It was at this time that he composed his oratorio, "The Mount of Olives," which can hardly be reckoned among his finest works; and his one opera--but such an opera--"Fidelio." The greater part of these works was composed during his stay, in the summer months, at Hetzendorf, a pretty, secluded little village near Schoenbrunn. He spent his days wandering alone through the quiet, shady alleys of the imperial park there, and his favorite seat was between two boughs of a venerable oak, at a height of about two feet from the ground. For some time he had apartments at a residence of Baron Pronay's, near this village; but he suddenly left, "because the baron would persist in making him profound bows every time that he met him." Like a true poet, he delighted in the country. "No man on earth," he writes, "loves the country more. Woods, trees, and rock give the response which man requires. Every tree seems to say, 'Holy, holy.'"
In 1804 the magnificent "Eroica" symphony was completed. This had originally been commenced in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul, who, Beethoven--throughout his life an ardent Republican--then believed was about to bring liberty to all the nations of Europe. When the news of the empire came the dream departed, and Beethoven, in a passionate rage, tore the title page of the symphony in two, and, with a torrent of imprecations against the tyrant, stamped on the torn fragments.
"My hero--a tyrant!" he shrieked, as he trampled on the poor page. On this page the inscription had been simply, "Bonaparte--Luigi v. Beethoven". For some years he refused to publish the work, and, when at last this was done, the inscription read as follows: "Sinfonia Eroica per festigiari il sovvenire d'un grand' uomo" (Heroic symphony, to celebrate the memory of a great man). When Napoleon died, in 1821, Beethoven said, "Seventeen years before I composed the music for this occasion;" and surely no grander music than that of the "Funeral March" was ever composed for the obsequies of a fallen hero. This is not the place to enter into a description of the marvellous succession of colossal works--symphonies, concertos, sonatas, trios, quartets, etc., culminating in the "Choral Symphony," his ninth, and last--which, through those long years of a silent life, imprisoned within himself, the great master put forth. His deafness prevented his appearing in public to conduct, although, with the natural desire of a composer to be present at the production of his own work, he long struggled to take his part in the first performances of symphonies and concertos.
When the great choral symphony was first performed he attempted to conduct, but in reality another conductor was stationed near him to give the right time to the band. After the majestic instrumental movements had been played came the final one, concluding with Schiller's "Hymn to Joy." The chorus breaks forth, thundering out in concert with all the instruments. At the words "Seid umschlunger, Millionen," the audience could no longer restrain their excited delight, and burst into tremendous applause, drowning the voices of singers and the sounds of strings and brass. The last notes are heard, but still Beethoven stands there absorbed in thought--he does not know that the music is ended. This was the first time that the people realized the full deprivation of hearing from which he suffered. Fraulein Unger, the soprano, gently takes his arm and turns him round to front the acclaiming multitude. There are few in that crowd who, while they cheer, do not feel the tears stealing down their cheeks at the sight of the poor lonely man who, from the prison-house of his affliction, has brought to them the gladness of thought so divine. Unmoved, he bowed his acknowledgment, and quietly left the building.
His later years were embittered with troubles about his nephew Carl, a youth to whom he was fondly attached, but who shamefully repaid the love of the desolate old man. Letters like the following, to the teacher in whose house the boy lived, show the constant thought and affection given to this boy: "Your estimable lady is politely requested to let the undersigned know as soon as possible (that I may not be obliged to keep it all in my head) how many pairs of stockings, trousers, shoes, and drawers are required, and how many yards of kerseymere to make a pair of black trousers for my tall nephew."
His death was the result of a cold which produced inflammation of the lungs. On the morning of March 24, 1827, he took the sacrament and when the clergyman was gone and his friends stood round his bed, he muttered. "Plaudite amici, comedia finita est." He then fell into an agony so intense that he could no longer articulate, and thus continued until the evening of the 26th. A violent thunder-storm arose; one of his friends, watching by his bedside when the thunder was rolling and a vivid flash of lightning lit up the room, saw him suddenly open his eyes, lift his right hand upward for some seconds--as if in defiance of the powers of evil--with clenched fist and a stern, solemn expression on his face; and then he sank back and died.
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