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Beethoven

Beethoven

 

 

BeethovenIn what a wealth of imagery and in how many different tongues have the praises of this "Shakespeare of music," this Titan among composers, been sung! Standing apart from and above all others in his majestic greatness, he not only marked the climax of an epoch in mus;· cal history, hut also opened up a new era of musical progress.

 

In the Pantheon of art Beethoven holds a foremost place beside the great poets and artists of all time, with Eschylus and Dante, Michael Angelo and Shakespeare. Like these inspired men he has widened and ennobled the mind and soul of humanity. Wagner wrote of him, Our civilization might receive a new soul from the spirit of Beethoven's music and a renovation of religion which might permeate it through and through." Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on the 17th of December, I770' at Bonn, and probably born on the preceding day. His father, Johann van Beethoven, a tenor, was of a vacinating nature, addicted to drink, ever struggling with poverty. Prompted, it is said, by a desire to exploit the boy as a prodigy for he learned readily, the father put him at the piano in his fourth year, and later banded him over to one Pfeiffer for instruction. At nine he was placed under Vandenreden, court organist, and subsequently Christian Gottlob Neefe. Young Beethoven was appointed assistant organist in 1785, and later became viol-player in the Elector's orchestra. The advantage of all this practical training appeared later in his orchestration. After a first visit to Vienna in 1787, when be woo praise from Mozart, he went there again in 1792, to remain for the rest of bis life. With bis first master in that city, Haydn, he was not well satisfied, and left him to study with Albrechtsberger, and later with Salieri. Beethoven has been described as a self-willed pupil, and one would naturally expect a strong autodidactic vein in such an original genius. But he seems to have curbed his self-will and impatience, submitting to hard study, and, in fact, he remained a diligent student through life. As Graeme says: Epoch-Makers are necessarily Law-Breakers, to the eyes of their contemporaries. While Beethoven's critics believed him to be rebelliously diverting the current of Harmony from the pure course directed by a Palestrina, a Bach, a Handel, a Haydn, a Mozart, he was in reality simply engaged in deepening and widening its channel. that the stream might now on in grander and nobler proportions to meet the ever-growing necessities of Humanity."

 

Beethoven's brusque and unconventional manner was possibly accentuated by his appearance. Short, strong of figure, but not elegant, with a broad face, surmounted by a tremendous forehead and a rebellious head of hair, even his physical personality was not easily overlook. He was an impetuous, ardent genius, whom people generally misunderstood. But he retained through life a few friends who appreciated him and rated him at his true value, having the sympathetic discernment to discover the brilliant mind and noble soul that lay under the rough exterior. Such was the widow Madame Von Breuning, with her three sons among them Stephen, and a daughter, Leonore. Such were also Count Waldstein and the Archduke Rudolf his pupil, good and devoted friends, Schindler, Schenck, and others. It seems like the irony of fate that Beethoven, so loving a nature, so much in need of the influence of an affectionate wife, should never have had a home of his own, never met with that fervent love which he depicted in all its tenderness in Fidelio.

 

His original style as a pianist and his extraordinary gift of improvisation met with speedy recognition, and he gained admission to the highest circles of the capital. Music was at the time, indeed, in the fashion. But playing in the houses of the great was as unpalatable to him as teaching. However, among his patrons some were of real benefit to him: Gottfried, Baron van Swieten, and, to a far greater extent, Prince Karl Lichnowski. His reputation as a composer became well established by the publication of his first work 1795, and his development was regular and systematic a magnificent, orderly unfolding of the greatest musical genius that this world has seen. During the last years of his life his popularity waned. The advent of Rossini created a change in public taste, and Beethoven was forgotten until his death roused the Viennese public to all imposing demonstration. But a far greater misfortune than a loss of temporary popularity befel him. In 1801 after some years of premonitory symptom", he became completely deaf. It was a sad, a crushing blow, and for a time seemed worse than loss of life itself. Mind remained triumphant in the cud, however, and from his burdened soul escaped the noblest strains that have been given to this world, strains that appeal to all who have felt and suffered. But his childlike, benevolent disposition was now marred by irritability, distrust and suspicion and these evils were increased by the selfish conduct of his brothers, Carl and Johann. The last years of his life were furthermore clouded by care for his nephew, whom he loved like a father, meeting in return with the basest ingratitude. A severe attack of inflammation of the lungs laid Beethoven low. Symptoms of dropsy soon showed themselves, and on March 26, 1827, he breathed his last, while a violent thunderstorm raged without. His funeral was an imposing affair thousands accompanied his body to its last resting-place.

 

Beethoven's compositions comprise all forms of vocal and instrumental music, and his deep introspective feeling, his powerful genius is displayed in all. It is perhaps idle to pick from the musical treasure of Beethoven's productions, but at least his most familiar works may he mentioned; such as the opera .Fidelio, with its four Leonora overtures j the overture and incidental music to Egmont, the seventh and ninth symphonies the Sonata pathetique, for piano Adeldide, the Mass in C major, etc. His pianoforte sonatas opened up a perfection of technical resources hitherto unknown for that instrument, and have brought the pianoforte to its present eminence as the most intellectual and ideal of all instruments." And his instrumental music in general has been well characterized by a German writer in the words: Beethoven's immeasurably great merit as a composer consists in this, that he increased the power of expression of instrumental music, even for the reproduction of the profoundest sensations of the human soul in an unsuspected manner, and enlarged its forms to gigantic proportions." Volumes of criticism and analysis have been devoted to Beethoven's work, but after all, as Richard Wagner truly said, If It is perfectly impossible to undertake to discuss the essential nature, proper, of Beethoven's music, without at once falling into the tone of rhapsody. "

 

THE DEAF MUSICIAN.

 

The personality and life of Beethoven were profoundly lonesome. His immense native power of mind and sensibility, early set askew with the world of men, made him peculiarly sensitive to exaction, slights and irritations. The death or the fickleness of the maiden he loved in his youth apparently made a dark and sinister st'-Imp on his social character, and left a permanent bitterness in bis blood. His averseness to common intercourse was aggravated by his poverty, his devouring absorption in the science and art of music, and a singular combination in him of awkwardness and scorn, tender diffidence and titanic pride. The lack of popular favor, the incompetent condemnation his wonderful compositions long suffered, must also have been a trial tending to sour him. Furthermore, as in the case of every man of primal genius, his transcendent originality doomed him to a determined struggle with the past, an uncompromising insurrection against conventional authority and usage. He defied the prescriptions of his predecessors, broke pedantic fetters, refuted his teachers, made new rules for himself, up heaved a world dead in professional routine and tradition that he might inspire it with fresh freedom and fresh triumphs; and thus, perforce, he stood alone, battling with obscurity, contempt, and hate, until he slowly conquered the recognition he deserved. Finally, in addition to these previous causes, the sternness of his isolation was made complete by the dreadful calamity of a dense and incurable deafness.

 

Dark indeed was his melancholy, bitter the revulsion of his capacious soul upon itself. He says I was nigh taking my life with my own hands. But Art held me back. I could Dot leave the world until r had revealed what lay within me." Resolved at any cost to be himself, and express himself, and leave the record to posterity, he left behind opponents and patrons alike, and consecrated all to his genius and its ideal objects. Occupying for a long time a room in a remote house on a hill, he was called the Solibry of the Mountain. In His life was that of a martyr of the old legcnds or all iron-bound hero of the antique." Poor, deaf, solitary, restless, proud and sad, sometimes almost cursing his existence, sometimes ineffably glad and grateful, subject now to the softest yearnings of melancholy and sympathy, now to tempestuous outbreaks of wrath and woe, shut lip in himself, he lived alone, rambled alone, created alone. sorrowed and aspired and enjoyed alone.

 

The character of Beethoven has many times been wronged by uncharitable misinterpretations. He has been drawn as a misanthrope, a selfish savage. His nature had attributes as glorious as the music born out of them. He was a democrat, who earnestly desired that the rights of all men should be secured to them in the enjoyment of freedom. Asked, in a law-suit before a German court, to produce the proof of his nobility, he pointed to his head and his heart, and said, My nobility is here, and here." He was a fond reader of Plato and of Plutarch. One of his biographers says, "The Republic of Plato was transfused into his flesh and blood." He always stood by his republican principles stanchly. It was in the firm belief that Napoleon meant to republicanize France that he composed and inscribed to him his Heroic Symphony. On learning that the First Consul had usurped the rank of Emperor, he tore off the dedication and threw it. down with explosive execrations. He sympathized intensely with that whole of humanity which to a genius like his ever reveals itself as a great mysterious being, distinct from individuals, yet giving the individual his sacredness and grandeur. His uncertain and furious temper was an accident of his physical condition, the unequal distribution of force in his nervous centers. An idea which to a man of stolid health and complacency would be nothing, entering the imagination of the rich and febrile Beethoven, was a terrific stimulus. To judge him justly, discriminating insight and charity are needed.

 

In his lofty loneliness his mislikers considered him as a growling old bear." Those who appreciated his genius thought of him as the mysterious "cloud-compeller of the world of music." Nearly all regarded him as an incomprehensible unique, into whose sympathetic interior it was impossible to penetrate. Carl Maria Von Weber once paid him a visit, of which his son, Max Weber, has given a graphic description full of interesting lights. Himself kept scrupulously clean by an oriental frequency of bathing, he sat in the disorderly, desolate room, amidst the slovenly signs of poverty, his mass of lion-like face glowing with the halo of immortality, his head crowned with a wild forest of hair. He was all kindness and affection to Veber, embracing him again and again, as though he could not part with him."

 

When he produced his mighty opera, Fidelio, it failed. In vain he again modelled and remodelled it. He went himself into the orchestra and attempted to lead it and the pitiless public of Vieuna laughed. To think now of the Austrian groundings cackling at the sublimest genius who has ever lifted his scepter in the empire of sound, making him writhe under the torturing irony of so monstrous a reversal of their relative superiorities I After suffering this cruel outrage, he fled more deeply than ever into his cold solitude. As Weber says, He crept into his lair alone, like a wounded beast of the forest, to hide himself from humanity." Nothing can be sadder in one aspect, grander in another, than the expression this unapproachable creator, this deaf Zeus of music, has given of his isolation. I have no friend; I must live with myself atone but I well know that God is nearer to me than to my brothers in the art." Of course this is no entire picture either of the soul or the experience of Beethoven. He had his happy prerogatives and hours. Life to him, too, was often sweet and dear. He knew the joy of a fame which before he died had slowly grown to be stupendous. Almost everyone of the musical celebrities who arose in his time, from the author of Der Freischultz to the author of Du Erlkonig, with pilgrim steps brought a tributary wreath to him as the greatest master. Above all, he had a sublime consciousness and fruition of his own genius. At one time he says, Music is like wine, inflaming men to new achievements, and I am the Bacchus who serves it out to them." At another time be says, Tell Goethe to hear my symphonies, and he will agree with me that music alone ushers man within the portals of an intellectual world, ready to encompass him, but which he call never encompass." If he suffered hunger, loneliness, the misunderstanding of the vulgar and conventional, he kept himself free, and felt himself supreme in his sphere. An anonymous critic has well written of him: "He gained what he sought, but gained it with that stain of discord in his finer nature which is to the soul of the artist what the shadow of a cloud is to a landscape. The desire to make the world different from what it was, in kind as well as degree, was the error which ruined his earthly peace; for he persisted in judging all relations of life by the unattainable ideals which drew him on in music. Yet it was out of this opposition to the reality, which was to him a sorrow and bitterness known to but few beside, that there came the final victory of his later creations." He also knew that his strains would sound his name and worth down the vista of future ages with growing glory. I have no fear for my works. No harm can betide them. Whoever understands them shall be delivered from the burdens that afflict mankind. "-W. R. ALGER.

 

Beethoven

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