God acts upon earth only by means of superior chosen men.
— Herder: Ideas Toward a History of Mankind.
As life broadens with advancing culture, and people are able to appropriate to themselves more of the various forms of art, the artist himself attains to greater power, his abilities increase in direct ratio with the progress in culture made by the people and their ability to comprehend him. When one side or phase of an art comes to be received, new and more difficult problems are invariably presented, the elucidation of which can only be effected by a higher development of the faculties. There is never an approach to equilibrium between the artist and his public. As it advances in knowledge of his art, he maintains the want of balance, the disproportion that always exists between the genius and the ordinary man, by rising ever to greater heights.
If Bach is the mathematician of music, as has been asserted, Beethoven is its philosopher. In his work the philosophic spirit comes to the fore. To the genius of the musician is added in Beethoven a wide mental grasp, an altruistic spirit, that seeks to help humanity on the upward path. He addresses the intellect of mankind.
Up to Beethoven’s time musicians in general (Bach is always an exception) performed their work without the aid of an intellect for the most part; they worked by intuition. In everything outside their art they were like children. Beethoven was the first one having the independence to think for himself — the first to have ideas on subjects unconnected with his art. He it was who established the dignity of the artist over that of the simply well-born. His entire life was a protest against the pretensions of birth over mind. His predecessors, to a great extent subjugated by their social superiors, sought only to please. Nothing further was expected of them. This mental attitude is apparent in their work. The language of the courtier is usually polished, but will never have the virility that characterizes the speech of the free man.
As with all valuable things, however, Beethoven’s music is not to be enjoyed for nothing. We must on our side contribute something to the enterprise, something more than simply buying a ticket to the performance. We must study his work in the right spirit, and place ourselves in a receptive attitude when listening to it to understand his message. Often metaphysical, particularly in the work of his later years, his meaning will be revealed only when we devote to it earnest and sympathetic study. No other composer demands so much of one; no other rewards the student so richly for the effort required. The making a fact the subject of thought vitalizes it. It is as if the master had said to the aspirant: “I will admit you into the ranks of my disciples, but you must first prove yourself worthy.” An initiation is necessary; somewhat of the intense mental activity which characterized Beethoven in the composition of his works is required of the student also. There is a tax imposed for the enjoyment of them.
Like Thoreau, Beethoven came on the world’s stage “just in the nick of time,” and almost immediately had to begin hewing out a path for himself. He was born in the workshop, as was Mozart, and learned music simultaneously with speaking. Stirring times they were in which he first saw the light, and so indeed continued with ever-increasing intensity, like a good drama, until nearly his end. The American Revolution became an accomplished fact during his boyhood. Nearer home, events were fast coming to a focus, which culminated in the French Revolution. The magic words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and the ideas for which they stood, were everywhere in the minds of the people. The age called for enlightenment, spiritual growth.
On reaching manhood, he found a world in transition; he realized that he was on the threshold of a new order of things, and with ready prescience took advantage of such as could be utilized in his art. Through Beethoven the resources of the orchestra were increased, an added range was given the keyboard of the piano, the human voice was given tasks that at the time seemed impossible of achievement. He established the precedent, which Wagner acted on later, of employing the human voice as a tool, an instrument, to be used in the exigencies of his art, as if it were a part of the orchestra.
Beethoven’s birthplace, Bonn, no doubt proved a favorable soil for the propagation of the new ideas. The unrest pervading all classes, an outcome of the Revolution, showed itself among the more serious-minded in increased intellectuality, and a reaching after higher things. This Zeitgeist is clearly reflected in his compositions, in particular the symphonies and sonatas. “Under the lead of Italian vocalism,” said Wagner, speaking of the period just preceding the time of which we write, “music had become an art of sheer agreeableness.” The beautiful in music had been sufficiently exploited by Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven demonstrated that music has a higher function than that of mere beauty, or the simple act of giving pleasure. The beautiful in literature is not its best part. To the earnest thinker, the seeker after truth, the student who looks for illumination on life’s problem, beauty in itself is insufficient. It is the best office of art, of Beethoven’s art in particular, that it leads ever onward and upward; that it acts not only on the esthetic and moral sense, but develops the mental faculties as well, enabling the individual to find a purpose and meaning in life.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born at Bonn, December 16, 1770. He came of a musical family. His father and grandfather were both musicians at Bonn, at the Court of the Elector of Cologne. The family originally came from Louvain, and settled in Antwerp in 1650, from which place they moved to Bonn.
This old city on the Rhine, frequently mentioned by Tacitus, older than Christianity, the scene of innumerable battles from Roman times up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, has much that is interesting about it, but is distinguished chiefly on account of having been Beethoven’s birthplace. It was for five centuries (from 1268 to 1794) in the possession of the Electors of Cologne. The last one of all, Max Franz, who succeeded to the Electorate when Beethoven was fourteen years of age, and who befriended him in various ways was, in common with the entire Imperial family, a highly cultivated person, especially in music. He was the youngest son of Maria Therese, Empress of Austria, herself a fine singer and well versed in the music of the time. The Elector played the viola and his chief interest in life seems to have been music. In Beethoven’s time and long before, the aristocracy led lives of easy, complacent enjoyment, dabbling in art, patronizing music and the composers, seemingly with no prevision that the musicians whom they attached to their train, and who in the cases of Mozart and Haydn were at times treated but little better than lackeys, were destined by the irony of fate to occupy places in the temple of fame, which would be denied themselves.
Ludwig van Beethoven, the grandfather of the composer, received his appointment as Kapellmeister at Bonn in March of 1733, then twenty-one years of age. A little more than a century afterward a statue was erected there in the Münster Platz to his illustrious grandson, Liszt being the moving spirit in the matter. The grandfather was in every way a worthy man, but he died when our composer was three years of age, and from that time poverty and hardship of all kinds was the portion of the family. Beethoven’s father was careless and improvident. His salary of 300 florins, about $145, was all they had upon which to live. The mother was the daughter of a cook and the widow of a valet de chambre to one of the Electors. She was kind-hearted, of pleasant temper and lovable disposition, and the affection between mother and son was deep and lasting. The father was stern, and a strict disciplinarian, as so often happens in such cases. He was determined that the son should do better than himself, being willing to furnish the precept, if not the example.
Reared in this school of adversity the boy had a hard life. His father was his first teacher, teaching him both violin and clavier. He began with him as early as his fourth year; he seems to have been aware of the boy’s ability, but had no consideration, and was a hard taskmaster. Before he was nine years of age, however, the boy’s progress was so great that the father had no more to teach him.
In those times the musical life centered about the Court. Beethoven studied the organ under the court organist, Van den Eeden, an old friend of his grandfather’s. Van den Eeden was succeeded shortly after by Christian Neefe, and Beethoven, then eleven years of age, was transferred to him. Neefe had an important bearing on Beethoven’s life. He was in his best years, thirty-three, when he began teaching him, and was a thorough musician, who had had a varied experience before assuming this post. He was a university man as well, and it was fortunate for Beethoven in every way that he was brought in childhood under the influence of so cultivated and enthusiastic a musician. Neefe saw the boy’s talent and became his friend. On one occasion the Elector took his musicians to Münster where he had a palace, Neefe’s duties requiring that he go with them. Beethoven, then under twelve years of age, was left behind as organist. Frimmel states that Neefe, on assuming the position, reserved the privilege of absenting himself frequently from his post, on condition that he provide a substitute. After the Münster episode, the twelve-year-old Beethoven became the regular substitute. When we consider the important rôle that church music played in those times, such precocity is remarkable. This connection with church music bore good fruit in later years.
Neefe was soon after promoted, the Elector giving him charge of the secular as well as the sacred music of the Court, upon which Beethoven received his first appointment, that of cembalist of the orchestra. The duty of the cembalist is to preside at the piano. Only a good musician would be capable of filling such a position, as all the accompaniments were played from the score. He held this for two years, afterward playing viol in the orchestra for several years more. This work in the orchestra was later of the greatest possible benefit to him in composing. There was no salary at first, but the post had an important bearing on his life, as he was obliged to attend all the rehearsals as well as the performances of the opera, always taking an active part. Before he reached the age of fifteen he was appointed second court organist. During this year he studied the violin with Franz Ries, which enabled him a few years later to play in the band.
It was in Beethoven’s fifteenth year that he played the organ every morning at the six o’clock mass in the Minorite church. For some years before and during this period he was busy trying his hand at musical composition, but nothing which he composed during his youth amounts to much. He could improvise in a marvelous manner and he attracted much attention by the exercise of this talent, becoming famous in this connection long before he was known as a composer.
His creative talent unfolded itself slowly. He had high ideals and worked faithfully toward their attainment. Failure to reach the level of his aspirations did not dishearten him; rather it spurred him on to greater effort.
The discerning intellect is always in advance of the creative. His delight in Bach was great; he studied him to such purpose that, at twelve years, he was able to play the greater part of the Well-tempered Clavichord. His wonderful interpretation of Bach, later, on his arrival in Vienna, immediately placed him in the front rank of virtuosi, according to Hüttenbrenner, Schubert’s friend.
As a boy he was docile, shy and reserved, caring nothing for the ordinary games of boys, or at least not participating in them to any extent. At an age when other boys begin learning their games, he began in composition, being forced to it, no doubt, by his father. He is said to have written a cantata at the age of ten to the memory of an English friend of the family, who died early in the year 1781. Some variations on a march in C minor bear the following statement: Composées par un jeune amateur L v B age de dix ans.
From year to year he kept on in musical composition, feeling his way, not discouraged by his inability to produce anything great, although Mozart’s precocity and genius were no doubt frequently held up to him by others as an example to profit by. When he was seventeen he went to Vienna, the funds for the trip probably being furnished by the Elector. Here he met Mozart, then at the height of his fame, whose operas were frequently produced in Bonn and throughout Germany. He probably had some lessons from him. Mozart was very much occupied with the approaching production of Don Giovanni, which took place in Prague shortly after the young man’s arrival. As Beethoven’s visit terminated in three months, it is not likely that he derived much benefit from these lessons. On his first meeting with the master he extemporized for him on a subject given him by Mozart. That this was a momentous occasion to the impressionable Beethoven is certain. The emotions called up by the meeting enabled him to play with such effect that when he had finished, the well-known remark was elicited from Mozart: “Pay attention to him. He will make a noise in the world some day.”
Beethoven, however, was compelled to return to Bonn, owing to the serious illness of his mother, who died of consumption July 17, 1787. He now took charge of the family and had a hard life from almost every point of view, his one enjoyment probably being in the exercise of his art. The affection between mother and son was one of the few bright spots in a boyhood of toil and privation. The father’s harshness served to accentuate the kindness of the mother, and he felt her death keenly. He gave a few lessons, most unwillingly, the money from which, together with his salary as assistant organist and a portion of the father’s salary, kept the family together, affording them some degree of comfort.
His return, no doubt, retarded his artistic development. The musical atmosphere of Vienna would have been much better for him, especially at this period, when he was entering manhood and eager to get at the works of contemporary composers. In those times only a small amount of the music that was written, was published. Many of the lesser works were composed merely to grace some social function, with but little thought given them as to their ultimate fate. It was customary to play from manuscript, copies of which were not readily attainable. In a city like Vienna new music was constantly being produced, occasionally at public concerts, but most often at social gatherings. The freemasonry existing among musicians and the wealthy amateurs was such that a musician of any talent was sure to be received, and put on a friendly footing. No other city in Europe afforded such opportunities for musical culture as did Vienna. It was the home of Mozart and Haydn and a host of lesser composers, as well as instrumentalists and singers. Music in one form or another was the chief diversion of the better classes, the wealthier of whom maintained their private orchestra. Many of these latter were fine performers, taking part regularly in the concerts given by their orchestras.
The next year we find Beethoven taking his meals at the Zehrgarten, where artists, professors from the university, and other notable people congregated. It was at this period that he made the acquaintance of Count Ferdinand Waldstein, the first of the aristocratic circle of friends which surrounded him all his life. Count Waldstein at twenty-four, on coming of age, entered the Germanic order, passing the year of his novitiate at the Court of the Elector at Bonn. The senior by eight years, his influence over Beethoven was considerable, as is evidenced in many ways. The Count was an enthusiastic amateur, visiting him frequently. He gave him a piano, and was useful to him in many ways. The social position of Count Waldstein was such that his friendly attitude toward Beethoven at once attracted the attention of others to the young musician. From this time on he was able to choose his friends from among the best people of his native city. The young man commemorated the friendship by taking an air of the Count’s, who was somewhat of a composer, and composing twelve variations for four hands for the piano from it. Later, in 1805, after the Eroica Symphony and Fidelio, when the master had become famous, he composed the great Waldstein Sonata, opus 58, and dedicated it to him. The Waldstein family became extinct with Ferdinand, but the name will live for centuries through these compositions.
About the time of his first meeting with Count Waldstein, Beethoven made another acquaintance, which had an important bearing on his subsequent life. This was Von Breuning. He and Beethoven took violin lessons of Franz Ries. Stephen von Breuning liked Beethoven from the start and introduced him at his mother’s house. The Breunings were in good circumstances, cultivated, good-natured and hospitable. They delighted in having him about, and treated him with the utmost consideration. Madame von Breuning formed a sincere, motherly affection for him; he was soon on a footing in their house almost equal to that of a member of the family. He went with them about this time on a visit to some of their relations in another city. They were instrumental in shaping his destiny in various ways, and their friendship was of great moment to him throughout life. Beethoven, then in his eighteenth year, gave lessons to the daughter Eleonore, as well as to the youngest son, Lenz. Eleonore afterward married Dr. Wegeler, who was in the same circle. Many years later he collaborated with Ries’s son Ferdinand in writing reminiscences of the master.
The names of Count Waldstein and the Von Breunings are indelibly associated with Beethoven’s name as friends from the beginning. When we consider how every circumstance of Beethoven’s family and mode of life tended against his forming desirable friendships, how rough in exterior and careless of his appearance he was, we can ascribe it only to the force of his character that he should have the friendship of such people. He had done nothing as yet to lead people to believe that he would ever become a great composer. As has been stated, however, he was a pianist of great originality, with a remarkable talent for improvising, which, no doubt, had much to do in making him a welcome guest wherever he went.
Madame von Breuning, with her woman’s tact, and the fine intuitive perceptions that were characteristic of her, looked after his intellectual development, and was helpful to him in various ways, encouraging him as well in his musical studies. But Beethoven was by no means an easy person to get along with, as she soon found out. He was fiery and headstrong, disliking all restraint, being especially impatient of anything that savored of patronage. She seems to have known that in Beethoven she had before her that rarest product of humanity, a man of genius, and had infinite patience with him. His dislike for teaching was pronounced, then, as in after years, and she was often at her wits’ end to get him to keep his engagements in this respect. She, in short, did for Beethoven what Madame Boehme did for Goethe many years before, when the poet left his native Frankfort and came to Leipsic. He was but sixteen, and found in her a friend, counsellor, almost a mother, who not only instructed him about dress and deportment, which soon enabled him to obliterate his provincialism, but showed a motherly solicitude for him, which must have been of great help to him in many ways.
Madame von Breuning interested Beethoven in the classics, as well as in contemporary philosophical literature. Lessing, Goethe and Schiller became favorite authors with him. A much-thumbed translation of Shakespeare was a valued part of his small library in after years. He devoted much study to Homer and to Plato. Beethoven left school at the age of thirteen, and could not have given much time to his studies even when at school, as so much was required of him in his music. He learned a little — a very little, of French, also some Latin and Italian, and made up for his deficiencies by studying at home. Intellectual gifts were valued by the Von Breunings; to the youth, in his formative period, association with people like these was an education in itself.
About this time the Elector enlarged the sphere of his musical operations by establishing a national opera at Bonn, modeled after the one maintained by his imperial brother at Vienna. The works were produced on a good scale, and some excellent singers were engaged. Beethoven was appointed to play the viola, and this connection with the orchestra was of inestimable value to him in many ways. It not only gave him a knowledge of orchestration; it also made him familiar with the noted operas, which must have been greatly enjoyed by him. Mozart’s operas were given a prominent place in the répertoire, and many others that were noteworthy were introduced. But it was not opera alone which was being performed; the drama was also represented, and his connection with the orchestra gave him an intimate acquaintance with the masterpieces of literature, which greatly influenced his subsequent career. The tragedies of Shakespeare were occasionally produced, special prominence, however, being given to the works of the great Germans, Lessing, Schiller and other philosophers and poets of the Fatherland, the exalted sentiments and pure intellectuality of which are unmatched by any people. This early acquaintance with the best literature of his time gave him an intellectual bias which served him well all his life. It is fortunate that his opportunity came so early in life, when the activity of the brain is at its highest and when lasting impressions are produced. The mental pictures called up by the portrayal of these tragedies came to the surface again in after years sublimated, refined, in symphony and sonata, in mass and opera. Every one of his works has its own story to tell; sometimes it is just the record of the events of a day as in the Pastoral Symphony, but told with a glamour of poetry and romance, that for the time gives us back our own youth in listening to it; sometimes it is a tragedy which is unfolded, as in the Appassionata Sonata or the Fifth Symphony; or it will be a Coriolanus Overture, that seething, boiling ferment of emotion and passion, the most diverse, contradictory, unlike, that can be imagined. From these impressions, acquired in the ardor of youth, when the intellect grasps at knowledge and experience with avidity, when its capacity is at its greatest, and the whole world is laid under contribution, came a rich harvest which untold generations may enjoy. No one of the many that made up the audiences night after night, probably ever formed a guess at what was going on in the brain of this quiet reserved youth during the progress of these plays. The keen discriminating intelligence which was always sifting and sorting these pictures and stowing them away for use in after years, — the flashes of enthusiasm, — the intuitive discernment of intellectual subtleties that brought him into rapport with the author and gave him the perception of being on an equality with the great ones of the earth, here were forces already in operation which were destined to influence the world for generations to come. To fall from this ideal world of the intellect and the emotions, at the cue of the conductor, back to the cognitions of ordinary life, and a realization of its limitations, must have been as tragic an experience to this youth, who said of himself: “I live only in my art,” as any he had seen depicted on the stage. Mental processes like these write their lines deeply on the faces of gifted people.
Of the thirty-one members of the orchestra some had already attained fame, and others achieved it in after years. In this collection of geniuses the attrition of mind on mind must have been of benefit to each. The conductor, Joseph Reicha, had a nephew, Anton Reicha, whom he adopted, who played the flute in the orchestra. He and Beethoven were intimate, and the prominence which Beethoven gives to the flute in his orchestral works may in part be explained by this intimacy. Reicha afterward joined Beethoven at Vienna, remaining there until 1808, when he took up his residence in Paris. He was a prolific composer and the author of numerous theoretical works. Many of his operas were produced in Paris during his lifetime. He taught at the Paris Conservatoire, and was a member of the Institute. Then there was Bernhard Romberg, and his cousin Andreas Romberg. The latter was a musical prodigy, having played the violin in concerts as early as his seventh year. At seventeen, his virtuosity was such that he was engaged for the Concerts Spirituels at Paris. Some years later he journeyed to Bonn to be near his cousin Bernhard, with whom he was intimate, and accepted a position in the Elector’s orchestra as violinist. He later went to Vienna, then Hamburg, and afterward became Kapellmeister at Gotha. He composed all kinds of music, instrumental and vocal, symphonies, operas, etc. His setting of Schiller’s “Song of the Bell” is well known at the present day, as well as the oratorio, “The Transient and the Eternal.” He was made Doctor of Music by Kiel University. Bernhard Romberg was a distinguished violoncellist. When his connection with the Elector’s orchestra ceased, he made a professional tour to Italy and Spain with his more famous cousin Andreas and was very successful. In 1796 they came to Vienna and gave a concert at which Beethoven assisted. Bernhard afterward was a professor in the Paris Conservatoire and later became Kapellmeister at Berlin. He was a composer of operas, concertos, etc. While he and Beethoven were not in accord on the subject of musical composition, each disliking the other’s works, there is no question but that his proximity to him at Bonn, was one of the forces that had much to do with Beethoven’s artistic development.
Then there was Franz Ries, pupil of Salomon, the distinguished violinist. Ries had already achieved fame in Vienna as soloist, and had been before the public since childhood. He was Beethoven’s teacher, as stated. We must not forget Neefe, Beethoven’s former teacher, who was pianist, or Simrock, all of whom formed a galaxy of virtuosi and composers unequalled by any similar organization. Beethoven greatly profited by his association with these chosen spirits, assimilating their experiences and endeavoring to emulate them.
Thus passed a few years pleasantly enough during this formative period at Bonn, music in one form or another taking up most of his waking moments. He fell in love a few times, first with a Mlle. de Honrath of Cologne, who visited the Von Breunings frequently and was their intimate friend. She had a bright, lively disposition, and like a true daughter of Eve, took great pleasure in bantering him. There was also a Miss Westerhold who made a deep impression on him. Both were the subject of conversation by him in after years.
The visit of Haydn, who with Salomon made a short sojourn at Bonn, on their return from London to Vienna in July of 1792, gave Beethoven an opportunity for an interview with the great master, which had an important bearing on the young man’s career. Salomon was acquainted with the Beethovens as he was a native of Bonn. The fame of the young musician had reached his ears, and he brought about the meeting with Haydn. Beethoven at twenty-two, had, unlike so many promising children, fulfilled the promise of his youth. He was not only a distinguished performer: his compositions were also attracting attention in his circle. In honor of the distinguished guests, a breakfast was arranged at Godesburg, a resort near Bonn, at which some compositions of Beethoven’s were performed by the Elector’s orchestra. Some of this music had been submitted to the master previously. Haydn, who was in holiday humor, seems to have been specially attracted to it, and encouraged Beethoven to continue.
Some of the sketch-books of the Bonn period are in the British Museum, and an examination of them is of interest as it shows his method of composing. Beethoven all through life was a hard worker and a hard taskmaster to himself. He elaborated and worked over his first inspiration, polishing, cutting down, altering, making additions, never satisfied, always aiming after the attainment of his highest ideals, never considering himself, always placing his art first and personal comfort and convenience afterward. This is apparent in the sketch-books of this early date. His industry was extraordinary, although his work grew but slowly. It was elaborated bit by bit in much the same way in which Nathaniel Hawthorne built up his romances.
Haydn’s approbation was an important link in the chain of circumstances that was soon to enable Beethoven to leave for Vienna. Count Waldstein was the moving spirit in this matter, the Elector furnishing the funds. He knew that the artistic atmosphere of Vienna would be of incalculable benefit to Beethoven and encouraged him in the project. Accordingly we find him setting out for Vienna in 1792, leaving Bonn never to return to it even for a visit.
Thou, O God! who sellest us all good things at the price of labor.
— Leonardo da Vinci.
Closely following his arrival in Vienna, Beethoven began studying composition with Haydn, applying himself with great diligence to the work in hand; but master and pupil did not get along together very well. There were many dissonances from the start. It was not in the nature of things that two beings so entirely dissimilar in their point of view should work together harmoniously. Beethoven, original, independent, iconoclastic, acknowledged no superior, without having as yet achieved anything to demonstrate his superiority; Haydn, tied down to established forms, subservient, meek, was only happy when sure of the approbation of his superiors. His attitude toward those above him in rank was characterized by respect and deference; he probably expected something similar from Beethoven toward himself. Haydn was then at the height of his fame, courted and admired by all, and his patience was sorely tried by the insolence of his fiery young pupil. He nicknamed Beethoven the Grand Mogul, and did not have much good to say of him to others. The pittance which he received for these lessons was no inducement to him, as he was in receipt of an income much beyond his requirements. The time given up to these lessons could have been better employed in composing.
Haydn and Beethoven, however, were in a measure supplementary to one another as regards the life-work of each. Haydn paved the way for Beethoven, who was his successor in the large orchestral forms. He and also Mozart were pioneers in the field which Beethoven made peculiarly his own. Haydn also directed Beethoven’s attention to the study of Händel and Bach, whose works Beethoven always held most highly in esteem. It is true that Beethoven, even in the old Bonn days, was familiar to some extent with the works of these masters; but his opportunity for getting at this kind of music was limited in Bonn. Vienna, the musical center of the world at that time, was, as may be supposed, a much better field in this respect. The study of these profound works of genius under the leadership and eulogy of so prominent a musician as Haydn had much to do with shaping Beethoven’s ideals. These masters gave an example of solidity and earnestness which is characteristic of their work. Haydn and Mozart, on the other hand, appealed to him in his lighter moods, in the play of fancy, in the capricious and humorous conceits of which he has given such fine examples in the symphonies and sonatas.
The lessons to Beethoven continued for a little over a year, or until Haydn left on another visit to England in January of 1794. So eager was he for advancement, that he took lessons from another teacher at the same time, carefully concealing the fact from Haydn. Beethoven always maintained that he had not learned much from him.
Strangely, Haydn had no idea at this time or for some years after that his pupil would ever amount to much in musical composition. He lived long enough to find Beethoven’s position as a musician firmly established, but not long enough to witness his greatest triumphs.
On the departure of Haydn he began with Albrechtsberger in composition, also having violin, and even vocal lessons from other masters. Beethoven realized, on coming to Vienna, more fully than before, the necessity for close application to his studies. Though a finished performer, he knew but little of counterpoint, and the more purely scientific side of his art had been neglected. That he applied himself with all the ardor of his nature to his studies we know. They were given precedence over everything else. He even delayed for a long while writing a rondo which he had promised to Eleonore von Breuning and when he finally sent it, it was with an apology for not sending a sonata, which had also been promised.
It is characteristic of Beethoven that his teachers in general were not greatly impressed by him. We have seen how it was in the case of Haydn. Albrechtsberger was more pronounced in his disapproval. “He has learned nothing; he never will learn anything,” was his verdict regarding Beethoven. This was surely small encouragement. Beethoven’s original and independent way of treating musical forms brought on this censure. As he advanced in musical knowledge he took the liberty to think for himself; a very culpable proceeding with teachers of the stamp of Albrechtsberger. The young man’s intuitive faculties, the surest source of all knowledge according to Schopenhauer, were developed to an abnormal degree. By the aid of this inner light he was able to see truer and farther than his pedantic old master, with the result that the pupil would argue out questions with him on subjects connected with his lessons which subverted all discipline, and well-nigh reversed their relative positions. Beethoven’s audacity — his self-confidence, is brought out still more strongly when we reflect on the distinguished position held by Albrechtsberger, both as teacher and composer. He was director of music at St. Stephen’s and was in great demand as a teacher. Some of his pupils became distinguished musicians, among them Hümmel, Seyfried and Weigl. He excelled in counterpoint, and was a prolific composer, although his works are but little known at the present day. He was set in his ways, a strict disciplinarian, conservative to the backbone, and upward of sixty years of age. We can readily believe there were stormy times during these lessons. There is no doubt however, that Beethoven learned a great deal from him, as is evident from the exercises still in existence from this period, embracing the various forms of fugue and counterpoint, simple, double, and triple, canon and imitation. He was thorough in his teaching and Beethoven was eager to learn, so they had at least one point in common, and the pupil made rapid headway. But his originality and fertility in ideas, which showed itself at times in a disregard for established forms when his genius was hampered thereby — qualities which even in Albrechtsberger’s lifetime were to place his pupil on a pinnacle above all other composers of the period, were neither understood nor approved by the teacher. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the lessons continued but little over a year. His studies in theory and composition seem to have come to an end with Albrechtsberger; we hear of no other teacher having been engaged thereafter.
Shortly after Beethoven came to Vienna, his father died, and soon after the two brothers Johann and Caspar, having no ties to keep them in Bonn, followed the elder brother, who kept a fatherly watch over them. They gave him no end of trouble for the rest of his life, but Beethoven bore the burden willingly and was sincerely attached to them. All the honor and nobility of the family seems to have centered in him.
On his arrival in Vienna he carried letters of introduction from Count Waldstein and from the Elector, which opened to him the doors of the best houses. His intrinsic worth did the rest. One of his earliest Vienna friends was Prince Lichnowsky, a person who seems to have possessed a combination of all those noble qualities that go to make up the character of a gentleman. Highly cultivated and enthusiastic on the subject of music, he had the penetration to see that in Beethoven he had before him one of the elect of all time. The Prince had been a pupil of Mozart and an ardent admirer of the deceased master. Providentially, Beethoven appeared on the scene soon after Mozart’s decease, and received the devotion and admiration that had formerly been given Mozart. In this he was ably seconded by his wife, who shared with him the admiration and reverential wonder which such highly endowed people would be apt to accord to a man of genius. One of the first acts of this princely couple was to give Beethoven a pension of 600 florins per year. This was but the beginning of unexampled kindness on their part. They followed this by giving him a home in their residence on the Schotten bastion, and we find him well launched in the social life of the gayest capital in Europe.
This practical help was invaluable to Beethoven, for with the aid which he had from the Elector, it was almost enough to assure him independence. It not only increased his opportunities for study, but, his mind being free from care, he was enabled to profit more by his studies. The Lichnowskys were older than Beethoven and were childless. He was allowed to do as he pleased; a privilege of which he availed himself without hesitation. They entertained considerably and their social position was unexceptionable. They maintained a small orchestra for the performance of the music he liked and for his own compositions. He was always the honored guest, and met the best people of Vienna. The devotion of the Princess, in particular, was always in evidence.
It can be readily understood that with such an original character as Beethoven, headstrong and impatient of restraint, a pleasant smooth life was not to be expected. The arrangement would seem to have been an excellent one for him, but he did not so regard it. Already at odds with the world, misunderstanding people and being misunderstood, he soon came to realize that a life of solitude was the only resource for a man constituted as he was. He never considered himself under any obligation to the Prince, or rather, he acted as though he felt the obligation to be the other way. He acted independently from the start, taking his meals at a restaurant whenever it suited his convenience, and showing an ungovernable temper when interfered with in any way. But the kindness and patience of the Princess never failed her; after any trouble it was she who smoothed the difficulty and restored harmony. She was like an indulgent mother to him; in her eyes he could do no wrong.
Prince Lichnowsky was wholly unaccustomed to this sort of thing. It is certain that he never met with anything of the kind from Mozart, and there were times when his patience was sorely tried by Beethoven. The Princess, with a sweetness and graciousness which Beethoven appreciated, always made peace between them. He afterward said that her solicitude was carried to such a length that she wished to put him under a glass shade, “that no unworthy person might touch or breathe on me.”
Of course this kind of thing only confirmed the young man in his course. It was kindness, but it was not wisdom. Few people are so constituted as to be able to stand praise and adulation without the character suffering thereby. Censure would have been much better for him. When the individual is attacked, when he is made to assume the defensive, he first discovers the vulnerable points in his armor, and as opportunity offers strengthens them. Beethoven’s ungovernable temper and apparent ingratitude are frequently commented on, but the ingratitude was only apparent. When he came to a knowledge of himself and discovered that he was in the wrong in any controversy or quarrel, and it must be admitted they were frequent enough all through his life, he would make amends for it so earnestly, with such vehement self-denunciation, and show such contrition, that it would be impossible for any of his friends to hold out against him. Then there would be a short love-feast, during which the offended party would possibly be the recipient of a dedication from the master, and things would go on smoothly until the next break. The Prince soon learned to make all sorts of concessions to his headstrong guest, and even went so far as to order his servant to give Beethoven the precedence, in case he and Beethoven were to ring at the same time.
But Beethoven did not like the new life. Even the little restraint that it imposed was irksome to him, and the arrangement came to an end in about two years. But the friendship continued for many years. Beethoven’s opus 1 is dedicated to the Prince, as well as the grand Sonata Pathetique, and the Second Symphony, also the opus 179, consisting of nine variations, and the grand Sonata in A Flat. To the Princess Lichnowsky he dedicated opus 157, variations on “See the Conquering Hero Comes.” He also dedicated several of his compositions to Count Moritz Lichnowsky, a younger brother of the Prince.
Among the other friends of this period may be mentioned Prince Lobkowitz, who was an ardent admirer of Beethoven, Prince Kinski, and also Count Browne to whose wife Beethoven dedicated the set of Russian variations. In acknowledgment of this honor, the Count presented Beethoven with a horse. He accepted it thankfully and then forgot all about it until some months after, when a large bill came in for its keep. There was also Count Brunswick and the Baron von Swieten, and most of the music-loving aristocracy of Vienna, who it appears could not see enough of him. His music and his individuality charmed them and he was beset with invitations. Baron von Swieten was one of his earliest and staunchest friends. His love and devotion to music knew no bounds. He gave concerts at his residence with a full band, and produced music of the highest order, Händel and Sebastian Bach being his favorites, the music being interpreted in the best manner. It is related that the old Baron would keep Beethoven after the others had left, making him play far into the night and would sometimes put him up at his own house so that he might keep him a little longer. A note from the Baron to Beethoven is preserved, in which he says, “If you can call next Wednesday I shall be glad to see you. Come at half-past eight in the evening with your nightcap in your pocket.”
These social successes, however, did not lead to idleness. He kept up the practise all his life of recording his musical thoughts in sketch-books, which latter are an object lesson to those engaged in creative work as showing the extraordinary industry of the man and his absorption in his work. Many of these are preserved in the different museums, those in the British Museum being a notable collection. Some of the work of this period was afterwards utilized by being incorporated into the work of his riper years.
Beethoven’s talents as a performer were freely acknowledged by all with whom he came in contact. When we come to the question of his creative talent, we can only marvel at the slowness with which his powers unfolded themselves. His opus 1 appeared in 1795, when he was twenty-four years old. There was nothing of the prodigy about him in composition. At twenty-four, Mozart had achieved some of his greatest triumphs.
Beethoven’s work however, shows intellectuality of the highest kind, and this, whether in music or literature, is not produced easily or spontaneously; it is of slow growth, the product of a ripened mind, attained only by infinite labor and constant striving after perfection, with the highest ideals before one.