A good painter should paint two
things; man, and the thoughts of
Beethoven usually had a definite idea
before him when composing. The work progressed
rapidly under such conditions. Often, however,
on further consideration, a better idea would present
itself in certain places on reading the work over,
and these portions would have to be rewritten.
He stated in this connection that he always had a picture
in his mind when composing, which he aimed to reproduce
in his work. “Ich habe immer ein
Gemaelde in meinen Gedanken wenn ich
am componiren bin, und arbeite nach
demselben” (Thayer). Sometimes this
picture was shadowy and elusive, as his gropings in
the sketch-books show. He would then apply himself
to the task of fixing the idea, writing and rewriting,
until it stood out clearly in accordance with the concept
already formed in his mind.
This picture, or idea, or representation,
which exists in the brain of the artist, and to which
he seeks to give expression in a tangible form so
as to communicate it to others, is a miracle which
is constantly going on in his inner consciousness.
He can at will call up impressions, which immediately
become objectified on the canvas of his mind, in the
form of pictures. This mental process is the same
in every form of creative work whether it be painting,
sculpture, or any of the arts. The architect,
before putting pencil to paper, will have the splendid
cathedral before him as in a vision; the sculptor,
the ideal form and facial expression. The mind
of the artist is a vast canvas on which pictures appear,
remaining a longer or shorter period at his will, and,
when no longer required, giving place to others.
The idea once recorded seems never to appear again.
Nature is never so prodigal as with the man of genius.
Of all her children he is the favorite; these pictures
are given him in superfluity, out of all proportion
to his ability to use them. The harder he works
in the effort to catch up with his material, the more
plentiful it becomes.
Mr. Chamberlain, in his Life of Wagner,
calls attention to the curious fact that Wagner produced
his operas in pairs for the most part, up to his fortieth
year. This was true of Beethoven with his symphonies,
to a great extent. He became so fired with enthusiasm
while on a great work, his thoughts became so prolific,
that another work must, perforce, come into being
to utilize the surplus material.
This prodigality with which the artist
is supplied, explains his absorption in his work.
Once fairly started on a great work, this type of
man carries it through with the force of a torrent.
Nothing but physical exhaustion can stop him.
Wagner, after completing a great work, usually had
to drop all composing or writing for some months in
order to recuperate. No slave-driver with a lash
ever drove his victim so mercilessly as Wagner did
himself when in the stress of composition. Being
married he had some one to look after him, and this
had an important bearing on the preservation of his
health. Beethoven, with the strenuousness that
came from his Rhenish ancestry, was more intractable,
impatient of interference. His domestics were
often afraid to go near him when engaged in composition.
Usually when in deep thought he was oblivious of the
outer world. He once agreed to sit for an artist,
and maintained his pose for five minutes; then he
forgot all about it and went to the piano, where he
began improvising. This just suited the artist,
who got a good position and worked along until he was
tired, finally leaving the room without the master’s
The Swedish poet, Atterbohm, and Dr.
Jeitteles, distinguished literary men of the period,
called at Beethoven’s house one hot afternoon.
Their knocking met with no response, although they
knew the master was in, as they heard him singing
and occasionally striking a chord on the piano.
Finding the door unlocked, they entered and went in
search of him, finally discovering him in an inner
room. He was in extreme dishabille, busily noting
down his thoughts on the plastered wall. He had
probably intended changing his clothes, and, while
disrobing, these thoughts came crowding in on him
to the exclusion of everything else. Beethoven,
facing the wall with his back to the visitors, was
unaware of their proximity, and they left without
being discovered by him, as they did not wish to interfere
with his work. This was probably in the year 1826,
as Beethoven remained in Vienna all that summer, actively
engaged on the great C sharp minor quartet. It
may have been a part of this work which was thus produced.
Friederich Stark relates an incident
that illustrates his abstraction. He called on
Beethoven early one morning, and, being a friend, was
given the privilege of looking him up. He went
from room to room, and finally found him in his bedroom.
He was just beginning to dress, his face thickly lathered
with soap that had been put on the previous evening
and had dried there; he had prepared to shave, but
in the process had forgotten to go on with it.
His sketch-books are interesting as
showing his frame of mind and temperament, while at
work. In his abstraction he occasionally scribbled
beautiful thoughts on the margin of his manuscripts.
Thus, in the sketch-books of the Pastoral Symphony,
we find this record of his joy in nature, showing
how thoroughly his mind was imbued with his subject.
“Almaechtiger, im Walde ich
bin selig, gluecklig im Wald. Jeder
Baum spricht durch dich!”
“O Gott! Welche Herrlichkeit
in einer solchen Waldgegend.”
In summer he usually resorted to one
of the beautiful villages in the environs of Vienna,
since absorbed by the city. Thus he repaired to
Heiligenstadt to write his first mass. “Oh,
the charm of the woods, who can express it!”
he writes, and in many of his letters from the country,
he expresses his joy at being there. “No
man on earth can love the country as I do. Thickets,
trees and rocks supply the echo man longs for.”
His best ideas came to him while walking through the
fields and woods. At such times his mind became
serene and he would attain that degree of abstraction
from the world which enabled him to develop his musical
ideas. He always carried note-books and would
jot down a thought as it came to him. When he
got home he would elaborate it and work it into shape.
He would walk for hours in all sorts of weather.
Like Thoreau, he generally preferred to be alone in
his walks, the presence of a companion preventing
him from working out his thoughts.
Very properly, he occupied himself
but little with the music of other composers.
To a man of his individuality, inspiration from the
outer world was not to be had or desired. His
own inner wealth was sufficient. Curiously, he
set a high value on Cherubini during the period of
writing Fidelio and the Third Symphony. His own
creations however, were of paramount interest to him.
He was a slow worker, continually polishing and improving
his work up to the moment that it reached the engraver’s
“The Andante” said Wagner
“is the typical German style.” It
was not Beethoven’s best style. Essentially
a man of extremes, he delighted in swinging the pendulum
to its furthest limit either way. He early in
life acquired the irrepressible joyousness in his
compositions, which was Haydn’s distinguishing
trait. It is the key-note to much of Beethoven’s
work up to the time of composing the Grand Mass.
It figures to some extent in his subsequent work.
It is a feature which Wagner never tires of exploiting
in Beethoven’s work. Whenever he mentions
Beethoven’s name the word Heiterkeit
(joyousness) is sure to follow. The two are almost
synonymous with him. Where Beethoven is unapproachable,
however, is in his slow movements, the Adagios, solemn
and portentous, in which all of world-sorrow finds
expression. It is in these scenes of terror that
his powers stand out with supernatural clearness.
His infinitude impresses one.
It is as if he had penetrated other spheres and could
speak in new tongues. He delighted in startling
contrasts. The Kyrie of the Mass in D has always
presented itself to my consciousness as a series of
gigantic tone-pictures, in which the omnipotence of
God, and the impotence of humanity is brought into
juxtaposition. The Coriolanus overture is another
instance among the many at hand illustrating this
point. Here we see how the forceful, aggressive,
bold, masterful genius, is subdued by the power of
conjugal and filial love, a power in this case as
irresistible as that of a glacier, which will make
its way against any odds. Each side in striving
for the mastery, displays its own peculiar characteristics
and mode. It is the everlasting struggle between
the evil principle and that which is good. He
ranges titanic forces in opposition and lets us see
the battle. By the magic of his art we are enabled
to see these pictures as on a canvas.
It is frequently stated that Beethoven’s
music shows a deficiency in counterpoint. His
originality, the wealth of his ideas, his versatility,
will explain this. The fugue, while it is ingenious
and interesting, is artificial and, indeed often arbitrary
in musical composition, sometimes introduced merely
to stop gaps or for brilliancy of effect. It is
not surprising that Beethoven should have neglected
it to some extent, although he has used it with excellent
effect in some of the sonatas and in his two masses.
His fertility of imagination was great and it was
hard for him to tie himself down to the formal style
in composition, after his powers had reached maturity.
The fugue, in one form or another, seems to be almost
indispensable in musical composition, but it is always
characterized by learning instead of inspiration.
It is something which has to be worked out like a
problem in mathematics. Beethoven’s thought
in music is marked by something higher than the disposition
to divert one’s attention to his talent or skill.
A definite meaning is there; he has something to reveal.
At the beginning of his career as
composer, Beethoven was not above taking advice on
the subject of his compositions. He frequently
discussed them with Prince Lichnowsky, and adopted
his suggestions when it came to alterations.
As he advanced in knowledge of his art, however, he
became reticent on the subject and would discuss them
with no one. He acted on Goethe’s idea
that “the greatest art after all is to limit
and isolate oneself.” He did not like praise
or applause. Knowing intuitively that the character
is endangered thereby, he sought by every means to
ward it off. His improvising was such that often
on leaving the instrument he would find his hearers
in tears. This would embarrass him, and he would
affect anger, or would laugh at them. This does
not imply that he did not care for appreciation, which
is quite a different matter.
He was perfectly willing to listen
to censure or adverse criticism. Trifles might
anger him, but this never did, and, be it said, it
never influenced him either. True artist that
he was, he seldom wrote down to his public. Like
Wagner, he knew what was best in art, and if the public
did not, he gave the matter small concern. Not
for one generation are great masterpieces born.
The artist lives in the future; he is always in advance
of his time.
Beethoven’s character was a
prism of many facets. Wagner views him always
as the mystic, the seer, at odds with the world.
Side by side with this characterization he constantly
dwells, as just noted, on Beethoven’s uncontrollable
tendency to humor, gayety (Heiterkeit) which
shows itself not only in his life, but still more in
his works. This may have been a device deliberately
assumed to enable him to escape mental suffering.
At all events it was a prominent trait of his character,
but does not seem to have added to his enjoyment of
life. No circumstance, however painful, but that
he is able to extract some jest or pleasantry from
it. The paradox is before us of a man world-weary
at the core, outwardly serene, gay. In the same
ratio in which those things which serve to make life
enjoyable to the average man were diminished or withdrawn,
does his tendency to incessant humor increase.
The consciousness of being able to
achieve great things, and the joy in accomplishing
them, is what gives the artist the exultant mood, the
feeling of gayety. To be sensible of such an heritage,
to participate in this God-given wealth, to run riot
in it, to know that the more of it that is used the
more will be given, to be favored of the gods in a
way that the possessor of untold wealth cannot aspire
to this is what gives the serene and joyous
mood, which characterizes the man of genius for the
most part. When he comes out of this ideal world
into the commonplace every-day life, and realizes
his unfitness for it, the other side of the picture
is presented to his consciousness, and then is exhibited
that strange melancholy, Weltschmerz, which
constantly comes to the fore in the journals and letters
of men like Wagner, or Beethoven, or Liszt.
The Sunday morning concerts, instituted
by Czerny in the winter of 1816, call for more than
passing notice. A select company of professional
musicians and amateurs had banded themselves into an
organization for the purpose of performing and studying
the best class of chamber-music with special reference
to Beethoven’s compositions. Czerny was
the originator and moving spirit, as stated, and the
performances were held at his house. Beethoven
attended them frequently. Czerny, whose admiration
for the master was unbounded, was brought into more
intimate relations with him through these concerts,
as Beethoven was consulted in regard to the programmes
and occasionally rehearsed some of his new compositions
with him. Though a brilliant performer, Czerny
did not like public life or society, and retired from
the concert stage at a time when his powers were at
their best, in order to give all his time to composition.
His ability in improvising was a marvel even for those
times. He was Beethoven’s successor in Prince
Lichnowsky’s circle, frequently playing at concerts
at his house. He is credited with being able
to play from memory all of Beethoven’s works.
Like Schubert, his one pleasure was to be with a few
chosen spirits, and talk on the subject of his art.
In these assemblages rank was ignored.
Art was a leveller, or, rather, the devotees of the
art were raised to a common plane, where social distinctions
were for the time being obliterated. No special
invitations were required. Any one interested
in the art was made welcome, and found there a congenial
atmosphere. Czerny, modest and retiring, had no
thought of making social capital out of these concerts.
No one not wholly devoted to the art was wanted, no
matter what his social position was, and want of social
position was no bar when the artistic qualifications
were present. It was a band of chosen spirits,
and the attrition engendered by these meetings must
have been advantageous to each. They were true
Concerts Spirituels, an audience of artists from which
the performers were drawn.
Second only to Czerny as a pianist
among this company was Beethoven’s friend and
pupil, the Baroness Ertmann, who frequently took part
in these concerts. Madame Ertmann’s virtuosity
has already been commented on in these pages.
She won new laurels at the Czerny concerts through
her admirable interpretation of Beethoven’s music.
During this winter of 1816 the master
composed the fine sonata in A, opus 101, for her.
It commemorates the spiritual kinship existing between
these two gifted persons. “My dear, valued
Dorothea Caecilia,” he writes in his letter
of dedication, “receive now what has long been
intended for you, and may it serve as a proof of my
appreciation of your artistic talents and of yourself;
I regret not having heard you recently at Cz (Czerny’s).
My absence was owing to illness, which at last appears
to be giving way to returning health.” Some
years previously, when the Baroness had lost a son
by death during her husband’s absence on his
military duties, Beethoven asked the stricken woman
to call, and comforted her, not with words, but in
the language which both best understood. “‘We
will talk in music,’ said Beethoven, who remained
at the piano over an hour in which he said everything
and even gave me consolation.” The incident
is obtained from one of Mendelssohn’s letters.
Among the important works produced
in this period may be mentioned the Sonata, opus 90,
“A struggle between the head and the heart.”
It is dedicated to Count M. Lichnowsky on the occasion
of his marriage to a singer. There was also the
chorus set to Goethe’s words, “A Calm Sea
and Prosperous Voyage.” This was written
in 1815 and seven years later dedicated to Goethe.
The two sonatas, opus 102, for piano and cello, one
of which is called the Free Sonata, are interesting,
as in them is foreshadowed the trend of Beethoven’s
mind toward religious music, which controlled him
almost entirely from this time on.
The idea of writing another oratorio
seems now to have taken possession of his mind.
A preference for this mode appears in his journals
and letters and was probably the subject of conversation
on his part. At all events, the newly established
Society of Friends of Music of Vienna (which Beethoven,
with his usual aptitude for punning, used to refer
to as the society of Musikfeinde, enemies of
music) made him a proposition to write an oratorio
for them, which he accepted. No stipulations
were made as to subject or treatment, and the society
agreed to pay the handsome sum of three hundred gold
ducats, merely for the use of the work for one
year. So far as known, this work was never begun.
The Archduke soon after obtained his appointment as
Cardinal-Archbishop, and the work on the mass for the
Installation occupied Beethoven to the exclusion of
The loss by death of three of Beethoven’s
old friends must have been greatly felt by him in
these years. Prince Lichnowsky, who died in 1814,
was the first, and was followed two years later by
Prince Lobkowitz. Hardest of all, however, for
the master was the loss of his friend, Wenzel Krumpholz,
who died in 1817. His relations with the latter
were more intimate than with the noblemen, and had
continued without a break almost from the time of
his advent in Vienna. Czerny, in his autobiography,
gives an interesting picture of the devotion of Krumpholz,
who attached himself to Beethoven much the same as
did Boswell to Dr. Johnson. He was somewhat older
than Beethoven, and his position as first violinist
at the Court Theatre enabled him to be of much practical
service to Beethoven, as he was widely known among
the professional musicians, as well as the rich amateurs.
He sounded Beethoven’s praises far and wide:
he encouraged him to begin composition, making propaganda
for him among the wealthy dilettante, and spent a
good portion of each day in his company. Beethoven,
who at a later period said of himself that he was
too strong for friendship, did not take kindly to
this intimacy at first, but Krumpholz’s persistency
was not to be gainsaid. He gave him lessons on
the violin, and identified himself in many ways with
Beethoven’s advancement. Beethoven finally
became so accustomed to him, that the presence of the
other did not disturb him, and he would improvise
before him as if he were alone. Krumpholz though
devoid of genius himself, intuitively recognized its
presence in Beethoven, and led the younger man to discuss
his musical plans and ideas with him. The compositions
as they took form in the young man’s mind, were
played to Krumpholz, who advised and encouraged him.
The extravagant admiration of the latter sometimes
acted on Beethoven’s sense of humor to such
an extent that he would make fun of him, and call
him his fool, but this did not deter Krumpholz, who
seemed to think he had a divinely appointed task set
him, in aiding the development of this young genius,
and was willing to put up with some vagaries from
In truth, Beethoven needed a champion,
for, from the first, a certain originality, a strenuousness,
showed itself in his work, which put the art on a
new and different footing. That the young man
was reaching out for higher things his public may
have been aware of, but only a few, here and there,
kindred spirits, cared for this. The average person
was unable to recognize any higher function in music
than that of simple enjoyment; anything aside from
this was irrelevant, and could but lead to deterioration.
Although at the beginning of his career as composer,
he made Mozart and Haydn his models, this originality
showed itself, and when it was continued in subsequent
works, it awoke the strongest opposition in certain
quarters. The strong partisanship which Krumpholz
brought to bear on the situation, was invaluable to
the young man, whose views needed confirmation and
indorsement. Krumpholz seems to have had an affinity
for discovering talent in others. He brought Czerny,
at the age of ten years, to Beethoven, who immediately
recognized his genius, and offered to give him lessons.
That Beethoven deeply felt the loss of his old friend
and teacher is evidenced by his writing music to the
Song of the monks,
Rasch tritt der Tod
den Menschen an,
from Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, in commemoration