Ludwig Van Beethoven
( Originally Published 1923 )
Born 1770; died 1827. Beethoven was born at Bonn, where his father was a musician in the service of the Elector of Cologne.
The father was weak, harsh, and a drinker, and on the child's musical gifts becoming evident compelled him with severity to practise hard. At the age, of seven years and three months (modestly understated on the announcement as `six years') the child appeared at a concert. At nine he had learnt all the father could teach and was transferred to another teacher. The British Charge d'Affaires at Bonn assisted the family, which lived in something approaching poverty.
A good musician, named Neefe, being appointed Court Organist, Beethoven came into his charge, to his great advantage. When the Electorleft Bonn on a visit, Neefe accompanied him, leaving Beethoven, now in his twelfth year, as his official deputy at the organ. Neefe's own opinion is thus stated : `This young genius deserves some assistance that he may travel. If he goes on as he has begun he will certainly become a second Mozart.' Shortly after this Beethoven received the post of Harpsichordist (which implied a degree of conductorship) in the orchestra of the Court Opera House ; this gave him operatic experience. He became active also in composition.
When Beethoven was seventeen he travelled to Vienna and there met Mozart, from whom he had a few lessons in composition. On Mozart setting the boy to extemporize on a given theme he was much astonished at the result, and, stepping into the next room, said to some friends there : ` Pay attention to him ; he will make a noise in the world.'
Whilst absent in Vienna Beethoven lost his mother. He quickly returned, and was fortunate in securing the friendship of a cultured family, the Breunings, who helped him greatly by making him free of their house, and awoke in him some interest in literature. He also became acquainted with the young Count Waldstein (to whom he afterwards dedicated the well-known Sonata). Henceforward the boy, born in poverty, was never to lack highly placed admirers and friends, but it became his habit to treat them with great (and some-times exaggerated) independence. Haydn, when passing through Bonn on his journey to and from London, fraternized with the Elector's musicians and encouraged Beethoven with approval of a Cantata he had written.
When Beethoven was twenty-two or twenty-three he went to Vienna again, this time at the Elector's expense. He at once bought a wig, silk stockings, boots, shoes, overcoat and seal, hired a piano and started taking lessons from Haydn at about 9 1/2. per hour. He grumbled, however, feeling that, as Haydn left some of his exercises uncorrected, he was not getting his full money's worth. In the end he sought another teacher. Many of his exercises are extant, and they prove great diligence and a complete willingness to ` go through the mill'. Yet his new teacher, Albrechtsberger, thought little of him. (` He has learnt nothing and will never do anything decently.' Probably the young man was too ` modern '.)
Vienna became Beethoven's permanent place of residence—the Vienna of Haydn and Mozart, and (shortly after this period) of Schubert. Gradually his abilities were recognized and he made influential friends. For some years he lived in the house of the Prince and Princess Lichnowsky, and received from them a stipend. At this time he was famous rather as an executant than as a composer. He was developing into a ` character', and was becoming independent, irritable, self-willed, fond of joking but unready to see a joke when he was the victim. The independence and jocularity often come out in his later music. One who knew him described him as giving the impression in society of a very able man, reared on a desert island, and suddenly introduced to the civilized world. There is much recorded which justifies this. Yet his is nevertheless a life that inspires respect and admiration, for it was filled with high purpose and achievement.
From about his thirtieth year Beethoven began to become deaf. Finally the deafness became total. He had other troubles—particularly with a scapegrace nephew whom he adopted and upon whom he lavished all the affection denied outlet elsewhere. And he manufactured some trouble by his intense suspicion and his unreason-able animosities. When he died, his liver was found to be shrunk to half its size. A good deal must be pardoned in life on half a live !
His method of composition was ` painful' in its effort. Musical ideas came to him in a very simple and even crude form : sometimes they germinated for years and only grew to perfection after infinite tending and watering. Yet, in his best works, the effect of spontaneity is as fully achieved as in the work of any composer who ever lived.
The instrumental works are the greatest—the 17 String Quartets, the 32 Piano Sonatas, the 9 Symphonies, &c. One Opera, Fidelio, exists, and it keeps the boards in Germany. And there is the great Mass in D, one of the noblest of all choral-orchestral works.
FURTHER READING. Grove's own comprehensive and valuable sixty-page article in his Dictionary; Thayer, Life of Beethoven, revised by Krehbiel (this is the life-work of its author : it is a rather heavy book to read, but is the standard work on the subject; it gives biography, not criticism. Novello, 3 vols., 5 gns.); Shedlock, Beethoven (brief; biography and criticism ; Bell, Is. 6d.) ; Walker, Beethoven (brief ; entirely criticism ; Lane, 3s. 6d); Parry, Studies of Great Composers, chapter ii (Routledge, 5s.) ; Grove, Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies (Novello, 9s. net). One of the very best ways to study Beethoven's methods is to get the Piano solo or duet arrangement, and the Player-Piano roll, or Gramophone record of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and to go through it with the chapter devoted to it in Grove's book. If using the Gramophone record, get also the Miniature Score of the work and make, at your ease, a close study of the orchestration.
PRINTED MUSIC. Almost everything exists in many editions. The Piano Sonatas are, of course, of first importance, but the Overtures and Symphonies, in two-hand and four-hand piano arrangement, may be strongly recommended as exhilarating practice. All the Orchestral Works of importance are to be got as Miniature Scores.
PIANO-PLAYER ROLLS. Nearly all the Piano Sonatas can be got for both 65 and 88 note instruments (Æolian) ; all the nine Symphonies can also be had for both instruments ; the following (and other) Overtures can be had for both instruments—Coriolanus, Egmont, Fidelio, Leonora Nos. I and 3 ; the following sets of Variations (and others) can be got for 65-note instrument—33 on a Waltz of Diabelli, 32 in C minor (also for 88). And there are a good many other works available.
GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. ORCHESTRAL WORKS. Fifth Symphony (complete, i.e. no 'cuts' ; 4 double-sided records, Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, conducted by Landon Ronald, H. M. V.; this, as above suggested, may be studied to great profit with the Miniature Score, for orchestration and form, or even with the Piano score for form only) ; Coriolanus Overture (Sir Henry Wood's Orchestra ; March from Wagner's Tannhäuser on back, C.) ; Leonora Overture No. 3 (Sir Henry Wood's Orchestra ; 2 records ; Minuet from Beethoven's Septet on back of one of them; C.); Third Symphony (Eroica) (Sir Henry Wood's Orchestra ; 3 double-sided records ; a good deal cut ; C.) ; Andante from Fifth Symphony (Philharmonic Orchestra, New York, C.) ; Emperor Concerto (Lamond and Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, conducted by Goossens; no cuts; 5 records, H. M. V.).
PIANO WORKS. Presto from Sonata, Op. 10 No. 2 (Murdoch ; a Scarlatti Pastorale on back ; C.) : so-called Moonlight Sonata (Friedheim ; C.; also Hambourg, H. M. V.); last two movements of Pathetic Sonata (Murdoch; C.) ; last movement of Sonata, Op. 2, No.3 (Hambourg ; with the popular one of Rachmaninof's ' Preludes' on back, H. M. V.). VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS. Kreutzer Sonata (Marjorie Hayward and Una Bourne, z records, `cut', H. M.V.; also complete, Sammons and Murdoch, 2 records, C.); Romance in G (Daisy Kennedy, C.) ; ' Spring' Sonata (Sammons and Murdoch, 2 records, C.). STRING TRIOS and PIANO TRIOS. Many odd movements. See Catalogues. STRING QUARTETS. Op. 18, No. r, in F (London String Quartet, 2 records, C.) ; Op. 18, No. 2, in G (London String Quartet, 2 records, C.) ; Op. z8, No.3, in D (London String Quartet, 2 records, V.) ; Fugue from Op. 59, No. 3 (Flonzaley Quartet, H. M. V.) ; and other odd movements. See Catalogues.
SONG. In questa tomba (Chaliapine, H. M. V.).