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Beethoven And His Predecessors 89
whence, three years later, he was advanced to the same position in the new university at Gratz. Perhaps the most beloved of his friends was Gleichenstein. We pass to the notices of Ries, Czerny and others, which record divers characteristic anecdotes and personal traits of the master, not susceptible of exact chronological arrangement but which belong to this period. "Of all composers," says Ries ("Notizen," p. 84), "Beethoven valued most highly Mozart and Handel, then S. Bach. Whenever I found him with music in his hand or lying on his desk it was surely compositions of these heroes. Haydn seldom escaped without a few sly thrusts." Compare this with what Jahn heard from Czerny: "Once Beethoven saw at my house the scores of six quartets by Mozart. He opened the fifth, in A, and said: 'That's a work! that's where Mozart said to the world: Behold what I might have done for you if the time were here!'" And, touching Handel: "Graun's 'Tod Jesu' was unknown to Beethoven. My father brought the score to him, which he played through a vista in a masterly manner. When he came to a place where Graun had written a twofold ending to be left to the choice of the performer, he said: 'The man must have had the gripes not to be able to say which ending is the better!' At the end he said that the fugues were passable, the rest ordinary. Then he picked up Handel's 'Messiah' with the words: 'Here is a different fellow!' and played the most interesting numbers and called our attention to several resemblances to Haydn's 'Creation,' etc." "Once," says Ries (p. 100), "when after a lesson we were talking about fugue themes, I sitting at the pianoforte and he beside me, I played the first fugue theme from Graun's 'Tod Jesu'; he began to play it after me with his left hand, then brought in the right and developed it for perhaps half an hour. I am still unable to understand how he could have endured the uncomfortable position so long. His enthusiasm made him insensible to external impressions." In another place (p. 87) he relates: "During a walk I mentioned to Beethoven two pure fifth progressions which sound striking and beautiful in his C minor Quartet (Op. 18). He did not know them and denied that they were fifths. It being his habit always to carry ruled paper with him, I asked him for a sheet and wrote down the passage in all four voices; seeing that I was right he said: 'Well, and who has forbidden them?' Not knowing how to take the question, I had him repeat it several times until I finally answered in amazement: 'But they are first principles!' The question was repeated again, whereupon I answered: 'Marpurg, Kirnberger, Fux, etc., etc., all theoreticians!'—'And I allow them thus!' was his answer."1
We quote again from Ries (p. 106):I recall only two instances in which Beethoven told me to add a few notes to his composition: once in the theme of the rondo of the 'Sonate Pathetique' (Op. 13), and again in the theme of the rondo of his first Concerto in C major, where he gave me some passages in double notes to make it more brilliant. He played this last rondo, in fact, with an expression peculiar to himself. In general he played his own compositions very freakishly, holding firmly to the measure, however, as a rule and occasionally, but not often, hurrying the tempo. At times he would hold the tempo back in his crescendo with ritardando, which made a very beautiful and highly striking effect. In playing he would give a passage now in the right hand, now in the left, a lovely and absolutely inimitable expression; but he very seldom added notes or ornaments .... (p. 100). He played his own compositions very unwillingly. Once he was making serious preparations for a long trip which we were to make together, on which I was to arrange the concerts and play his concertos as well as other compositions. He was to conduct and improvise. And now something more on the subject of Beethoven's improvisations. Says Ries: "This last was certainly the most extraordinary (performance) any one was ever privileged to listen to, especially when he was in good humor or excited. Not a single artist of all that I have heard ever reached the plane in this respect which Beethoven occupied. The wealth of ideas which crowded in upon him, the moods to which he surrendered himself, the variety of treatment, the difficulties which offered themselves or were introduced by him, were inexhaustible." And Czerny:
Beethoven's improvisation (with which he created the greatest sensation in the first years of his sojourn in Vienna and even caused Mozart to wonder) was of the most varied kind, whether he was treating themes chosen by himself or set for him by others. 1. In the first-movement form or the final rondo of a sonata, when he regularly closed the first section and introduced a second melody in a related key, etc., but in the second section gave himself freely to all manner of treatment of the motivi. In Allegros the work was enlivened by bravura passages which were mostly more difficult than those to be found in his compositions. 2. In the free-variation form, about like his Choral Fantasia, Op. 80, or the choral finale of his Ninth Symphony, both of which give a faithful illustration of his improvisations in this form.
'Quid licet Jovi non licet bovi; the maxim ought to be repeated every time this familiar story is told. Moreover, those who repeat Beethoven's remark oftenest always omit a very significant word in it: "Und to erlaube ich sie!" i.e., "When used in the manner illustrated in the measure in question, I allow them." Beethoven gave no general license.
3. In the mixed genre, where, in the potpourri style, one thought follows upon another, as in his solo Fantasia, Op. 77. Often a few tones would suffice to enable him to improvise an entire piece (as, for instance, the Finale of the third Sonata, D major, of Op. 10). Nobody equalled him in the rapidity of his scales, double trills, skips, etc.—not even Hummel. His bearing while playing was masterfully quiet, noble and beautiful, without the slightest grimace (only bent forward low, as his deafness grew upon him); his fingers were very powerful, not long, and broadened at the tips by much playing, for he told me very often indeed that he generally had to practise until after midnight in his youth. In teaching he laid great stress on a correct position of the fingers (after the school of Emanuel Bach, which he used in teaching me); he could scarcely span a tenth. He made frequent use of the pedals, much more frequent than is indicated in his works. His playing of the scores of Handel and Gluck and the fugues of Seb. Bach was unique, in that in the former he introduced a full-voicedness and a spirit which gave these works a new shape. He was also the greatest a vista player of his time (even in scorereading); he scanned every new and unfamiliar composition like a divination and his judgment was always correct, but, especially in his younger years, very keen, biting, unsparing. Much that the world admired then and still admires he saw in an entirely different light from the lofty point of view of his genius. Extraordinary as his playing was when he improvised, it was frequently less successful when he played his printed compositions, for, as he never had patience or time to practise, the result would generally depend on accident or his mood; and as his playing, like his compositions, was far ahead of his time, the pianofortes of the period (until 1810), still extremely weak and imperfect, could not endure his gigantic style of performance. Hence it was that Hummel's purling, brilliant style, well calculated to suit the manner of the time, was much more comprehensible and pleasing to the public. But Beethoven's performance of slow and sustained passages produced an almost magical effect upon every listener and, so far as I know, was never surpassed. Pass we to certain minor characteristic traits which Ries has recorded of his master: Beethoven recalled his youth, and his Bonn friends, with great pleasure, although his memory told of hard times, on the whole. Of his mother, in particular, he spoke with love and feeling, calling her often an honest, good-hearted woman. He spoke but little and unwillingly of his father, who was most to blame for the family misery, but a single hard word against him uttered by another would anger him. On the whole he was a thoroughly good and kind man, on whom his moods and impetuousness played shabby tricks. He would have forgiven anybody, no matter how grievously he had injured him or whatever wrong he had done him, if he had found him in an unfortunate position. ("Notizen," p. 122.) Beethoven was often extremely violent. One day we were eating our noonday meal at the Swan inn; the waiter brought him the wrong dish. Scarcely had Beethoven spoken a few words about the matter, which the waiter answered in a manner not altogether modest, when Beethoven seized the dish (it was a mess of lungs with plenty of gravy) and threw it at the waiter's head. The poor fellow had an armful of other dishes (an adeptness which Viennese waiters possess in a high degree) and could not help himself; the gravy ran down his face. He and Beethoven screamed and vituperated while all the other guests roared with laughter. Finally, Beethoven himself was overcome with the comicalness of the situation, as the waiter who wanted to scold could not, because he was kept busy licking from his chops the gravy that ran down his face, making the most ridiculous grimaces the while. It was a picture worthy of Hogarth. ("Notizen," p. 121.) Beethoven knew scarcely anything about money, because of which he had frequent quarrels; since he was always mistrustful, and frequently thought himself cheated when it was not the case. Easily excited, he called people cheats, for which in the case of waiters he had to make good with tips. At length his peculiarities and absentmindedness became known in the inns which he frequented most often and he was permitted to go his way, even when he went without paying his bill. ("Notizen," p. 122.)
Beethoven had taken lessons on the violin even after he reached Vienna from Krumpholz and frequently when I was there we played his Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violin together. But it was really a horrible music; for in his enthusiastic zeal he never heard when he began a passage with bad fingering.
In his behavior Beethoven was awkward and helpless; his uncouth movements were often destitute of all grace. He seldom took anything into his hands without dropping and breaking it. Thus he frequently knocked his ink-well into the pianoforte which stood near by the side of his writing-table. No piece of furniture was safe from him, least of all a costly piece. Everything was overturned, soiled and destroyed. It is hard to comprehend how he accomplished so much as to be able to shave himself, even leaving out of consideration the number of cuts on his cheeks. He could never learn to dance in time. ("Notizen," p. 119.) Beethoven attached no value to his manuscripts; after they were printed they lay for the greater part in an anteroom or on the floor among other pieces of music. I often put his music to rights; but whenever he hunted something, everything was thrown into confusion again. I might at that time have carried away the original manuscripts of all his printed pieces; and if I had asked him for them he would unquestionably have given them to me without a thought. ("Notizen," p. 113.) Beethoven felt the loss of Ries very sensibly; but it was in part supplied by young Rockel, to whom he took a great liking. Inviting him to call, he told him he would give special orders to his servant to admit him at all times, even in the morning when busy. It was agreed that, when Rockel was admitted, if he found Beethoven very much occupied he should pass through the room into the bed-chamber beyond—both rooms overlooked the Glacis from the fourth story of the Pasqualati house on the Molker Bastei— and there await him a reasonable time; if the composer came not, Characteristics Of The Composer 93
Rockel should quietly pass out again. It happened one morning upon his first visit, that Rockel found at the street door a carriage with a lady in it; and, on reaching the fourth storey, there, at Beethoven's door, was Prince Lichnowsky in a dispute with the servant about being admitted. The man declared he dared not admit anybody, as his master was busy and had given express orders not to admit any person whatever. Rockel, however, having the entree, informed Beethoven that Lichnowsky was outside. Though in ill humor, he could no longer refuse to see him. The Prince and his wife had come to take Beethoven out for an airing; and he finally consented, but, as he entered the carriage, Rockel noticed that his face was still cloudy. That Beethoven and Ignatz von Seyfried were brought much together in these years, the reader already knows. Their acquaintance during thirty years—which, for at least half of the time, was really the "friendly relationship" which Seyfried names it—was, he says, "never weakened, never disturbed by even the smallest quarrel—not that we were both always of a mind, or could be, but we always spoke freely and frankly to each other, without reserve, according to our convictions, without conceitedly trying to force upon one another our opinions as infallible."
Besides, Beethoven was much too straightforward, open and tolerant to give offence to another by disapprobation, or contradiction; he was wont to laugh heartily at what did not please him and I confidently believe that I may safely say that in all his life he never, at least not consciously, made an enemy; only those to whom his peculiarities were unknown were unable quite to understand how to get along with him; I am speaking here of an earlier time, before the misfortune of deafness had come upon him; if, on the contrary, Beethoven sometimes carried things to an extreme in his rude honesty in the case of many, mostly those who had imposed themselves upon him as protectors, the fault lay only in this, that the honest German always carried his heart on his tongue and understood everything better than how to flatter; also because, conscious of his own merit, he would never permit himself to be made the plaything of the vain whims of the Maecenases who were eager to boast of their association with the name and fame of the celebrated master. And so he was misunderstood only by those who had not the patience to get acquainted with the apparent eccentric. When he composed "Fidelio," the oratorio "Christus am Olberg," the symphonies in E-flat, C minor and F, the Pianoforte Concertos in C minor and G major, and the Violin Concerto in D, we were living in the same house1 and (since we were each carrying on a bachelor's apartment) we dined at the same restaurant and chatted away many an unforgettable hour in the confidential intimacy of colleagues, for Beethoven was then merry, ready for any jest, happy, full of life, witty and not seldom satirical. No physical
'Seyfried's memory has here in part played him false.