Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

ill had then afflicted him [?]; no loss of the sense which is peculiarly indispensable to the musician had darkened his life; only weak eyes had remained with him as the results of the smallpox with which he had been afflicted in his childhood, and these compelled him even in his early youth to resort to concave, very strong (highly magnifying) spectacles.1 He had me play the pieces mentioned, recognized throughout the musical world as masterpieces, and, without giving me time to think, demanded to know my opinion of them; I was permitted to give it without restraint, without fearing that I should offend any artistic conceit—a fault which was utterly foreign to his nature. The above is from "Cacilia," Vol. IX, 218, 219. In the socalled "Studien" (appendix) are other reminiscences, which form an admirable supplement to it. Those which belong to the years 1800-1805 follow: Our master could not be presented as a model in respect of conducting, and the orchestra always had to have a care in order not to be led astray by its mentor; for he had ears only for his composition and was ceaselessly occupied by manifold gesticulations to indicate the desired expression. He used to suggest a diminuendo by crouching down more and more, and at a pianissimo he would almost creep under the desk. When the volume of sound grew he rose up also as if out of a stage-trap, and with the entrance of the power of the band he would stand upon the tips of his toes almost as big as a giant, and waving his arms, seemed about to soar upwards to the skies. Everything about him was active, not a bit of his organism idle, and the man was comparable to a perpetuum mobile. He did not belong to those capricious composers whom no orchestra in the world can satisfy. At times, indeed, he was altogether too considerate and did not even repeat passages which went badly at the rehearsal: "It will go better next time," he would say. He was very particular about expression, the delicate nuances, the equable distribution of light and shade as well as an effective tempo rubato, and without betraying vexation, would discuss them with the individual players. When he then observed that the players would enter into his intentions and play together with increasing ardor, inspired by the magical power of his creations, his face would be transfigured with joy, all his features beamed pleasure and satisfaction, a pleased smile would play around his lips and a thundering "Bravi tutti!" reward the successful achievement. It was the first and loftiest triumphal moment for the genius, compared with which, as he confessed, the tempestuous applause of a receptive audience was as nothing. When playing at first sight, there were frequent pauses for the purpose of correcting the parts and then the thread would be broken; but he was patient even then; but when things went to pieces, particularly in the scherzos of his symphonies at a sudden and unexpected change of rhythm, he would shout with laughter and say he had expected nothing else, but was reckoning on it from the beginning; he was almost childishly glad that he had been successful in "unhorsing such excellent riders."

'Another slight mistake. Schindler was in possession of Beethoven's glasses and they were by no means "very strong."

Deafness And Disorderliness 95

Before Beethoven was afflicted with his organic ailment, he attended the opera frequently and with enjoyment, especially the admirable and flourishing Theater-an-der-Wien, perhaps, also, for convenience' sake, since he had scarcely to do more than to step from his room into the parterre. There he was fascinated more especially by the creations of Cherubini and Mehul, which at that time were just beginning to stir up the enthusiasm of all Vienna. There he would plant himself hard against the orchestra rail and, dumb as a dunce, remain till the last stroke of the bows. This was the only sign, however, that the art work had interested him; if, on the contrary, the piece did not please him he would turn on his heel at the first fall of the curtain and take himself away. It was, in fact, difficult, yes, utterly impossible to tell from his features whether or not he was pleased or displeased; he was always the same, apparently cold, and just as reserved in his judgments concerning his companions in art; his mind was at work ceaselessly, but the physical shell was like soulless marble. Strangely enough, on the other hand, hearing wretched music was a treat to him which he proclaimed by a peal of laughter. Everybody who knew him intimately knew that in this art he was a virtuoso, but it was a pity that those who were near him were seldom able to fathom the cause of such explosions, since he often laughed at his most secret thoughts and conceits without giving an accounting of them. He was never found on the street without a small note-book in which he was wont to record his passing ideas. Whenever conversation turned on the subject he would parody Joan of Arc's words: "I dare not come without my banner!"—and he adhered to his self-given rule with unparalleled tenacity; although otherwise a truly admirable disorder prevailed in his household. Books and music were scattered in every corner; here the remnants of a cold luncheon; here sealed or half-emptied bottles; here upon a stand the hurried sketches of a quartet; here the remains of a dejeuner; there on the pianoforte, on scribbled paper the material for a glorious symphony still slumbering in embryo; here a proof-sheet awaiting salvation; friendly and business letters covering the floor; between the windows a respectable loaf of strachino, ad latiui a considerable ruin of a genuine Veronese salami—yet despite this varied mess our master had a habit, quite contrary to the reality, of proclaiming his accuracy and love of order on all occasions with Ciceronian eloquence. Only when it became necessary to spend days, hours, sometimes weeks, in finding something necessary and all efforts remained fruitless, did he adopt a different tone, and the innocent were made to bear the blame. "Yes, yes," was the complaint, "that's a misfortune! Nothing is permitted to remain where I put it; everything is moved about; everything is done to vex me; O men, men!" But his servants knew the good-natured grumbler; let him growl to his heart's content, and—in a few minutes all would be forgotten, until another occasion brought with it a renewal of the scene. He often made merry over his illegible handwriting and excused himself by saying: "Life is too short to paint letters or notes; and prettier notes would scarcely help me out of needs."1

'One of Beethoven's puns, the point of which is lost in the translation: "Schonere NoUn brachten mich schwerlich aus den Ndthen."

[graphic]

The whole forenoon, from the first ray of light till the meal hour, was devoted to mechanical labor, i. e., to transcribing; the rest of the day was given to thought and the ordering of ideas. Hardly had he put the last bit in his mouth before he began his customary promenade, unless he had some other excursion in petto; that is to say, he hurried in double-quick time several times around the city, as if urged on by a goad; and this, let the weather be what it might. And his hearing—how was it with that? A question not to be answered to full satisfaction. It is clear that the "Notizen" of Wegeler and Ries, the Biography (first editions) of Schindler, and especially the papers from Beethoven's own hand printed in those volumes, have given currency to a very exaggerated idea of the progress of his infirmity. On the other hand, Seyfried as evidently errs in the other direction; and yet Carl Czerny, both in his published and manuscripts notices, goes even farther. For instance, he writes to Jahn: "Although he had suffered from pains in his ears and the like ever since 1800, he still heard speech and music perfectly well until nearly 1812," and adds in confirmation: "As late as the years 1811-1812 I studied things with him and he corrected with great care, as well as ten years before." This, however, proves nothing, as Beethoven performed feats of this kind still more remarkable down to the last year of his life. Beethoven's Lamentation, the testament of 1802, is one extreme, the statements of Seyfried and Czerny the other; the truth lies somewhere between. In June, 1801, Beethoven is "obliged to lean down to the orchestral rail to hear a drama." The next summer he cannot hear a flute or pipe to which Ries calls his attention. In 1804, as Dolezalek tells Jahn, "in the rehearsals to the 'Eroica' he did not always hear the wind-instruments distinctly and missed them when they were playing." The evil was then making, if slow, still sure progress. "In those years," says Schindler, "there was a priest named Pater Weiss in the Metropolitan Church of St. Stephen who occupied himself with healing the deaf and had accomplished many fortunate cures. He was not a mere empiricist, but was familiar with the physiology of the ear; he effected his cures with simple remedies, and enjoyed a wide fame among the people, and also the respect of medical practitioners. With the consent of his physician our terrified tone-poet had also entrusted his case to the priest." Precisely when this was, is unknown; it could not, however, have been until after Dr. Schmidt's treatment had proved hopeless. The so-called Fischoff Manuscript, evidently on the authority of Zmeskall himself, gives a more particular account than Schindler of Pater Weiss's exNeglect Of Medical Treatment 97

perience with his new patient. "Herr v. Zmeskall with great difficulty persuaded Beethoven to go there with him. At first he followed the advice of the physician; but as he had to go to him every day in order to have a fluid dropped into his ear, this grew unpleasant, the more since, in his impatience, he felt little or no improvement; and he remained away. The physician, questioned by Zmeskall, told him the facts, and Zmeskall begged him to accommodate himself to the self-willed invalid, and consult his convenience. The priest, honestly desirous to help Beethoven, went to his lodgings, but his efforts were in vain, inasmuch as Beethoven in a few days refused him entrance, and thus neglected possible help or at least an amelioration of his condition."

Probably the evil was of such a nature that, with all the resources of our present medical science, it could hardly have been impeded, much less arrested. This is poor consolation, but the best we have. The sufferer now resigned himself to his fate. On a page of twenty-one leaves of sketches to the Rasoumowsky Quartets, Op. 59, stands written in pencil—if correctly deciphered —these words from his hand:Even as you have plunged into the whirlpool of society, you will find it possible to compose operas in spite of social obstacles. Let your deafness no longer remain a secret—not even in art! Chapter VI Princes as Theatrical Directors—Disappointed Expectations— Subscription Concerts at Prince Lobkowitz's—The Symphony in B-flat—The "Coriolan" Overture—Contract with Clementi—The Mass in C—The Year 1807.

A CONTROVERSY for the possession of the two Court Theatres and that An-der-Wien involved certain legal questions which, in September, 1806, were decided by the proper tribunal against the old directors, who were thus at the end of the year compelled to retire. Peter> -Baron von Braun, closed his twelve years' administration with a circular letter addressed to his recent subordinates, dated December 28, in which, after bidding them an affectionate adieu, he said: "With imperial consent I have turned over the vice-direction of the Royal Imperial Court Theatre to a company composed of the following cavaliers: the Princes Lobkowitz, Schwarzenberg and Esterhazy and the Counts Esterhazy, Lodron, Ferdinand Palffy, Stephen Zichy and Niklas Esterhazy."

Beethoven naturally saw in this change a most hopeful prospect of an improvement in his own theatrical fortunes, and immediately, acting on a hint from Lobkowitz, addressed to the new directors a petition and proposals for a permanent engagement, with a fixed salary, in their service. The document was as follows: To the Worshipful R. I. Theatre Direction: The undersigned flatters himself that during his past sojourn in Vienna he has won some favor with not only the high nobility but also the general public, and has secured an honorable acceptance of his works at home and abroad. Nevertheless, he has been obliged to struggle with difficulties of all kinds and has not yet been able to establish himself here in a position which would enable him to fulfil his desire to live wholly for art, to develop his talents to a still higher degree of perfection, which must be the goal of every true artist, and to make certain for the future the fortuitous advantages of the present. Inasmuch as the undersigned has always striven less for a livelihood than for the interests of art, the ennoblement of taste and the

« ForrigeFortsett »