It is clear that Beethoven's character could not develop itself normally, until he had become to a considerable degree independent of his father; and, consequently, that certain peculiarities related of him in his boyhood were probably less the results of his natural tendencies than the consequence of these being checked and obstructed by adverse circumstances. Soon after the letter to Dr. Schaden came the turning-point in the boy's fortunes. Beethoven was now substantially emancipated from his father; his talents opened to him a higher and finer-toned circle of society; a love for the best literature was cherished, if not created; and no long time elapsed before his father's increasing moral infirmities made him virtually the head of the family. The nobler qualities of his head and heart now received a culture impossible before. At last his character could and did develop itself normally. In all the following fourteen years—during which the boy organist of Bonn rises step by step to the position of first of pianists and most promising of the young composers in Vienna— one seeks in vain for any trace of the assumed constitutional tendency to melancholy. Now come the pathetic letters to Wegeler and the "Testament" of 1802—dark, gloomy, despondent. But these were all written under the first pressure of a malady which, he justly foreboded, would in time unfit him for general society and debar him from every field of the musician's activity and ambition save that of composition. It is perhaps worthy of remark, that among the well-known phenomena of mental action are the intellectual prostration and the consequent depression of spirits which follow the completion of any great work in literature or art that has been for some time engrossing the attention, absorbing the thoughts and straining the faculties; and that the "Testament" of 1802 belongs in the precise period of reaction after completing that first of his great works, the Second Symphony. The "Testament" is indeed a cry of agony; but, in the paroxysms of intense physical suffering, cries of agony are not proofs of a naturally weak or defective constitution of the body; that sort of patient suffers less—but dies. Had Beethoven's temperament really been of the gloomy and melancholy cast supposed, suicide, insanity or—through seeking temporary alleviation of mental suffering in sensual indulgences—moral shipwreck would soon have ended his career. "Strength is the morality of men who distinguish themselves above others, and it is also mine," he wrote to his "Dearest Baron Muck Carter":— "Beethoven was, in fact, the personification of strength," said the aged poet Castelli to the present writer. The thought of suicide A Happy Period In The Composer's Life 165

is alluded to in both the "Testament" and the letter to Wegeler; but with him the "To be or not to be?" was only a momentary, a passing, question; not because "conscience does make cowards of us all," but by reason of innate manliness to bear "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" with courage and fortitude, until time and patience should bring resignation. How bravely he sustained his heavy burden to the end of 1806, has been amply recorded in this work. The famous love-letter affords its own sufficient explanation of whatever degree of melancholy it exhibits in the bitterness of parting and separation—the wretched life in Vienna, the uncertainty of his pecuniary resources, the impossibility of marriage without some decided change for the better in his condition and prospects. When, a few months later, the question of the possession of the theatres was decided against Braun, Beethoven had reason to hope that this change was assured; since the position of Lobkowitz, both socially and in connection with the theatres, gave to his hint, that the composer should apply for a permanent engagement, almost the force of a promise that he should receive it. In view of Beethoven's abhorrence of all restrictions on his personal freedom, it is by no means certain that the final non-acceptance of his proposals caused him any very severe and lasting disappointment. Whether so or not, and notwithstanding the prolonged uncertainty of his future prospects and the occasional characteristic complaints in his letters, still these three years—1807-8-9 —were unquestionably the happiest in the last half of his life. That it was a period of extraordinary activity and productiveness, of a corresponding augmentation and extension of his fame, of animated and joyous social intercourse, and was brightly tinted with so much of the romance of love as a man of middleage is apt to indulge in—all this the reader knows. The coming of Reichardt to Vienna and the recording of his observations on the musical life of the Austrian capital in his book entitled "Confidential Letters, etc.," were fortunate incidents for the lovers of Beethoven. Reichardt's was one of the great names in music. He stood in the front rank both as composer and writer on the art. His personal character was unspotted; his intellectual powers great and highly cultivated in other fields than music; nor had his dismissal from his position of Royal Chapelmaster by Frederick William II been founded upon reasons which injured his reputation abroad. He therefore found all, even the highest, musical salons of Vienna open to him, and he received attention which under the circumstances was doubly grateful. A colossal self-esteem, a vanity almost boundless alone could have sent such pages as his "Letters" to the press without a more thorough expurgation. But this is nothing to the present generation, which owes him a large debt of gratitude for the most lively and complete picture existing of the musical life at Vienna at that period, and especially for his notices of Beethoven, the date of which (winter of 1808-09) adds doubly to their value. They should be read in connection with this biography.1 And here a word upon the compositions of these years. The notion, that the beauties of the opera "Leonore" were in great measure the offspring of an old, unfortunate affection for Fraulein von Breuning and of a still more unlucky recent passion for Julia Guicciardi, was treated in its place as unworthy of serious refutation; but nowhere in this work has anything been said affirming or implying that the moral and mental condition of the man Beethoven would not produce its natural and legitimate effect upon Beethoven the composer. Now, examine the lists of compositions which terminate the preceding chapters, and say whether any but a strong, healthy, sound, elastic mind could have produced them? To specify only the very greatest; there are in the last months of 1806, after the visit to the Brunswicks, the placid and serene Fourth Symphony—the most perfect in form of them all—and the noble Violin Concerto; in 1807, the Mass in C and the C minor Symphony; in 1808, the "Pastoral" Symphony and the Choral Fantasia; and in 1809, the conception and partial execution of the Seventh, perhaps also the Eighth, Symphony and the glorious "Egmont" music. Are such the works of a melancholy, gloomy temperament or of a forlorn, sentimental lover, sighing like a furnace and making "a woeful ballad to his mistress' eyebrow?"

Beethoven, during the fifteen years since Wegeler's vain effort to induce him to attend lectures on Kant, had become to some considerable degree a self-taught man; he had read and studied much, and had acquired a knowledge of the ordinary literary topics of the time, which justified that fine passage in the letter to Breitkopf and Hartel, touching his ability to acquire knowledge from even the most learned treatises. Strikingly in point is the interest which he exhibits during these and following years in the Oriental researches of Hammer and his associates. His notes and excerpts

'See Reichardt's "Vertraute Briefe, geschrieben auf einer Reise nach Wien und den Osterreichischen Staaten zu Ende das Jahres 1808 und zu Anfang 1809," under date November 80, December 5, December 10, December 16, December 25, December 81, 1808, and January 15, March 6, March 27 and No. 37 (without date), 1809.

Appreciation Of Serious Literature 167

prove a very extensive knowledge of their translations, both published and in manuscript; and, moreover, that this strange literature was perhaps even more attractive to him in its religious, than in its lyric and dramatic aspects. In these excerpts—indeed, generally in extracts from books and in his underscoring of favorite passages in them—Beethoven exhibits a keen perception and taste for the lofty and sublime, far beyond the grasp of any common or uncultivated mind. "The moral law in us and the starry heavens above us. Kant! !!" is one of the brief notes from his hand, which now and then enliven the tedious and thankless task of deciphering the Conversation Books. The following, given here from his own manuscript, is perhaps the finest of his transcriptions from Hindu literature: God is immaterial; since he is invisible he can have no form, but from what we observe in his works we may conclude that he is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent—The mighty one is he who is free from all desire; he alone; there is no greater than he. Brahma; his spirit is enwrapped in himself. He, the mighty one, is present in every part of space—his omniscience is in spirit by himself and the conception of him comprehends every other one; of all comprehensive attributes that of omniscience is the greatest. For it there is no threefold existence. It is independent of everything. O God, thou art the true, eternal, blessed, immutable light of all times and all spaces. Thy wisdom embraces thousands upon thousands of laws, and yet thou dost always act freely and for thy honor. Thou wert before all that we revere. To thee be praise and adoration. Thou alone art the truly blessed one (Bhagavan); thou, the essence of all laws, the image of all wisdom, present throughout the universe, thou upholdest all things. Sun, ether, Brahma [these words are crossed out].

Beethoven's enjoyment of Persian literature as revealed to him in the translations and essays of Herder and von Hammer will now readily be conceived by the reader; as also the delight with which he read that collection of exquisite imitations of Persian poetry with its long series of (then) fresh notices of the manners, customs, books and authors of Persia, which some years later Goethe published with the title "West-Ostlicher Divan." Even that long essay, apparently so out of place in the work— "Israel in der Wiiste"—in which the character of Moses is handled so unmercifully, was upon a topic already of curious interest to Beethoven. This appears from one of his copied papers—one which, as Schindler avers, "he considered to be the sum of the loftiest and purest religion." The history of this paper is this: The Hebrew chronicler describes the great lawgiver of his nation as being "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." This leads Schiller, in his fine essay on "Die Sendung Moses," into a discussion of the nature and character of this wisdom. The following sentences are from his account:The epoptse (Egyptian priests) recognized a single, highest cause of all things, a primeval force, natural force, the essence of all essences, which was the same as the demiurgos of the Greek philosophers. There is nothing more elevated than the simple grandeur with which they spoke of the creator of the universe. In order to distinguish him the more emphatically they gave him no name. A name, said they, is only a need for pointing a difference; he who is only, has no need of a name, for there is no one with whom he could be confounded. Under an ancient monument of Isis were to be read the words: "I AM THAT WHICH IS,"and upon a pyramid at Sais the strange primeval inscription: "I AM ALL, WHAT IS, WHAT WAS, WHAT WILL BE; NO MORTAL MAN HAS EVER LIFTED MY VEIL." No one was permitted to enter the temple of Serapis who did not bear upon his breast or forehead the name Iao, or I-ha-ho—a name similar in sound to the Hebrew Jehovah and in all likelihood of the same meaning; and no name was uttered with greater reverence in Egypt than this name Iao. In the hymn which the hierophant, or guardian of the sanctuary, sang to the candidate for initiation, this was the first division in the instruction concerning the nature of the divinity: "HE IS ONLY AND SOLELY OF HIMSELF, AND TO THIS ONLY ONE ALL THINGS OWE THEIR EXISTENCE."

The sentences here printed in capital letters "Beethoven copied with his own hand and kept (them), framed and under glass, always before him on his writing-table."

Beethoven was now at an age when men of thoughtful and independent minds have settled opinions on such important subjects as have received their attention, among which, to all men, religion stands preeminent. Few change their faith after forty; there is no reason to suppose that Beethoven did; no place, therefore, more fit than this will be found to remark upon a topic to which the preceding pages directly lead—his religious views. Schindler writes in the appendix to his biography of Beethoven: Beethoven was brought up in the Catholic religion. That he was truly religious is proved by his whole life, and many evidences were brought forward in the biographical part (of this work). It was one of his peculiarities that he never spoke on religious topics or concerning the dogmas of the various Christian churches in order to give his opinion about them. It may be said with considerable certainty, however, that his religious views rested less upon the creed of the church, than that they had their origin in deism. Without having a manufactured theory before him he plainly recognized the existence of God in the world as well as the world in God. This theory he found in the whole of Nature, and his guides seem to have been the oft-mentioned book, Christian Sturm's "Betrachtungen der Werke Gottes in der Natur," and the philosophical systems of the Greek wise men. It would be difficult for anybody to

« ForrigeFortsett »