Beethoven: the Man and the Artist, as Revealed in his own Words
Ludwig van Beethoven, edited by Friedrich Kerst
Part 1 out of 2
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This etext was produced by John Mamoun with
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"Beethoven: the Man and the Artist, as Revealed in his own Words"
edited by Friedrich Kerst and Henry Edward Krehbiel
(See the end of this electronic text for information about the edition)
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
LOVE OF NATURE
ON PERFORMING MUSIC
ON HIS OWN WORKS
ON ART AND ARTISTS
BEETHOVEN AS CRITIC
ON HIS OWN DISPOSITION AND CHARACTER
INFO ABOUT THIS E-TEXT EDITION
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is widely considered to be one
of the pre-eminent classical music figures of the Western world.
This German musical genius created numerous works that are firmly
entrenched in the repertoire. Except for a weakness in composing
vocal and operatic music (to which he himself admitted,
notwithstanding a few vocal works like the opera "Fidelio" and the
song "Adelaide,"), Beethoven had complete mastery of the artform.
He left his stamp in 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 10 violin
sonatas, 32 piano sonatas, numerous string quartets and dozens of
other key works. Many of his works are ingeniously imaginative
and innovative, such as his 3rd symphony (the "Eroica"), his 9th
Violin Sonata (the "Kreutzer"), his "Waldstein" piano sonata, his
4th and 5th piano concertos, or his "Grosse Fugue" for string
quartet. (Of course, each of Beethoven's works adds its own unique
detail to Beethoven's grand musical paradigm.)
It is difficult to sum up briefly what his musical works represent
or symbolize, since taken together they encompass a vast system of
thought. Generally, however, those who apprehend his music sense
that it reflects their own personal yearnings and sufferings. It
egoistically, and always intelligently, "discusses" with its
listener his or her feelings in the wake of personal failure and
personal triumph, from the lowest depths of despair to the highest
heights of happy or triumphant fulfillment. In his music, he
represents the feelings felt by those attempting to achieve their
goals within their societies, whether they are competing for love,
status, money, power, mates and/or any other things individuals
feel naturally inclined to attempt to acquire.
In a thematic sense, Beethoven does not promote anarchist ideas.
The listener cannot, in listening to Beethoven's music, apprehend
ideas which, if applied, would compromise the welfare of his
society. The music is thus "civically responsible," as is the
music of Bach or Mozart. For Beethoven, the society exists as a
bulwark with which the individual must function in harmony, or at
least not function such as to harm or destroy it. And, should the
society marginalize or hurt the individual, as it often does, the
individual must, according to Beethoven, humbly accept this, never
considering the alternative act of attempting to harm or destroy
the society in the wake of his or her personal frustrations. But,
thanks to Beethoven, such an individual is provided with the means
to sooth his or her misery in the wake of feeling "hurt" at the
hands of society. The means is this music and the euphoric
pleasure that it can provide to minds possessing the psycho-
intellectual "wiring" needed to apprehend it.
Some post-World-War-II composers, such as the late, LSD-using John
Cage, reject the music of Beethoven because of its predominant
reliance on "beauty" as way of communicating idealized concepts.
Also, since the music intimately reflects the cravings and thought-
processes of the natural human mind, which in numerous ways is
emotionally and intellectually irrational, the music may itself be
The following book consists of brief biographical commentaries
about Beethoven, each followed by sections of quotations
attributed to the muse. In these quotes, Beethoven demonstrates
his intense preoccupation (or obsession) with thinking
artistically and intelligently, and with helping to alleviate
man's suffering by providing man with musical artworks that could
enlighten him, so as to become educated enough to pull himself out
of his misery. He felt immediate, strong disdain at any artistic
statement that was not truly intelligent and artistic, such as, in
his view, the music of Rossini. Although not prudish, he had high
standards when it came to marriage, and was morally against
"reproductory pleasure" for its own sake, or any form of adultery.
He never married. Interestingly, experimental psychologists have
discovered that people who have an intense love of humanity or
are preoccupied with working to serve humanity tend to have
difficulty forming intimate bonds with people on a personal
This little book came into existence as if it were by chance.
The author had devoted himself for a long time to the study of
Beethoven and carefully scrutinized all manner of books,
publications, manuscripts, etc., in order to derive the greatest
possible information about the hero. He can say confidently that
he conned every existing publication of value. His notes made
during his readings grew voluminous, and also his amazement at
the wealth of Beethoven's observations comparatively unknown to
his admirers because hidden away, like concealed violets, in
books which have been long out of print and for whose
reproduction there is no urgent call. These observations are of
the utmost importance for the understanding of Beethoven, in
whom man and artist are inseparably united. Within the pages
of this little book are included all of them which seemed to
possess value, either as expressions of universal truths or as
evidence of the character of Beethoven or his compositions.
Beethoven is brought more directly before our knowledge by these
his own words than by the diffuse books which have been written
about him. For this reason the compiler has added only the
necessary explanatory notes, and (on the advice of professional
friends) the remarks introductory to the various subdivisions of
the book. He dispensed with a biographical introduction; there
are plenty of succinct biographies, which set forth the
circumstances of the master's life easily to be had. Those who
wish to penetrate farther into the subject would do well to
read the great work by Thayer, the foundation of all Beethoven
biography (in the new revision now making by Deiters), or the
critical biography by Marx, as revised by Behncke. In sifting
the material it was found that it fell naturally into thirteen
subdivisions. In arranging the succession of utterances care
was had to group related subjects. By this means unnecessary
interruptions in the train of thought were avoided and
interesting comparisons made possible. To this end it was
important that time, place and circumstances of every word
should be conscientiously set down.
Concerning the selection of material let it be said that in all
cases of doubt the authenticity of every utterance was proved;
Beethoven is easily recognizable in the form and contents of his
sayings. Attention must be directed to two matters in particular:
after considerable reflection the compiler decided to include in
the collection a few quotations which Beethoven copied from books
which he read. From the fact that he took the trouble to write
them down, we may assume that they had a fascination for him, and
were greeted with lively emotion as being admirable expressions
of thoughts which had moved him. They are very few, and the fact
that they are quotations is plainly indicated. By copying them
into his note-books Beethoven as much as stored them away in the
thesaurus of his thoughts, and so they may well have a place
here. A word touching the use of the three famous letters to
Bettina von Arnim, the peculiarities of which differentiate them
from the entire mass of Beethoven's correspondence and compel an
inquiry into their genuineness: As a correspondent Bettina von
Arnim has a poor reputation since the discovery of her pretty
forgery, "Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde" (Goethe's
Correspondence with a Child). In this alleged "Correspondence"
she made use of fragmentary material which was genuine, pieced
it out with her own inventions, and even went so far as to turn
into letters poems written by Goethe to her and other women. The
genuineness of a poem by Beethoven to Bettina is indubitable; it
will be found in the chapter entitled "Concerning Texts." Doubt
was thrown on the letters immediately on their appearance in 1839.
Bettina could have dissipated all suspicion had she produced the
originals and remained silent. One letter, however, that dated
February 10, 1811, afterward came to light. Bettina had given it
to Philipp von Nathusius. It had always been thought the most
likely one, of the set to be authentic; the compiler has
therefore, used it without hesitation. From the other letters,
in which a mixture of the genuine and the fictitious must be
assumed so long as the originals are not produced, passages have
been taken which might have been thus constructed by Beethoven.
On the contrary, the voluminous communications of Bettina to
Goethe, in which she relates her conversations with Beethoven,
were scarcely used. It is significant, so far as these are
concerned, that, according to Bettina's own statement, when she
read the letter to him before sending it off, Beethoven cried out,
"Did I really say that? If so I must have had a raptus."
In conclusion the compiler directs attention to the fact that in
a few cases utterances which have been transmitted to us only in
an indirect form have been altered to present them in a direct
form, in as much as their contents seemed too valuable to omit
simply because their production involved a trifling change in
--Elberfeld, October, 1904. Fr. K.
Beethoven's relation to art might almost be described as
personal. Art was his goddess to whom he made petition, to whom
he rendered thanks, whom he defended. He praised her as his
savior in times of despair; by his own confession it was only
the prospect of her comforts that prevented him from laying
violent hands on himself. Read his words and you shall find
that it was his art that was his companion in his wanderings
through field and forest, the sharer of the solitude to which
his deafness condemned him. The concepts Nature and Art were
intimately bound up in his mind. His lofty and idealistic
conception of art led him to proclaim the purity of his goddess
with the hot zeal of a priestly fanatic. Every form of pseudo
or bastard art stirred him with hatred to the bottom of his
soul; hence his furious onslaughts on mere virtuosity and all
efforts from influential sources to utilize art for other than
purely artistic purposes. And his art rewarded his devotion
richly; she made his sorrowful life worth living with gifts of
"To Beethoven music was not only a manifestation of the
beautiful, an art, it was akin to religion. He felt himself
to be a prophet, a seer. All the misanthropy engendered by
his unhappy relations with mankind, could not shake his
devotion to this ideal which had sprung in to Beethoven
from truest artistic apprehension and been nurtured by
enforced introspection and philosophic reflection."
("Music and Manners," page 237. H. E. K.)
1. "'Tis said, that art is long, and life but fleeting:--
Nay; life is long, and brief the span of art;
If e're her breath vouchsafes with gods a meeting,
A moment's favor 'tis of which we've had a part."
(Conversation-book, March, 1820. Probably a quotation.)
2. "The world is a king, and, like a king, desires flattery in
return for favor; but true art is selfish and perverse--it will
not submit to the mould of flattery."
(Conversation-book, March, 1820. When Baron van Braun expressed
the opinion that the opera "Fidelio" would eventually win the
enthusiasm of the upper tiers, Beethoven said, "I do not write
for the galleries!" He never permitted himself to be persuaded
to make concessions to the taste of the masses.)
3. "Continue to translate yourself to the heaven of art; there
is no more undisturbed, unmixed, purer happiness than may thus
(August 19, 1817, to Xavier Schnyder, who vainly sought
instruction from Beethoven in 1811, though he was pleasantly
4. "Go on; do not practice art alone but penetrate to her heart;
she deserves it, for art and science only can raise man to
(Teplitz, July 17, 1812, to his ten years' old admirer, Emilie M.
5. "True art is imperishable and the true artist finds profound
delight in grand productions of genius."
(March 15, 1823, to Cherubini, to whom he also wrote, "I prize
your works more than all others written for the stage." The
letter asked Cherubini to interest himself in obtaining a
subscription from King Louis XVIII for the Solemn Mass in D).
[Cherubini declared that he had never received the letter. That
it was not only the hope of obtaining a favor which prompted
Beethoven to express so high an admiration for Cherubini, is
plain from a remark made by the English musician Cipriani
Potter to A. W. Thayer in 1861. I found it in Thayer's note-books
which were placed in my hands for examination after his death.
One day Potter asked, "Who is the greatest living composer,
yourself excepted?" Beethoven seemed puzzled for a moment, and
then exclaimed, "Cherubini." H. E. K.]
6. "Truth exists for the wise; beauty for the susceptible heart.
They belong together--are complementary."
(Written in the autograph book of his friend, Lenz von Breuning,
7. "When I open my eyes, a sigh involuntarily escapes me, for all
that I see runs counter to my religion; perforce I despise the
world which does not intuitively feel that music is a higher
revelation than all wisdom and philosophy."
(Remark made to Bettina von Arnim, in 1810, concerning Viennese
society. Report in a letter by Bettina to Goethe on May 28,
8. "Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning
this great goddess?"
(August 11, 1810, to Bettina von Arnim.)
9. "In the country I know no lovelier delight than quartet
(To Archduke Rudolph, in a letter addressed to Baden on July 24,
10. "Nothing but art, cut to form like old-fashioned hoop-skirts.
I never feel entirely well except when I am among scenes of
(September 24, 1826, to Breuning, while promenading with
Breuning's family in the Schonbrunner Garden, after calling
attention to the alleys of trees "trimmed like walls, in the
11. "Nature knows no quiescence; and true art walks with her hand
in hand; her sister--from whom heaven forefend us!--is called
(From notes in the lesson book of Archduke Rudolph, following
some remarks on the expansion of the expressive capacity of
LOVE OF NATURE
Beethoven was a true son of the Rhine in his love for nature. As
a boy he had taken extended trips, sometimes occupying days, with
his father "through the Rhenish localities ever lastingly dear to
me." In his days of physical health Nature was his instructress
in art; "I may not come without my banner," he used to say when
he set out upon his wanderings even in his latest years, and
never without his note books. In the scenes of nature he found
his marvelous motives and themes; brook, birds and tree sang to
him. In a few special cases he has himself recorded the fact.
But when he was excluded more and more from communion with his
fellow men because of his increasing deafness, until, finally,
he could communicate only by writing with others (hence the
conversation-books, which will be cited often in this little
volume), he fled for refuge to nature. Out in the woods he again
became naively happy; to him the woods were a Holy of Holies, a
Home of the Mysteries. Forest and mountain-vale heard his sighs;
there he unburdened his heavy-laden heart. When his friends need
comfort he recommends a retreat to nature. Nearly every summer he
leaves hot and dusty Vienna and seeks a quiet spot in the
beautiful neighborhood. To call a retired and reposeful little
spot his own is his burning desire.
12. On the Kahlenberg, 1812, end of September:
In the woods
I am blessed.
Happy every one
In the woods.
Every tree speaks
What glory in the
On the Heights
Peace to serve
(This poetic exclamation, accompanied by a few notes, is on a
page of music paper owned by Joseph Joachim.)
13. "How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs,
under trees and over rocks; no man can love the country as I love
it. Woods, trees and rocks send back the echo that man desires."
(To Baroness von Drossdick.)
14. "O God! send your glance into beautiful nature and comfort
your moody thoughts touching that which must be."
(To the "Immortal Beloved," July 6, in the morning.)
[Thayer has spoiled the story so long believed, and still
spooking in the books of careless writers, that the "Immortal
Beloved" was the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom the
C-sharp minor sonata is dedicated. The real person to whom the
love-letters were addressed was the Countess Brunswick to whom
Beethoven was engaged to be married when he composed the fourth
Symphony. H. E. K.)
15. "My miserable hearing does not trouble me here. In the
country it seems as if every tree said to me: 'Holy! holy!'
Who can give complete expression to the ecstasy of the woods!
O, the sweet stillness of the woods!"
(July, 1814; he had gone to Baden after the benefit performance
16. "My fatherland, the beautiful locality in which I saw the
light of the world, appears before me vividly and just as
beautiful as when I left you; I shall count it the happiest
experience of my life when I shall again be able to see you,
and greet our Father Rhine."
(Vienna, June 29, to Wegeler, in Bonn.)
[In 1825 Beethoven said to his pupil Ries, "Fare well in the Rhine
country which is ever dear to me," and in 1826 wrote to Schott,
the publisher in Mayence, about the "Rhine country which I so long
to see again."]
17. "Bruhl, at "The Lamb"--how lovely to see my native country
18. "A little house here, so small as to yield one's self a
little room,--only a few days in this divine Bruehl,--longing or
desire, emancipation or fulfillment."
(Written in 1816 in Bruehl near Modling among the sketches for
the Scherzo of the pianoforte sonata op. 10.)
[Like many another ejaculatory remark of Beethoven's, it is
difficult to understand. See Appendix. H. E. K.]
19. "When you reach the old ruins, think that Beethoven often
paused there; if you wander through the mysterious fir forests,
think that. Beethoven often poetized, or, as is said, composed
(In the fall of 1817, to Mme. Streicher, who was at a cure in
20. "Nature is a glorious school for the heart! It is well; I
shall be a scholar in this school and bring an eager heart to her
instruction. Here I shall learn wisdom, the only wisdom that is
free from disgust; here I shall learn to know God and find a
foretaste of heaven in His knowledge. Among these occupations my
earthly days shall flow peacefully along until I am accepted into
that world where I shall no longer be a student, but a knower of
(Copied into his diary, in 1818, from Sturm's "Betrachtungen uber
die Werke Gottes in der Natur.")
21. "Soon autumn will be here. Then I wish to be like unto a
fruitful tree which pours rich stores of fruit into our laps! But
in the winter of existence, when I shall be gray and sated with
life, I desire for myself the good fortune that my repose be as
honorable and beneficent as the repose of nature in the winter
(Copied from the same work of Sturm's.)
Not even a Beethoven was spared the tormenting question of texts
for composition. It is fortunate for posterity that he did not
exhaust his energies in setting inefficient libretti, that he did
not believe that good music would suffice to command success in
spite of bad texts. The majority of his works belong to the field
of purely instrumental music. Beethoven often gave expression to
the belief that words were a less capable medium of proclamation
for feelings than music. Nevertheless it may be observed that he
looked upon an opera, or lyric drama, as the crowning work of his
life. He was in communication with the best poets of his time
concerning opera texts. A letter of his on the subject was found
in the blood-spotted pocketbook of Theodor Komer. The conclusion
of his creative labors was to be a setting of Goethe's "Faust;"
except "Fidelio," however, he gave us no opera. His songs are not
many although he sought carefully for appropriate texts.
Unhappily the gift of poetry was not vouchsafed him.
22. "Always the same old story: the Germans can not put together a
(To C. M. von Weber, concerning the book of "Euryanthe," at Baden,
in October, 1823. Mozart said: "Verses are the most indispensable
thing for music, but rhymes, for the sake of rhymes, the most
injurious. Those who go to work so pedantically will assuredly
come to grief, along with the music.")
23. "It is difficult to find a good poem. Grillparzer has promised
to write one for me,--indeed, he has already written one; but we
can not understand each other. I want something entirely different
(In the spring of 1825, to Ludwig Rellstab, who was intending to
write an opera-book for Beethoven. It may not be amiss to recall
the fact that Mozart examined over one hundred librettos,
according to his own statement, before he decided to compose "The
Marriage of Figaro.")
24. "It is the duty of every composer to be familiar with all
poets, old and new, and himself choose the best and most fitting
for his purposes."
(In a recommendation of Kandler's "Anthology.")
25. "The genre would give me little concern provided the subject
were attractive to me. It must be such that I can go to work on
it with love and ardor. I could not compose operas like 'Don
Juan' and 'Figaro;' toward them I feel too great a repugnance. I
could never have chosen such subjects; they are too frivolous."
(In the spring of 1825, to Ludwig Rellstab.)
26. "I need a text which stimulates me; it must be something
moral, uplifting. Texts such as Mozart composed I should never
have been able to set to music. I could never have got myself
into a mood for licentious texts. I have received many librettos,
but, as I have said, none that met my wishes."
(To young Gerhard von Breuning.)
27. "I know the text is extremely bad, but after one has conceived
an entity out of even a bad text, it is difficult to make changes
in details without disturbing the unity. If it is a single word,
on which occasionally great weight is laid, it must be permitted
to stand. He is a bad author who can not, or will not try to make
something as good as possible; if this is not the case petty
changes will certainly not improve the whole."
(Teplitz, August 23, 1811, to Hartel, the publisher, who wanted
some changes made in the hook of "The Mount of Olives.")
28. "Good heavens! Do they think in Saxony that the words make
good music? If an inappropriate word can spoil the music, which
is true, then we ought to be glad when we find that words and
music are one and not try to improve matters even if the verbal
expression is commonplace--dixi."
(January 28, to Gottfried Hartel, who had undertaken to make
changes in the book of "The Mount of Olives" despite the
prohibition of Beethoven.)
29. "Goethe's poems exert a great power over me not only because
of their contents but also because of their rhythms; I am
stimulated to compose by this language, which builds itself up to
higher orders as if through spiritual agencies, and bears in
itself the secret of harmonies."
(Reported as an expression of Beethoven's by Bettina von Arnim to
30. "Schiller's poems are difficult to set to music. The composer
must be able to rise far above the poet. Who can do that in the
case of Schiller? In this respect Goethe is much easier."
(1809, after Beethoven had made his experiences with the "Hymn to
Joy" and "Egmont.")
Wiseacres not infrequently accused Beethoven of want of
regularity in his compositions. In various ways and at divers
times he gave vigorous utterance to his opinions of such
pedantry. He was not the most tractable of pupils, especially in
Vienna, where, although he was highly praised as a player, he
took lessons in counterpoint from Albrechtsberger. He did not
endure long with Papa Haydn. He detested the study of fugue in
particular; the fugue was to him a symbol of narrow coercion
which choked all emotion. Mere formal beauty, moreover, was
nothing to him. Over and over again he emphasizes soul, feeling,
direct and immediate life, as the first necessity of an art work.
It is therefore not strange that under certain circumstances he
ignored conventional forms in sonata and symphony. An
irrepressible impulse toward freedom is the most prominent
peculiarity of the man and artist Beethoven; nearly all of his
observations, no matter what their subject, radiate the word
"Liberty." In his remarks about composing there is a complete
exposition of his method of work.
31. "As regards me, great heavens! my dominion is in the air; the
tones whirl like the wind, and often there is a like whirl in my
(February 13, 1814, to Count Brunswick, in Buda.)
32. "Then the loveliest themes slipped out of your eyes into my
heart, themes which shall only then delight the world when
Beethoven conducts no longer."
(August 15, 1812, to Bettina von Arnim.)
33. "I always have a picture in my mind when composing, and follow
(In 1815, to Neate, while promenading with him in Baden and
talking about the "Pastoral" symphony.)
[Ries relates: "While composing Beethoven frequently thought of
an object, although he often laughed at musical delineation and
scolded about petty things of the sort. In this respect 'The
Creation' and 'The Seasons' were many times a butt, though without
depreciation of Haydn's loftier merits. Haydn's choruses and other
works were loudly praised by Beethoven."]
34. "The texts which you sent me are least of all fitted for song.
The description of a picture belongs to the field of painting; in
this the poet can count himself more fortunate than my muse for
his territory is not so restricted as mine in this respect, though
mine, on the other hand, extends into other regions, and my
dominion is not easily reached."
(Nussdorf, July 15, 1817, to Wilhelm Gerhard, who had sent him
some Anacreontic songs for composition.)
35. "Carried too far, all delineation in instrumental music loses
(A remark in the sketches for the "Pastoral" symphony, preserved
in the Royal Library in Berlin.)
[Mozart said: "Even in the most terrifying moments music must
never offend the ear."]
36. "Yes, yes, then they are amazed and put their heads together
because they never found it in any book on thorough bass."
(To Ries when the critics accused him of making grammatical
blunders in music.)
37. "No devil can compel me to write only cadences of such a kind."
(From notes written in his years of study. Beethoven called the
composition of fugues "the art of making musical skeletons.")
38. "Good singing was my guide; I strove to write as flowingly as
possible and trusted in my ability to justify myself before the
judgment-seat of sound reason and pure taste."
(From notes in the instruction book of Archduke Rudolph.)
39. "Does he believe that I think of a wretched fiddle when the
spirit speaks to me?"
(To his friend, the admirable violinist Schuppanzigh, when the
latter complained of the difficulty of a passage in one of his
[Beethoven here addresses his friend in the third person, which is
the customary style of address for the German nobility and others
towards inferiors in rank. H. E. K.]
40. "The Scotch songs show how unconstrainedly irregular melodies
can be treated with the help of harmony."
(Diary, 1812-1818. Since 1809 Beethoven had arranged Folksongs for
Thomson of Edinburgh.)
41. "To write true church music, look through the old monkish
chorals, etc., also the most correct translations of the periods,
and perfect prosody in the Catholic Psalms and hymns generally."
42. "Many assert that every minor piece must end in the minor.
Nego! On the contrary I find that in the soft scales the major
third at the close has a glorious and uncommonly quieting effect.
Joy follows sorrow, sunshine--rain. It affects me as if I were
looking up to the silvery glistering of the evening star."
(From Archduke Rudolph's book of instruction.)
43. "Rigorists, and devotees of antiquity, relegate the perfect
fourth to the list of dissonances. Tastes differ. To my ear it
gives not the least offence combined with other tones."
(From Archduke Rudolph's book of instruction, compiled in 1809.)
44. "When the gentlemen can think of nothing new, and can go no
further, they quickly call in a diminished seventh chord to help
them out of the predicament."
(A remark made to Schindler.)
45. "My dear boy, the startling effects which many credit to the
natural genius of the composer, are often achieved with the
greatest ease by the use and resolution of the diminished
(Reported by Karl Friederich Hirsch, a pupil of Beethoven in the
winter of 1816. He was a grandson of Albrechtsberger who had
given lessons to Beethoven.)
46. "In order to become a capable composer one must have already
learned harmony and counterpoint at the age of from seven to
eleven years, so that when the fancy and emotions awake one
shall know what to do according to the rules."
(Reported by Schindler as having been put into the mouth of
Beethoven by a newspaper of Vienna. Schindler says: "When
Beethoven came to Vienna he knew no counterpoint, and little
47. "So far as mistakes are concerned it was never necessary for
me to learn thorough-bass; my feelings were so sensitive from
childhood that I practiced counterpoint without knowing that it
must be so or could be otherwise."
(Note on a sheet containing directions for the use of fourths in
suspensions--probably intended for the instruction of Archduke
48. "Continue, Your Royal Highness, to write down briefly your
occasional ideas while at the pianoforte. For this a little
table alongside the pianoforte is necessary. By this means not
only is the fancy strengthened, but one learns to hold fast in a
moment the most remote conceptions. It is also necessary to
compose without the pianoforte; say often a simple chord melody,
with simple harmonies, then figurate according to the rules of
counterpoint, and beyond them; this will give Y. R. H. no
headache, but, on the contrary, feeling yourself thus in the
midst of art, a great pleasure."
(July 1, 1823, to his pupil Archduke Rudolph.)
49. "The bad habit, which has clung to me from childhood, of
always writing down a musical thought which occurs to me, good
or bad, has often been harmful to me."
(July 23, 1815, to Archduke Rudolph, while excusing himself for
not having visited H.R.H., on the ground that he had been
occupied in noting a musical idea which had occurred to him.)
50. "As is my habit, the pianoforte part of the concerto (op. 19)
was not written out in the score; I have just written it,
wherefore, in order to expedite matters, you receive it in my
not too legible handwriting."
(April 22, 1801, to the publisher Hofmeister, in Leipzig.)
51. "Correspondence, as you know, was never my forte; some of my
best friends have not had a letter from me in years. I live only
in my notes (compositions), and one is scarcely finished when
another is begun. As I am working now I often compose three,
even four, pieces simultaneously."
(Vienna, June 29, 1800, to Wegeler, in Bonn.)
52. "I never write a work continuously, without interruption. I am
always working on several at the same time, taking up one, then
(June 1, 1816, to Medical Inspector Dr. Karl von Bursy, when the
latter asked about an opera (the book by Berge, sent to
Beethoven by Amenda), which was never written.)
53. "I must accustom myself to think out at once the whole, as
soon as it shows itself, with all the voices, in my head."
(Note in a sketch-book of 1810, containing studies for the music
to "Egmont" and the great Trio in B-flat, op. 97. H. E. K.)
54. "I carry my thoughts about me for a long time, often a very
long time, before I write them down; meanwhile my memory is so
faithful that I am sure never to forget, not even in years, a
theme that has once occurred to me. I change many things,
discard, and try again until I am satisfied. Then, however,
there begins in my head the development in every direction, and,
in as much as I know exactly what I want, the fundamental idea
never deserts me,--it arises before me, grows,--I see and hear
the picture in all its extent and dimensions stand before my
mind like a cast, and there remains for me nothing but the labor
of writing it down, which is quickly accomplished when I have
the time, for I sometimes take up other work, but never to the
confusion of one with the other.
You will ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with
certainty; they come unsummoned, directly, indirectly,--I could
seize them with my hands,--out in the open air; in the woods;
while walking; in the silence of the nights; early in the morning;
incited by moods, which are translated by the poet into words, by
me into tones that sound, and roar and storm about me until I have
set them down in notes."
(Said to Louis Schlosser, a young musician, whom Beethoven honored
with his friendship in 1822-23.)
55. "On the whole, the carrying out of several voices in strict
relationship mutually hinders their progress."
(Fall of 1812, in the Diary of 1812-18.)
56. "Few as are the claims which I make upon such things I shall
still accept the dedication of your beautiful work with
pleasure. You ask, however, that I also play the part of a
critic, without thinking that I must myself submit to criticism!
With Voltaire I believe that 'a few fly-bites can not stop a
spirited horse.' In this respect I beg of you to follow my
example. In order not to approach you surreptitiously, but
openly as always, I say that in future works of the character
you might give more heed to the individualization of the voices."
(Vienna, May 10, 1826. To whom the letter was sent is not known,
though from the manner of address it is plain that he was of the
57. "Your variations show talent, but I must fault you for having
changed the theme. Why? What man loves must not be taken away
from him;--moreover to do this is to make changes before
(Baden, July 6, 1804, to Wiedebein, a teacher of music in
58. "I am not in the habit of rewriting my compositions. I never
did it because I am profoundly convinced that every change of
detail changes the character of the whole."
(February 19, 1813, to George Thomson, who had requested some
changes in compositions submitted to him for publication.)
59. "One must not hold one's self so divine as to be unwilling
occasionally to make improvements in one's creations."
(March 4, 1809, to Breitkopf and Hartel, when indicating a few
changes which he wished to have made in the symphonies op. 67 and
60. "The unnatural rage for transcribing pianoforte pieces for
string instruments (instruments that are in every respect so
different from each other) ought to end. I stoutly maintain that
only Mozart could have transcribed his own works, and Haydn; and
without putting myself on a level with these great men I assert
the same thing about my pianoforte sonatas. Not only must entire
passages be elided and changed, but additions must be made; and
right here lies the rock of offence to overcome which one must
be the master of himself or be possessed of the same skill and
inventiveness. I transcribed but a single sonata for string
quartet, and I am sure that no one will easily do it after me."
(July 13, 1809, in an announcement of several compositions, among
them the quintet op. 29.)
61. "Were it not that my income brings in nothing, I should
compose nothing but grand symphonies, church music, or, at the
outside, quartets in addition."
(December 20, 1822, to Peters, publisher, in Leipzig. His income
had been reduced from 4,000 to 800 florins by the depreciation of
[Here, in the original, is one of the puns which Beethoven was
fond of making: "Ware mein Gehalt nicht ganzlich ohne Gehalt."
H. E. K.])
ON PERFORMING MUSIC
While reading Beethoven's views on the subject of how music ought
to be performed, it is but natural to inquire about his own
manner of playing. On this point Ries, his best pupil, reports:
"In general Beethoven played his own compositions very
capriciously, yet he adhered, on the whole, strictly to the beat
and only at times, but seldom, accelerated the tempo a trifle.
Occasionally he would retard the tempo in a crescendo, which
produced a very beautiful and striking effect. While playing he
would give a passage, now in the right hand, now in the left, a
beautiful expression which was simply inimitable; but it was
rarely indeed that he added a note or an ornament."
Of his playing when still a young man one of his hearers said that
it was in the slow movements particularly that it charmed
everybody. Almost unanimously his contemporaries give him the palm
for his improvisations. Ries says:
"His extemporizations were the most extraordinary things that one
could hear. No artist that I ever heard came at all near the
height which Beethoven attained. The wealth of ideas which forced
themselves on him, the caprices to which he surrendered himself,
the variety of treatment, the difficulties, were inexhaustible."
His playing was not technically perfect. He let many a note "fall
under the table," but without marring the effect of his playing.
Concerning this we have a remark of his own in No. 75. Somewhat
critical is Czerny's report:
"Extraordinary as his extempore playing was it was less successful
in the performance of printed compositions; for, since
he never took the time or had the patience to practice anything,
his success depended mostly on chance and mood; and since, also,
his manner of playing as well as composing was ahead of his time,
the weak and imperfect pianofortes of his time could not
withstand his gigantic style. It was because of this that
Hummel's purling and brilliant manner of play, well adapted to
the period, was more intelligible and attractive to the great
public. But Beethoven's playing in adagios and legato, in the
sustained style, made an almost magical impression on every
hearer, and, so far as I know, it has never been surpassed."
Czerny's remark about the pianofortes of Beethoven's day explains
Beethoven's judgment on his own pianoforte sonatas. He composed
for the sonorous pianoforte of the future,--the pianoforte
The following anecdote, told by Czerny, will be read with
pleasure. Pleyel, a famous musician, came to Vienna from Paris in
1805, and had his latest quartets performed in the palace of
Prince Lobkowitz. Beethoven was present and was asked to play
something. "As usual, he submitted to the interminable entreaties
and finally was dragged almost by force to the pianoforte by the
ladies. Angrily he tears the second violin part of one of the
Pleyel quartets from the music-stand where it still lay open,
throws it upon the rack of the pianoforte, and begins to
improvise. We had never heard him extemporize more brilliantly,
with more originality or more grandly than on that evening.
But throughout the entire improvisation there ran in the middle
voices, like a thread, or cantus firmus, the insignificant notes,
wholly insignificant in themselves, which he found on the page of
the quartet, which by chance lay open on the music-stand; on them
he built up the most daring melodies and harmonies, in the most
brillant concert style. Old Pleyel could only give expression to
his amazement by kissing his hands. After such improvisations
Beethoven was wont to break out into a loud and satisfied laugh."
Czerny says further of his playing: "In rapidity of scale
passages, trills, leaps, etc., no one equaled him,--not even
Hummel. His attitude at the pianoforte was perfectly quiet and
dignified, with no approach to grimace, except to bend down a
little towards the keys as his deafness increased; his fingers
were very powerful, not long, and broadened at the tips by much
playing; for he told me often that in his youth he had practiced
stupendously, mostly till past midnight. In teaching he laid
great stress on a correct position of the fingers (according to
the Emanuel Bach method, in which he instructed me); he himself
could barely span a tenth. He made frequent use of the pedal, much
more frequently than is indicated in his compositions. His reading
of the scores of Handel and Gluck and the fugues of Bach was
unique, inasmuch as he put a polyphony and spirit into the former
which gave the works a new form."
In his later years the deaf master could no longer hear his own
playing which therefore came to have a pitifully painful effect.
Concerning his manner of conducting, Seyfried says: "It would no
wise do to make our master a model in conducting, and the
orchestra had to take great care lest it be led astray by its
mentor; for he had an eye only for his composition and strove
unceasingly by means of manifold gesticulations to bring out the
expression which he desired. Often when he reached a forte he
gave a violent down beat even if the note were an unaccented one.
He was in the habit of marking a diminuendo by crouching down
lower and lower, and at a pianissimo he almost crept under the
stand. With a crescendo he, too, grew, rising as if out of a
stage trap, and with the entrance of a fortissimo he stood on his
toes and seemed to take on gigantic proportions, while he waved
his arms about as if trying to soar upwards to the clouds.
Everything about him was in activity; not a part of his
organization remained idle, and the whole man seemed like a
perpetuum mobile. Concerning expression, the little nuances, the
equable division of light and shade, as also an effective tempo
rubato, he was extremely exact and gladly discussed them with the
individual members of the orchestra without showing vexation or
62. "It has always been known that the greatest pianoforte players
were also the greatest composers; but how did they play? Not like
the pianists of today who prance up and down the key-board with
passages in which they have exercised themselves,--putsch, putsch,
putsch;--what does that mean? Nothing. When the true pianoforte
virtuosi played it was always something homogeneous, an entity; it
could be transcribed and then it appeared as a well thought-out
work. That is pianoforte playing; the other is nothing!"
(In conversation with Tomaschek, October, 1814.)
63. "Candidly I am not a friend of Allegri di bravura and such,
since they do nothing but promote mechanism."
(Hetzendorf, July 16, 1823, to Ries in London.)
64. "The great pianists have nothing but technique and
(Fall of 1817, to Marie Pachler-Koschak, a pianist whom Beethoven
regarded very highly. "You will play the sonatas in F major and
C minor, for me, will you not?")
65. "As a rule, in the case of these gentlemen, all reason and
feeling are generally lost in the nimbleness of their fingers."
(Reported by Schindler as a remark of Beethoven's concerning
66. "Habit may depreciate the most brilliant talents."
(In 1812 to his pupil, Archduke Rudolph, whom he warns against too
zealous a devotion to music.)
67. "You will have to play a long time yet before you realize that
you can not play at all."
(July, 1808. Reported by Rust as having been said to a young man
who played for Beethoven.)
68. "One must be something if one wishes to put on appearances."
(August 15, 1812, to Bettina von Arnim.)
69. "These pianoforte players have their coteries whom they often
join; there they are praised continually,--and there's an end of
(Conversation with Tomaschek, October, 1814.)
70. "We Germans have too few dramatically trained singers for the
part of Leonore. They are too cold and unfeeling; the Italians
sing and act with body and soul."
(1824, in Baden, to Freudenberg, an organist from Breslau.)
71. "If he is a master of his instrument I rank an organist
amongst the first of virtuosi. I too, played the organ a great
deal when I was young, but my nerves would not stand the power of
the gigantic instrument."
(To Freudenberg, in Baden.)
72. "I never wrote noisy music. For my instrumental works I need
an orchestra of about sixty good musicians. I am convinced that
only such a number can bring out the quickly changing graduations
(Reported by Schindler.)
73. "A Requiem ought to be quiet music,--it needs no trump of
doom; memories of the dead require no hubbub."
(Reported by Holz to Fanny von Ponsing, in Baden, summer of 1858.
According to the same authority Beethoven valued Cherubini's
"Requiem" more highly than any other.)
74. "No metronome at all! He who has sound feeling needs none, and
he who has not will get no help from the metronome;--he'll run
away with the orchestra anyway."
(Reported by Schindler. It had been found that Beethoven himself
had sent different metronomic indications to the publisher and
the Philharmonic Society of London.)
75. "In reading rapidly a multitude of misprints may pass
unnoticed because you are familiar with the language."
(To Wegeler, who had expressed wonder at Beethoven's rapid
primavista playing, when it was impossible to see each individual
76. "The poet writes his monologue or dialogue in a certain,
continuous rhythm, but the elocutionist in order to insure an
understanding of the sense of the lines, must make pauses and
interruptions at places where the poet was not permitted to
indicate it by punctuation. The same manner of declamation can
be applied to music, and admits of modification only according
to the number of performers."
(Reported by Schindler, Beethoven's faithful factotum.)
77. "With respect to his playing with you, when he has acquired
the proper mode of fingering and plays in time and plays the
notes with tolerable correctness, only then direct his attention
to the matter of interpretation; and when he has gotten this far
do not stop him for little mistakes, but point them out at the
end of the piece. Although I have myself given very little
instruction I have always followed this method which quickly
makes musicians, and that, after all, is one of the first
objects of art."
(To Czerny, who was teaching music to Beethoven's nephew Karl.)
78. "Always place the hands at the key-board so that the fingers
can not be raised higher than is necessary; only in this way is
it possible to produce a singing tone."
(Reported by Schindler as Beethoven's view on pianoforte
instruction. He hated a staccato style of playing and dubbed it
"finger dancing" and "throwing the hands in the air.")
[#79 was skipped in the 1905 edition--error?]
ON HIS OWN WORKS
80. "I haven't a single friend; I must live alone. But well I
know that God is nearer to me than to the others of my art; I
associate with Him without fear, I have always recognized and
understood Him, and I have no fear for my music,--it can meet
no evil fate. Those who understand it must become free from all
the miseries that the others drag with them."
(To Bettina von Arnim. [Bettina's letter to Goethe, May 28,
81. "The variations will prove a little difficult to play,
particularly the trills in the coda; but let that not frighten
you. It is so disposed that you need play only the trills,
omitting the other notes because they are also in the violin
part. I would never have written a thing of this kind had I not
often noticed here and there in Vienna a man who after I had
improvised of an evening would write down some of my
peculiarities and make boast of them next day. Foreseeing that
these things would soon appear in print I made up my mind to
anticipate them. Another purpose which I had was to embarrass the
local pianoforte masters. Many of them are my mortal enemies, and
I wanted to have my revenge in this way, for I knew in advance
that the variations would be put before them, and that they would
make exhibitions of themselves."
(Vienna, November 2, 1793, to Eleonore von Breuning, in
dedicating to her the variations in F major, "Se vuol ballare."
[The pianist whom Beethoven accuses of stealing his thunder was
82. "The time in which I wrote my sonatas (the first ones of
the second period) was more poetical than the present (1823);
such hints were therefore unnecessary. Every one at that time
felt in the Largo of the third sonata in D (op. 10) the
pictured soulstate of a melancholy being, with all the nuances
of light and shade which occur in a delineation of melancholy
and its phases, without requiring a key in the shape of a
superscription; and everybody then saw in the two sonatas
(op. 14) the picture of a contest between two principles, or
a dialogue between two persons, because it was so obvious."
(In answer to Schindler's question why he had not indicated the
poetical conceits underlying his sonatas by superscriptions or
83. "This sonata has a clean face (literally: 'has washed
itself'), my dear brother!"
(January, 1801, to Hofmeister, publisher in Leipzig to whom he
offers the sonata, op. 22, for 20 ducats.)
84. "They are incessantly talking about the C-sharp minor sonata
(op. 27, No. 2); on my word I have written better ones. The
F-sharp major sonata (op. 78) is a different thing!"
(A remark to Czerny.)
[The C-sharp minor sonata is that popularly known as the
"Moonlight Sonata," a title which is wholly without warrant. Its
origin is due to Rellstab, who, in describing the first movement,
drew a picture of a small boat in the moonlight on Lake Lucerne.
In Vienna a tradition that Beethoven had composed it in an arbor
gave rise to the title "Arbor sonata." Titles of this character
work much mischief in the amateur mind by giving rise to fantastic
conceptions of the contents of the music. H. E. K.]
85. "The thing which my brother can have from me is 1, a Septett
per il Violino, Viola, Violoncello, Contrabasso, Clarinetto,
Cornto, Fagotto, tutti obligati; for I can not write anything
that is not obligato, having come into the world with obligato
(December 15, 1800, to Hofmeister, publisher, in Leipzig.)
86. "I am but little satisfied with my works thus far; from today
I shall adopt a new course."
(Reported by Carl Czerny in his autobiography in 1842. Concerning
the time at which the remark was made, Czerny says: "It was said
about 1803, when B. had composed op. 28 (the pianoforte sonata in
D) to his friend Krumpholz (a violinist). Shortly afterward there
appeared the sonatas (now op. 31) in which a partial fulfillment
of his resolution may be observed.")
87. "Read Shakespeare's 'Tempest.'"
(An answer to Schindler's question as to what poetical conceit
underlay the sonatas in F minor. Beethoven used playfully to
call the little son of Breuning, the friend of his youth, A&Z,
because he employed him often as a messenger.)
["Schindler relates that when once he asked Beethoven to tell
him what the F minor and D minor (op. 31, No. 2) meant, he
received for an answer only the enigmatical remark: 'Read
Shakespeare's "Tempest."' Many a student and commentator has
since read the 'Tempest' in the hope of finding a clew to the
emotional contents which Beethoven believed to be in the two
works, so singularly associated, only to find himself baffled.
It is a fancy, which rests, perhaps, too much on outward things,
but still one full of suggestion, that had Beethoven said: 'Hear
my C minor symphony,' he would have given a better starting-
point to the imagination of those who are seeking to know what
the F minor sonata means. Most obviously it means music, but it
means music that is an expression of one of those psychological
struggles which Beethoven felt called upon more and more to
delineate as he was more and more shut out from the companionship
of the external world. Such struggles are in the truest sense of
the word tempests. The motive, which, according to the story,
Beethoven himself said, indicates, in the symphony, the rappings
of Fate at the door of human existence, is common to two works
which are also related in their spiritual contents. Singularly
enough, too, in both cases the struggle which is begun in the
first movement and continued in the third, is interrupted by a
period of calm, reassuring, soul-fortifying aspiration, which,
in the symphony as well as in the sonata, takes the form of a
theme with variations."--"How to Listen to Music," page 29.
H. E. K.]
88. "Sinfonia Pastorella. He who has ever had a notion of
country life can imagine for himself without many
superscriptions what the composer is after. Even without a
description the whole, which is more sentiment than tone
painting, will be recognized."
(A note among the sketches for the "Pastoral" symphony preserved
in the Royal Library at Berlin.)
[There are other notes of similar import among the sketches
referred to which can profitably be introduced here:
"The hearer should be allowed to discover the situations;"
"Sinfonia caracteristica, or a recollection of country life;"
"Pastoral Symphony: No picture, but something in which the emotions
are expressed which are aroused in men by the pleasure of the
country (or) in which some feelings of country life are set
When, finally, the work was given to the publisher,
Beethoven included in the title an admonitory explanation which
should have everlasting validity: "Pastoral Symphony: more
expression of feeling than painting." H. E. K.]
89. "My 'Fidelio' was not understood by the public, but I know
that it will yet be appreciated; for though I am well aware of
the value of my 'Fidelio' I know just as well that the symphony
is my real element. When sounds ring in me I always hear the
full orchestra; I can ask anything of instrumentalists, but when
writing for the voice I must continually ask myself: 'Can that
(A remark made in 1823 or 1824 to Griesinger.)
90. "Thus Fate knocks at the portals!"
(Reported by Schindler as Beethoven's explanation of the opening
of the symphony in C minor.)
["Hofrath Kueffner told him (Krenn) that he once lived with
Beethoven in Heiligenstadt, and that they were in the habit
evenings of going down to Nussdorf to eat a fish supper in the
Gasthaus 'Zur Rose.' One evening when B. was in a good humor,
Kueffner began: `Tell me frankly which is your favorite among your
symphonies?' B. (in good humor) 'Eh! Eh! The Eroica.' K. 'I
should have guessed the C minor.' B. 'No; the Eroica.'" From
Thayer's notebook. See "Music and Manners in the Classical
91. "The solo sonatas (op. 109-ll?) are perhaps the best, but
also the last, music that I composed for the pianoforte. It is
and always will be an unsatisfactory instrument. I shall
hereafter follow the example of my grandmaster Handel, and every
year write only an oratorio and a concerto for some string or
wind instrument, provided I shall have finished my tenth
symphony (C minor) and Requiem."
(Reported by Holz. As to the tenth symphony see note to No. 95.)
92. "God knows why it is that my pianoforte music always makes
the worst impression on me, especially when it is played badly."
(June 2, 1804. A note among the sketches for the "Leonore"
93. "Never did my own music produce such an effect upon me; even
now when I recall this work it still costs me a tear."
(Reported by Holz. The reference is to the Cavatina from the
quartet in B-flat, op. 130, which Beethoven thought the crown of
all quartet movements and his favorite composition. When alone
and undisturbed he was fond of playing his favorite pianoforte
Andante--that from the sonata op. 28.)
94. "I do not write what I most desire to, but that which I need
to because of money. But this is not saying that I write only for
money. When the present period is past, I hope at last to write
that which is the highest thing for me as well as art,--'Faust.'"
(From a conversation-book used in 1823. To Buhler, tutor in the
house of a merchant, who was seeking information about an oratorio
which Beethoven had been commissioned to write by the Handel and
Haydn Society of Boston.)
95. "Ha! 'Faust;' that would be a piece of work! Something might
come out of that! But for some time I have been big with three
other large works. Much is already sketched out, that is, in my
head. I must be rid of them first:--two large symphonies
differing from each other, and each differing from all the
others, and an oratorio. And this will take a long time. you
see, for a considerable time I have had trouble to get myself to
write. I sit and think, and think I've long had the thing, but it
will not on the paper. I dread the beginning of these large works.
Once into the work, and it goes."
(In the summer of 1822, to Rochlitz, at Baden. The symphonies
referred to are the ninth and tenth. They existed only in
Beethoven's mind and a few sketches. In it he intended to combine
antique and modern views of life.)
["In the text Greek mythology, cantique ecclesiastique; in the
Allegro, a Bacchic festival." (Sketchbook of 1818)]
[The oratorio was to have been called "The Victory of the Cross."
It was not written. Schindler wrote to Moscheles in London about
Beethoven in the last weeks of his life: "He said much about the
plan of the tenth symphony. As the work had shaped itself in his
imagination it might have become a musical monstrosity, compared
with which his other symphonies would have been mere opuscula."]
ON ART AND ARTISTS
96. "How eagerly mankind withdraws from the poor artist what it
has once given him;--and Zeus, from whom one might ask an
invitation to sup on ambrosia, lives no longer."
(In the summer of 1814, to Kauka, an advocate who represented him
in the lawsuit against the heirs of Kinsky.)
97. "I love straightforwardness and uprightness, and believe that
the artist ought not to be belittled; for, alas! brilliant as
fame is externally, it is not always the privilege of the artist
to be Jupiter's guest on Olympus all the time. Unfortunately
vulgar humanity drags him down only too often and too rudely from
the pure upper ether."
(June 5, 1852, to C. F. Peters, music publisher, in Leipzig when
treating with him touching a complete edition of his works.)
98. "The true artist has no pride; unhappily he realizes that art
has no limitations, he feels darkly how far he is from the goal,
and while, perhaps he is admired by others, he grieves that he
has not yet reached the point where the better genius shall
shine before him like a distant sun."
(Teplitz, July 17, to an admirer ten years old.)
99. "You yourself know what a change is wrought by a few years in
the case of an artist who is continually pushing forward. The
greater the progress which one makes in art, the less is one
satisfied with one's old works.
(Vienna, August 4, 1800, to Mathisson, in the dedication of his
setting of "Adelaide." "My most ardent wish will be fulfilled if
you are not displeased with the musical composition of your
100. "Those composers are exemplars who unite nature and art in
(Baden, in 1824, to Freudenberg, organist from Breslau.)
101. "What will be the judgment a century hence concerning the
lauded works of our favorite composers today? Inasmuch as nearly
everything is subject to the changes of time, and, more's the
pity, the fashions of time, only that which is good and true, will
endure like a rock, and no wanton hand will ever venture to defile
it. Then let every man do that which is right, strive with all his
might toward the goal which can never be attained, develop to the
last breath the gifts with which a gracious Creator has endowed
him, and never cease to learn; for 'Life is short, art eternal!'"
(From the notes in the instruction book of Archduke Rudolph.)
102. "Famous artists always labor under an embarrassment;--
therefore first works are the best, though they may have sprung
out of dark ground."
(Conversation-book of 1840.)
103. "A musician is also a poet; he also can feel himself
transported by a pair of eyes into another and more beautiful
world where greater souls make sport of him and set him right
(August 15, 1812, to Bettina von Arnim.)
104. "I told Goethe my opinion as to how applause affects men
like us, and that we want our equals to hear us understandingly!
Emotion suits women only; music ought to strike fire from the
soul of a man."
(August 15, 1810, to Bettina von Arnim.)
105. "Most people are touched by anything good; but they do not
partake of the artist's nature; artists are ardent, they do not
(Reported to Goethe by Bettina von Arnim, May 28, 1810.)
106. "L'art unit tout le monde,--how much more the true artist!"
(March 15, 1823, to Cherubini, in Paris.)
107. "Only the artist, or the free scholar, carries his happiness
(Reported by Karl von Bursy as part of a conversation in 1816.)
108. "There ought to be only one large art warehouse in the
world, to which the artist could carry his art-works and from
which he could carry away whatever he needed. As it is one must
be half a tradesman."
(January, 1801, to Hofmeister, in Leipzig.)
BEETHOVEN AS CRITIC
The opinion of artist on artists is a dubious quantity. Recall
the startling criticisms of Bocklin on his associates in art
made public by the memoirs of his friends after his death. Such
judgments are often one-sided, not without prejudice, and mostly
the expression of impulse. It is a different matter when the
artist speaks about the disciples of another art than his own,
even if the opinions which Bocklin and Wagner held of each other
are not a favorable example. Where Beethoven speaks of other
composers we must read with clear and open eyes; but even here
there will be much with which we can be in accord, especially his
judgment on Rossini, whom he hated so intensely, and whose airy,
sense-bewitching art seduced the Viennese from Beethoven.
Interesting and also characteristic of the man is the attitude
which he adopted towards the poets of his time. In general he
estimated his contemporaries as highly as they deserved.
109. "Do not tear the laurel wreaths from the heads of Handel,
Haydn and Mozart; they belong to them,--not yet to me."
(Teplitz, July 17, l852, to his ten-year-old admirer, Emilie M.,
who had given him a portfolio made by herself.)
110. "Pure church music ought to be performed by voices only,
except a 'Gloria,' or some similar text. For this reason I prefer
Palestrina; but it is folly to imitate him without having his
genius and religious views; it would be difficult, if not
impossible, too, for the singers of today to sing his long notes
in a sustained and pure manner."
(To Freudenberg, in 1824.)
111. "Handel is the unattained master of all masters. Go and learn
from him how to achieve vast effects with simple means."
(Reported by Seyfried. On his death-bed, about the middle of
February, 1827, he said to young Gerhard von Breuning, on
receiving Handel's works: "Handel is the greatest and ablest of
all composers; from him I can still learn. Bring me the books!"
112. "Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would
uncover my head and kneel on his grave."
(Fall of 1823, to J. A. Stumpff, harp maker of London, who acted
very nobly toward Beethoven in his last days. It was he who
rejoiced the dying composer by sending him the forty volumes of
Handel's works (see 111).)
["Cipriani Potter, to A. W. T., February 27, 1861. Beethoven used
to walk across the fields to Vienna very often. B. would stop,
look about and express his love for nature. One day Potter asked:
'Who is the greatest living composer, yourself excepted?' Beethoven
seemed puzzled for a moment, and then exclaimed: 'Cherubini!'
Potter went on: 'And of dead authors?' B.--He had always considered
Mozart as such, but since he had been made acquainted with Handel
he put him at the head." From A. W. Thayer's notebook, reprinted in
"Music and Manners in the Classical Period," page 208. H.E.K.]
113. "Heaven forbid that I should take a journal in which sport is
made of the manes of such a revered one."
(Conversation-book of 1825, in reference to a criticism of
114. "That you are going to publish Sebastian Bach's works is
something which does good to my heart, which beats in love of the
great and lofty art of this ancestral father of harmony; I want
to see them soon."
(January, 1801, to Hofmeister, in Leipzig.)
115. "Of Emanuel Bach's clavier works I have only a few, yet they
must be not only a real delight to every true artist, but also
serve him for study purposes; and it is for me a great pleasure
to play works that I have never seen, or seldom see, for real art
(July 26, 1809, to Gottfried Hartel, of Leipzig in ordering all
the scores of Haydn, Mozart and the two Bachs.)
116. "See, my dear Hummel, the birthplace of Haydn. I received it
as a gift today, and it gives me great pleasure. A mean peasant
hut, in which so great a man was born!"
(Remarked on his death-bed to his friend Hummel.)
117. "I have always reckoned myself among the greatest admirers of
Mozart, and shall do so till the day of my death."
(February 6, 1886, to Abbe Maximilian Stadler, who had sent him
his essay on Mozart's "Requiem.")
118. "Cramer, Cramer! We shall never be able to compose anything
(To Cramer, after the two had heard Mozart's concerto in C-minor
at a concert in the Augarten.)
119. "'Die Zauberflote' will always remain Mozart's greatest
work, for in it he for the first time showed himself to be a
German musician. 'Don Juan' still has the complete Italian cut;
besides our sacred art ought never permit itself to be degraded
to the level of a foil for so scandalous a subject."
(A remark reported by Seyfried.)
["Hozalka says that in 1820-21, as near as he can recollect, the
wife of a Major Baumgarten took boy boarders in the house then
standing where the Musikverein's Saal now is, and that Beethoven's
nephew was placed with her. Her sister, Baronin Born, lived with
her. One evening Hozalka, then a young man, called there and found
only Baronin Born at home. Soon another caller came and stayed to
tea. It was Beethoven. Among other topics Mozart came on the
tapis, and the Born asked Beethoven (in writing, of course) which
of Mozart's operas he thought most of. 'Die Zauberflote' said
Beethoven, and, suddenly clasping his hands and throwing up his
eyes, exclaimed: 'Oh, Mozart!'" From A. W. Thayer's notebooks,
reprinted in "Music and Manners in the Classical Period," page
198. H. E. K.]
120. "Say all conceivable pretty things to Cherubini,--that there
is nothing I so ardently desire as that we should soon get
another opera from him, and that of all our contemporaries I have
the highest regard for him."
(May 6, 1823, to Louis Schlasser, afterward chapel master in
Darmstadt, who was about to undertake a journey to Paris. See
note to No. 112.)
121. "Among all the composers alive Cherubini is the most worthy
of respect. I am in complete agreement, too, with his conception
of the 'Requiem,' and if ever I come to write one I shall take
note of many things."
(Remark reported by Seyfried. See No. 112.)
122. "Whoever studies Clementi thoroughly has simultaneously also
learned Mozart and other authors; inversely, however, this is not
(Reported by Schindler.)
123. "There is much good in Spontini; he understands theatrical
effect and martial noises admirably.
Spohr is so rich in dissonances; pleasure in his music is marred
by his chromatic melody.
His name ought not to be Bach (brook), but Ocean, because of his
infinite and inexhaustible wealth of tonal combinations and
harmonies. Bach is the ideal of an organist."
(In Baden, 1824, to Freudenberg.)
124. "The little man, otherwise so gentle,--I never would have
credited him with such a thing. Now Weber must write operas in
earnest, one after the other, without caring too much for
refinement! Kaspar, the monster, looms up like a house; wherever
the devil sticks in his claw we feel it."
(To Rochlitz, at Baden, in the summer of 1823.)
125. "There you are, you rascal; you're a devil of a fellow, God
bless you!...Weber, you always were a fine fellow."
(Beethoven's hearty greeting to Karl Maria von Weber, in October,
126. "K. M. Weber began too learn too late; art did not have a
chance to develop naturally in him, and his single and obvious
striving is to appear brilliant."
(A remark reported by Seyfried.)
127. "'Euryanthe' is an accumulation of diminished seventh chords
--all little backdoors!"
(Remarked to Schindler about Weber's opera.)
128. "Truly, a divine spark dwells in Schubert!"
(Said to Schindler when the latter made him acquainted with the
"Songs of Ossian," "Die Junge Nonne," "Die Burgschaft," of
Schubert's "Grenzen der Menschheit," and other songs.)
129. "There is nothing in Meyerbeer; he hasn't the courage to
strike at the right time."
(To Tomaschek, in October, 1814, in a conversation about the
"Battle of Victoria," at the performance of which, in 1813,
Meyerbeer had played the big drum.)
130. "Rossini is a talented and a melodious composer, his music
suits the frivolous and sensuous spirit of the times, and his
productivity is such that he needs only as many weeks as the
Germans do years to write an opera."
(In 1824, at Baden, to Freudenberg.)
131. "This rascal Rossini, who is not respected by a single master
of his art!"
132. "Rossini would have become a great composer if his teacher
had frequently applied some blows ad posteriora."
(Reported by Schindler. Beethoven had been reading the score of
"Il Barbiere di Siviglia.")
133. "The Bohemians are born musicians. The Italians ought to take
them as models. What have they to show for their famous
conservatories? Behold! their idol, Rossini! If Dame Fortune had
not given him a pretty talent and amiable melodies by the bushel,
what he learned at school would have brought him nothing but
potatoes for his big belly."
(In a conversation-book at Haslinger's music shop, where Beethoven
136. "Goethe has killed Klopstock for me. You wonder? Now you
laugh? Ah, because I have read Klopstock. I carried him about
with me for years when I walked. What besides? Well, I didn't
always understand him. He skips about so; and he always begins so
far away, above or below; always Maestoso! D-flat major! Isn't,
it so? But he's great, nevertheless, and uplifts the soul. When I
couldn't understand him I sort of guessed at him."
(To Rochlitz, in 1822.)
135. "As for me I prefer to set Homer, Klopstock, Schiller, to
music; if it is difficult to do, these immortal poets at least
(To the directorate of the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde" of
Vienna, January, 1824, in negotiations for an oratorio, "The
Victory of the Cross" [which he had been commissioned to write by
the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston. H. E. K.].)
136. "Goethe and Schiller are my favorite poets, as also Ossian
and Homer, the latter of whom, unfortunately, I can read only in
(August 8, 1809, to Breitkopf and Hartel.)
137. "Who can sufficiently thank a great poet,--the most valuable
jewel of a nation!"
(February 10, 1811, to Bettina von Arnim. The reference was to
138. "When you write to Goethe about me search out all the words
which can express my deepest reverence and admiration. I am
myself about to write to him about 'Egmont' for which I have
composed the music, purely out of love for his poems which make
(February 10, 1811, to Bettina von Arnim.)
139. "I would have gone to death, yes, ten times to death for
Goethe. Then, when I was in the height of my enthusiasm, I
thought out my 'Egmont' music. Goethe,--he lives and wants us all
to live with him. It is for that reason that he can be composed.
Nobody is so easily composed as he. But I do not like to compose
(To Rochlitz, in 1822, when Beethoven recalled Goethe's amiability
140. "Goethe is too fond of the atmosphere of the court; fonder
than becomes a poet. There is little room for sport over the
absurdities of the virtuosi, when poets, who ought to be looked
upon as the foremost teachers of the nation, can forget
everything else in the enjoyment of court glitter."
(Franzensbrunn, August 9, 1812, to Gottfried Hartel of Leipzig.)
141. "When two persons like Goethe and I meet these grand folk
must be made to see what our sort consider great."
(August 15, 1812, in a description of how haughtily he, and how
humbly Goethe, had behaved in the presence of the Imperial court.)
142. "Since that summer in Carlsbad I read Goethe every day,--when
I read at all."
(Remarked to Rochlitz.)
143. "Goethe ought not to write more; he will meet the fate of the
singers. Nevertheless he will remain the foremost poet of Germany."
144. "Can you lend me the 'Theory of Colors' for a few weeks? It
is an important work. His last things are insipid."
145. "After all the fellow writes for money only."
(Reported by Schindler as having been said by Beethoven when, on
his death-bed, he angrily threw a book of Walter Scott's aside.)
146. "He, too, then, is nothing better than an ordinary man! Now
he will trample on all human rights only to humor his ambition;
he will place himself above all others,--become a tyrant!"
(With these words, as testified to by Ries, an eye-witness,
Beethoven tore the title-page from the score of his "Eroica"
symphony (which bore a dedication to Bonaparte) when the news
reached him that Napoleon had declared himself emperor.)
147. "I believe that so long as the Austrian has his brown beer
and sausage he will not revolt."
(To Simrock, publisher, in Bonn, August 2, 1794.)
148. "Why do you sell nothing but music? Why did you not long ago
follow my well-meant advice? Do get wise, and find your raison.
Instead of a hundred-weight of paper order genuine unwatered
Regensburger, float this much-liked article of trade down the
Danube, serve it in measures, half-measures and seidels at cheap
prices, throw in at intervals sausages, rolls, radishes, butter
and cheese, invite the hungry and thirsty with letters an ell
long on a sign: 'Musical Beer House,' and you will have so many
guests at all hours of the day that one will hold the door open
for the other and your office will never be empty."
(To Haslinger, the music publisher, when the latter had complained
about the indifference of the Viennese to music.)
Beethoven's observations on this subject were called out by his
experiences in securing an education for his nephew Karl, son of
his like-named brother, a duty which devolved on him on the death
of his brother in the winter of 1815. He loved his nephew almost
to idolatry, and hoped that he would honor the name of Beethoven
in the future. But there was a frivolous vein in Karl, inherited
probably from his mother, who was on easy footing with morality
both before and after her husband's death. She sought with all her
might to rid her son of the guardianship of his uncle. Karl was
sent to various educational institutions and to these Beethoven
sent many letters containing advice and instructions. The nephew
grew to be more and more a care, not wholly without fault of the
master. His passionate nature led to many quarrels between the
two, all of which were followed by periods of extravagant
fondness. Karl neglected his studies, led a frivolous life, was
fond of billiards and the coffee-houses which were then generally
popular, and finally, in the summer of 1826, made an attempt at
suicide in the Helenental near Baden, which caused his social
ostracism. When he was found he cried out: "I went to the bad
because my uncle wanted to better me."
Beethoven succeeded in persuading Baron von Stutterheim, commander
of an infantry regiment at Iglau, to accept him as an aspirant for
military office. In later life he became a respected official and
man. So Beethoven himself was vouchsafed only an ill regulated
education. His dissolute father treated him now harshly, now
gently. His mother, who died early, was a silent sufferer, had
thoroughly understood her son, and to her his love was devotion
itself. He labored unwearyingly at his own intellectual and moral
advancement until his death.
It seems difficult to reconcile his almost extravagant estimate of
the greatest possible liberty in the development of man with his
demands for strict constraint to which he frequently gives
expression; but he had recognized that it is necessary to grow
out of restraint into liberty. His model as a sensitive and
sympathetic educator was his motherly friend, the wife of Court
Councillor von Breuning in Bonn, of whom he once said: "She knew
how to keep the insects off the blossoms."
Beethoven's views on musical education are to be found in the
chapters "On Composition" and "On Performing Music."
149. "Like the State, each man must have his own constitution."
150. "Recommend virtue to your children; that, alone can bring
happiness; not wealth,--I speak from experience. It was virtue
alone that bore me up in my misery; to her and my art I owe that
I did not end my life by self-murder."
(October 6, 1802, to his brothers Karl and Johann [the so-called
151. "I know no more sacred duty than to rear and educate a
(January 7, 1820, in a communication to the Court of Appeals in
the suit touching the guardianship of his nephew Karl.)
152. "Nature's weaknesses are nature's endowments; reason, the
guide, must seek to lead and lessen them."
153. "It is man's habit to hold his fellow man in esteem because
he committed no greater errors."
(May 6, 1811, to Breitkopf and Hartel, in a letter complaining of
faulty printing in some of his compositions.)
154. "There is nothing more efficient in enforcing obedience upon
others than the belief on their part that you are wiser than
they...Without tears fathers can not inculcate virtue in their
children, or teachers learning and wisdom in their pupils; even
the laws, by compelling tears from the citizens, compel them also
to strive for justice."
155. "It is only becoming in a youth to combine his duties toward
education and advancement with those which he owes to his
benefactor and supporter; this I did toward my parents."
(May 19, 1825, to his nephew Karl.)
156. "You can not honor the memory of your father better than to
continue your studies with the greatest zeal, and strive to
become an honest and excellent man."
(To his nephew, 1816-18.)
157. "Let your conduct always be amiable; through art and science
the best and noblest of men are bound together and your future
vocation will not exclude you."
(Baden, July 18, 1825, to his nephew, who had decided to become a
158. "It is very true that a drop will hollow a stone; a thousand
lovely impressions are obliterated when children are placed in
wooden institutions while they might receive from their parents
the most soulful impressions which would continue to exert their
influence till the latest age."
(Diary, spring of 1817. Beethoven was dissatisfied with
Giannatasio's school in which he had placed his nephew. "Karl is
a different child after he has been with me a few hours" (Diary).
In 1826, after the attempt at suicide, Beethoven said to
Breuning: "My Karl was in an institute; educational institutions
furnish forth only hot house plants.")
159. "Drops of water wear away a stone in time, not by force but
by continual falling. Only through tireless industry are the
sciences achieved so that one can truthfully say: no day without
its line,--nulla dies sine linea."
(1799, in a sketch for a theoretical handbook for Archduke
ON HIS OWN DISPOSITION AND CHARACTER
So open-hearted and straightforward a character as Beethoven
could not have pictured himself with less reserve or greater
truthfulness than he did during his life. Frankness toward
himself, frankness toward others (though sometimes it went to the
extreme of rudeness and ill-breeding) was his motto. The joyous
nature which was his as a lad, and which was not at all averse to
a merry prank now and then, underwent a change when he began to
lose his hearing. The dread of deafness and its consequences drove
him nearly to despair, so that he sometimes contemplated suicide.
Increasing hardness of hearing gradually made him reserved, morose
and gloomy. With the progress of the malady his disposition and
character underwent a decided change,--a fact which may be said to
account for the contradictions in his conduct and utterances. It
made him suspicious, distrustful; in his later years he imagined
himself cheated and deceived in the most trifling matters by
relatives, friends, publishers, servants.
Nevertheless Beethoven's whole soul was filled with a high
idealism which penetrated through the miseries of his daily life;
it was full, too, of a great love toward humanity in general and
his unworthy nephew in particular. Towards his publishers he often
appeared covetous and grasping, seeking to rake and scrape
together all the money possible; but this was only for the purpose
of assuring the future of his nephew. At the same time, in a merry
moment, he would load down his table with all that kitchen and
cellar could provide, for the reflection of his friends. Thus he
oscillated continuously between two extremes; but the power which
swung the pendulum was always the aural malady. He grew peevish
and capricious towards his best friends, rude, even brutal at
times in his treatment of them; only in the next moment to
overwhelm them most pathetically with attentions. Till the end of
his life he remained a sufferer from his passionate disposition
over which he gradually obtained control until, at the end, one
could almost speak of a sunny clarification of his nature.
He has heedlessly been accused of having led a dissolute life, of
having been an intemperate drinker. There would be no necessity
of contradicting such a charge even if there were a scintilla of
evidence to support it; a drinker is not necessarily a
dishonorable man, least of all a musician who drinks. But, the
fact of the matter is that it is not true. If once Beethoven wrote
a merry note about merrymaking with friends, let us rejoice that
occasions did sometimes occur, though but rarely, when the heart
of the sufferer was temporarily gladdened.
He was a strict moralist, as is particularly evidenced by the
notes in his journal which have not been made public. In many
things which befell him in his daily life he was as ingenuous as
a child. His personality, on the whole, presented itself in such
a manner as to invite the intellectual and social Philistine to
call him a fool.
160. "I shall print a request in all the newspapers that
henceforth all artists refrain from painting my picture without
my knowledge; I never thought that my own face would bring me
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