HAYDN, MOZART, HANDEL, BACH, BEETHOVEN.
THE lives of the musicians are imperfectly written for this obvious reason. The soul of the great musician can only be expressed in music. This language is so much more ready, flexible, full, and rapid than any other, that we can never expect the minds of those accustomed to its use to be expressed by act or word, with even that degree of adequacy, which we find in those of other men. They are accustomed to a higher stimulus, a more fluent existence. We must read them in their works; this, true of artists in every department, is especially so of the high-priests of sound.
Yet the eye, which has followed with rapture the flight of the bird till it is quite vanished in the blue serene, reverts with pleasure to the nest, which it finds of materials and architecture, that, if wisely examined, correspond entirely with all previously imagined of the songster’s history and habits. The biography of the artist is a scanty gloss upon the grand text of his wor4 but we examine it with a deliberate tenderness, and could not span, those half-effaced pencil marks of daily life.
In vain the healthy reactions of nature have so boldly in our own day challenged the love of greatness, and bid us turn from Boswellism to read the record of the village clerk. These obscure men, you say, have hearts also, busy lives, expanding souls. Study the simple annals of the poor, and you find there, only restricted and stifled by accident, Milton, Calderon, or Michel Angelo. Precisely for that, precisely because we might be such as these, if temperament and position had seconded the soul’s behest, must we seek with eagerness this spectacle of the occasional manifestation of that degree of development which we call hero, poet, artist, martyr. A sense of the depths of love and pity in “our obscure and private breasts” bids us demand to see their sources burst up somewhere through the lava of circumstance, and Peter Bell has no sooner felt his first throb of penitence and piety, than he prepares to read the lives of the saints.
Of all those forms of life which in their greater achievement shadow forth what the accomplishment of our life in the ages must be, the artist’s life is the fairest in this, that it weaves its web most soft and full, because of the material most at command. Like the hero, the statesman, the martyr, the artist differs from other men only in this, that the voice of the demon within the breast speaks louder, or is more early and steadily obeyed than by men in general. But colors, and marble, and paper scores are more easily found to use, and more under command, than the occasions of life or the wills of other men, so that we see in the poet’s work, if not a higher sentiment, or a deeper meaning, a more frequent and more perfect fulfilment than in him who builds his temple from the world day by day, or makes a nation his canvass and his pallette.
It is also easier to us to get the scope of the artist’s design and its growth as the area where we see it does not stretch vision beyond its power. The Sybil of Michel Angelo indeed shares the growth of centuries, as much as Luther’s Reformation, but the first apparition of the one strikes both the senses and the soul, the other only the latter, so we look most easily and with liveliest impression at the Sybil.
Add the benefits of rehearsal and repetition. The grand Napoleon drama could be acted but once, but Mozart’s Don Giovanni presents to us the same thought seven times a week, if we wish to yield to it so many.
The artists too are the young children of our sickly manhood, or wearied out old age. On us life has pressed till the form is marred and bowed down, but their youth is immortal, invincible, to us the inexhaustible prophecy of a second birth. From the naive lispings of their uncalculating lives are heard anew the tones of that mystic song we call Perfectibility, Perfection.
Artist biographies, scanty as they are, are always beautiful. The tedious cavil of the Teuton cannot degrade, nor the surley superlatives of the Italian wither them. If any fidelity be preserved in the record, it always casts new light on their works. The exuberance of Italian praise is the better extreme of the two, for the heart, with all its blunders, tells truth more easily than the head. The records before us of the great composers are by the patient and reverent Germans, the sensible, never to be duped Englishman, or the sprightly Frenchman; but a Vasari was needed also to cast a broader sunlight on the scene. All artist lives are interesting. And those of the musicians, peculiarly so to-day, when Music is the living, growing art. Sculpture, Painting, Architecture are indeed not dead, but the life they exhibit is as the putting forth of young scions from an old root. The manifestation is hopeful rather than commanding. But music, after all the wonderful exploits of the last century, grows and towers yet. Beethoven towering far above our heads, still with colossal gesture points above. Music is pausing now to explain, arrange, or explore the treasures so rapidly accumulated; but how great the genius thus employed, how vast the promise for the next revelation! Beethoven seems to have chronicled all the sobs, the heart-heavings, and god-like Promethean thefts of the Earth-spirit. Mozart has called to the sister stars, as Handel and Haydn have told to other spheres what has been actually performed in this; surely they will answer through the next magician.
The thought of the law that supersedes all thoughts, which pierces us the moment we have gone far in any department of knowledge or creative genius, seizes and lifts us from the ground in music. “Were but this known all would be accomplished,” is sung to us ever in the triumphs of harmony. What the other arts indicate and philosophy infers, this all-enfolding language declares, nay publishes, and we lose all care for to-morrow or modern life in the truth averred of old, that all truth is comprised in music and mathematics.
Of tones and numbers all things are controlled,
As sages taught where faith was found to merit
Initiation in that mystery old.
WORDSWORTH, “Stanzas on the power of sound.”
A very slight knowledge of music makes it the best means of interpretation. We meet our friend in a melody as in a glance of the eye, far beyond where words have strength to climb; we explain by the corresponding tone in an instrument that trait in our admired picture, for which no sufficiently subtle analogy had yet been found. Botany had never touched our true knowledge of our favourite flower, but a symphony displays the same attitude and hues; the philosophic historian had failed to explain the motive of our favourite hero, but every bugle calls and every trumpet proclaims him. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!
Of course we claim for music only a greater rapidity, fullness, and, above all, delicacy of utterance. All is in each and each in all, so that the most barbarous stammering of the Hottentot indicates the secret of man, as clearly as the rudest zoophyte the perfection of organized being, or the first stop on the reed the harmonies of heaven. But music, by the ready medium, the stimulus and the upbearing elasticity it offers for the inspirations of thought, alone seems to present a living form rather than a dead monument to the desires of Genius.
The feeling naturally given by an expression so facile of the identity and universality of all thought, every thought, its beautifully expressed in this anecdote of Haydn.
When about to compose a symphony he was in the habit of animating his genius by imagining some little romance. An interesting account of one of these is given in Bombet’s life of Haydn, p. 75.
“But when his object was not to express any particular affection, or to paint any particular image, all subjects were alike to him. ‘The whole art consists,’ said he, ‘in taking up a subject and pursuing it.’ Often when a friend entered as he was about to compose a piece, he would say with a smile, ‘Give me a subject,’—‘Give a subject to Haydn! who would have the courage to do so?’ ‘Come, never mind,’ he would say, ‘give me anything you can think of,’ and you were obliged to obey.”
“Many of his astonishing quartettes exhibit marks of this (piece of dexterity, the French Chevalier is pleased to call it.) They commence with the most insignificant idea, but, by degrees, this idea assumes a character; it strengthens, increases, extends itself, and the dwarf becomes a giant before our wondering eyes.”
This is one of the high delights received from a musical composition more than from any other work of art, except perhaps the purest effusions of lyric poetry, that you feel at once both the result and the process. The musician enjoys the great advantage of being able to excite himself to compose by his instrument. This gives him a great advantage above those who are obliged to execute their designs by implements less responsive and exciting. Bach did not consider his pupils at all advanced, till they could compose from the pure mental harmony, without the outward excitement of the instrument; but, though in the hours of inspiration the work grows of itself, yet the instrument must be of the greatest use to multiply and prolong these hours. We find that all these great composers were continually at the piano. Haydn seated himself there the first thing in the morning, and Beethoven, when so completely deaf; that he could neither tune his violin and piano, nor hear the horrible discords he made upon them, stimulated himself continually by the manual utterance to evolution of the divine harmonies which were lost forever to his bodily ear.
It is mentioned by Bombet, as another advantage which the musician possesses over other artists, that—
“His productions are finished as soon as imagined. Thus, Haydn, who abounded in such beautiful ideas, incessantly enjoyed the pleasure or creation. The poet shares this advantage with the composer; but the musician can work faster. A beautiful ode, a beautiful symphony, need only be imagined to cause, in the mind or the author, that secret admiration, which is the life and soul of artists. But in the studies of the military man, or the architect, the sculptor, the painter, there it not invention enough for them to be fully satisfied with themselves; farther labors are necessary. The best planned enterprise may fail in the execution; the best conceived picture may be ill painted; all this leaves in the mind of the inventor an obscurity, a feeling of uncertainty, which renders the pleasure of creation less complete. Haydn, on the contrary, in imagining a symphony, was perfectly happy; there only remained the physical pleasure or hearing it performed, and the moral pleasure of seeing it applauded.”
Plausible as this comparison appears at first; the moment you look at an artist like Michel Angelo, who, by deep studies and intensity of survey, had attained such vigor of conception and surety of hand, that forms sprang forth under his touch as fresh, as original, and as powerful, as on the first days when there was light upon the earth, so that he could not turn his pencil this way or that, but these forms came upon the paper as easily as plants from the soil where the fit seed falls,—at Raphael, who seemed to develop at once in his mind the germ of all possible images, so that shapes flowed from his hand plenteous and facile as drops of water from the open sluice, we see that the presence of the highest genius makes all mediums alike transparent, and that the advantages of one over the other respect only the more or less rapid growth of the artist, and the more or less lively effect on the mind of the beholder. All high art says but one thing; but this is said with more or less pleasure by the artist, felt with more or less pleasure by the beholder, according to the flexibility and fulness of the language.
As Bombet’s lives of Haydn and Mozart are accessible here through an American edition, I shall not speak of these masters with as much particularity as of the three other artists. Bombet’s book, though superficial, and in its attempts at criticism totally wanting in that precision which can only be given by a philosophical view of the subject, is lively, informed by a true love for beauty, and free from exaggeration as to the traits of life which we most care for. The life of Haydn is the better of the two, for the calm and equable character of this great man made not much demand on insight. It displays throughout the natural decorum and freedom from servile and conventional restraints, the mingling of dignity and tenderness, the singleness of aim, and childlike simplicity in action proper to the artist life. It flowed a gentle, bounteous river, broadening ever beneath the smiles of a “calm pouring sun.” A manly uniformity makes his life intelligible alike to the genius and the citizen. Set the picture in its proper frame, and we think of him with great pleasure, sitting down nicely dressed, with the diamond on his finger given him by the King of Prussia, to compose the Creation, or the Seven Words. His life was never little, never vehement, and an early calm hallowed the gush of his thoughts. We have no regret, no cavil, little thought for this life of Haydn. It is simply the fitting vestibule to the temple of his works.
The healthy energy of his nature is well characterized by what is said of his “obstinate joy.”
“The magic of his style seems to me to consist in a predominating character of liberty and joy. This joy of Haydn is a perfectly natural, pure, and continual exaltation; it reigns in the allegros, it is perceptible even in the grave parts, and pervades the andantes in a sensible degree.
“In these compositions, where it is evident from the rhythm, the tone, and the general character, that the author intend to inspire melancholy, this obstinate joy, being unable to show itself openly, is transformed into energy and strength. Observe, this sombre gravity is not pain; it is joy constrained to disguise itself which might be called the concentrated joy of a savage; but never sadness, dejection, or melancholy. Haydn has never been really melancholy more than two or three times; in a verse of his Stabat Mater, and in two of the adagios of the Seven Words.
“This is the reason why he has never excelled in dramatic music. Without melancholy, there can be no impassioned music.”
All the traits of Haydn’s course, his voluntary servitude to Porpora, his gratitude shown at so dear a rate to his Mæcenas, the wig-maker, his easy accommodation to the whims of the Esterhazies, and his wise views of the advantage derived to his talent from being forced to compose nightly a fresh piece for the baryton of Prince Nicholas, the economy of his time, and content with limited means, each and all show the man moderate because so rich, modest because so clear-sighted, robust, ample, nobly earnest, rather than fiery and aspiring. It is a great character, one that does not rouse us to ardent admiration, but always commands, never disappoints. Bombet compares him in his works to Ariosto, and the whole structure of his character reminds us of the “Ariosto of the North,” Walter Scott. Both are examples of that steady and harmonious action of the faculties all through life, so generally supposed inconsistent with gifts like theirs; both exhibit a soil fertile from the bounties of its native forests, and unaided by volcanic action.
The following passage is (to say nothing of its humor) very significant on the topic so often in controversy, as to whether the descriptive powers of music are of the objective or subjective character.
Of an opera, composed by Haydn to Curtz’s order, at the age of nineteen—
“Haydn often says, that he had more trouble in finding oat a mode of representing the waves in a tempest in this opera, than he afterward had in writing fugues with a double subject. Curtz, who had spirit and taste, was difficult to please; but there was also another obstacle. Neither of the two authors had ever seen either sea or storm. How can a man describe what he knows nothing about? If this happy art could be discovered, many of our great politicians would talk better about virtue. Curtz, all agitation, paced up and down the room, where the composer was seated at the piano forte. ‘Imagine,’ said he, ‘a mountain rising, and then a valley sinking; and then another mountain, and then another valley; the mountain and the valleys follow one after another, with rapidity, and at every moment, alps and abysses succeed each other.’
“This line description was of no avail. In vain did harlequin add the thunder and lightning. ‘Come describe for me all these horrors,’ he repeated incessantly, ‘but particularly represent distinctly these mountain and valleys.’
“Haydn drew his fingers rapidly over the key board, ran through the semitones, tried abundance of sevenths, passed from the lowest notes of the bass to the highest of the treble. Curtz was still dissatisfied. At last, the young man, out of all patience, extended his hands to the two ends of the harpsichord, and, bringing them rapidly together, exclaimed ‘The devil take the tempest.’ ‘That’s it, that’s it.’ cried the harlequin, springing upon his neck and nearly stifling him. Haydn added, that when he crossed the Straits of Dover, in bad weather, many years afterward, he laughed during the whole of the passage in thinking of the storm in The Devil on two Sticks.
“‘But how,’ said I to him, ‘is it possible, by sounds, to describe a tempest, and that distinctly too? As this great man is indulgence itself, I added, that, by imitating the peculiar tones of a man in terror or despair, an author of genius may communicate to an auditor the sensations which the sight of a storm would cause; but,’ said I, ‘music can no more represent a tempest, than say ‘Mr. Hadyn lives near the barrier of Schonbrunn.’ ‘You may be right,’ replied he, ‘but recollect, nevertheless at words and especially scenery guide the imagination of the spectator.’”
Let it be an encouragement to the timidity of youthful genius to see that an eaglet like Haydn has ever groped and flown so sidewise from the aim.
In later days, though he had the usual incapacity of spontaneous genius, as to giving a reason for the faith that was in him, he had also its perfect self-reliance. He, too, would have said, when told that the free expression of a thought was contrary to rule, that he would make it a rule then, and had no reason to give why he put a phrase or note here, and thus, except “It was best so. It had the best effect so.” The following anecdote exhibits in a spirited manner the contrast between the free genius and the pedant critic.
“Before Hadyn had lost his interest in conversation, he related with pleasure many anecdotes respecting his residence in London. A nobleman passionately fond of music, according to his own account, came to him one morning, and asked him to give him some lessons in counterpoint, at a guinea a lesson. Haydn, seeing that he had some knowledge of music, accepted his proposal. ‘When shall we begin?’ ‘Immediately, if you please,’ replied the nobleman; and he took out of his pocket a quartett of Haydn’s. ‘For the first lesson,’ continued be, ‘let us examine this quartett, and tell me the reason of certain modulations, and of the general management of the composition, which I cannot altogether approve, since it is contrary to the rules.’
“Haydn, a little surprised, said, that he was ready to answer his questions. The nobleman began, and, from the very first bar, found something to remark upon every note. Haydn, with whom invention was a habit, and who was the opposite of a pedant, found himself a good deal embarrassed, and replied continually, ‘I did so because it has a good effect; I have placed this passage here, because I think it suitable.’ The Englishman, in whose opinion these replies were nothing to the purpose, still returned to his proofs, and demonstrated very clearly, that his quartett was good for nothing. ‘But, my Lord, arrange this quartett in your own way; hear it played, and you will then see which of the two is best.’ ‘How can yours, which is contrary to the rules be the best?’ ‘Because it is the most agreeable.’ My Lord still returned to the subject. Haydn replied as well as he was able; but, at last, out of patience, ‘I see, my Lord.,’ said he, ‘that it is you who are so good as to give lessons to me, and I am obliged to confess that I do not merit the honour of having such a master.’ The advocate of the rules went away, and cannot to this day understand how an author, who adheres to them, should fail of producing a Matrimonio Segreto.”
I must in this connexion, introduce a passage from the life of Handel. “The highest effort of genius here (in music) consists in direct violations of rule. The very first answer of the fugue in the overture to Mucius Scævola affords an instance of this kind. Gieminiani, the strictest observer of rule, was so charmed with this direct transgression of it, that, on hearing its effect, he cried out, Quel semitono (meaning the f sharp) vale u moudo. That semitone is worth a world.”
I should exceedingly like to quote the passage on Haydn’s quartetts, and the comparison between the effect produced by one of his and one of Beethoven’s. But room always fails us in this little magazine. I cannot, however, omit a passage, which gave me singular pleasure, referring to Haydn’s opinion of the importance of the air. For the air is the thought of the piece, and ought never to be disparaged from a sense of the full flow of concord.
“Who would think it? This great man, under Whose authority our miserable pedants of musicians, without genius, would fain shelter themselves, repeated incessantly; ‘Let your air be good, and your composition, whatever it be, will be so likewise, and will assuredly please.’
“‘It is the soul of music,’ continued he; ‘it is the life, the spirit, the essence of a composition. Without this, Tartini may find out the most singular and learned chords, but nothing is heard but a labored sound; which, though it may not attend the car, leaves the head empty and the heart cold.’”
The following passage illustrates happily the principle.
“Art is called Art, because it is not Nature.”
“In music the best physical imitation is, perhaps, that which only just indicates its object; which shows it to us through a veil, and abstains from scrupulously representing nature exactly as she is. This kind of imitation is the perfection of the descriptive department. You are aware, my friend, that all the arts are founded to a certain degree on what is not true; an obscure doctrine, notwithstanding its apparent clearness but from which the most important principles are derived. It is thus that from a dark grotto springs the river, which is to water vast provinces. You have more pleasure in seeing a beautiful picture of the garden of the Tuilleries, than in beholding the same garden, faithfully reflected from one of the mirrors of the chateau; yet the scene displayed in the mirror has far more variety of colouring than the painting, were it the work of Claude Lorraine; the figures have motion; everything is more true to nature; still you cannot help preferring the picture. A skillful artist never departs from that degree of falsity which is allowed in the art be professes. He is well aware, that it is not by imitating nature to such a degree as to produce deception, that the arts give pleasure; he makes a distinction between those accurate daubs, called eye-traps, and the St. Cecilia of Raphael. Imitation should produce the effect which the object imitated would have upon us, did it strike us in those fortunate moments of sensibility and enjoyment, which awaken the passions.”
The fault of this passage consists in the inaccurate use of the words true and false. Bombet feels distinctly that truth to the ideal is and must be above truth to the actual; it is only because he feels this, that he enjoys the music of Haydn at all; and yet from habits of conformity and complaisance he well nigh mars his thought by use of the phraseology of unthinking men, who apprehend no truth beyond that of facts apparent to the senses.
Let us pass to the life of Handel. We can but glance at these great souls, each rich enough in radiating power to be the centre of a world; and can only hope to indicate, not declare, their different orbits and relations. Haydn and Mozart both looked to Handel with a religious veneration. Haydn was only unfolded to his greatest efforts after hearing, in his latest years, Handel’s great compositions in England.
“One day at Prince Schwartzenberg’s, when Handel’s Messiah was performed, upon expressing my admiration of one of the sublime choruses of that work, Haydn said to me thoughtfully, This man is the father of us all.
“I am convinced, that, if he had not studied Handel, he would never have written the Creation; his genius was fired by that of this master. It was remarked by every one here, that, after his return from London there was more grandeur in his ideas; in short, he approached, as far as is permitted to human genius, the unattainable object of his songs. Handel is simple; his accompaniments are written in three parts only; but, to use a Neapolitan phrase of Gluck’s, There is not a note that does not draw blood.”—Bombet, p. 180.
“Mozart most esteemed Porpora, Durante, Leo; and Allesandro Scarlatti; but he placed Handel above them all, he knew the principal works of that great master by heart. He was accustomed to say, Handel knows best of all of us what is capable of producing a great effect. When he chooses, he strikes like the thunderbolt.”—Ibid. p. 291.
Both these expressions, that of Gluck and that of Mozart, happily characterize Handel in the vigor and grasp of his genius, as Haydn, in the amplitude and sunny majesty of his career, is well compared to the gazing, soaring eagle.
I must insert other beautiful tributes to the genius of Handel.
After the quarrel between Handel and many of the English nobles, which led to their setting up an opera in opposition to his, they sent to engage Hasse and Porpora, as their composers. When Hasse was invited over, the first question he asked was, whether Handel was dead. Being answered in the negative, he long refused to come, thinking it impossible that a nation, which might claim the benefit of Handel’s genius, could ask aid from any other.
When Handel was in Italy, Scarlatti saw him first at the carnival, playing on the harpsichord, in his mask. Scarlatti immediately affirmed it could be none but the famous Saxon or the devil.
Scarlatti pursuing the acquaintance, tried Handel’s powers in every way.
“When they came to the organ, not a doubt remained as to which the preference belonged. Scarlatti himself declared the superiority of antagonist, and owned that until he had heard him upon this instrument, he had no conception of his powers, so greatly was he struck with his peculiar way of playing, that he followed him all over Italy, and was never so happy as when he was with him. And ever afterwards, Scarlatti, as often as he was admired for his own great execution, would mention Handel, and cross himself in token of veneration.”—Life of Handel.
These noble rivalries, this tender enthusiastic conviction of the superiority of another, this religious
A foeman worthy of our steel,”
one instance of which delights us more than all the lonely achievements of intellect, as showing the twofold aspect of the soul, and linking every nature, generous enough for sympathy, in the golden chain, which upholds the earth and the heavens, are found everywhere in the history of high genius. Only the little men of mere talent deserve a place at Le Sage’s supper of the authors. Genius cannot be forever on the wing; it craves a home, a holy land; it carries reliquaries in the bosom; it craves cordial draughts from the goblets of other pilgrims. It is always pious, always chivalric; the artist, like the Preux, throws down hill shield to embrace the antagonist, who has been able to pierce it; and the greater the genius, the more do we glow with delight at his power of feeling,—need of feeling reverence not only for the creative soul, but for its manifestation through fellow men. What melody of Beethoven’s is more melodious, than his letter of regal devotion to Cherubini, or the transports with which he calls out on first hearing the compositions of Schubert; “Wahrlich in dem Schubert wohnt ein gŏttlicher Funke.” Truly in Schubert dwells a divine fire.*
But to return to Handel. The only biography of him I have seen is a little volume from the library of the University at Cambridge, as brief, and, in the opinion of the friend who brought it to me, as dry and scanty as possible. I did not find it so. It is written with the greatest simplicity, in the style of the days of Addison and Stele; and its limited technology contrasts strongly with the brilliancy of statement and infinite “nuances” of the present style of writing on such subjects. But the writer is free from exaggeration, without being timid or cold; and he brings to his work the requisites of a true feeling or the genius of Handel, and sympathy with his personal character. This lies, indeed, so deep, that it never occurs to him to give it distinct expression; it is only implied in his selection, as judicious as simple, of anecdotes to illustrate it.
For myself, I like a dry book, such as is written by men who ‘give themselves somewhat tamely to the task in hand. I like to read a book written by one who had no higher object than mere curiosity, or affectionate sympathy, and never draws an inference. Then I am sure of the facts more nakedly true, than when the writer has any theory of his own, und have the excitement all the way of putting them into new relations. The present is the gentle, faithful narrative of a private friend. He does not give his name, nor pretend to anything more than a slight essay towards giving an account of so great a phenomenon as Handel.
The vigour, the ready decision, and independence of Handel’s character are displayed in almost every trait of his youthful years. At seven years old he appears as if really inspired by a guardian genius. His father was going to Weissenfels, to visit an elder son, established at court there. He refused to take the little Handel, thinking it would be too much trouble. The boy, finding tears and entreaties of no avail, stole out and followed the carriage on foot. When his father perceived him persist in this, he could resist no longer, but took him into the carriage and carried him to Weissenfels. There the Duke, hearing him play by accident in the chapel, and finding it was but a little child, who had been obliged too to cultivate his talent by stealth, is opposition to the wishes of his father, interfered, and removed all obstruction from the course of his destiny.
Like all the great musicians he was precocious. This necessarily results from the more than usually delicate organization they must possess, though, fortunately for the art, none but Mozart has burnt so early with that resplendence that prematurely exhausted his lamp of life. At nine years of age Handel composed in rule, and played admirably on more than one instrument. At fifteen he insisted on playing the first harpsichord at the Hamburg opera house, and again his guardian genius interfered in a manner equally picturesque and peculiar.
“The elder candidate was not unfit for the office, and insisted on the right of succession. Handel seemed to have no plea, but that of natural superiority, of which he was conscious, and from which he would not recede.”
Parties ran high; the one side unwilling that a boy should arrogate a place above a much older man, one who had a prior right to the place, the other maintaining that the opera-house could not afford to lose so great a composer as Handel gave promise of becoming, for a punctilio of this kind. Handel at last obtained the place.
“Determined to make Handel pay dearly for his priority, his rival stifled his rage for the present, only to wait an opportunity of giving it full vent. One day, as they were coming out of the orchestra, he made a push at, Handel with a sword, which being aimed full at his heart, would forever have removed him from the office he had usurped, but for the friendly score which he accidentally carried in his bosom, and through which to have forced the weapon would have demanded the might of Ajax himself, Had this happened in the early ages, not a mortal but would have been persuaded that Apollo, himself had interfered to preserve him, in the shape of a music-book.”
The same guardian demon presided always over his outward fortunes. His life, like that of Haydn, was one of prosperity. The only serious check he ever experienced (at a very late day in England) was only so great as to stimulate his genius to manifest itself by a still higher order of efforts, than before (his oratorios.) And these were not only worthy of his highest aspirations, but successful with the public of his own day.
It is by no means the case in the arts, that genius must not expect sympathy from its contemporaries. Its history shows it in many instances, answering as much as prophesying. And Haydn, Handel, and Mozart seemed to culminate to a star-gazing generation.
While yet in his teens, Handel met the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was very desirous to send him to Italy, at his own expense, that he might study the Italian music in its native land. “But he refused to accept the Duke’s offer, though determined to go as soon as he could make up a privy purse for the purpose. And this noble independency he preserved through life,” and we may add the twin sister, liberality, for we find scattered through his life numerous instances of a wise and princely beneficence.
When he at last went to Italy, he staid six years, a period of inestimable benefit to his growth. I pause with delight at this rare instance of a mind obtaining the food it craves, just at the time it craves it. The too early and too late, which prevent so many “trees from growing up into the heavens,” withered no hour of Handel’s life. True, the compensating principle showed itself in his regard, for he had neither patience nor fortitude, which the usual training might have given. But it seems as if what the man lost, the genius gained, and we cannot be displeased at the exception which proves the rule.
The Italians received him with that affectionate enthusiasm, which they show as much towards foreign as native talent. The magnanimous delight with which they greeted West, and, as it is said, now greet our countryman Powers, which not many years since made their halls resound with the cry, “there is no tenor like Braham,” was heard in shouts of “Viva il caro Sassone!” at every new composition given by Handel on their stage. The people followed him with rapture; the nobles had musical festivals prepared in his honour; Scarlatti’s beautiful homage has been mentioned above; and the celebrated Corelli displayed the same modest and noble deference to his instructions. He too, addressed him as “Caro Sassone.”
A charming anecdote of Corelli is not irrelevant here.
“A little incident relating to Corelli shows his character so strongly, that I shall be excused for reciting it, though foreign to our present purpose. He was requested one evening to play, to a large and polite company, a fine solo which he had lately composed. Just as he was in the midst of his performance, some of the number began to discourse together a little unseasonably; Corelli gently lays down his instrument. Being asked whether anything was the matter with him; ‘nothing, he replied, he was only afraid that he interrupted the conversation. The elegant propriety of this silent censure, joined with his genteel and good-humoured answer, afforded great pleasure, even to the persons who occasioned it. They begged him to resume his instrument, assuring him at the same time, that he might depend on all the attention which the occasion required, and which his merit ought before to have commanded.”—Life of Handel.
His six years’ residence in Italy educated Handel’s genius into a certainty, vigour and command of resources that made his after career one track of light. The forty years of after life are one continued triumph, a showering down of life and joy on an expectant world.
Although Germany offered every encouragement both from people and princes, England suited him best, and became the birthplace of his greatest works. For nine years after he began to conduct the opera-house, his success with the public and happiness in his creative life appears to have been perfect. Then he came for brief space amid the breakers. It is, indeed, rather wonderful that he kept peace so long with those most refractory subjects, the singers, than that it should fail at last. Fail at last it did! Handel was peremptory in his requisitions, the singing birds obstinate in their disobedience: the public divided, and the majority went against Handel. The following little recital of one of his many difficulties, with his prima-donnas, exhibits his character with amusing fidelity.
“Having one day some words with Cuzzoni on her refusing to sing Cara Immagine in Ottone. ‘Oh Madame,’ said he, ‘je sais bien que vous étes une veritable Diable, mais je vous ferai sçavoir, moi, que je suis Beelzebub le Chef des diables.’ With this he took her up by the waist, swearing that, if she made any more words, he would fling her out of the window. It is to be noted, (adds the biographer with Counsellor Pleydel-like facetiousness,) that this was formerly one of the methods of executing criminals in Germany, a process not unlike that of the Tarpeian rock, and probably derived from it.”—Life of Handel.
Senesino, too, was one of Handel’s malcontent aids, the same of whom the famous anecdote is told, thus given in the Life of Haydn.
“Senesino was to perform on a London theatre the character of a tyrant, in I know not what· opera; the celebrated Farinelli sustained that of an oppressed prince. Farinelli, who had been giving concerts in the country, arrived only a few hours before the representation, and the unfortunate hero and the cruel tyrant saw one another for the first time on the stage. When Farinelli came to his first air, in which he supplicates for mercy, he sung it with such sweetness and expression, that the poor tyrant, totally forgetting himself, threw himself upon his neck and repeatedly embraced him.”
The refined sensibility and power of free abandonment to the life of the moment, displayed in this anecdote, had made Senesino the darling, the spoiled child of the public, so that they were ungrateful to their great father, Handel. But he could not bow to the breeze. He began life anew at the risk of the wealth he had already acquired, and these difficulties only urged him to new efforts. The Oratorio dawned upon his stimulated mind, and we may, perhaps, thank the humours of Senesino and Faustina for the existence of the Messiah.
The oratorios were not brought forward without opposition. That part of the public, which in all ages, walks in clogs on the green-sward, and prefers a candle to the sun, which accused Socrates of impiety, denounced the Tartuffe of Moliere as irreligious, which furnishes largely the Oxford press in England, and rings its little alarm bell among ourselves at every profound and universal statement of religious experience, was exceedingly distressed, that Handel should profane the details of biblical history by wedding them to his God-given harmonies. Religion, they cried, was lost; she must be degraded, familiarized; she would no longer speak with authority after she had been sung. But, happily, owls hoot in vain in the ear of him whose soul is possessed by the muse, and Handel, like all the great, could not even understand the meaning of these petty cavils. Genius is fearless; she never fancies herself wiser than God, as prudence does. She is faithful, for she has been trusted, and feels the presence of God in herself too clearly to doubt his government of the world.
Handel’s great exertions at this period brought on an attack of paralysis, which he cured by a course that shows his untamed, powerful nature, and illustrates in a homely way the saying, Fortune favors the brave.
Like Tasso, and other such fervid and sanguine persons, if he could at last be persuaded to use a remedy for any sickness, he always overdid the matter. As for this palsied arm,—
“It was thought best for him to have recourse to the vapor baths at Aix-la-Chapelle, over which he sat three times as long as hath ever been the practice. Whoever knows anything of the nature of these baths, will, from this instance, form some idea of his surprising constitution. His sweats were profuse beyond what can well be imagined. His cure, from the manner as well as the quickness with which it was wrought, passed with the nuns for a miracle. When, but a few hours from the time of his leaving the bath, they heard him at the organ in the principal church, as well as convent, playing in a manner so much beyond what they had ever heard or even imagined, it is not wonderful, that they should suppose the interposition of a higher power.”
He remained, however, some weeks longer at the baths to confirm the cure, thus suddenly effected by means that would have destroyed a frame of less strength and energy. The more cruel ill of blindness fell upon his latest years, but he had already run an Olympian course, and could sit still with the palm and oak crowns upon his brows.
Handel is a Greek in the fullness and summer glow of his nature, in his directness of action and unrepentant steadfastness. I think also with a pleasure, in which I can hardly expect sympathy, since even his simple biographer shrinks from it with the air of “a person of quality,” on the fact that he was fond of good eating, and also ate a great deal. As he was neither epicure nor gourmand, I not only accept the excuse of the biographer, that a person of his choleric nature, vast industry and energy, needed a great deal of sustenance; but it seems to me perfectly in character for one of his large heroic mould. I am aware that these are total abstinence days, especially in the regions of art and romance; but the Greeks were wiser and more beautiful, if less delicate than we; and I am strongly reminded by all that is said of Handel, of a picture painted in their golden age. The subject was Hercules at the court of Admetus; in the background handmaids are mourning round the corpse of the devoted Alceste, while in the foreground the son of Jove is satisfying what seem to his attendants an interminable hunger. They are heaping baskets, filling cans, toiling up the stairs with huge joints of meat; the hero snaps his fingers, impatient for the new course, though many an empty trencher bears traces of what he has already devoured. For why; a journey to Tartar us and conquest of gloomy Dis would hardly, in the natural state of society, be undertaken on a biscuit and a glass of lemonade. And when England was yet fresh from her grand revolution, and John Bull still cordially enjoyed his yule logs and Christmas feasts, “glorious John Dryden” was not ashamed to write thus of the heroes,—
Then a man was not ashamed of being not only a man in mind, but every inch a man. And Handel surely did not neglect to labour after he had feasted. Beautiful are the upward tending, slender stemmed plants! Not less beautiful and longer lived, those of stronger root, more powerful trunk, more spreading branches! Let each be true to his law; concord, not monotony, is music. We thank thee, Nature, for Handel, we thank thee for Mozart! Yet one story from the Life of Handel ere we pass on. It must interest all who have observed the same phenomenon of a person exquisitely alive to the music of verse, stupified and bewildered by other music.
“Pope often met Handel at the Earl of Burlington’s. One day after Handel had played some of the finest thing, he ever composed, Mr. Pope declared that they gave him no sort of pleasure; that his ears were of that untoward make, and reprobate cast as to receive his music, which he was persuaded was the best that could be, with as much indifference as the airs of a common ballad. A person of his excellent understanding, it is hard to suspect of affectation. And yet it is as hard to conceive how an ear, so perfectly attentive to all the delicacies of rhythm and poetical numbers, should be totally insensible to the charm of musical sounds. An attentiveness, too, which was as discernible in his manner of reading, as is in his method of writing.”—Life of Handel.
The principal facts of that apparition which bore the name of Mozart, are well known. His precocious development was fat more precocious than that of any other artist on record. (And here let us observe another correspondence between music and mathematics, that is, the early prodigies in childish form, which seem to say that neither the art nor the science requires the slow care of the gardener, Experience, but are plants indigenous to the soil, which need only air and light to lure them up to majestic stature.) Connected with this is his exquisite delicacy of organization, unparalleled save in the history of the fairy Fine Ear, so that at six years old he perceived a change of half a quarter of a note in the tuning of a violin, and fainted always at sound of the trumpet. The wonderful exploits which this accurate perception of and memory for sounds enabled him to perform, are known to every one, but I could read the story a hundred times yet, so great is its childish beauty. Again, allied with this are his extreme tenderness and loving nature. In this life (Schlichtegroll’s translated by Bombet) it is mentioned, “He would say ten times a day to those about him, ‘Do you love me well?’ and whenever in jest they said ‘No,’ the tears would roll down his cheeks.” I remember to have rend elsewhere an anecdote of the same engaging character. “One day, when Mozart, (then in his seventh year,) was entering the presence chamber of the empress, he fell and hurt himself. The other young princesses laughed, but Marie Antoinette took him up, and consoled him with many caresses. The little Mozart said to her, “You are good; I will marry you.” Well for the lovely princess, if common men could have met and understood her lively and genial nature as genius could, in its childlike need of love.
With this great desire for sympathy in the affections was linked, as by nature it should be, an entire self-reliance in action. Mozart knew nothing but music; on that the whole life of his soul was shed, but there he was as unerring and undoubting, as fertile and aspiring.
“At six years of age, sitting down to play in presence of the emperor Francis, he addressed himself to his majesty and asked; ‘Is not M. Wagenseil here? We must send for him; he understands the thing.’ The emperor sent for Wagenseil, and gave up his place to him by the side of the piano. ‘Sir,’ said Mozart to the composer, I am going to play one of your concertos; you must turn over the leaves for me.’ The emperor said, in jest, to the little Wolfgang; ‘It is not very difficult to play with all one’s fingers, but to play with only one, without seeing the keys, would indeed be extraordinary.’ Without manifesting the least surprise at this strange proposal, the child immediately began to play with a single finger, and with the greatest possible precision and clearness. He afterwards desired them to cover the keys of the piano, and continued to play in the same manner, as if he had long practiced it.
From his most tender age, Mozart, animated with the true feeling of his art, was never vain of the compliments paid him by the great. He only performed insignificant trifles when he had to do with people unacquainted with music. He played, on the contrary, with all the fire and attention of which he was capable, when in the presence of connoisseurs; and his father was often obliged to have recourse to artifice, in order to make the great men, before whom he was to exhibit, pass for such with him.”
Here, in childlike soft unconsciousness, Mozart acts the same part that Beethoven did, with cold imperial sarcasm, when the Allied Sovereigns were presented to him at Vienna. “I held myself ‘vorilehm,’” said Beethoven, that is, treated them with dignified affability; and his smile is one of saturnine hauteur, as he says it; for the nature, so deeply glowing towards man, was coldly disdainful to those who would be more than men, merely by the aid of money and trappings. Mozart’s attitude is the lovelier and more simple; but Beethoven’s lion tread and shake of the mane are grand too.
The following anecdote shows, that Mozart (rare praise is this) was not less dignified and clear-sighted as a man than in his early childhood.
“The Italians at the court of the Emperor, Joseph the Second, spoke of Mozart’s first essays (when he was appointed chapel-master) with more jealousy than fairness, and the emperor, who scarcely ever judged for him self, was easily carried away by their decisions. One day after hearing the rehearsal of a comic opera, which he had himself demanded of Mozart, he said to the composer, ‘My dear Mozart, that is too fine for my ears; there are too many notes there.’ ‘I ask your majesty’s pardon,’ replied Mozart, dryly; ‘there are just as many notes as there should be.’ The emperor said nothing, and appeared rather embarrassed by the reply; but when the open was performed, he bestowed on it the greatest encomiums.”
This anecdote certainly shows Joseph the Second to be not a mean man, if neither a sage nor a connoisseur.
Read in connexion with the foregoing, the traits recorded of the artist during his wife’s illness, (Life of Mozart, p. 309,) and you have a sketch of a most beautiful character.
Combined with this melting sweetness, and extreme delicacy, was a prophetic energy of deep-seated fire in his genius. He inspires while he overwhelms you. The vigour, the tenderness, and far-reaching ken of his conceptions, were seconded by a range, a readiness, and flexibility in his talents for expression, which can only be told by the hackneyed comparison between him and Raphael. A life of such unceasing flow and pathetic earnestness must at any rate have early exhausted the bodily energies. But the high-strung nerves of Mozart made him excessive alike in his fondness for pleasure, and in the melancholy which was its reaction. His life was too eager and keen to last. The gift of presentiment, as much developed in his private history as in his works, offers a most interesting study to the philosophic observer, but one of too wide a scope for any discussion here.
I shall not speak of Mozart as a whole man, for he was not so; but rather the exquisite organ of a divine inspiration. He scarcely took root on the soil; not knowing common purposes, cares, or discretions, his life was all crowded with creative efforts, and vehement pleasures, or tender feelings between. His private character was that of a child, as ever he loved to be stimulated to compose by having fairy tales told to him by the voice of affection. And when we consider how any art tends to usurp the whole of a man’s existence, and music most of all to unfit for other modes of life, both from its stimulus to the senses and exaltation of the soul, we have rather reason to wonder that the other four great ones lived severe and manlike lives, than that this remained a voluptuary and a fair child. The virtues of a child he had,—sincerity, tenderness, generosity, and reverence. In the generosity with which he gave away the precious works of his genius, and the princely sweetness with which he conferred these favours, we are again reminded of Raphael. There are equally fine anecdotes of Haydn’s value for him, and his for Haydn. Haydn answered the critics of “Don Giovanni,” “I am not a judge of the dispute; all that I know is, that Mozart is the greatest composer now existing.” Mozart answered the critic on Haydn, “Sir, if you and I were both melted down together, we should not furnish material, for one Haydn.”
Richard Cœur de Lion and Saladin!
We never hear the music of Mozart to advantage, yet no one can be a stranger to the character of his melodies. The idea charms me of a symbolical correspondence, not only between the soul of man and the productions of nature, but of a like harmony, pervading every invention of his own. It seems he has not only “builded better than he knew,” when following out the impulse of his genius, but in every mechanical invention, so that all the furniture of man’s life is necessarily but an aftergrowth of nature. It seems clear that not only every hue, every gem, every flower, every tree, has its correspondent species in the race of man, but the same may be said of instruments, as obviously of the telescope, microscope, compass. It is clearly the case with the musical instruments. As a child I at once thought of Mozart as the Flute, and to this day, cannot think of one without the other. Nothing ever occurred to confirm this fancy, till a year or two since, in the book now before me, I found with delight the following passage.
“The most remarkable circumstance in his music, independently of the genius displayed in it, is the novel way in which he employs the orchestra, especially the wind instruments. He draws surprising effect from the flute, an instrument of which Cimarosa hardly ever made any use.’
Ere bidding adieu to Mozart, to whom I have only turned your eyes, as the fowler directs those of the by-standers to the bird glancing through the heavens, which he had not skill to bring down, and consoles himself with thinking the fair bird shows truer, if further, on the wing. I will insert three sonnets, so far interesting as showing the degree of truth with which these objects appear to one, who has enjoyed few opportunities of hearing the great masters, and is only fitted to receive them by a sincere love of music, which caused a rejection of the counterfeits that have been current among us. They date some years back, and want that distinctness of expression, so attainable to-day; but, if unaided by acquaintance with criticism on these subjects, have therefore the merit of being a pure New England growth, and deserve recording like Sigismund Biederman’s comparison of Queen Margaret to his favourite of the Swiss pasture. “The queen is a stately creature. The chief cow of the herd, who curries the bouquets and garlands to the chalet, has not a statelier pace.”—Anne of Geierstein.
The charms of melody, in simple airs,
By human voices sung, are always felt;
With thoughts responsive, careless hearers melt,
Of secret ills, which our frail nature bears.
We listen, weep, forget. But when the throng
Of a great Master’s thoughts, above the reach
Of words or colors, wire and wood can teach
By laws which to the spirit-world belong,—
When several parts, to tell one mood combined,
Flash meaning on us we can ne’er express,
Giving to matter subtlest powers of Mind,
Superior joys attentive souls confess.
The harmony which sun, and stars obey,
Blesses our earth-bound state with visions of supernal day.
Moat intellectual master of the art,
Which, best of all, teaches the mind of man
The universe in all its varied plan,—
What strangely mingled thoughts thy strains impart!
Here the faint tenor thrills the inmost heart,
There the rich bass the Reason’s balance shows;
Here breathes the softest sigh that Love e’er knows;
There sudden fancies, seeming without chart,
Float into wildest breezy interludes;
The past is all forgot,—hopes sweetly breathe,
And our whole being glows,—when lo! beneath
The flowery brink, Despair’s deep sob concludes!
Startled, we strive to free us from the chain,—
Notes of high triumph swell, and we are thine again?
If to the intellect and passions strong
Beethoven speak, with such resistless power,
Making us share the full creative hour,
When his wand fixed wild Fancy’s mystic throng,
Oh nature’s finest lyre! to thee belong
The deepest, softest tones of tenderness,
Whose purity the listening angels bless,
With silvery clearness of seraphic song.
Sad are those chords, oh, heavenward striving soul!
A love, which never found its home on earth,
Pensively vibrates, even in thy mirth,
And gentle laws thy lightest notes control;
Yet dear that sadness! Spheral concords felt
Purify most those hearts which most they melt.
We have spoken of the widely varying, commanding, yet, bright and equable life of Haydn; of the victorious procession, and regal Alexandrine aspect of Handel; of the tender, beloved, overflowing, all too intense life of Mozart. They are all great and beautiful; look at them from what side you will, the foot stands firm, the mantle falls in wide and noble folds, and the eye flushes divine truths. But now we come to a figure still more Roman, John Sebastian Bach, all whose names we give to distinguish him from a whole family of geniuses, a race through which musical inspiration had been transmitted, without a break, for six generations; nor did it utterly fail, after coming to its full flower in John Sebastian; his sons, though not equal to their father, were not unworthy their hereditary honours.
The life of Bach which I have before me, (translated from the German of J. N. Forkel, author also of the “Complete History of Music,”) is by far the best of any of these records. It is exceedingly brief and simple, very bare of facts, but the wise, quiet enthusiasm of its tone, and the delicate discrimination of the remarks on the genius of Bach, bring us quite home to him and his artist-life. Bach certainly shines too lonely in the sky of his critic, who has lived in and by him, till be cannot see other souls in their due places, but would interrupt all hymns to other deities with “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” But his worship is true to the object, if false to the All, and the pure reverence of his dependence has made him fit to reproduce the genius which has fed his inmost life. All greatness should enfranchise its admirers, first from all other dominions, and then from its own. We cannot but think that Forkel has seen, since writing this book, that he deified Bach too exclusively, but he can never feel the shame of blind or weak obsequiousness, His, if idolatry, was yet in the spirit of true religion.
The following extract from the preface, gives an idea of the spirit in which the whole book is written.
“How do I wish I were able to describe, according to its merit, the sublime genius of this first of all artists, whether German or foreign! After the honour of being so great an artist, so preeminent above all as he was, there is perhaps no greater than that of being able duly to appreciate entirely perfect an art, and to speak of it with judgment. He who can do the last, must have a mind not wholly uncongenial to that of the artist himself, and has therefore, in some measure, the flattering probability in his favour, that he might perhaps have been capable of the first, if similar external relations had led him into the proper career. But I am not so presumptuous as to believe, that I could ever attain to such an honour. I am, on the contrary, thoroughly convinced, that no language in the world is rich enough to express all that might and should be said of the astonishing extent of such a genius. The more intimately we are acquainted with it, the more does our admiration increase. All our eulogiums, praises, and admirations, will always be, and remain no more than well-meant prattle. Whoever has had an opportunity of comparing together the works of art, of several centuries, will not find this declaration exaggerated; he will rather have adopted the opinion, that Bach’s works cannot be spoken of, by him who is fully acquainted with them, except with rapture, and some of them even with a kind of sacred awe. We may indeed conceive and explain his management of the internal mechanism of the art; but how he contrived at the same time to inspire into this mechanic art, which he alone has attained in such high perfection, the living spirit which so powerfully attaches us even in his smallest works, will probably be always felt and admired only, but never conceived.”
Of the materials for this narrative he says,
“I am indebted to the two eldest sons of J. S. Bach. I was not only personally acquainted with both, but kept up a constant correspondence with them for many years, chiefly with C. Ph. Emanuel. The world knows that they were both great artists; but it perhaps does not know that to the last moment of their lives they never spoke of their father’s genius without enthusiasm and admiration. As I had from my early youth felt the same veneration for the genius of their father, it was a frequent theme of discussion with us, both in our conversations and correspondence. This made me by degrees so acquainted with everything relative to J. S. Bach’s life, genius, and works, that I may now hope to be able to give to the public not only some detailed, but also useful information on the subject.
“I have no other object whatever than to call the attention of the public to an undertaking, the sole aim of which is to raise a worthy monument to German art, to furnish the true artist with a gallery of the most instructive models, and to open to the friends of musical science an inexhaustible source of the sublimest enjoyment.”
The deep, tender repose in the contemplation of genius, the fidelity in the details of observation, indicated in this passage, are the chief requisites of the critic. But he should never say of any object, as Forkel does, it is the greatest that ever was or ever will be, for that is limiting the infinite, and making himself a bigot, gentle and patient perhaps, but still a bigot. All are so who limit the divine within the boundaries of their present knowledge.
The founder of the Bach family (in its musical phase) was a Thuringian miller. “In his leisure hours he amused himself with his guitar, which he even took with him into the mill, and played upon it amidst all the noise and clatter.” The same love of music, for its own sake, continued in the family for six generations. After enumerating the geniuses who illustrated it before the time of John Sebastian, Forkel says,
“Not only the above-mentioned, but many other able composers of the earlier generations of the family might undoubtedly have obtained much more important musical offices, as well as a more extensive reputation, and more brilliant fortune, if they had been inclined to leave their native province, and to make themselves known in other countries. But we do not find that any one of them ever felt an inclination for such an emigration. Temperate and frugal by nature and education, they required but little to live; and the intellectual enjoyment, which their art procured them, enabled them not only to be content without the gold chains, which used at that time to be given by great men to esteemed artists, as especial marks or honour, but also without the least envy to see them worn by others, who perhaps without these chains would not have been happy.”
Nothing is more pleasing than the account of the jubilee which this family had once a year. As they were a large family, and scattered about in different cities, they met once a year and had this musical festival.
“Their amusements during the time of their meeting were entirely musical. As the company wholly consisted of chanters, organists, and town musicians, who had all to do with the Church, and as it was besides a general custom to begin everything with religion, the first thing they did, when they were assembled, was to sing a hymn in chorus. From this pious commencement they proceeded to drolleries, which often made a very great contrast with it. They sang, for instance, popular songs, the contents of which are partly comic and partly licentious, all together, and extempore, but in such a manner that the several songs thus extemporized made a kind of harmony together, the words, however, in every part being different. They called this kind of extemporary chorus ‘a Quodlibet,’ and not only laughed heartily at it themselves, but excited an equally hearty and irresistible laughter in every body that heard them. Some persons are inclined to consider these facetiæ as the beginning of comic operettas in Germany; but such quodlibets were usual in Germany at a much earlier period. I possess myself a printed collection of them, which was published at Vienna in 1542.”
In perfect harmony with what is intimated of the family, of their wise content, loving art, purely and religiously for its own sake, unallured by ambition or desire for excitement, deep and true, simple and modest in the virtues of domestic life, was the course of the greatest of them, John Sebastian. No man of whom we read has lived more simply the grand, quiet, manly life, “without haste, without rest.” Its features are few, its outline large and tranquil. His youth was a steady aspiration to the place nature intended him to fill; as soon as he was in that place, his sphere of full, equable activity, he knew it, and was content. After that he was known by his fruits. As for outward occasions and honours, it was with him as always with the “Happy Warrior,” who must
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait
For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state;
Whom they must follow, on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all.”
A pretty story of his childhood shows that he was as earnest in the attainment of excellence, as indifferent to notoriety.
“J. S. Bach was left an orphan at ten years of age, and was obliged to have recourse to an elder brother, John Christopher, who was organist at Ordruff. From him he received the first instructions in playing on the clavichord. But his inclination and talent for music must have been already very great at that time, since the pieces which his brother gave him to learn were so soon in his power, that he began with much eagerness to look out for some that were more difficult. He had observed that his brother had a book, in which were pieces by the most famous composers of the day, such as he wanted, and earnestly begged him to give it him. But it was constantly denied. His desire to possess the book was increased by the refusal, so that he at length sought means to get possession of it secretly. As it was kept in a cupboard, which had only a lattice door and his hands were still small enough to pass through, so that he could roll up the book, which was merely stitched in paper, and draw it out, he did not long hesitate to make use of these favorable circumstances. But, for want of a candle, he could only copy it in moonlight nights; and it took six whole months before he could finish his laborious task. At length, when he thought himself safely possessed of the treasure, and intended to make good use of it in secret, his brother found it out, and took from him, without pity, the copy which had cost him so much pains; and he did not recover it till his brother’s death, which took place soon after.”
Without pity indeed! What a tale is told by these few words of all the child suffered from disappointment of the hopes and plans, which had been growing in his heart all those six months of secret toil; hopes and plans too, so legitimate, on which a true parent or guardian would have smiled such delighted approval! One can scarcely keep down the swelling heart at these instances of tyranny to children, far worse than the knouts and Siberia of the Russian despot, in this, that the domestic tyrant cannot be wholly forgetful of the pain he is inflicting, though he may be too stupid or too selfish to forsee the consequences of these early wrongs, through long years of mental conflict. A nature so strong and kindly as that of Bach could not be crushed in such ways. But with characters of less force the consequences are more cruel. I have known an instance of life-long injury from such an act as this. An elder brother gave a younger a book; then, as soon as the child became deeply interested in reading it, tore out two or three leaves. Years after the blood boiled, and the eyes wept bitter tears of distrust in human sympathy, at remembrance of this little act of wanton wrong. And the conduct of Bach’s brother is more coldly cruel.
The facts of his life are simple. Soon his great abilities displayed themselves, so as to win for him all that he asked from life, a moderate competency, a home, and a situation in which he could cultivate his talents with uninterrupted perseverance. A silent happiness lit up his days, deliberately, early he grew to giant stature, deeply honoured wherever known, only not more widely known because indifferent to being so. No false lure glitters on his life from any side. He was never in a hurry, nor did he ever linger on the syren shore, but passed by, like Orpheus, not even hearing their songs, so rapt was he in the hymns he was singing to the gods.
Haydn is the untouched green forest in the fulness of a June day; Handel the illuminated garden, where splendid and worldly crowds pause at times in the dark alleys, soothed and solemnized by the white moonlight; with Mozart the nightingale sings, and the lonely heron waves his wings, beside the starlit, secret lake, on whose bosom gazes the white marble temple. Bach is the towering, snowy mountain, “itself earth’s Rosy Star,” and the green, sunny, unasking valley, all in one. Earth and heaven are not lonely while such men live to answer to their meaning.
I had marked many passages which give a clear idea of Bach’s vast intellectual comprehension, of the happy balance between the intuitive and the reasoning powers in his nature, the depth of his self-reliance, the untiring severity of his self-criticism, and the glad, yet solemn re1igious fulness of his mental life. But already my due limits are overstepped, and I am still more desirous to speak at some length of Beethoven. I shall content myself with two or three passages, which not only indicate the peculiar scope of this musician, but are of universal application to whatever is good in art or literature.
Bombet mentions this anecdote of Jomelli.
“On arriving at Bologna, he went to see the celebrated Father Martini, without making himself known, and begged to be received into the number of his pupils. Martini gave him a subject for a fugue; and finding that he executed it in a superior manner, ‘Who are you!’ said he, ‘are you making game of me? It is I who need to learn of you.’ ‘I am Jomelli, the professor, who is to write the opera to be performed here next autumn, and I am come to ask you to teach me the great art of never being embarrassed by my own ideas.’”
There seems to have been no time in Bach’s life when he needed to ask this question, the great one which Genius ever asks of Friendship. He did not need to flash out into clearness in another atmosphere than his own. Always, he seems the master, possessing, not possessed by, his idea. These creations did not come upon him as on the ancient prophets, dazzling, unexpected, ever flowing from the centre of the universe. He was not possessed by the muse; he had not intervals of the second sight. The thought and the symbol were one with him, and like Shakspeare, he evolved from his own centre, rather than was drawn to the centre. He tells the universe by living a self-centred world.
As becomes the greatest, he is not hasty, never presumptuous. We admire it in the child Mozart, that he executed at once the musical tour de force prepared by the Emperor Francis. We admire still more Bach’s manly caution and sense of the importance of his art, when visiting, at an advanced age, the great Frederic, who seems to have received him king-like.
“The musicians went with him from room to room; and Bach was invited everywhere to try and to play unpremeditated compositions. After he had gone on for some time, he asked the King to give him a subject for a fugue, in order to execute it immediately, without any preparation. The King admired the learned manner in which his subject was thus executed extempore; and, probably to see how far such art could be carried, expressed a wish to hear a fugue with six obligato parts. But as it is not every subject that is fit for such full harmony, Bach chose one himself, and immediately executed it, to the astonishment of all present, in the same magnificent and learned manner as he had done that of the King.”
The following anecdote shows the same deeply intellectual modesty and candour, and when compared with the inspired rapidity of Mozart, marks the distinction made by the French between “une savant oringalité” and “une rayonnante originalité.”
“He at length acquired such a high degree of facility, and, we may almost say, unlimited power over his instrument in all the modes, that there were hardly any more difficulties for him. As well in his unpremeditated fantasies, as in executing his other compositions, in which it is well known that all the fingers of both hands are constantly employed and have to make motions which are as strange and uncommon as the melodies themselves; he is said to have possessed such certainty that he never missed a note. He had besides such an admirable facility in reading and executing the compositions of others, (which, indeed, were all easier than his own,) that he once said to an acquaintance, that he really believed he could play everything, without hesitating, at the first sight. He was, however, mistaken; and the friend, to whom he had thus expressed his opinion, convinced him of it before a week was passed. He invited him one morning to breakfast, and laid upon the desk of his instrument, among other pieces, one which at the first glance appeared to be very trifling. Bach came, and, according to his custom, went immediately to the instrument, partly to play, partly to look over the music that lay on the desk. While he was turning over and playing them, his friend went into the next room to prepare breakfast. In a few minutes, Bach got to the piece, which was destined to make him change his opinion, and began to play it. But he had not proceeded far when he came to a passage at which he stopped. He looked at it, began anew, and again stopped at the same passage. ‘No.’ he called out to his friend, who was laughing to himself in the next room, at the same time going away from the instrument, ‘one cannot play everything at first sight; it is not possible.’”
A few more extracts which speak for themselves.
“The clavichord and the organ are nearly related, but the style and mode of managing both instruments are as different as their respective destination. What sounds well, or expresses something on the clavichord, expresses nothing on the organ, and vice versa. The best player on the clavichord, if he is not duly acquainted with the difference in the destination and object of the two instruments, and does not know constantly how to keep it in view, will always be a bad performer on the organ, as indeed is usually the case. Hitherto I have met with only two exceptions. The one is John Sebastian himself, and the second his eldest son, William Friedemann. Both were elegant performers on the clavichord; but, when they came to the organ, no trace of the harpsichord player was to be perceived. Melody, harmony, motion, all was different; that is, all was adapted to the nature of the instrument and its destination. When I heard Will Friedemann on the harpsichord, all was delicate, elegant, and agreeable. When I heard him on the organ, I was seized with reverential awe. There, all was pretty, here, all was grand and solemn. The same was the case with John Sebastian, but both in a much higher degree of perfection. W. Friedemann was here but a child to his father, and he most frankly concurred in this opinion. The organ compositions of this extraordinary man are full of the expression of devotion, solemnity, and dignity; but his unpremeditated voluntaries on the organ, where nothing was lost in writing down, are said to have been still more devout, solemn, dignified, and sublime. What is it that is most essential in this art? I will say what I know; much, however, cannot be said, but must be felt.”
Then after some excellent observations upon the organ, he says,
“Bach, even in his secular compositions, disdained every thing common; but in his compositions for the organ, he kept himself far more distant from it: so that here he does not appear like a man, but as a true disembodied spirit, who soars above everything mortal.”
It does indeed seem, from all that is said of Bach on this score, that, as the organ was his proper instrument, and represents him, as the flute or violin might Mozart, so he that heard him on it enjoyed the sense of the true Miltonic Creation, thought too plenteous to be spoken of rill, or stream, or fountain, but rolling and surging like a tide, marking its course by the large divisions of seas and continents.
I wish there was room to quote the fine story of the opera house at Berlin, p. 34, which shows how rapid and comprehensive was his intellectual sight in his own department; or the remarks on the nature of his harmony in that it was a multiplied melody, pp. 42, 43, or on the severe truth and dignity of his conduct to his pupils and the public, p. 76. But I must content myself with the following passages, which, beside, lose much by mutilation,
“The ideas of harmony and modulation can scarcely be separated, so nearly are they related to each other. And yet they are different. By harmony we must understand the concord or coincidence of the various parts; by modulation, their progression.
“In most composers you find that their modulation, or if you will, their ‘harmony, advances slowly. In musical pieces to be executed by numerous performers, in large buildings, as, for example, in churches, where a loud sound can die away but slowly, this arrangement indisputably shows the prudence of a composer, who wishes to have his work produce the best possible effect. But in instrumental or chamber music, that slow progress is not a proof of prudence, but, far oftener, a sign that the composer was not sufficiently rich in ideas. Bach has distinguished this very well. In his great vocal compositions, be well knew how to represent his fancy, which, otherwise, overflowed with ideas; but, in his instrumental music this reserve was not necessary. As he, besides, never worked for the crowd, but always had in his mind his ideal of perfection, without any view to approbation or the like, he had no reason whatever for giving less than he had, and could give, and in fact he has never done this. Hence in the modulation of his instrumental works, every advance is a new thought, a constantly progressive life and motion, within the circle of the modes chosen, and those nearly related to them. Of the harmony which be adopts he retains the greatest part, but, at every advance he mingles something related to it; and in this manner he proceeds to the end of a piece, so softly, so gently, and gradually, that no leap, or harsh transition is to be felt; and yet no bar (I may almost say, no part of a bar,) is like another. With him, every transition was required to have a connexion with the preceding idea, and appears to be a necessary consequence of it. He knew not, or rather he disdained those sudden sallies, by which many composers attempt to surprise their bearers. Even in his chromatics, the advances are so soft and tender, that we scarcely perceive their distance, though often very great.”
“In other departments he had rivals; but in the fugue, and all the kinds of canon and counterpoint related to it, he stands quite alone, and so alone, that all around him, is, as it were, desert and void. * * * It (his fugue) fulfils all the conditions which we are otherwise accustomed to demand, only of more free species of composition. A highly characteristic theme, an uninterrupted principal melody, wholly derived from it, and equally characteristic from the beginning to the end; not mere accompaniment in the other parts, but in each of them an independent melody, according with the others, also from the beginning to the end; freedom, lightness, and fluency in the progress of the whole, inexhaustible variety of modulation combined with perfect purity; the exclusion of every arbitrary note, not necessarily belonging to the whole; unity and diversity in the style, rhythmus, and measure; and lastly, a life diffused through the whole, so that it sometimes appears to the performer or hearer, as lf every single note were animated; these are the properties of Bach’s fugue,—properties which excite admiration and astonishment in every judge, who knows what a mass of intellectual energy is required for the production of such works. I must say still more. All Bach’s fugues, composed in the years of his maturity, have the above-mentioned properties in common; they are all endowed with equally great excellencies, but each in a different manner. Each has his own precisely defined character; and dependent upon that, its own turns in melody and harmony. When we know and can perform one, we really know only one, and can perform but one; whereas we know and can play whole folios full of fugues by other composers of Bach’s time, as soon as we have comprehended and rendered familiar to our hand, the turns of a single one.”
He disdained any display of his powers. If they were made obvious otherwise than in the beauty and fullness of what was produced, it was in such a way as this.
In musical parties, where quartettes or other fuller pieces of instrumental music were performed, he took pleasure in playing the tenor. With this instrument, he was, as it were, in the middle of the harmony, whence he could both bear and enjoy it, on both sides. When an opportunity offered, in such parties, he sometimes accompanied a trio of other pieces on the harpsichord. If he was in a cheerful mood, and knew that the composer of the piece, if present, would not take it amiss, he used to make extempore out of the figured bass a new trio, or of three single parts a quartette. These, however, are the only cases in which he proved to others how strong he was.
“He was fond of hearing the music of other composers. If he heard in a church a fugue for a full orchestra, and one of his two eldest sons stood near him, he always, as soon as he had heard the introduction to the theme, said beforehand what the composer ought to introduce, and what possibly might be introduced. If the composer had performed his work well, what he had said happened; then he rejoiced, and jogged his son to make him observe it.”
He did not publish a work till he was forty years of age. He never laid aside the critical file through all his life, so that an edition of his works, accompanied by his own corrections, would be the finest study for the musician.
This severe ideal standard, and unwearied application in realizing it, made his whole life a progress, and the epithet old, which too often brings to our minds associations of indolence or decay, was for him the title of honour. It is noble and imposing when Frederic the Second says to his courtiers, “with a kind of agitation, ‘Gentlemen, Old Bach has come.’”
“He laboured for himself, like every true genius; be fulfilled his own wish, satisfied his own taste, chose his subject according to his own opinion, and lastly, derived the most pleasure from his own approbation. The applause of connoisseurs could not then fail him, and, in fact, never did fail him. How else could a real work of art be produced? The artist, who endeavours to make his work, so as to suit some particular class of amateurs, either has no genius, or abuses it. To follow the prevailing taste of the many, new, at the most, some dexterity in a very partial manner of treating tones. Artists of this description may be compared to the mechanic, who must also make his goods so that his customers can make use of them. Bach never submitted to such conditions. He thought the artist may form the public, but that the public does not form the artist.”
But it would please me best, if I could print here the whole of the concluding chapter of this little book. It shows a fullness and depth of feeling, objects are seen from a high platform of culture, which make it invaluable to those of us who are groping in a denser atmosphere after the beautiful. It is a slight scroll, which implies ages of the noblest effort, and so clear a perception of laws, that its expression, if excessive in the particular, is never extravagant on the whole; a true and worthy outpouring of homage, so true that its most technical details suggest the canons by which all the various exhibitions of man’s genius are to be viewed, and silences, with silver clarion tone, the barking of partial and exclusive connoisseurship. The person who should republish such a book in this country would be truly a benefactor. Both this and the Life of Handel I have seen only in the London edition. The latter is probably out of print; but the substance of it, or rather the only pregnant traits from it have been given here. This life of Bach should be read, as its great subject should be viewed, as a whole.
The entertaining memoir of Beethoven by Ries and Wegeler has been, in some measure, made known to us through the English periodicals. I have never seen the book myself. That to which I shall refer is the life of Beethoven by Schindler, to whom Beethoven confided the task of writing it, in case of the failure of another friend, whom he somewhat preferred.
Schindler, if inadequate to take an observation of his subject from any very high point of view, has the merit of simplicity, fidelity, strict accuracy according to his power of discerning, and a devout reverence both for the art, and this greatest exemplar of the art. He is one of those devout Germans who can cling for so many years to a single flower, nor feel that they have rifled all its sweets. There are in Rome, Germans who give their lives to copy the great masters in the art of painting, nor ever feel that they can get deep enough into knowledge of the beauty already produced to pass out into reproduction. They would never weary through the still night of tending the lights for the grand Mass. Schindler is of this stamp; a patient student, most faithful, and, those of more electric natures will perhaps say, a little dull.
He is very indignant at the more sprightly sketches of Ries and Bettina Brentano. Ries, indeed, is probably inaccurate in detail, yet there is a truth in the whole impression received from him. It was in the first fervour of his youth that he knew Beethoven; he was afterwards long separated from him; in his hook we must expect to see rather Ries, under the influence of Beethoven, than the master’s self. Yet there is always deeper truth in this manifestation of life through life, if we can look at it aright, that, in any attempt at an exact copy of the original. Let only the reader read poetically, and Germany by Madame de Staël, Wallenstein by Schiller, Beethoven by Ries, are not the less true for being inaccurate. It is the same as with the Madonna by Guido, or by Murillo.
As for Bettina, it was evident to every discerning reader that the great man never talked so; the whole narration is overflowed with Bettina rose-colour. Schindler grimly says, the good Bettina makes him appear as a Word Hero; and we cannot hut for a moment share his contempt, as we admire the granite laconism of Beethoven’s real style, which is beyond any other, the short hand of Genius. Yet “the good Bettina” gives us the soul of the matter. Her description of his manner of seizing a melody and then gathering together from every side all that belonged to it, and the saying, “other men are touched by something good. Artists are fiery, they do not weep,” are Beethoven’s, whether he really said them or not. “You say that Shakspeare never meant to express this! What then? his genius meant it!”
The impression Schindler gives of Beethoven differs from that given by Ries or Bettina only in this, that the giant is seen through uncoloured glass; the lineaments are the same in all the three memoirs.
The direction left by Beethoven himself to his biographer is as follows. “Tell the truth with severe fidelity of me and all connected with me, without regard to whom it may hit, whether others or myself.”
He was born 17th Dec. 1770. It is pleasing to the fancy to know that his mother’s name was Maria Magdalena. She died when he was seventeen, so that a cabalistic number repeats itself the magical three times in the very first statement of his destiny.
The first thirty years of his life were all sunshine. His genius was early acknowledged, and princely friends enabled him to give it free play, by providing for his simple wants in daily life. Notwithstanding his uncompromising democracy, which, from the earliest period, paid no regard to rank and power, but insisted that those he met should show themselves worthy as men and citizens, before he would have anything to do with them, he was received with joy into the highest circles of Vienna. Van Swieten, the emperor’s physician, one of those Germans, who, after the labors of the day, find rest in giving the whole night to music, and who was so situated that he could collect round him all that was best in the art, was one of his firmest friends. Prince and Princess Lichnowsky constituted themselves his foster-parents, and were not to be deterred from their wise and tender care by the often perverse and impetuous conduct of their adopted .son, who indeed tried them severely, for he was (ein gewaltig natur) “a vehement nature,” that broke through all limits and always had to run his head against a barrier, before he could be convinced of its existence. Of the princess, Beethoven says: “With love like that of a grandmother, she sought to educate and foster me, which she carried so far as often to come near having a glass bell put over me, lest somewhat unworthy should touch or even breathe on me.” Their house is described as “eine freihafen der Humanitat und feinem sitte,” the home of all that is genial, noble and refined.
In these first years, the displays of his uncompromising nature affect us with delight, for they have not yet that hue of tragedy, which they assumed after he was brought more decidedly into opposition with the world. Here wildly great and free, as afterwards sternly and disdainfully so, he is, waiting or waning, still the same orb; here more fairly, there more pathetically noble.
He early took the resolution, by which he held fast through life, “against criticisms or attacks of any kind, so long as they did not touch his honour, but were aimed solely at his artist-life, never to defend himself. He was not indifferent to the opinion of the good, but ignored as much as possible the assaults of the bad, even when they went so far as to appoint him a place in the mad house.” For that vein in human nature, which has flowed unexhausted ever since, the days of “I am not mad, most noble Festus,” making men class as magic or madness all that surpasses the range of their comprehension and culture, manifested itself in full energy among the contemporaries of Beethoven. When he published one of his greatest works, the critics declared him “now (in the very meridian of his genius) ripe for the mad-house.” For why? “WE do not understand it; WE never had such thoughts; we cannot even read and execute them.” Ah men! almost your ingratitude doth at times convince that you are wholly unworthy the visitations of the Divine!
But Beethoven “was an artist-nature;” he had his work to do, and could not stop to weep, either pitying or indignant tears. “If it amuses those people to say or to write such things of me, do not disturb them,” was his maxim, to which he remained true through all the calamities of his “artist-life.”
Gentleness and forbearance were virtues of which he was incapable. His spirit was deeply loving, but stern. Incapable himself of vice or meanness, he could not hope anything from men that were not &o. He could not try experiments; he could not pardon. If at all dissatisfied with a man, he had done with him forever. This uncompromising temper he carried out even in his friendliest relations. The moment a man ceased to be important to him or he to the man, he left off seeing him, and they did not meet again, perhaps for twenty years. But when they did meet, the connexion was full and true as at first. The inconveniences of such proceedings in the conventional world are obvious, but Beethoven knew only the world of souls.
“In man he saw only the man. Rank and wealth were to him mere accidents, to which he attached no importance. To bow before Mammon and his ministers he considered absolute blasphemy; the deepest degradation to the man who had genius for his dower. The rich man must show himself noble and beneficent, if he would be honoured by the least attention from Beethoven.” “He thought that the Spirit, the Divine in man, must always maintain its preeminence over the material and temporary; that, being the immediate gift of the Creator, it obliged its possessor to go before other men as a guiding light.”
How far his high feeling of responsibility, and clear sight of his own position in the universe were from arrogance, he showed always by his aversion to servile homage. He left one of his lodging houses because the people would crowd the adjacent bridge to gaze on him as he went out; another because the aristocratic proprietor, abashed before his genius, would never meet him without making so many humble reverences, as if to a domesticated god. He says, in one of the letters to Julietta, “1 am persecuted by kindness, which I think I wish to deserve as little as I really do deserve it. Humility of man before man,—it pains me; and when I regard myself in connexion with the universe, what am I? and what is he whom they name Greatest? And yet there is the godlike in man.”
“Notwithstanding the many temptation, to which he was exposed, he, like each other demigod, knew how to preserve his virtue without a stain. Thus his inner sense for virtue remained ever pure, nor could he suffer anything about him of dubious aspect on the moral side. In this respect he was conscious of no error, but made his pilgrimage through life in untouched maidenly purity. The serene muse, who had so highly gifted and elected him to her own service, gave in every wise to his faculties the upward direction, and protected him, even in artificial reference, against the slightest contact with vulgarity, which, in life as in art, was to him a torture.”—” Ah, had he not carried the same clearness into the business transactions of his life!”
So sighs the friend, who thinks his genius was much impeded by the transactions, in which his want of skill entangled him with sordid, contemptible persons.
Thus in unbroken purity and proud self-respect, amid princely bounties and free, manly relations, in the rapid and harmonious development of his vast powers, passed the first thirty years of his life. But towards the close of that period, crept upon him the cruel disorder, to him of all men the most cruel, which immured him a prisoner in the heart of his own kingdom, and beggared him for the rest of his life of the delights he never ceased to lavish on others.
After his fate was decided he never complained, but what lay in the secret soul is shown by the following paper.
“During the summer he lived at Heiligenstadt, by the advice of his physician, and in the autumn wrote the following testament:—
“For my brothers Carl and ——— Beethoven.
“O ye men, who esteem or declare me unkind, morose, or misanthropic, what injustice you do me; you know not the secret causes of that which so seems. My heart and my mind were from childhood disposed to the tender feelings of good will. Even to perform great actions was I ever disposed. But think only that for six years this ill has been growing upon me, made worse by unwise physicians; that from year to year I have been deceived in the hope of growing better; finally constrained to the survey of this as a permanent evil, whose cure will require years, or is perhaps impossible. Born with a fiery, lively temperament, even susceptible to the distractions of society, must I early sever myself, lonely pass my life. If I attempted, in spite of my ill, intercourse with others, O how cruelly was I then repulsed by the doubly gloomy experience of my bad bearing; and yet it was not possible for me to say to men, speak louder, scream, for I am deaf! Ah, how would it be possible for me to make known the weakness of a sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in the greatest perfection, in a perfection certainly beyond most of my profession. O I cannot do it Therefore pardon, if you see me draw back when I would willingly mingle with you. My misfortune is a double woe, that through it I must be misunderstood. For me the refreshment of companionship, the finer pleasures of conversation, mutual outpourings can have no place. As an exile man I live! If I approach a company, a hot anguish falls upon me, while I fear to be put in danger of exposing my situation. So has it been this half year that I have passed in the country. The advice of my friendly physician, that I should spare my hearing, suited well my present disposition, although many times I have let myself be misled by the desire for society. But what humiliation, when some one stood near me, and from afar heard the flute, and I heard nothing, or heard the Shepherd sing,† and I heard nothing. Such occurrences brought me near to despair; little was wanting that I should, myself, put an end to my life. Only she, Art, she held me back! Ah! it seemed to me impossible to leave the world before I had brought to light all which lay in my mind. And so I lengthened out this miserable life, so truly miserable, as that a swift change can throw me from the best state into the worst. Patience, it is said, I must now take for my guide, I have so. Constant, I hope, shall my resolution be to endure till the inexorable Fates shall be pleased to break the thread. Perhaps goes it better, perhaps not, I am prepared already in my twenty-eighth year constrained to become a philosopher. It is not easy, for the artist harder than any other man. O God, thou lookest down upon my soul, thou knowst that love to man and inclination to well-doing dwell there. O men, when you at some future time read this, then think that you have done me injustice, and the unhappy, let him be comforted by finding one of his race, whom defiance of all hindrances of nature has done all possible to him to be received in the rank of worthy artists and men. You, my brothers, Carl and ——‡, so soon as I am dead, if Professor Schmidt is yet living, pray him in my name that be will describe my disease, and add this writing to the account of it, that at least as much as possible the world may be reconciled with me after my death. At the same time I declare you two the heirs of my little property, (if I may call it so). Divide it honourably, agree, and help one another. What you have done against me has been, as you know, long since pardoned. Thee, brother Carl, I especially thank for thy lately shown attachment. My wish is that you may have a better life, freer from care than mine. Recommend to your children virtue, that alone can make happy, not gold. I speak from experience. For this it was that raised up myself from misery; this and my art I thank, that I did not end my life by my own hand. Farewell and love one another. All friends I thank, especially Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmidt. I wish the instruments given me by Prince L. to be preserved with care by one of you, yet let no strife arise between you on that account. So soon as they are needed for some more useful purpose, sell them. Joyful am I that even in the grave I may be of use to you. Thus with joy may I greet death; yet comes it earlier than I can unfold my artist powers, it will, notwithstanding my hard destiny, come too early, and I would wish it delayed ; however I would be satisfied that it freed me from a state of endlees suffering. Come when thou wilt, I go courageously to meet thee. Farewell, and forget me not wholly in death; I have deserved that you should not, for in my life I thought often or you, and of making you happy; be so.
“Heiligenstadt, 6th October, 1802.”
“So take I then a sad farewell of thee. Yes! the beloved hope, which I brought hither, to be cured at least to a certain point, must now wholly leave me. As the leaves fall in autumn, are withered, so has also this withered for me. Almost as I came hither, so go I forth, even the high courage, which inspired me oft in the fair summer days, is vanished. O Providence, let once again a clear day of joy shine for me, so long already has the inward echo of true joy been unknown to me. When, when, O God, can I feel it again in the temple of nature and of man?—Never? No! that would be too cruel!”
The deep love shown in these words, love, such as only proud and strong natures know, was not only destined to be wounded in its general relations with mankind through this calamity. The woman he loved, the inspiring muse of some of his divinest compositions, to whom he writes, “Is not our love a true heavenly palace, also as firm as the fortress of heaven,” was unworthy. In a world where millions of souls are pining and perishing for want of an inexhaustible fountain of love and grandeur, this soul, which was indeed such an one, could love in vain. This eldest son, this rightful heir of nature, in some secret hour, writes at this period, “Only love, that alone could give thee a happier life. O my God, let me only find at last that which may strengthen me in virtue, which to me is lawful. A love which is permitted, (erlaubt).”
The prayer was unheard. He was left lonely, unsustained, unsolaced, to wrestle with, to conquer his fate. Pierced here in the very centre of his life, exposed both by his misfortune and a nature which could neither anticipate nor contend with the designs of base men, to the anguish of meeting ingratitude on every side, abandoned to the guardianship of his wicked brothers, Beethoven walked in night, as regards the world, but within, the heavenly light ever overflowed him more and more.
Shall lesser beings repine that they do not receive their dues is this short life with such an example before them, how large the scope of eternal justice must be? Who can repine that thinks of Beethoven? His was indeed the best consolation of life. “To him a God gave to tell what he suffered,” as also the deep joys of knowledge that spring from suffering. As he descends to “the divine deeps of sorrow,” and calls up, with spells known only to those so initiated, forms so far more holy, radiant, and commanding than are known in regions of cheerful light, can we wish him a happier life? He has been baptized with fire, others only with water. He has given all his life and won the holy sepulchre and a fragment, at least, of the true cross. The solemn command, the mighty controul of various forces which makes us seem to hear
And all things (rushing) to the day of doom,”
the searching through all the caverns of life for the deepest thought, and the winged uprise of feeling when it is attained; were not these wonders much aided by the calamity, which took this great genius from the outward world, and forced him to concentrate just as be had attained command of his forces?
Friendly affection, indeed, was not wanting to the great master; but who could be his equal friend? It was impossible; he might have found a love, but could not a friend in the same century with himself. But men were earnest to serve and women to venerate him. Schindler, as well as others, devoted many of the best years of life to him. A beautiful trait of affection is mentioned of the Countess Marie Erdody, a friend dear to Beethoven, who, in the park which surrounds her Hungarian palace, erected a temple which she dedicated to him.
Beethoven had two brothers. The one, Johann, seems to have been rather stupid and selfish than actively bad. The character of his mind is best shown by his saying to the great master, “you will never succeed as well as I have.” We have all, probably, in memory instances where the reproving angel of the family, the one whose thinking mind, grace, and purity, may possibly atone for the worthless lives of all the rest, is spoken of as the unsuccessful member, because he has not laid up treasures there where moth or rust do corrupt, and ever as we hear such remarks, we are tempted to answer by asking, “what is the news from Sodom and Gomorrah?” But the farce of Beethoven’s not succeeding is somewhat broad, even in a world where many such sayings echo through the streets. At another time Johann, having become proprietor or a little estate, sent into Beethoven’s lodging a new year card on which was written Johann van Beethoven Gutsbesitzer, (possessor of an estate,) to which the Master returned one inscribed Ludwig van Beethoven Hirnbesitzer, (possessor of a brain.) This Gutsbesitzer refused his great brother a trifling aid in his last illness, applied for by the friends who had constituted themselves his attendants, and showed towards him systematic selfishness and vulgarity of feeling. Carl, the other brother, under the mask of affectionate attention, plundered him both of his gains and the splendid presents often made him, and kept away by misrepresentations and falsehood all those who would have sincerely served him. This was the easier, in that the usual unfortunate effect of deafness of producing distrust was increased in Beethoven’s case by signal instances of treachery, shown towards him in the first years of incapacity to manage his affairs as he had done before his malady. This sad distrust poisoned the rest of his life; but it was his only unworthiness; let us not dwell upon it. This brother, Carl, was Beethoven’s evil genius, and his malignant influence did not cease with his life. He bequeathed to his brother the care of an only son, and Beethoven assumed the guardianship with that high feeling of the duties it involved, to be expected from one of his severe and pure temper. The first step he was obliged to take was to withdraw the boy from the society and care of his mother, an unworthy woman, under whose influence no good could be hoped from anything done for him. The lawsuit, instituted for this purpose, which lasted several years, was very injurious to Beethoven’s health, and effectually impeded the operations of his poetic power. For he was one who so abhorred vice and meanness that he could not bear to hear them spoken of, much less suffer them near him; yet now was obliged to think of them, nay, carefully to collect evidence in proof of their existence, and that in the person of a near connexion.” This quite poisoned the atmosphere of his ideal world, and destroyed for the time all creative glow. On account of the van prefixed to his name, the cause was, at first, brought before the tribunal of nobility. They called on Beethoven to show them his credentials of noble birth. “Here!” he replied, putting his hand to head and heart. But as these nobles mostly derived their titles from the head and heart of some remote ancestor, they would not recognize this new peerage, and Beethoven, with indignant surprise, found himself referred to the tribunal of the common burghers.
The lawsuit was spun out by the obstinate resistance of his sister in law for several years, and when Beethoven at last obtained possession of the child, the seeds of vice were already sown in his breast. An inferior man would have been more likely to eradicate them than Beethoven, because a kindred consciousness might have made him patient. But the stern Roman spirit of Beethoven could not demand less than virtue, less than excellence, from the object of his care. For the youth’s sake he made innumerable sacrifices, toiled for him as he would not for himself, was lavish of all that could conduce to his true good, but imperiously demanded from him truth, honour, purity and aspiration. No tragedy is deeper than the perusal of his letters to the young man, so brief and so significant, so stern and so tender. The joy and love at every sign of goodness, the profound indignation at failure and falsehood, the power of forgiving but not of, excusing, the sentiment of the true value of life, so rocky calm, that with all its height it never seems exalted, make these letters a biblical chapter in the protest of modern days against the back-slidings of the multitude. The lover of man, the despiser of men, he who writes, “Recommend to your children virtue; that alone can make happy, not gold; I speak from experience”, is fully painted in these letters.
In a lately published novel, “Night and Morning,” Bulwer has well depicted the way in which a strong character overshoots its mark in the care of a weak one. The belief of Philip that his weaker brother will abide by a conviction or a promise, with the same steadfastness that he himself could; the unfavourable action of his disinterested sacrifices on the character of his charge, and the impossibility that the soft, selfish child should sympathize with the conflicts or decisions of the strong and noble mind; the undue rapidity with which Philip draws inferences, false to the subject because too large for it; all this tragedy of common life is represented with Rembrandt power of shadow in the history of Beethoven and his nephew. The ingratitude of the youth is unsurpassed, and the nature it wronged was one of the deepest capacity for suffering from the discovery of such baseness. Many years toiled on the sad drama; its catastrophe was the death of this great master, caused by the child of his love neglecting to call a physician, because he wanted to play at billiards.
His love was unworthy; his adopted child unworthy; his brothers unworthy. Yet though his misfortunes in these respects seem singular, they sprang from no chance. Here, as elsewhere, “mind and destiny are two names for one idea.” His colossal step terrified those around him; they wished him away from the earth, lest he should trample down their mud-hovels; they bound him in confiding sleep, or, Judas-like, betrayed with a base kiss of fealty. His genius excited no respect in narrow minds; his entire want of discretion in the economy of life left him, they thought, their lawful prey. Yet across the dark picture shines a gleam of almost unparalleled lustre, for “she, Art, she held him up.”
I will not give various instances of failure in promises from the rich and noble, piracy from publishers, nor even some details of his domestic plagues, in which he displays a breadth of humour, and stately savage sarcasm, refreshing in their place. But I will not give any of these, nor any of his letters, because the limits forbid to give them all, and they require light from one another. In such an account as the present, a mere sketch is all that can be attempted.
A few passages will speak for themselves. Goethe neglected to lend his aid to the artist for whom he had expressed such admiration, at a time when he might have done so without any inconvenience. Perhaps Beethoven’s letter (quoted No. V. of the Dial, Essay on Goethe) may furnish an explanation of this. Cherubini omitted to answer Beethoven’s affectionate and magnanimous letter, though he complied with the request it contained. But “the good Bettina” was faithful to her professions, and of essential use to Beethoven, by interesting her family in the conduct of his affairs.
He could not, for any purpose, accommodate himself to courts, or recognize their claims to homage. Two or three orders given him for works, which might have secured him the regard of the imperial family, he could not obey. Whenever he attempted to compose them, he found that the degree of restriction put upon him by the Emperor’s taste hampered him too much. The one he did compose for such a purpose, the “Glorreiche Augenblick,” Schindler speaks of as one of the least excellent of his works.
He could not bear to give lessons to the Archduke Rudolph, both because he detested giving regular lessons at all, and because he could not accommodate himself to the ceremonies of a court. Indeed it is evident enough from a letter of the Archduke’s, quoted by Schindler as showing most condescending regard, how unfit it was for the lion-king to dance in gilded chains amid these mummeries.
Individuals in that princely class he admired, and could be just to, for his democracy was very unlike that fierce vulgar radicalism which assumes that the rich and great must be bad. His was only vindication of the rights of man; he could see merit if seated on a throne, as clearly as if at a cobbler’s stall. The Archduke Karl, to whom Korner dedicated his heroic muse, was the object of his admiration also. The Empress of Russia, too, he admired.
“Whoever wished to learn of him was obliged to follow his steps everywhere, for to teach, or say anything, at an appointed time was to him impossible. Also he would stop immediately, if he found his companion not sufficiently versed in the matter to keep step with him.” He could not harangue; he must always be drawn out.
Amid all the miseries of his housekeeping or other disturbances, (and here, did space permit, I should like to quote his humourous notice of his “four bad days,” when he was almost starved,) he had recourse to his art. “He would be fretted a little while; then snatch up the score and write ‘noten im nothen,’ as he was wont to call them, and forget the plague.”
When quite out of health and spirits he restored himself by the composition of a grand mass. This “great, solemn mass,” as he calls it in his letter to Cherubini, was offered to the different courts of Europe for fifty ducats. The Prussian ambassador in a diplomatic letter attempted to get it for an order and ribbon. Beethoven merely wrote in reply; “fifty ducats.” He indeed was as disdainful of gold chains and orders as Bach was indifferent to them.
Although thus haughty, so much so that he would never receive a visit from Rossini, because, though he admitted that the Italian had genius, he thought he had not cultivated it with that devout severity proper to the artist, and was, consequently, corrupting the public taste, he was not only generous in his joy at any exhibition of the true spirit from others, but tenderly grateful for intelligent sympathy with himself as is shown in the following beautiful narratives.
“Countess S. brought him on her return from ——, German words by Herr Scholz, written for his first mass. He opened the paper as we were seated together at the table. When he, came to the ‘Qui tollis,’ tears streamed from his eyes, and he was obliged to stop, so deeply was he moved by the inexpressibly beautiful words. He cried, ‘Ja! so habe ich gefühlt, als ich dieses schrieb,’ ‘yes, this was what I felt when I wrote it.’ It was the first and las time I ever saw him in tears.”
They were such tears as might have been shed on the jubilee of what he loved so much, Schiller’s Ode to Joy.
This embrace for the whole world.”
Happy the man, who gave the bliss to Beethoven of feeling his thought not only recognised, but understood. Years of undiscerning censure, and scarcely less undiscerning homage, are obliterated by the one true vibration from the heart of a fellow-man. Then the genius is at home on earth, when another soul knows not only what he writes, but what he felt when he wrote it. “The music is not the lyre nor the hand which plays upon it, but when the two meet, that arises which is neither, but gives each its place.”
A pleasure almost as deep was given him on this occasion. Rossini had conquered the German world also; the public had almost forgotten Beethoven. A band of friends, in whose hearts the care for his glory and for the high, severe culture of art was still living, wrote him a noble letter, in which they so treated him to give to the public one of his late works, and, by such a musical festival, eclipse at once these superficial entertainments. The spirit of this letter is thoughtful, tender, and shows so clearly the German feeling as to the worship of the beautiful, that it would have been well to translate it, but that it is too long. It should be a remembrancer of pride and happiness to those who signed their names to it. Schindler knew when it was to be sent, and after Beethoven had time to read it, he went to him.
“I found Beethoven with the memorial in his hand. With an air of unwonted serenity, he reached it to me, placing himself at the window to gaze at the cloud, drawing past. His inly deep emotion could not escape my eye. After I had read the paper I laid it aside, and waited in silence for him to begin the conversation. After a long pause, during which his looks constantly followed the cloud, he turned round, and said, in an elevated tone that betrayed his deep emotion, ‘Es ist doch recht schon. Es freut mich.’ ‘It is indeed right fair. It rejoices me.’ I assented by a motion of the head. He then said, ‘Let us go into the free air.’ When we were out be spoke only in monosyllables, but the spark of desire to comply with their requests glimmered visibly in him.”
This musical festival at last took place after many difficulties, caused by Beethoven’s obstinacy in arranging all the circumstances in his own way. He could never be brought to make allowance anywhere for ignorance or incapacity. So it must be or no how! He could never be induced to alter his music on account of the incapacity of the performers, (the best, too, on that occasion, anywhere to be had,) for going through certain parts. So that they were at last obliged to alter parts in their own fashion, which was always a great injury to the final effect of his works. They were at this time unwearied in their efforts to please him, though Sontag playfully told him he was “a very tyrant to the singing organs.”
This festival afforded him a complete triumph. The audience applauded and applauded, till, at one time, when the acclamations rose to their height, Sontag perceiving that Beethoven did not hear, as his face was turned from the house, called his attention. The audience then, as for the first time realizing the extent of his misfortune, melted into tears, then all united in a still more rapturous expression of homage. For once at least the man excited the tenderness, the artist the enthusiasm he deserved.
His country again forgot one who never could nor would call attention to himself; she forgot in the day him for whom she in the age cherishes an immortal reverence, and the London Philharmonic Society had the honour of ministering to the necessities of his last illness. The generous eagerness with which they sent all that his friendly attendants asked, and offered more whenever called for, was most grateful to Beethoven’s heart, which had in those last days been frozen by such ingratitude. It roused his sinking life to one last leap of flame; his latest days were passed in revolving a great work which he wished to compose for the society, and which those about him thought would, if finished, have surpassed all he had done before.
No doubt, if his situation bad been known in Germany, his country would have claimed a similar feeling from him. For she was not to him a step-dame; and, though in his last days taken up with newer wonders, would not, had his name been spoken, have failed to listen and to answer.
Yet a few more interesting passages. He rose before daybreak both in winter and summer, and worked till two or three o’clock, rarely after. He would never correct, to him the hardest task, as, like all great geniuses, he was indefatigable in the use of the file, in the evening. Often in the midst of his work he would run out into the free air for half an hour or more, and return laden with new thoughts. When he felt this impulse he paid no regard to the weather.
Plato and Shakspeare were his favourite authors; especially he was fond of reading Plato’s Republic. He read the Greek and Roman classics much, but in translations, for his education, out of his art, was limited. He also went almost daily to coffee houses, where he read the newspapers, going in and out by the back door. If he found he excited observation, he changed his haunt.
“He tore without ceremony a composition submitted to him by the great Hummel, which he thought bad. Moscheles, dreading a similar fate for one of his which was to pass under his criticism, wrote at the bottom of the last page, ‘Finis. With the help of God.’ Beethoven wrote beneath, ‘Man, help thyself.’”
Obviously a new edition of Hercules and the Wagoner.
“He was the most open of men, and told unhesitatingly all he thought, unless the subject were art and artists. On these subjects he was often inaccessible, and put off the inquirer with wit or satire.” “On two subjects he would never talk, thorough bass and religion. He said they were both things complete within themselves, (in sich abgeschlossene dinge,) about which men should dispute no farther.”
“As to the productions of his genius, let not a man or a nation, if yet in an immature stage, seek to know them. They require a certain degree of ripeness in the inner man to be understood.
“From the depth of the mind arisen, she, (Poesie,) is only to the depth of the mind either useful or intelligible.”
I cannot conclude more forcibly than by quoting Beethoven’s favourite maxim. It expresses what his life was, and what the life must be of those who would become worthy to do him honour.
“The barriers are not yet erected which can say to aspiring talent and industry, thus far and no farther.”
Beethoven is the only one of these five artists whose life can be called unfortunate. They all found early the means to unfold their powers, and a theatre on which to display them. But Beethoven was, through a great part of his public career, deprived of the satisfaction of guiding or enjoying the representation of his thoughts. He was like a painter who could never see his pictures after they are finished. Probably, if he could himself have directed the orchestra, he would have been more pliable in making corrections with an eye to effect. Goethe says that no one can write a successful drama without familiarity with the stage, so as to know what can be expressed, what must be merely indicated. But in Beethoven’s situation, there was not this reaction, so that he clung more perseveringly to the details of his work than great geniuses do, who live in more immediate contact with the outward world. Such an one will, indeed, always answer like Mozart to an ignorant criticism, “There are just as many notes as there should be.” But a habit of intercourse with the minds of men gives an instinctive tact as to meeting them, and Michel Angelo, about to build St. Peter’s, takes into consideration, not only his own idea of a cathedral, but means, time, space and prospects.
But the misfortune, which fettered the outward energies, deepened the thought of Beethoven. He travelled inward, downward, till downward was shown to be the same as upward, for the centre was passed.
Like all princes, he made many ingrates, and his powerful lion nature, was that most capable of suffering from the amazement of witnessing baseness. But the love, the pride, the faith, which survive such pangs are those which make our stair to heaven. Beethoven was not only a poet, but a victorious poet, for having drunk to its dregs the cup of bitterness, the fount of inward nobleness remained undefiled. Unbeloved, he could love; deceived in other men, he yet knew himse1f too well to despise human nature; dying from ingratitude, he could still be grateful.
Schindler thinks his genius would have been far more productive, if he had had a tolerably happy borne, if instead of the cold discomfort that surrounded him, he had been blessed, like Mozart, with a gentle wife, who would have made him a sanctuary in her unwearied love. It is, indeed, inexpressibly affecting to find the “vehement nature,” even in his thirty-first year, writing thus; “At my age one sighs for an equality, a harmony of outward existence,” and to know that he never attained it. But the lofty ideal of the happiness which his life could not attain, shone forth not the less powerfully from his genius. The love of his choice was not “firm as the fortress of heaven,” but his heart remained the gate to that fortress. During all his latter years, he never complained, nor did Schindler ever hear him advert to past sorrows, or the lost objects of affection. Perhaps we are best contented that earth should not have offered him a home; where is the woman who would have corresponded with what we wish from his love? Where is the lot in which he could have reposed with all that grandeur of aspect in which he now appears to us? Where Jupiter, the lustrous, lordeth, there may be a home for thee, Beethoven.
We will not shrink from the dark clouds which became to his overflowing light cinctures of pearl and opal; we will not, even by a wish, seek to amend the destiny through which a divine thought glows so clearly. Were there no Œdipuses there would be no Antigones.
Under no other circumstances could Beethoven have ministered to his fellows in the way he himself indicates.
“The unhappy man, let him be comforted by finding one of his race who in defiance of all hinderances of nature, has done all possible to him to be received in the rank of worthy artiste and men.”
In three respects these artists, all true artists, resemble one another. Clear decision. The intuitive faculty speaks clear in those devoted to the worship of Beauty. They are not subject to mental conflict, they ask not counsel of experience. They take what they want as simply as the bird goes in search of its proper food, so soon as its wings are grown.
Like nature they love to work for its own sake. The philosopher is ever seeking the thought through the symbol, but the artist is happy at the implication of the thought in his work. He does not reason about “religion or thorough bass.” His answer is Haydn’s, “I thought it best so.” From each achievement grows up a still higher ideal, and when his work is finished, it is nothing to the artist who has made of it the step by which he ascended, but while he was engaged in it, it was all to him, and filled his soul with a parental joy.
They do not criticise, but affirm. They have no need to deny aught, much less one another. All excellence to them was genial; imperfection only left room for new creative power to display itself. An everlasting yes breathes from the life, from the work of the artist. Nature echoes it, and leaves to society the work of saying no, if it will. But it will not, except for the moment. It weans itself for the moment, and turns pettishly away from genius, but soon stumbling, groping, and lonely, cries aloud for its nurse. The age cries now, and what an answer is prophesied by such harbinger stars as these at which we have been gazing. We will engrave their names on the breastplate, and wear them as a talisman of hope.
* As Schubert’s music begins to be known amoug ourselves, it may be interesting to record the names of those songs, which so affected Beethoven. They are Ossian’s Gesange, Die Burgschaft, Die junge Nonne, and Die Grenze der Menschheit.
† See Ries.
‡ He seems to have forgotten at the moment the name of his younger brother.
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