This book bears on its outside the title, Life of Beethoven, by Moscheles. It is really only a translation of Schindler’s, and it seems quite unfair to bring Moscheles so much into the foreground merely because his name is celebrated in England. He has only contributed a few notes and a short introduction, giving a most pleasing account of his own devotion to the Master.—Schindler was the trusty friend of Beethoven, and one whom he, himself, selected to write his biography. Inadequate as it is, there is that fidelity in the collection of materials which makes it serviceable to our knowledge of Beethoven and we wish it might be reprinted here,—though there is little knowledge of music here, yet, so far as any exists in company with a free development of mind, the music of Beethoven is the music which delights, which awakens, which inspires an infinite hope.
This influence of the most profound, bold, original, and singular compositions, even upon the unitiated, above those of a simpler construction and more obvious charms, we have observed with great pleasure. For we think its cause lies deep, far beneath fancy, taste, fashion, or any accidental cause.
It is because there is a real, and steady unfolding of certain thoughts which pervades the civilized world. It strikes its roots through to us, beneath the broad Atlantic, and those roots shoot upwards stems to the light wherever the soil allows them free course.
Our era which permits of freer inquiry, of bolder experiment than ever before, and on a firmer, broader basis may also, we firmly trust, be depended on for nobler discovery, and a grander scope of thought.
Although we sympathize with the sadness of those who lament the decay of forms and methods round which so many associations had wound their tendrils, and understand the sufferings which gentle, tender natures undergo from the forlorn homelessness of a period of doubt, speculation, reconstruction in every way, yet we cannot disjoin ourselves, by one moment’s fear, or regret from the advanced corps. That body, leagued by an invisible tie, have received too deep an assurance that the Spirit is not dead nor sleeping, to look back to the past if they had to advance uniformly through scenes of decay and the rubbish of falling edifices.
But how far it is from being so! How many developements in various ways of Truth! How manifold the aspirations of Love. In the church the attempt is now to reconstruct on the basis proposed by its founder, “Love one another”;—in the philosophy of mind, if completeness of system is, as yet, far from being attained, yet mistakes and vain dogmas are set aside and examination conducted with intelligence and an enlarged discernment of what is due, both to God and man. Science advances, in some routes with colossal strides; new glimpses are daily gained into the arcana of natural history, and the mysteries attendant on the modes of growth are laid open to our observation; while in chemistry, electricity, magnetism, we seem to be getting nearer to the law of life which governs them, and in astronomy “fathoming the Heavens” (to use the sublime expression of Herschell;) daily to greater depths, we find ourselves admitted to a perception of universal laws and causes, where harmony, permanence, and perfection leave us no excuse for a moment of dispondency, while under the guidance of a Power who has ordered all so well.
Then, if the other arts suffer a temporary paralysis, and notwithstanding the many proofs of talent and genius, we consider that this is the case with architecture, painting and sculpture, music is not only thoroughly vital, but in a state of rapid development. The last hundred years have witnessed a succession of triumphs in this art, the removal of obstructions, the transcending of limits and the opening new realms of thought to an extent that makes the infinity of promise and hope very present with us. And take notice that the prominent means of excellence now are not in those ways which give form to thoughts already existent, but which open new realms to thought. Those who live most with the life of their age, feel that it is one not only beautiful, positive, full of suggestion, but vast, flowing, of infinite promise. It is dynamics that interest us now, and from electricity and music we borrow the best illustrations of what we know.
Let no one doubt that these grand efforts at synthesis are capable of as strict analysis. Indeed, it is wonderful with what celerity and precision the one process follows up the other.
Of this great life which has risen from the stalk and the leaf into bud, and will, in the course of this age, be in full flower, Beethoven is the last and greatest exponent. His music is felt by every soul whom it affects to be the explanation of the past, and the prophecy of the future. It contains the thoughts of the time. A dynasty of great men preceded him, each of whom made conquests and accumulated treasures which prepared the way for his successor. Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, were corner-stones of the glorious temple. Who shall succeed Beethoven? A host of musicians full of talent, even of genius, live now he is dead, but the greatest among them is confessed by all men to be but of Lilliputian size compared with this demi-god. Indeed, it should be so!—As copious draughts of soul have been given to the earth as she can quaff for a century or more.—Disciples and critics must follow to gather up the gleanings of the golden grain.
It is observable as an earnest of the great Future which opens on this country that such a genius is so easily and so much appreciated here, by those who have not gone through the steps that prepared the way for him in Europe. He is felt, because he expresses, in full tones, the thoughts that lie at the heart of our own existence, though we have not found means even to stammer them as yet. To those who have obtained some clue to all this—and their number is daily on the increase—this biography of Beethoven will be very interesting. They will there find a picture of the great man, as he looked and moved in actual life, though imperfectly painted, as by one who saw the figure from too low a standpoint.
It will require the united labors of a constellation of minds to paint the portrait of Beethoven. That of his face, as seen in life, prefixed to these volumes, is better than any we have seen. It bears tokens of the force, the grandeur, the grotesque of his genius, and, at the same time, shows the melancholy that came to him from the great misfortune of his life, his deafness, and the affectionateness of his deep heart.
Moscheles gives a very pleasing account of his first cognizance of Beethoven.
“I have been placed under the guidance and tuition of Dionysius Weber, the founder and present director of the Prague Musical Conservatory; and he, fearing that, in my eagerness to read new music, I might injure the systematic development of my pianoforte playing, prohibited the library, (a circulating musical library); and, in a plan for my musical education which he laid before my parents, made it an express condition, that for three years I should study no other authors but Mozart, Clementi, and S. Bach. I must confess, however, that, in spite of such prohibitions, I visited the library, gaining access to it through my pocket money. It was about this time that I learned from some schoolfellows that a young composer had appeared at Vienna, who wrote the oddest stuff possible—such as no one could either play or understand; crazy music, in opposition to all rule; and that this composer’s name was BEETHOVEN. On repairing to the library to satisfy my curiosity as to this so-called eccentric genius, I found there Beethoven’s Sonate pathetique. This was in the year 1804. My pocket money would not suffice for the purchase of it, so I secretly copied it. The novelty of its style was so attractive to me, and I became so enthusiastic in my admiration of it, that I forgot myself so far as to mention my new acquisition to my master, who reminded me of his injunction, and warned me not to play or study any eccentric productions until I had based my style upon more solid models.—Without, however, minding his injunctions, I seized upon the pianoforte works of Beethoven as they successively appeared, and in them found a solace and delight such as no other composer afforded me.
In the year 1809, my studies with my master, Weber, closed; and being then also fatherless, I chose Vienna for my residence to work out my future musical career. Above all, I longed to see and become acquainted with that man who had exercised so powerful an influence over my whole being; whom, though I scarcely understood, I blindly worshipped. I learnt that Beethoven was most difficult of access, and would admit no pupil but Ries; and for a long time, my anxiety to see him remained ungratified. In the year 1810, however, the longed-for opportunity presented itself. I happened to be one morning in the music shop of Demenico Artaria, who had just been publishing some of my early attempts at composition, when a man entered with short and hasty steps, and, gliding through the circle of ladies and professors assembled on business, or talking over musical matters, without looking up, as though he wished to pass unnoticed, made his way direct for Artaria’s private office at the bottom of the shop. Presently Artaria called me in, and said, “This is Beethoven!” and to the composer, “This is the youth of whom I have just been speaking to you.” Beethoven gave me a friendly nod, and said he had just been hearing a favorable account of me. To some modest and humble expressions which I stammered forth, he made no reply, and seemed to wish to break off conversation. I stole away with a greater longing for that which I had sought than before this meeting, thinking to myself—“Am I then, indeed, such a nobody that he could not put one musical question to me? Nor express one wish to know who had been my master, or whether I had any acquaintance with his works?” My only satisfactory mode of explaining the matter and comforting myself for this omission, was in Beethoven’s tendency to deafness, for I had seen Artaria speaking close to his ear. But I made up my mind that the more I was excluded from the private intercourse which I so earnestly coveted, the closer I would follow Beethoven in all the productions of his mind.”
If Moscheles had never seen more of Beethoven, how rejoiced he would have been on reading his pathetic expressions recorded in those volumes, as to the misconstructions he knew his fellow men must put on conduct caused by his calamity, at having detected the true cause of coldness, in his own instance, and that no mean suggestions of offended vanity made him false to the genius, because repelled by the man.
Moscheles did see him further, and learned a great deal from the intercourse, though it never became intimate. He closes with these excellent remarks:
“My feelings with respect to Beethoven’s music have undergone no variation, save to become warmer. In the first half-score of years of my acquaintance with his works, he was repulsive to me as well as attractive: In each of them, while I felt my mind facinated by the prominent idea, and my enthusiasm kindled by the flashes of his genius, his unlooked for episodes, shrill dissonances, and bold modulations gave me an unpleasant sensation—But how soon did I become reconciled to them! All that had appeared hard, I soon found indispensable. The gnome-like pleasantries, which at first appeared too distorted—the stormy masses of sound, which I found too chaotic—I have, in after times, learned to love. But, while retracting early critical exceptions, I must still maintain as my creed, that eccentricities like those of Beethoven’s are reconcilable with his works alone, and are dangerous models to other composers, many of whom have been wrecked in their attempts at imitation.”
No doubt the peculiarities of Beethoven are inimitable, though as great would be as welcome in a mind of equal greatness. The natural office of such a genius is to rouse others to a use and knowledge of their own faculties, never to induce imitation of its own individuality.
As an instance of the justness and undoubting clearness of such a mind as to its own methods, take the following anecdote, from Beethoven’s “Pupil Ries.”
“All the ‘initiated’ must be interested in the striking fact which occurred respecting one of Beethoven’s last solo-Sonatas (in B major, with the great fugue Op. 106)—a Sonata which has forty-one pages of print. Beethoven had sent it to me to London for sale, that it might appear there at the same time as in Germany. The engraving was completed, and I in daily expectation of the letter naming the day of publication. This arrived at last, but with this extraordinary request:—‘Prefix the beginning of the Adagio.’ This Adagio has from nine to ten pages in print. I own the thought struck me involuntarily that all might not be right with my dear old master, a rumor to that effect having often been spread. What! add two notes to a composition already worked out and out, and completed six months ago? But my astonishment was yet to be heightened by the effect of these two notes. Never could such be found again,—no, not even if contemplated at the very beginning of the composition. I would advise every true lover of the art to play this Adagio first without, and then with these two notes, which now form the first bar, and I have no doubt he will share in my opinion.”
No instance could more forcibly show how in the case of Beethoven, as in that of other transcendent geniuses, the cry of insanity is raised by vulgar minds on witnessing extraordinary manifestations of power. Such geniuses perceive results so remote, are alive to combinations so subtle, that common men cannot be raised to see why they think or do as they do, and settle the matter easily to their own satisfaction, by crying, “He hath a devil.”—“He is mad.” Genius perceives the efficacy of slight signs of thought and loves best the simplest symbols; coarser minds demand coarse work; long preparations,—long explanations.
But genius heeds them not, but searches and searches the atmosphere with irresistible parity, till they also are pervaded be the delicate influence, which, too subtle for their ears and eyes, enters with the air they breathe, or through the pores of the skin.
The life of a Beethoven is written in his works, and all that can be told of his life beside is but as marginal notes on that broad page. Yet since we have these notes, it is pleasant to have them in harmony with the page. The acts and words of Beethoven are what we should expect, noble, leonine, impetuous, but tender. His faults are the faults of one so great that he found few paths wide enough for his tread and knew not how to moderate it. They are not faults in themselves, but only in relation to the men who surrounded him. Among his peers he would not have had faults. As it is they hardly deserve the name.—His acts were generally great and benignant: only in transports of sudden passion at what he thought base did he ever injure any one. If he found himself mistaken, he could not humble himself enough, but far outwent, in his contrition, what was due to those he had offended. So it is apt to be with magnanimous and tender natures; they will humble themselves in a way that those of coarser or colder make think shows weakness or want of proper pride. But they do so because a little discord and a little wrong is as painful to them as a great deal to others.
In one of his letters to a young friend, Beethoven thus humbly confesses his errors:
“I could not converse with you and yours with that peace mind which I could have desired, for the late wretched altercation was hovering before me, showing me my own despicable conduct. But so it was; and what would I not give, could I obliterate from the page of my life this past action, so degrading to my character and so unlike my usual proceedings.”
It seems this action of his was not of importance in the eyes of others. Of the causes which acted upon him at such times he gives intimations in another letter.
“I had been wrought into this burst of passion by many an unpleasant circumstance of an earlier date. I have the gift of concealing and restraining my irritability on many subjects; but if I happen to be touched at any time when I am more than usually susceptible of anger, I burst forth more violently than any one else. B. has doubtless most excellent qualities, but he thinks himself utterly without faults, and yet is most open to those for which he blames others. He has a littleness of mind which I have held in contempt since my infancy.”
As a correspondent example of the manner in which true greatness apologises for its errors, we must quote a letter lately made public from Sir Isaac Newton to Mr. Locke:
“SIR: Being of the opinion that you endeavored to embroil me with women, and by other means, I was so much affected with it, as when one told me you were sickly and would not live, I answered ‘twere better if you were dead. I desire you to forgive me this uncharitableness, for I am now satisfied that what you have done is just, and I beg your pardon for having had hard thoughts of you for it, and for representing that you struck at the root of morality, in a principle you laid in your book of ideas, and designed to pursue in another book, and that I took you for a Hobbist. I beg your pardon also for saying or thinking that there was a design to sell me an office or to embroil me. I am your most humble and unfortunate servant.
And this letter, observe, was quoted as proof of insanity in Newton. Locke, however, shows by his reply that he did not think the power of full sincerity and elevation above self-love proved a man to be insane.
At a happy period Beethoven thus unveils the generous sympathies of his heart:
“My compositions are well paid, and I may say I have more orders than I can well execute; six or seven publishers and more being ready to take any of my works; I need no longer submit to being bargained with; I ask my terms, and am paid. You see this is an excellent thing; as, for instance, I see a friend in want, and my purse does not at the moment permit me to assist him, I have but to sit down and write, and my friend is no longer in need.”
Some additional particulars are given in the letters collected by Moscheles of the struggles of his mind at the coming on of deafness. This calamity falling upon the greatest genius of his time, in the prime of manhood, a calamity which threatened to destroy, not only all enjoyment of life, but the power of using the vast treasure with which he had been endowed for the use of all men, casts common ills so into the shade that they can scarcely be seen. Who dares complain, since Beethoven could resign himself to such an ill at such a time as this?
“This beautiful country of mine, what was my lot in it? The hope of a happy futurity. This might now be realized if I were freed from my affliction. Oh! freed from that, I should compass the world! I feel it, my youth is but beginning—have I not been hitherto but a sickly creature? My physical powers have for some time been materially increasing, those of my mind likewise; I feel myself nearer and nearer the mark—I feel, but cannot describe it. This alone is the vital principle of your Beethoven. No rest for me, I know of none but in sleep, and I grieve at having to sacrifice to it more time than I have hitherto deemed necessary. Take but one half of my disease from me, and I will return to you a matured and accomplished man, renewing the ties of our friendship, for you shall see as happy as I may be in this sublunary world—not as a sufferer—no, that would be more that I could bear. I will blunt the sword of fate—it shall not utterly destroy me. How beautiful it is to live a thousand lives in one!—No, I am not made for a retired life—I feel it.”
He did blunt the sword of fate; he did live a thousand lives in one; but that sword had power to inflict a deep and poisoned wound; those thousand lives cost him thepangs of a thousand deaths. He, born for perpetual conquest, was condemned through life to “resignation.” Let any man, disposed to complain of his own ills, read the “Will” of Beethoven; and see if he dares speak of himself above a whisper, after.
The matter of interest new to us in this English book is in notes and appendix. Schindler’s biography, whose plain and naive style is fit for the subject, is ironed out and plaited afresh to suit the “genteel” English in this translation. Elsewhere, we have given in brief the strong lineaments, and piquant anecdotes from this biography; here there is not room. Smooth and shorn as it is we wish the translation might be reprinted here.
We may give at parting two directions for the study of Beethoven’s genius and the perusal of his biography in two sayings of his own.
For the biography—“The limits have never yet been discovered which genius and industry could not transcend.”
For the music—“From the depths of the soul brought forth, she (Poesy) can only by the depths of the soul be received or understood.”*
“Review.” New-York Daily Tribune, 7 February 1845, p. 1.