With each new arrival from abroad rumors reach us of the ardent expectation which waits upon the ceremony of displaying to the public, for the first time, the Monument to be dedicated to Beethoven in his birth-place. All the musical talent of musical Europe is crowding thither. To be invited to take part in the festival is a certificate of distinction; artists are ashamed to be left out. And there is living genius to honor this occasion, genius which will find its highest purpose accomplished by sacrifices on this altar. There is as high a joy in worshiping the hero as in emulating him; his virtue is ours while we know how fervently to love, religiously to prize it. And there are those yet in the world worthy to celebrate the glory of Beethoven in music. It was not so with a similar ceremony which took place several months since in honor of Goethe in his birthplace. But one or two of his peers survived, those broken by years, and he had no followers who could step boldly enough to mark where his foot-prints had gone before. It was sorrowful to see how coldly the ceremony in honor of the greatest German writer (for all partisan or obtuse verdicts to the contrary, so he is and so the Ages must unhesitatingly proclaim him,) fell on the heart of Germany. He was not dear to her heart, and her mind had drank, even to oblivion, of his gifts. Beside, he was not in harmony with the great national movement; now Beethoven is. Beethoven is the democratic king, an angel in genius, a priest by gifts and office, a man in his whole nature, fitted alike to command and to obey.
Beethoven would have enjoyed these honors, perhaps will so now. When on earth on the only occasion when adequate honors were paid him, he, in consequence of that calamity, great as ever befell a virtuous mortal, the infirmity which prevented his appreciating how far his thoughts could be realized for the mind of the world, could neither hear the raptures of the audience nor the music that called them forth. When the audience perceived this, there was for once thorough sympathy from lesser men for the woes of a greater, and from rapture they melted into tears. Now he is freed, we trust, from all abstraction in full realization of such serene and blissful energy as is prophesied in his 7th Symphony.
We are reminded on this occasion of the funeral solemnities described by that worthy biographer of genius, VASARI, when all the artists had adorned with trophies from the field of art, such as they had been enabled to win, the bier of MICHEL ANGELO. We delight to mention this name in connection with that of Beethoven. They were both in the highest sense Masters; their natures are congenial and their minds of like majestic scope. They belong to that highest class of geniuses of which the world cannot as yet count a score, men whose vast souls and mighty natures prophesy another sphere for human effort, where it shall no longer endure the limitations or suffer the checks which at present leave almost every life a seeming failure. They were both as pure as they were great, of a stern nobleness and sublime determination.
The Queen of England is to be present at this celebration: that is well: England has a title: the generous and prompt sympathy of Englishmen cheered the last days of Beethoven. He died, loving and blessing them, for indeed, as I meant to have said above, though not to be turned aside one hair’s breadth by any man’s opinion from the purposes and methods which he alone, as is the case with all original genius, could appreciate till fulfilled, yet any intelligent sympathy with what he had done, brought the purest joy to his heart. He wept with pleasure when a stranger adapted words to his music that showed a true, full sense of its meaning, and in his delight at the conduct of the English Philharmonic Society his mind was roused to compose for them what he thought would be the greatest of all his Symphonies. It was with that music still growing in his mind that he took flight from the earth.
But when it is mentioned that the King of Prussia is to be present, we feel indignant that in this connection the old story is revived that he was a natural son of a King of Prussia. This story, one of those fictions by which vulgar minds think to enhance the lustre of genius, gave great pain to Beethoven. To him, as to all great souls, a mother was a patron saint, and those who thought to compensate him for the loss of a pure birthright by giving him a temporal King for a father, especially sinned when the great soul was that of Beethoven, who most of all men despised the dignities conferred by Man, and esteemed alone those from God and Nature. He took the pains, which he never deigned as to calumnies upon himself, to confute this against his mother by every means in his power, even publishing a formal certificate on the subject. Whoever believes in the law of inheritance will not for a moment need evidence that Beethoven sprang from no such stem. There was much talent in the family, even greatness in King Frederic and the Queen, the pupil of Leibnitz, but that very greatness how little beside that of Beethoven! how utterly uncongenial in all its elements with his! When we distill wine from grapes grown on thistles, then may we believe that this full fiery nature, this heart, all solemn enthusiasm and love, came of that narrow, cold, flinty race of which the Great Frederic is the finest type. There is baseness in reviving such a slander at this time.
The following is an interesting description of the Monument:
“The first thing we saw in the ateliér of Burgschmiet was a colossal bust, (it is known that Burgschmiet has cast the statue of the great Master in two parts) which we, even had we met it by accident in any other place, should have instantly recognized as that of Beethoven; so decidedly does it express what is most characteristic in all the portraits we have seen of him.
“This head had an immediate magical effect upon me. It mastered me. I looked at the statue from all sides, sometimes admiring the position, sometimes the arrangement of drapery; looked at it from right and left, from all distances, but always returned to that one spot, where we, the imposing features full in our eye, had before us the front face in its whole effect.
“There is something Titanic—overwhelming, in that earnest countenance. The hair, as if bristling up with the awe of a mighty feeling, displays the commanding forehead in all its breadth and fairness, significant lines mark the cheeks, mouth and chin, and the eye looks straight forward, full of power and thought. We have scarcely ever seen in a statue such marked effect given to the eyes, and the neighboring lineaments of the cheeks and brows. The whole face bears witness of sublime earnestness and transcendent power. There is no sign of misanthropy or chagrin, but there is a certain air of manly defiance that shows how this mighty soul, consented to what was grand and noble, could be chafed to indignation by social miseries, and the meannesses of daily life, how he could, when his own purposes demanded it, show himself stern, nay, inexorable where he had once been friendly.
“Yet the head as a whole makes a beneficent impression; we feel as much attracted as commanded; we understand that this soul was fitted only for what was noblest, but could find it no less in the tenderest than in the strongest impulses of nature, as the storm which shakes the great trees has murmurs and little streams of refreshment for the leaves and flowers. Nor can one who knows the history of the great Master resist sharing the sadness which filled him beneath the assaults of an unworthy world.
“He is represented in the act of stepping forward; his upper garment falls back. The artist seems to have seized him in the moment of composition, when one of his great ideas was upon him; one of those ideas that affright the unaccustomed ear like a formless chaos, but which, on acquaintance, reveal an unparalleled greatness and beauty. Such an idea he, himself dazzled by its first apparition, is striving to hold fast and embody. One hand holds the pencil, the other, which also carelessly holds his mantle, the score. He has paused in the very act of stepping forward, as if he feared that the slightest approach would banish the vision. For it is said that the slightest motion will affright such heavenly visitants, and they leave the enraptured mortal to sink back into a desert reality.
“Four bas-reliefs will adorn the pedestal of the Monument; one contains the usual dedication; the other three represent mythological music, church music, and that of the symphony. Symphony, a slender form, is playing on the lyre, with the face turned upward. Church Music is seated before an organ. As the one expresses aspiration in her whole aspect and attitude, so does the latter the chaste, pure element of holy tones, looking straight before her, a fair symbol of simple life and passion vanquished.
“But the pleasantest impression is made by the third figure, mythological, or, if you will, worldly music. She sits upon a fabulous animal with a human countenance, which looks up to her, listening, enchanted by the tones. Of singular expression is the look in which the two meet, one serene, enchanting, prodigal of joys, the other conquered, trembling with the pervasive sense of a strange power. It is a successful embodiment of Orphean fable. Each of the bas-reliefs is 6 feet in hight, 4 in breadth. The statue of Beethoven is 12 feet in hight and will, with the pedestal, measure 27.
“As to the finish of the whole, it is excellent, and will add to the high reputation of Burgschmiet.—Matter has obeyed his will like a living instrument; the forms are finely discriminated and elegant; as a whole, the work makes a solemn impression, while there is much softness in details. We have mentioned above the great effect produced by the head of the statue; it may easily be seen why it was a first object not to interfere with this. But the drapery is fine, thrown as if in the act of changing position; the elegance of the bas-reliefs remarkable, especially in the bust of Symphony.
“It will be a noble festival, when the statue is unveiled and stands high in the air, beamed upon by the sun, in the Rhineland, that region so rich, so full of life. But when in that hour the men of Bonn hold high their heads proud of their Master, we in Nürnberg will also rejoice that we call Burgschmiet our own.”
By what is said in the above of the great ideas coming upon Beethoven we are reminded of a passage in “Festus,” that great poem, which we are delighted to see republished here at last, and from which we shall give extracts in a few days.
They seize upon the mind,—arrest and search,
And shake it—bow the tall soul as by wind—
Rush over it like rivers over reeds,
Which quaver in the current—turn as cold,
And pale, and voiceless; leaving in the brain
A rocking and a ringing,—glorious,
But momentary,—madness, might it last,
And close the soul with Heaven as with a seal!”
So come the thoughts of Beethoven; such a madness do their burning rays enkindle, the madness of poets and prophets, of the priests of Apollo, into whom the glories of a higher state descend while not strong enough immediately to place and upbear them. And while with many this madness is only the flash of lightning revealing for a moment the celestial hights, with Beethoven the bolt falls
And by the blaze it enkindles we see the triumphs of Faith, Beauty and Love, all consummate—each tear of poor human eyes consecrated to a pearl, and the deepest groan of the breast tuned to the noblest concords of an everlasting Hallelujah.*
“The Beethoven Monument.” New-York Daily Tribune, 3 September 1845, p. 1.