Высказывания и афоризмы

Об искусстве

Beethoven's relation to art might almost be described as personal. Art was his goddess to whom he made petition, to whom he rendered thanks, whom he defended. He praised her as his savior in times of despair; by his own confession it was only the prospect of her comforts that prevented him from laying violent hands on himself. Read his words and you shall find that it was his art that was his companion in his wanderings through field and forest, the sharer of the solitude to which his deafness condemned him. The concepts Nature and Art were intimately bound up in his mind. His lofty and idealistic conception of art led him to proclaim the purity of his goddess with the hot zeal of a priestly fanatic. Every form of pseudo or bastard art stirred him with hatred to the bottom of his soul; hence his furious onslaughts on mere virtuosity and all efforts from influential sources to utilize art for other than purely artistic purposes. And his art rewarded his devotion richly; she made his sorrowful life worth living with gifts of purest joy:

"To Beethoven music was not only a manifestation of the beautiful, an art, it was akin to religion. He felt himself to be a prophet, a seer. All the misanthropy engendered by his unhappy relations with mankind, could not shake his devotion to this ideal which had sprung in to Beethoven from truest artistic apprehension and been nurtured by enforced introspection and philosophic reflection."1

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О сочинительстве

Wiseacres not infrequently accused Beethoven of want of regularity in his compositions. In various ways and at divers times he gave vigorous utterance to his opinions of such pedantry. He was not the most tractable of pupils, especially in Vienna, where, although he was highly praised as a player, he took lessons in counterpoint from Albrechtsberger. He did not endure long with Papa Haydn. He detested the study of fugue in particular; the fugue was to him a symbol of narrow coercion which choked all emotion. Mere formal beauty, moreover, was nothing to him. Over and over again he emphasizes soul, feeling, direct and immediate life, as the first necessity of an art work. It is therefore not strange that under certain circumstances he ignored conventional forms in sonata and symphony. An irrepressible impulse toward freedom is the most prominent peculiarity of the man and artist Beethoven; nearly all of his observations, no matter what their subject, radiate the word "Liberty." In his remarks about composing there is a complete exposition of his method of work.

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Об исполнительском искусстве

While reading Beethoven's views on the subject of how music ought to be performed, it is but natural to inquire about his own manner of playing. On this point Ries, his best pupil, reports:

"In general Beethoven played his own compositions very capriciously, yet he adhered, on the whole, strictly to the beat and only at times, but seldom, accelerated the tempo a trifle. Occasionally he would retard the tempo in a crescendo, which produced a very beautiful and striking effect. While playing he would give a passage, now in the right hand, now in the left, a beautiful expression which was simply inimitable; but it was rarely indeed that he added a note or an ornament."

Of his playing when still a young man one of his hearers said that it was in the slow movements particularly that it charmed everybody. Almost unanimously his contemporaries give him the palm for his improvisations. Ries says:

"His extemporizations were the most extraordinary things that one could hear. No artist that I ever heard came at all near the height which Beethoven attained. The wealth of ideas which forced themselves on him, the caprices to which he surrendered himself, the variety of treatment, the difficulties, were inexhaustible."

His playing was not technically perfect. He let many a note "fall under the table," but without marring the effect of his playing. Concerning this we have a remark of his own in No. 75. Somewhat critical is Czerny's report:

"Extraordinary as his extempore playing was it was less successful in the performance of printed compositions; for, since he never took the time or had the patience to practice anything, his success depended mostly on chance and mood; and since, also, his manner of playing as well as composing was ahead of his time, the weak and imperfect pianofortes of his time could not withstand his gigantic style. It was because of this that Hummel's purling and brilliant manner of play, well adapted to the period, was more intelligible and attractive to the great public. But Beethoven's playing in adagios and legato, in the sustained style, made an almost magical impression on every hearer, and, so far as I know, it has never been surpassed." Czerny's remark about the pianofortes of Beethoven's day explains Beethoven's judgment on his own pianoforte sonatas. He composed for the sonorous pianoforte of the future,—the pianoforte building today. 2

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Об искусстве и людях искусства
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О критике

Что касается меня как художника, никто не может сказать, что я когда-либо придавал значение тому, что обо мне писали.

(Шотту, 1825)


Я разделяю мнение Вольтера, «что несколько мушиных укусов не могут задержать пылкий бег ретивого коня».

(Карлу Августу фон Клейну, 1826)


Что же до этих лейпцигских скотов, пусть себе болтают сколько угодно. Их болтовня никому не поможет стать бессмертным, равно как и не отнимет бессмертие у тех, кому оно уготовано Аполлоном.

(Гофмейстеру, 1801)

О Природе

Beethoven was a true son of the Rhine in his love for nature. As a boy he had taken extended trips, sometimes occupying days, with his father "through the Rhenish localities ever lastingly dear to me." In his days of physical health Nature was his instructress in art; "I may not come without my banner," he used to say when he set out upon his wanderings even in his latest years, and never without his note books. In the scenes of nature he found his marvelous motives and themes; brook, birds and tree sang to him. In a few special cases he has himself recorded the fact.

But when he was excluded more and more from communion with his fellow men because of his increasing deafness, until, finally, he could communicate only by writing with others (hence the conversation-books, which will be cited often in this little volume), he fled for refuge to nature. Out in the woods he again became naively happy; to him the woods were a Holy of Holies, a Home of the Mysteries. Forest and mountain-vale heard his sighs; there he unburdened his heavy-laden heart. When his friends need comfort he recommends a retreat to nature. Nearly every summer he leaves hot and dusty Vienna and seeks a quiet spot in the beautiful neighborhood. To call a retired and reposeful little spot his own is his burning desire.

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О текстах

Not even a Beethoven was spared the tormenting question of texts for composition. It is fortunate for posterity that he did not exhaust his energies in setting inefficient libretti, that he did not believe that good music would suffice to command success in spite of bad texts. The majority of his works belong to the field of purely instrumental music. Beethoven often gave expression to the belief that words were a less capable medium of proclamation for feelings than music. Nevertheless it may be observed that he looked upon an opera, or lyric drama, as the crowning work of his life. He was in communication with the best poets of his time concerning opera texts. A letter of his on the subject was found in the blood-spotted pocketbook of Theodor Komer. The conclusion of his creative labors was to be a setting of Goethe's "Faust;" except "Fidelio," however, he gave us no opera. His songs are not many although he sought carefully for appropriate texts. Unhappily the gift of poetry was not vouchsafed him.

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О собственных сочинениях
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Бетховен — критик

The opinion of artist on artists is a dubious quantity. Recall the startling criticisms of Bocklin on his associates in art made public by the memoirs of his friends after his death. Such judgments are often one-sided, not without prejudice, and mostly the expression of impulse. It is a different matter when the artist speaks about the disciples of another art than his own, even if the opinions which Bocklin and Wagner held of each other are not a favorable example. Where Beethoven speaks of other composers we must read with clear and open eyes; but even here there will be much with which we can be in accord, especially his judgment on Rossini, whom he hated so intensely, and whose airy, sense-bewitching art seduced the Viennese from Beethoven. Interesting and also characteristic of the man is the attitude which he adopted towards the poets of his time. In general he estimated his contemporaries as highly as they deserved.

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Об образовании

Beethoven's observations on this subject were called out by his experiences in securing an education for his nephew Karl, son of his like-named brother, a duty which devolved on him on the death of his brother in the winter of 1815. He loved his nephew almost to idolatry, and hoped that he would honor the name of Beethoven in the future. But there was a frivolous vein in Karl, inherited probably from his mother, who was on easy footing with morality both before and after her husband's death. She sought with all her might to rid her son of the guardianship of his uncle. Karl was sent to various educational institutions and to these Beethoven sent many letters containing advice and instructions. The nephew grew to be more and more a care, not wholly without fault of the master. His passionate nature led to many quarrels between the two, all of which were followed by periods of extravagant fondness. Karl neglected his studies, led a frivolous life, was fond of billiards and the coffee-houses which were then generally popular, and finally, in the summer of 1826, made an attempt at suicide in the Helenental near Baden, which caused his social ostracism. When he was found he cried out: "I went to the bad because my uncle wanted to better me."

Beethoven succeeded in persuading Baron von Stutterheim, commander of an infantry regiment at Iglau, to accept him as an aspirant for military office. In later life he became a respected official and man. So Beethoven himself was vouchsafed only an ill regulated education. His dissolute father treated him now harshly, now gently. His mother, who died early, was a silent sufferer, had thoroughly understood her son, and to her his love was devotion itself. He labored unwearyingly at his own intellectual and moral advancement until his death.

It seems difficult to reconcile his almost extravagant estimate of the greatest possible liberty in the development of man with his demands for strict constraint to which he frequently gives expression; but he had recognized that it is necessary to grow out of restraint into liberty. His model as a sensitive and sympathetic educator was his motherly friend, the wife of Court Councillor von Breuning in Bonn, of whom he once said: "She knew how to keep the insects off the blossoms."

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О себе и своем характере

So open-hearted and straightforward a character as Beethoven could not have pictured himself with less reserve or greater truthfulness than he did during his life. Frankness toward himself, frankness toward others (though sometimes it went to the extreme of rudeness and ill-breeding) was his motto. The joyous nature which was his as a lad, and which was not at all averse to a merry prank now and then, underwent a change when he began to lose his hearing. The dread of deafness and its consequences drove him nearly to despair, so that he sometimes contemplated suicide. Increasing hardness of hearing gradually made him reserved, morose and gloomy. With the progress of the malady his disposition and character underwent a decided change,—a fact which may be said to account for the contradictions in his conduct and utterances. It made him suspicious, distrustful; in his later years he imagined himself cheated and deceived in the most trifling matters by relatives, friends, publishers, servants.

Nevertheless Beethoven's whole soul was filled with a high idealism which penetrated through the miseries of his daily life; it was full, too, of a great love toward humanity in general and his unworthy nephew in particular. Towards his publishers he often appeared covetous and grasping, seeking to rake and scrape together all the money possible; but this was only for the purpose of assuring the future of his nephew. At the same time, in a merry moment, he would load down his table with all that kitchen and cellar could provide, for the reflection of his friends. Thus he oscillated continuously between two extremes; but the power which swung the pendulum was always the aural malady. He grew peevish and capricious towards his best friends, rude, even brutal at times in his treatment of them; only in the next moment to overwhelm them most pathetically with attentions. Till the end of his life he remained a sufferer from his passionate disposition over which he gradually obtained control until, at the end, one could almost speak of a sunny clarification of his nature.

He has heedlessly been accused of having led a dissolute life, of having been an intemperate drinker. There would be no necessity of contradicting such a charge even if there were a scintilla of evidence to support it; a drinker is not necessarily a dishonorable man, least of all a musician who drinks. But, the fact of the matter is that it is not true. If once Beethoven wrote a merry note about merrymaking with friends, let us rejoice that occasions did sometimes occur, though but rarely, when the heart of the sufferer was temporarily gladdened.

He was a strict moralist, as is particularly evidenced by the notes in his journal which have not been made public. In many things which befell him in his daily life he was as ingenuous as a child. His personality, on the whole, presented itself in such a manner as to invite the intellectual and social Philistine to call him a fool.

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О своей болезни
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Копилка житейской мудрости
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О Боге

Beethoven was through and through a religious man, though not in the confessional sense. Reared in the Catholic faith he early attained to an independent opinion on religious things. It must be borne in mind that his youth fell in the period of enlightenment and rationalism. When at a later date he composed the grand Mass in honor of his esteemed pupil Archduke Rudolph,—he hoped to obtain from him a chapelmastership when the Archduke became Archbishop of Olmutz, but in vain,—he gave it forms and dimensions which deviated from the ritual.

In all things liberty was the fundamental principle of Beethoven's life. His favorite book was Sturm's "Observations Concerning God's Works in Nature" (Betrachtungen uber die Werke Gottes in der Natur), which he recommended to the priests for wide distribution among the people. He saw the hand of God in even the most insignificant natural phenomenon. God was to him the Supreme Being whom he had jubilantly hymned in the choral portion of the Ninth Symphony in the words of Schiller: "Brothers, beyond you starry canopy there must dwell a loving Father!" Beethoven's relationship to God was that of a child toward his loving father to whom he confides all his joys as well as sorrows.

It is said that once he narrowly escaped excommunication for having said that Jesus was only a poor human being and a Jew. Haydn, ingenuously pious, is reported to have called Beethoven an atheist.

He consented to the calling in of a priest on his death-bed. Eye-witnesses testify that the customary function was performed most impressively and edifyingly and that Beethoven expressed his thanks to the officiating priest with heartiness. After he had left the room Beethoven said to his friends: "Plaudite, amici, comoedia finita est," the phrase with which antique dramas were concluded. From this fact the statement has been made that Beethoven wished to characterize the sacrament of extreme unction as a comedy. This is contradicted, however, by his conduct during its administration. It is more probable that he wished to designate his life as a drama; in this sense, at any rate, the words were accepted by his friends. Schindler says emphatically: "The last days were in all respects remarkable, and he looked forward to death with truly Socratic wisdom and peace of mind."3

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  • 1. ("Music and Manners," page 237. H. E. K.)
  • 2.

    The following anecdote, told by Czerny, will be read with pleasure. Pleyel, a famous musician, came to Vienna from Paris in 1805, and had his latest quartets performed in the palace of Prince Lobkowitz. Beethoven was present and was asked to play something. "As usual, he submitted to the interminable entreaties and finally was dragged almost by force to the pianoforte by the ladies. Angrily he tears the second violin part of one of the Pleyel quartets from the music-stand where it still lay open, throws it upon the rack of the pianoforte, and begins to improvise. We had never heard him extemporize more brilliantly, with more originality or more grandly than on that evening.

    "But throughout the entire improvisation there ran in the middle voices, like a thread, or cantus firmus, the insignificant notes, wholly insignificant in themselves, which he found on the page of the quartet, which by chance lay open on the music-stand; on them he built up the most daring melodies and harmonies, in the most brilliant concert style. Old Pleyel could only give expression to his amazement by kissing his hands. After such improvisations Beethoven was wont to break out into a loud and satisfied laugh."

    Czerny says further of his playing: "In rapidity of scale passages, trills, leaps, etc., no one equaled him,—not even Hummel. His attitude at the pianoforte was perfectly quiet and dignified, with no approach to grimace, except to bend down a little towards the keys as his deafness increased; his fingers were very powerful, not long, and broadened at the tips by much playing; for he told me often that in his youth he had practiced stupendously, mostly till past midnight. In teaching he laid great stress on a correct position of the fingers (according to the Emanuel Bach method, in which he instructed me); he himself could barely span a tenth. He made frequent use of the pedal, much more frequently than is indicated in his compositions. His reading of the scores of Handel and Gluck and the fugues of Bach was unique, inasmuch as he put a polyphony and spirit into the former which gave the works a new form."

    In his later years the deaf master could no longer hear his own playing which therefore came to have a pitifully painful effect. Concerning his manner of conducting, Seyfried says: "It would no wise do to make our master a model in conducting, and the orchestra had to take great care lest it be led astray by its mentor; for he had an eye only for his composition and strove unceasingly by means of manifold gesticulations to bring out the expression which he desired. Often when he reached a forte he gave a violent down beat even if the note were an unaccented one. He was in the habit of marking a diminuendo by crouching down lower and lower, and at a pianissimo he almost crept under the stand. With a crescendo he, too, grew, rising as if out of a stage trap, and with the entrance of a fortissimo he stood on his toes and seemed to take on gigantic proportions, while he waved his arms about as if trying to soar upwards to the clouds. Everything about him was in activity; not a part of his organization remained idle, and the whole man seemed like a perpetuum mobile. Concerning expression, the little nuances, the equable division of light and shade, as also an effective tempo rubato, he was extremely exact and gladly discussed them with the individual members of the orchestra without showing vexation or anger."

  • 3.

    [I append a description of the death scene as I found it in the notebooks of A. W. Thayer which were placed in my hands for examination after the death of Beethoven's greatest biographer in 1897:

    "June 5, 1860, I was in Graz and saw Huttenbrenner (Anselm) who gave me the following particulars: ...In the winter of 1826-27 his friends wrote him from Vienna, that if he wished to see Beethoven again alive he must hurry thither from Graz. He hastened to Vienna, arriving a few days before Beethoven's death. Early in the afternoon of March 26, Huttenbrenner went into the dying man's room. He mentioned as persons whom he saw there, Stephen v. Breuning and Gerhard, Schindler, Telscher and Carl's mother (this seems to be a mistake, i.e. if Mrs. v. Beethoven is right). Beethoven had then long been senseless. Telscher began drawing the dying face of Beethoven. This grated on Breuning's feelings, and he remonstrated with him, and he put up his papers and left (?).

    "Then Breuning and Schindler left to go out to Wohring to select a grave. (Just after the five—I got this from Breuning himself—when it grew dark with the sudden storm Gerhard, who had been standing at the window, ran home to his teacher.)

    "Afterward Gerhard v. B. went home, and there remained in the room only Huttenbrenner and Mrs. van Beethoven. The storm passed over, covering the Glacis with snow and sleet. As it passed away a flash of lightning lighted up everything. This was followed by an awful clap of thunder. Huttenbrenner had been sitting on the side of the bed sustaining Beethoven's head—holding it up with his right arm His breathing was already very much impeded, and he had been for hours dying. At this startling, awful peal of thunder, the dying man suddenly raised his head from Huttenbrenner's arm, stretched out his own right arm majestically—like a general giving orders to an army. This was but for an instant; the arm sunk back; he fell back. Beethoven was dead.

    "Another talk with Huttenbrenner. It seems that Beethoven was at his last gasp, one eye already closed. At the stroke of lightning and the thunder peal he raised his arm with a doubled-up fist; the expression of his eyes and face was that of one defying death,—a look of defiance and power of resistance.

    "He must have had his arm under the pillow. I must ask him.

    "I did ask him; he had his arm around B.'s neck." H. E. K.]