Beethoven and His Time

Tchaikovsky Research

Beethoven and His Time (Бетховен и его время) (TH 275 ; ČW 673) was an unfinished article written by Tchaikovsky for the Saint Petersburg journal The Citizen (Гражданин) [1], in which it was serialised in February and March 1873 [O.S.].

Published in a newspaper which was then being edited by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a fervent admirer of Beethoven since his youth, Tchaikovsky's article mainly paraphrases those sections of Thayer's comprehensive biography which in his view were most relevant for providing a realistic portrayal of Beethoven and the milieu in which he grew up and acquired his musical training. However, a comparison of Tchaikovsky's text with Thayer's biography has revealed a number of passages, or sometimes just phrases, which are clearly Tchaikovsky's own (they are presented here in underlined type). These 'interpolations' into Thayer's narrative shed valuable light on Tchaikovsky's attitude to Beethoven, whom, as he would note in his diary in 1886, he tended to hold in awe, in contrast to the love which he had always felt for Mozart. These interpolated observations by Tchaikovsky can be divided into three main groups: (a) those which make clear his admiration for Beethoven's "mighty genius", although Tchaikovsky qualifies this initially by suggesting that he was nevertheless second to Mozart; (b) instances in which Tchaikovsky almost seems to identify with Beethoven (the early loss of his mother; his struggle with various 'enemies', both external and those issuing from his own character); and (c) other autobiographical touches, such as the reflection, with regard to Haydn, on how great composers were rarely good teachers! Although the narrative breaks off at around 1800, Tchaikovsky still manages to fit into Thayer's account of the genesis of the Sinfonia Eroica (1804) some enthusiastic remarks of his own about this being "one of Beethoven's greatest works" in which his "radiant genius" as a symphonist revealed itself fully for the first time (see also TH 268)


The narrative is divided into seventeen chapters dealing with the following topics:

  • Chapter I. The Archbishopric of Cologne
  • Chapter II. The Archbishop-Electors of Cologne and their court orchestra, which Beethoven's grandfather joined in 1733
  • Chapter III. The van Beethoven family and its Flemish origins
  • Chapter IV. The character of Johann van Beethoven (the composer's father) and the birth of Ludwig in 1770 (contains one interesting interpolated remark by Tchaikovsky)
  • Chapter V. Beethoven's childhood; early musical instruction from his strict but alcoholic father; lessons with Christian Neefe; Beethoven's work as assistant organist and cembalist in the Elector's orchestra (contains a remark by Tchaikovsky juxtaposing Beethoven and Mozart)
  • Chapter VI. Archbishop-Elector Maximilian Franz (reigned 1784–94); his promotion of music, together with his brother, Emperor Joseph II; an amusing anecdote about Gluck
  • Chapter VII. The new Elector's relations with Neefe and Beethoven; an early example of Beethoven's art of improvisation
  • Chapter VIII. Beethoven's first visit to Vienna in 1787 and his audition with Mozart (the "meeting between the world's two greatest composers", as Tchaikovsky adds!); the death of Beethoven's mother and little sister; his feelings of isolation are aggravated by the drunkenness of his father (contains several revealing remarks by Tchaikovsky)
  • Chapter IX. Acquaintance with the Breuning family, which has a beneficial influence on Beethoven's character; his literary interests; one of his earliest patrons, Count Waldstein
  • Chapter X. Beethoven's work as a violist in the Elector's opera-house at Bonn; his reluctance to give music lessons; more details about his character; through Waldstein's mediation, Beethoven is sent to Vienna in November 1791 to study with Haydn
  • Chapter XI. Beethoven settles down in Vienna; his physical appearance at the age of 22; has unsatisfying lessons with Haydn, soon begins to study music theory with Schenk and Albrechtsberger instead (Tchaikovsky adds several remarks of his own: about great artists rarely being good teachers, Beethoven's "noble humility" in subjecting himself to these dry lessons in counterpoint, and also how Beethoven was drawn not to opera but to symphonic music, where his "tremendous genius" was to unfold); the growing demand for instrumental and chamber music in Vienna; Beethoven goes to live in Prince Lichnowsky's house; anecdotes about the composer's proud character
  • Chapter XII. Beethoven's travels to Prague, Berlin, and other German cities; meetings with the Prussian king, the cellist Duport, and the pianist Himmel, with whom a certain feud ensues; Beethoven becomes famous as an improviser; his remarkable naivety
  • Chapter XIII. Bernadotte arrives in Vienna as the ambassador of the French Republic; he becomes friends with Beethoven and talks to him about Napoleon; the inspiration for the Sinfonia Eroica (Tchaikovsky adds a very important remark of his own about how this was the work in which the composer's genius first manifested itself "in all its strength and maturity")
  • Chapter XIV. Beethoven faces some competition as a virtuoso from Wölfl; in his improvisations, however, he is unsurpassed (Tchaikovsky inserts a whole paragraph reflecting on how Beethoven was destined to create "the greatest monuments to man's creative spirit" and how he would be crowned with the "aureole of immortality")
  • Chapter XV. Meetings with two other great virtuosi: the double bassist Dragonetti and the pianist Cramer
  • Chapter XVI. Beethoven's enemies in Vienna (Tchaikovsky adds a vivid metaphor of his own here!); his exaggerated flattery to ingratiate himself with high-ranking persons (whereby Tchaikovsky goes further than Thayer in exploring the negative sides of Beethoven's character); his uncouthness and lack of self-control; his unprepossessing appearance; his relations with women (with an ironical extra remark by Tchaikovsky)
  • Chapter XVII. Beethoven's growing fame as a composer around 1800 (Tchaikovsky adds that he was keen to surpass his predecessor Mozart); a lengthy discussion of his personality without any idealization, pointing out his failings; the cult of classical heroes which was in fashion at the time, and how Beethoven sought to model his life after these (Tchaikovsky interpolates some contradictory observations about how Beethoven's noble and pure intentions were invariably defeated by his passionate temperament)


Written in February and March 1873 [2].

This unfinished series of articles is a compilation of biographical material on Beethoven's life up to the year 1800, which Tchaikovsky drew up on the basis of the first two volumes of Alexander Wheelock Thayer's [3] pioneering biography of the great German composer: Ludwig van Beethoven's Leben in 2 volumes (Berlin, 1866–72) [4].

English translation

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Chapter I

One of the immediate consequences of the French Revolution which to some extent make up for the bloody horrors of that great coup d'état was the destruction of the ecclesiastical and clerical power of certain bishoprics, which over the centuries had become an essential peculiarity of Germany's political system. Such power as wielded by the Archbishop-Electors of the Holy Roman Empire had no doubt its positive sides too, as well as its own period of flourishing, but towards the end of the last century it had become a stumbling-block for the further development of the country's political welfare, and there was nothing in this antiquated system of government which could make its continuation desirable.

These Archbishop-Electors, who were appointed spiritual leaders of their local dioceses by the Pope, and temporal rulers of these territories by the Emperor, and who consequently did not depend upon their subjects for anything, cared very little about the well-being of the latter and, indeed, concentrated all their efforts just on increasing their ecclesiastical power, and together with that, of course, their various benefices and revenues. They were exclusively concerned with securing the best possible living conditions for themselves and their retinue, and with leading a tranquil, uneventful existence, interrupted by nothing else apart from never-ending festivities and courtly entertainments. Their courts were packed with charlatans, adventurers, actors, musicians, and dancers, all helping to liven up the idle leisure-hours of their little despot, who spared no expenses whatsoever for the sole purpose of his existence—pleasure.

Of all the Prince-bishops of Germany, the most magnificent, powerful, and well-connected were the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. These Prince-Electors together ruled over one of the most beautiful regions in the world, namely a swathe of land along the Rhine from which they were able to derive revenues of up to two million guldens (including church dues)—a very handsome sum indeed for the early years of the last century. If we also add to this sum the revenues from several duchies which were vassals of the Archbishop of Cologne (the duchies of Osnabruck, Lüttich, and Münster), then it becomes quite understandable why, having at their disposal such considerable means, the Prince-Electors could afford to be extravagant.

The long and bloody war of independence waged by Cologne against its Prince-Archbishop ended with Cologne becoming a free city (that is independent of the archbishop) and its former ruler being forced into exile at Bonn, which thereby became the main political centre of the Electorate and remained so until the Archbishop and all his court were finally driven out from there in 1794.

Of the three last princes to hold the Electorate of Cologne, we shall now consider the first of these: Joseph Clemens [5].

Chapter II

Archbishop-Elector Joseph Clemens was not only a passionate music-lover, who maintained both in Bonn and in exile an orchestra which was truly magnificent for that time, but he was also a composer himself. We can get an idea of the compositional methods of this bishop-dilettante from the following letter he wrote to his privy councillor Rauch:

My dear councillor! It might seem a very bold supposition that someone who is completely ignorant of music should dare to compose. And yet this is precisely the case with me, for I have written 11 motets and compositions, which I am hereby sending you. All this I composed myself, and, what is more, in a very strange fashion, since I cannot even read notes and indeed have no knowledge whatsoever of music. Therefore, as soon as ideas come into my mind, I have to sing them to a musician, who writes them down on paper. Still, I believe that I have a good ear and voice because, whenever I have sung my compositions at some social gathering or other, I have always been rewarded with universal approval. As for the method which I have undertaken to follow, I have actually borrowed that from the bees, which take the choicest parts from the most beautiful flowers and combine them into one whole. Likewise, everything that I have composed belongs to exceptionally good composers from whom I have picked the finest passages and joined them together. Thus, I openly confess to you my thievery—something that other composers who are similar to me try to deny, as they want to appropriate what doesn't belong to them. No one, therefore, can take offence if he hears old arias in my compositions, since they may be old, but they are good arias, and my method in no way diminishes their quality.

Bonn, 28 July 1720

Other composers of princely or royal blood who were contemporaries of Joseph Clemens also composed in precisely the same strange fashion and suffered from this very same inclination to borrow, but only very few of them could boast a frankness comparable to that of the Archbishop of Bonn—a frankness which does credit to his upright character.

Joseph Clemens died on 3 January 1724, having previously established the rights to the succession of his nephew Clemens August [6]. The new Archbishop-Elector's reign was marked by a considerable number of new, lavish buildings, as well as by the fabulous luxury and splendour of his court. Clemens August's extravagance by far surpassed his uncle's, and he spent colossal sums every year on expensive adornments, carriages, rare pieces of furniture, magnificent festivities, excursions, masquerades, operas and ballets, and on the salaries of his singers and dancers, as well as of all the assorted scoundrels and charlatans who converged on his court. The upkeep of the opera alone cost him up to 50,000 thaler annually.

Having reached the age of sixty amidst all this incredible luxury and splendour, Clemens August died during a ball in the Archbishop of Trier's castle at Ehrenbreitstein, where he danced himself to death with his host's beautiful sister and other radiant ladies. This happened on 9 February 1761.

After his death the Electorate of Cologne passed from the Bavarian dynasty, to which both Clemens August and his uncle had belonged, into the hands of Maximilian Frederick [7] of the House of Königsegg-Rothenfels. As a result of the extreme state of disarray of the territory's finances, the new Archbishop-Elector was forced to resort to radical reforms and make huge cuts in spending, so that his court distinguished itself far less for opulence and pomp than those of his two predecessors. He was nevertheless just as ardent a lover of music as both Clemens August and the latter's uncle. This is strikingly evinced by the way in which the economic reforms introduced during his reign did not at all affect the electoral court orchestra, which continued to draw on the same number of musicians and to offer these just as good conditions as had been the case under the two earlier Electors. In 1733, this orchestra was joined by a new court musician: Ludwig van Beethoven [8], the grandfather of the great composer whose biography forms the subject of these pages [9].

Chapter III

In the early seventeenth century, there lived in a small Belgian village not far from the city of Leuven (Louvain) a family by the name of Beethoven. One member of this family moved to Antwerp in 1615, and his son Wilhelm married, on 11 September 1680, Katharina Grandjean, who would bear him eight children. Heinrich Adelard van Beethoven, one of Wilhelm's children, who also spent his life in Antwerp, was married to Maria de Herdt and had twelve children with her, including a son Ludwig, who would later figure in the ranks of the Elector Clemens August's court orchestra.

While still a very young man, Ludwig, as a result of a family quarrel, ran away from home and was fated never to set foot in his father's house again. He was a well-mannered young man, with a level of education that was considerably high for those times, and, in particular, he was most knowledgeable in music. At the age of eighteen he was already in Leuven, where for three months he discharged the duties of the tenor Louis Colf, who had been taken ill. It is not clear whether it was on his own initiative that he subsequently went to Bonn, or whether he was offered an engagement there, but the fact is that we next find him in that city receiving a salary of 400 guldens. If Ludwig Beethoven had been reckoning on his gifts being appreciated better in Bonn than in Leuven, then he was certainly not out in his reckoning. The salary cited above was a very large sum of money in those times, and it shows that the young musician's merits must have been considerable. On coming of age Beethoven married the nineteen-year-old Maria Josepha Poll, and as the fruit of their marriage they had two sons and one daughter, of which only the youngest, Johann [10], survived infancy.

Ludwig's circumstances kept improving little by little, and in 1761 he was appointed to the post of music director. This meant that, whilst other members of the court orchestra received the most limited pay, he was actually able to save up a part of his income. In the historical documents on Ludwig that have come to light there is nothing to suggest that he also tried his hand at composing. However, in addition to his obligations as music director, he did help to organize popular opera performances and acted as an examiner of those who applied to join the orchestra. Moreover, he also offered his services as a bass, which secured for him the most important roles at the theatre and in church. In vocal terms Ludwig had been so richly endowed by Nature, that even at the age of 58 he managed to astonish listeners with the beauty of his voice and artistry.

Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1773. His domestic circumstances do not seem to have been particularly favourable, since his wife, probably out of grief at the death of her children, started to drink heavily and had to be confined in a monastery near Cologne. Their son Johann, after marrying, also moved out of his father's house—a sign that they did not get on well together [11].

Chapter IV

At the age of 12 Johann van Beethoven joined the court's choir as a treble. From the age of 14 he sang alto, and when his voice finally broke he was again engaged for the choir as a tenor. It was only upon reaching the age of 16 that Johann was officially entered into the register of court musicians, thereby becoming entitled to a salary of 100 guldens—a salary which was later to increase gradually.

Johann was notable for a very reckless and fickle character, and it is obvious that he was at odds with his father, since he would sometimes disappear from the house for three days in a row. We have already mentioned above how he married against his father's will, and how this led to a certain discord between them which lasted for quite a long time. Johann chose as his wife a nineteen-year-old widow called Maria Magdalena [12], the daughter of the chief cook at the court, Kewerich. She had only lived two years with her first husband, Laym, before he died. After her marriage to Johann she gave birth, in 1769, to a son, Ludwig Maria, who lived a mere six days. On 16 December 1770, she gave birth to a second son, also called Ludwig, who would subsequently illuminate the whole world with the rays of his mighty genius. Ludwig was christened on 17 December, his godparents being the child's grandfather and the wife of a neighbour called Johann Baum. It was in fact at the latter's house that the christening ceremony took place, as there was not sufficient room in Beethoven's own lodgings.

As for the year of his birth, Beethoven's biographers do not all agree on that score. Many of them, citing the composer's own declaration, maintain that he was born in 1772. However, quite apart from the fact that Ludwig's birth certificate states precisely the year 1770, we also have some evidence which directly refutes the assumption that he was born two years later. The point is that Beethoven was very fond of his old grandfather, and as a child he would often ask his mother all sorts of questions about him. When he later moved to Vienna, there was only one thing which he took with him from his parental home, and that was his grandfather's portrait, which would continue to gladden him right up to his death. It is doubtful whether Beethoven would have been able to retain even just a vague memory of his grandfather, who died in 1773, if he really had been born only a year before his death. It is very likely that Johann Beethoven, who always sought to turn his son's talent into a source of income for himself, deliberately concealed his real age, so as to display the boy's aptitudes as a virtuoso player and a composer in an even more striking light. Johann's clever trick would even mislead the composer himself, for he really did claim afterwards that he had been born in 1772. After his father's death, Johann Beethoven found himself in rather straitened circumstances, since his very limited salary was insufficient to satisfy all his wasteful habits, especially the taste for liquor that he had inherited from his mother [13].

Chapter V

Beethoven's father soon noticed the boy's remarkable musical abilities, and, foreseeing the opportunity eventually to derive from them a significant proportion of his income, started giving Ludwig violin and piano lessons from a very early age, whereby he completely neglected his son's general education. Johann treated him with a severity which was often indistinguishable from cruelty and rudeness. The boy was strictly punished for the slightest sign of insufficient diligence, and several eyewitness accounts have come down to us which record how little Ludwig was often to be seen standing on the bench in front of the piano, crying bitterly.

The story about the spider which supposedly descended onto Beethoven's violin while he was practicing on this instrument is quite uncorroborated. Beethoven himself in later years said that he did not remember anything of the sort, and he would frequently add that his proficiency on the violin at the time was such as to scare not only people out of the house, but also flies and spiders.

We have already mentioned above how Beethoven's father, who drilled the boy so strictly with his musical exercises, did not pay any thought whatsoever to his general schooling, and the result of this were the lamentable gaps in Beethoven's knowledge, which would later manifest themselves so sharply, and which he would always be painfully conscious of. It was only at the age of 13 that Beethoven started going to a town-school, where he somehow learnt to read and write and picked up the four rules of arithmetic, as well as a bit of Latin on the way. However, even these light scholarly exercises were relegated to the background by his father, who was impatient for his son to become a means towards his own enrichment.

Little Ludwig was shy, sullen, and taciturn. He liked to indulge in day-dreaming and vague contemplation. Nobody ever saw him caper about, get up to any pranks, play with boys of his age, climb up hills with them or swim in the river. Music was Ludwig's sole pursuit from early morning till midnight. It is not surprising that Beethoven never subsequently developed the ability to articulate his emotions in plain language and with ease. On the other hand, he became accustomed from a very early age to express through music everything that had accumulated in his heart. In this way, spurred on by his own genius, by his father's strictness and his mother's gentle caresses, the child began to develop his musical gifts with astonishing speed, so that when he was 9 it was already clear that he needed a more knowledgeable teacher than his father. Such a teacher appeared to have been found in the person of a certain Friedrich Pfeiffer, a good musician and a remarkable piano virtuoso, but an appalling pedagogue, so it seems. Frequently, returning with Beethoven's father from some inn, he would walk into his friend's house, wake up the frightened boy, sit him by the piano, and keep him there until daybreak. Fortunately, this original method of instruction only lasted for one year. The old organist van den Eeden, who had served more than fifty years at the Elector's court and had in fact come to the latter even before Beethoven's grandfather, undertook to teach him to play the organ. As for his virtuosity on the piano, it is very likely that he attained a considerable technical perfection, since there is concrete evidence that in 1781–1782 his father took him to Holland, where little Beethoven, perhaps also due to the fact that Johann had deliberately struck a few years off his age, awakened everyone's astonishment. After van den Eeden, little Beethoven came under the supervision of Christian Gottlob Neefe [14], whom the Elector himself had engaged to be Ludwig's teacher—a favour which the Elector had granted to satisfy the pressing requests of the boy's father, who now needed more than ever to convert his son's talent into a source of revenue, since the number of mouths to feed in his family was rapidly increasing. Johann considered that if his son were eventually to be appointed organist, that would be the solution to all his problems which he so coveted. Now the post of court organist was held at the time by Neefe, but his complicated obligations made it necessary for him to have an assistant, and the young Beethoven had every reason to expect to be offered this assistantship, especially since Neefe was not only an excellent teacher to him, but also an affectionate and gentle friend, who right up to his death remained on friendly terms with the composer. Neefe's need for an able assistant was growing all the time, and very often he had to call on the help of his pupil, in whose abilities and competence he knew he could place full confidence. He gave Beethoven his lessons for free, in return for which the boy had to stand in for Neefe in those cases when he could not play in church due to his obligations as music director of Madame Großmann's theatre troupe. Neefe also guided Beethoven in his first attempts as a composer, whereby he would criticize very sharply any traces he happened to find pointing to the influence of the new school of music. Neefe had no sympathy whatsoever for the latter, seeing in it nothing but the beginning of the decline of music as an art. After the death of old van den Eeden, who in his last years had in effect just lived off the sinecure attached to the post of court organist, Beethoven, still only 11, was officially appointed Neefe's assistant.

From this period, too, dates the first report in the press about Beethoven's gifts, which does great credit to its author, as he was able to discern in the boy the makings of a talent that would subsequently occupy first place amongst the composers after Mozart.

We shall now cite this report, which appeared in Cramer's Magazin, a widely circulated journal at the time:

Ludwig Beethoven, the son of the tenor Johann Beethoven, is a boy of 11 years and shows many promising aptitudes. He plays the piano with great skill and dexterity; he can sight-read very well; and under the supervision of his teacher Herr Neefe he has studied Sebastian Bach's collection of fugues and preludes—it is these works which he plays mainly. Currently Herr Neefe is teaching his pupil basso continuo, and, in order to encourage him, he has arranged for 9 variations written by the boy to be engraved in Mannheim. The genius of this boy is worthy of encouragement, and he should be provided with the means to travel, because if he carries on as he has begun, it is certain that he could become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Apart from these variations, in 1782 Beethoven also composed a fugue in two voices and the greater part of what would later be published as the Bagatellen (Op. 33). On the titlepage of the variations the child's age was also mentioned specifically, with two years lopped off it as a result of that very same mercenary trick of his father which was explained above.

The post of assistant to Neefe at the court chapel did not present any particular difficulties for Beethoven, but it did take up a lot of his spare time. And very soon he was given further work to do on top of his official duties, since the over-burdened Neefe eventually found himself unable to direct the rehearsals at the theatre and had to entrust this task to the twelve-year-old Beethoven, who thereby became a cembalist (maestro al cembalo) with the orchestra. It was there that he acquired that remarkable ability to sight-read the most complicated scores which would subsequently cause so much amazement. The position of cembalist was a great honour for the boy, as well as being a very serious job. At the same time it also contributed not a little to the further development of his talent, even if in a negative sense. Beethoven very soon became surfeited with the sickly sweet beauties of the Italian and French operas which were then in vogue. He sensed that music should be able to offer something more elevated and noble than the banalities which he had to study as part of his duties, and he found this something within himself. The result of the fresh zeal for composing which arose in him in this way was a series of works, of which the following were published: a song entitled "Schilderung eines Mädchens", a Rondo for piano, and three sonatas, which were dedicated to the Elector Maximilian Friedrich.

As a curious little sample of the bombastic style of those times, we shall cite Beethoven's high-flown dedication of these three sonatas to the Elector:

Your Highness! Starting from my fourth year, music has been the principal occupation of my childhood. Having become acquainted so early with the resplendent Muse, who would attune my soul to the purest harmonies, I grew fond of her, and, as I have often dreamed, she in her turn grew fond of me. Now I have reached my eleventh year, and since then my Muse has often whispered to me in the hours of inspiration: "Try it and write down the harmonies of your soul!" Eleven years, I thought, but will it become me to set myself up as an author? And what will the artists who are men say to this? I was overcome by fear. However, my Muse wanted it to be so—I obeyed and started to write.

And dare I now, Your Highness, to place my childish works at the pedestal of Your throne? And may I presume to hope that You will cast Your gentle, encouraging glance at them? Oh yes! For in You the arts and sciences have acquired a wise protector and a generous champion, and under you paternal wing young talents shall flourish and grow. Full of this encouraging certainty, I dare to approach You with my youthful endeavours. Pray accept them as a pure offering of childish reverence, and look down graciously, Your Highness, at them and at their young author—

While Beethoven's musical career was taking a turn for the better, his domestic circumstances kept deteriorating, and the summer of 1783 brought new worries. Ludwig's brother Franz-Georg, who was just two and a half years old, died on 16 August, and this was a heavy blow for old Johann, who by then had already lost his voice and found himself in most pressing financial circumstances. The young Beethoven's employment could not be of tangible benefit to the family, since, in spite of Neefe's protection (it was thanks to the latter's manoeuvring that his tenure of the post of assistant organist had been officially confirmed), no salary had been allotted to him yet, and in fact it never would be in that capacity. For on 15 April 1784, the Elector Maximilian Friedrich died, and his theatre troupe was disbanded. Consequently, Neefe, no longer encumbered by work at the theatre, was able to return full-time to his obligations as organist, which meant that the post of assistant organist now became superfluous. Fortunately, Beethoven had been put on the list of court musicians, and, although again no salary was attached to this, he could at least look calmly ahead, knowing that he would be well provided for in the future. In the course of 1784 Beethoven composed the following works, which were published by Artaria: (1) Rondo for piano; (2) a song (arioso) entitled "To an Infant"; and (3) a concerto for harpsichord or pianoforte.

At this point we may cite a description of the appearance of Beethoven father and son, which has come down to us from several eyewitnesses who knew them at this time of their life in Bonn. Johann Beethoven was a tall, handsome man, with thickly powdered hair. As for little Ludwig, he is described in these accounts as a sturdy, somewhat awkward-looking boy, who was often to be seen on the streets of Bonn, accompanying his father on the way to the court chapel or to church, whereby the father's face always had an expression of satisfied vanity—no doubt at the sight of his boy hurrying to discharge such important obligations [15].

Chapter VI

On the death of the Elector Maximilian Frederick, he was succeeded by Maximilian Francis [16], who had long ago been destined for an Electoral seat by his mother Maria Theresa of Austria and her minister, Prince Kaunitz [17].

The new Elector caused quite a drastic upheaval in the daily administration of his territory, in the customs of society, in the prevailing tastes, and, amongst other things, he also had a great influence on musical affairs in Bonn. The House of Habsburg had always stood out for its musicality. Maximilian's brother, Emperor Joseph II played the piano very well, as well as several other instruments. He kept an eye on the repertoire of his opera-house and would himself choose the operas which were to be staged. Moreover, he often attended rehearsals and was even able to conduct an opera if the need ever arose. As for the Elector Maximilian, he would often play his favourite instrument (the viola) as a member of his own court orchestra.

Soon after his accession to the throne, after a whole string of concerts, banquets, and masquerade balls, the Elector hastened to be consecrated Archbishop, even though he could have postponed this ceremony for ten years, as his predecessors regularly did.

Immediately after coming to power, the new Elector set about establishing a whole series of educational and charitable institutions, whose purpose was to contribute to the enlightenment of the common people. All these institutions testify to the prudence, perspicacity, and wisdom of the new Elector, who, despite not being a brilliant genius, was nevertheless endowed with a clear mind, which was able to sense the needs of the age and to select, for the execution of his measures, conscientious ministers who were wholeheartedly devoted to the cause of enlightening the people. He was so thrifty and moderate, that the strict financial regime which he introduced into the administration of his court was regarded by many as stinginess. Maximilian considerably reduced the number of staff attending on him; he dressed plainly and did not like superfluous finery. Only where it was really required of him by his position would he appear amidst extremely luxurious and magnificent surroundings. In his relations with people Maximilian was extraordinarily unpretentious and could not stand flattery. He never got angry if somebody pointed out his shortcomings, and, like his imperial brother Joseph, actually wanted people to talk about him frankly. The both figure in the following anecdote.

The two brothers were once involved in a performance of Gluck's opera Iphigénie en Tauride in their palace in Vienna. It so happened that the composer himself was present during this performance. While the Emperor and his brother were singing their respective parts in the opera, accompanied by a piano and two violins, Gluck sat there listening in silence, every now and then shaking his head or impatiently tugging at his wig. When he noticed these small signs of dissatisfaction, the Emperor went up to Gluck.

— "What's the matter? You aren't satisfied with us?" he asked the composer.

— "I would rather have to gallop two miles like a mail horse," replied Gluck, whose aversion to walking was known to everyone, "than listen to such a performance of my opera!"

Joseph and Maximilian laughed, and the former said to him: "Don't worry! We won't torment your gentle ear any longer. Why don't you sit down by the piano and play us something!

Maximilian not only did not persecute any manifestations of free-thinking spirit in the press, but actually encouraged these and intervened to defend some professors from his university at Bonn when they were accused by Pope Pius VI of propagating false and seditious doctrines during their lectures. Indeed, he was able to appreciate the true merits of a person, and, in spite of his austere economizing, he did not spare any expense to make sure that Bonn was able to attract some of the most remarkable people of the century [18].

Chapter VII

For the sake of economizing, Maximilian at first wanted to dismiss Neefe from the court chapel and appoint the young Beethoven in his stead, as the latter would be content with any remuneration he might receive, whereas Neefe's salary amounted to 400 guldens. By way of a tentative measure Neefe's salary was reduced to 250 guldens, and the remaining 150 guldens were allotted to Ludwig. However, after getting to know Neefe better and recognizing his sterling qualities, the Elector decided to restore his original salary.

All the obligations relating to the chapel fell on Beethoven's shoulders, and although they took up a lot of time in which he might otherwise have been able to compose, it must be said that this work also helped him to foster his musical instincts and to develop an astonishing gift for improvisation.

It was around that time that the following episode from Beethoven's career as an employee of the court chapel took place. Once, during Holy Week, Beethoven was supposed to accompany on the organ a famous singer of that time: Heller. Whilst the latter set about singing a monotonous and colourless Ambrosian melody to a long text in Latin, Beethoven was carried away by his own imagination and started to adorn this dull singing with an extremely complicated and intricate harmonization. When he noticed that the singer, who knew his part very well, did not allow himself to be disconcerted in any way by this inconsistent and quite improvised accompaniment, but rather continued to drag out his melody in a clear and even manner, Beethoven decided to battle against Heller's impeccable intonation with all the intricacies he could muster on the organ. While he sustained the notes of the melody in the treble clef, Beethoven gave free rein to his fantasy and started to choose deliberately complicated and dissonant harmonies, in order to make things difficult for Heller. Eventually he so succeeded in confusing the singer, that the latter was quite at a loss and unable to find the concluding note. The infuriated artist, burning with a thirst to take revenge on the impertinent boy, immediately lodged a complaint with the Elector. Although this prank was very much to Maximilian's liking, he felt himself compelled to order the young organist to refrain completely from any such whims of his musical fantasy in future.

In the meanwhile, the conscientious Neefe, who had probably realised that he was inadequately prepared to supervise Beethoven's further development, endeavoured to secure funding so that the latter could travel and seek out other teachers, and in the spring of 1787 these efforts on his pupils behalf were finally crowned with success. Beethoven set off for Vienna [19].

Chapter VIII

Beethoven's departure from Bonn in order to visit the great music centre that Vienna was at the time—and still is—had by then become an urgent necessity. His exercises in composition theory were making slow progress, and, besides, in Bonn it would have been impossible to find either the means or people capable of helping such a gifted boy as Beethoven in this matter. In terms of the milieu and circumstances in which Beethoven spent his childhood and adolescence, he was by far not as fortunate as his great predecessor Mozart, who in his own father had a loving, experienced, and fully competent supervisor.

In all likelihood, the means to pay for young Ludwig's journey to Vienna were obtained by none other than Johann Beethoven, by the sweat of his brow and at the cost of protracted efforts. For he had still not lost the hope that he would subsequently be repaid a hundredfold for all the sacrifices he had to make to provide for Ludwig's further training. At any rate we do know for certain that neither the Elector nor Neefe helped him in this case, and Beethoven had no other patrons in Bonn.

This first visit to Vienna by Beethoven was not marked by anything special, except for his acquaintance with Mozart, which definitely had an effect on our hero's future fate. Everyone is familiar with the details of this meeting between the world's two greatest composers, but, still, they are so interesting that it is worth going over them again briefly.

The creator of Don Giovanni asked this shy and dumpy boy who had called on him to play him one of his sonatas, and when he had finished, Mozart praised him in a cold and dry tone, thinking that he was dealing with an individual of but mediocre gifts, who had simply learnt by rote a not particularly difficult piece. Noticing Mozart's coldness, the boy, who was always apt to take offence, asked the composer to give him a theme for improvisation. Stung to the quick by Mozart's cold and mistrustful treatment of him, infuriated and yet at the same time flattered by this opportunity to play in the presence of the renowned maestro, Beethoven set about improvising a fantasia on the theme he had been given, and his playing so amazed and fascinated Mozart that he quietly stepped aside into the adjacent room and beckoned to all the guests who were assembled there:

"Take good note of this boy," he told them as they came in and pointed to Beethoven; "One day he will astonish the whole world!"

Mozart took such an interest in Beethoven that he agreed to give him some lessons in composition, but, in spite of the latter's entreaties, he refused to play him anything.

This may have been because Mozart at the time was absorbed in the creation of his colossal work Don Giovanni, or because he considered it unnecessary to display his artistry in front of a boy at whose age he had probably played much better himself—but the fact is that Beethoven would later look back on this with some bitterness.

Anyway, Ludwig's stay in Vienna was very brief: his funds were soon exhausted, and on the way back, in order to be able to reach Bonn, he had to take out a loan in Augsburg.

Shortly after Beethoven's return his mother, whom he loved so affectionately, died in June 1787.

The loss of his mother had a strong effect on Beethoven's character, which was already disposed to melancholy as such. To add to his sorrows, the situation at home was becoming worse with every day that passed. Ashamed and deeply wounded by his father's passion for liquor, which was no secret to anyone, cast down by poverty and the absence of tenderness and gentle affection, without friends or any guiding hand, unable to find in his surroundings anyone who might satisfy his passionate heart's yearning for fervent love, Beethoven reached his seventeenth birthday. A final blow inflicted on his heart, which was by then worn out with suffering, was the death of his little sister, in whom he had already started to invest all the supply of love which had accumulated in his soul. In the past, in the carefree days of childhood, Beethoven had been able to find in music consolation for his sufferings, but now music began to lose its soothing properties for him, and he started to view it as a trade with which he could earn his bread and butter for himself and his family. Beethoven's father, as a result of his inveterate drunkenness, which caused him to be negligent in the fulfilment of his professional obligations, had been dismissed from his post and ordered to leave the city immediately; moreover, two thirds of the salary which had been earmarked for his son were also struck off. Although the prescribed measures were not actually applied and Johann Beethoven did not have to leave Bonn, the upshot of all this was that Ludwig, who had to look after his father and often bail him out from the hands of police agents, now became the head of the family, whose sole support he had already been for quite a while anyway. Of his two younger brothers, Karl was soon engaged as a musician at the court orchestra, and Johann was apprenticed to the apothecary Peter Hittorf [20].

Chapter IX

Fortunately for Beethoven, he was introduced, thanks to his teacher Neefe's recommendation, to the von Breuning [21] family, and he soon found in the members of this family a source of consolation for his heart and nourishment for his mind, which was so keen to extend its horizons and thirsting for knowledge. He was already acquainted with one of the widow Breuning's children—namely with Lenz (Lorenz), as they had both once had violin lessons with the same teacher, Franz Ries, but this acquaintance had not developed into a friendship due to the difference in age and temperament between little Breuning and Ludwig, who always came across as older than he actually was, and who, besides, was used to dealing with adults and to regard himself as their equal. Now, though, the reason for his acquaintance with the Breuning family was that Neefe had recommended him as a music teacher for Madame Breuning's youngest son Lorenz and her daughter Leonore. Being able to move in such fine, well-educated company would have a strong effect on Beethoven's whole spiritual development. The loss of his mother and sister had left a terrible void in his heart, which was now filled by the widow Breuning and her family who surrounded the melancholic youth with the most affectionate solicitude and warmth, thanks to which he discovered for the first time the merriment of childhood and quiet domestic joys. In all probability, the widow von Breuning was able to recognize the gifts of genius with which Beethoven was endowed by nature. Otherwise it would be difficult to understand why she started to treat this not particularly comely, pock-marked and awkward-looking boy as if he were her own son.

Irrespective of the colossal proportions of his musical gift, Beethoven's mind was very undeveloped for his age, but, since he had never come into close contact with educated people, it was in the Breunings' house that he keenly felt for the first time all the limitations of his knowledge and the way in which his development so far had been confined to a very narrow channel. Having once realised this, he immediately set about working on his general education with all the ardour of an elevated spirit.

Beethoven's interest was awakened by German literature in particular. At that time the stars of the first magnitude on the firmament of German prose and poetry were Klopstock, Lessing, Gleim, and Gellert. However, the works of Goethe, Schiller, and Matthisson were also then starting to attract general attention. Similarly, German translations of foreign works also provided Beethoven with plenty to read. In addition to many translations of the best English writers, especially Milton and Shakespeare, Germany was also rich in translations of the ancients, and amongst these the pride of place went to Voss's excellent translation of Homer. The Odyssey was Beethoven's favourite book and remained so until the end of his life, as we may appreciate from the state of wear of his copy of the Odyssey, which has come down to us.

Apart from the Breuning family, Beethoven also enjoyed the patronage and encouragement of Ferdinand-Ernst Waldstein [22], a knight of the Teutonic Order, who later became the Komtur of this order and at the same time a chamberlain to the Austrian Emperor. Count Waldstein was not simply an educated dilettante, but a fine musician, as is demonstrated by the fact that he was one of the first to appreciate fully Beethoven's enormous talent and that he tried to give him all possible support. In addition to providing Beethoven with financial assistance on various delicate pretexts, he also managed to do him an inestimable service by persuading the Elector to send his protégé to Vienna, and it is perhaps to Waldstein that the whole civilized world is obliged for the fact that Beethoven's tremendous gifts were not squandered and allowed to sink under the burden of worldly cares and the wretched circumstances of his domestic life. Waldstein would visit Beethoven frequently and once gave him a piano as a present.

Meanwhile a new opportunity presented itself for Beethoven to enrich his knowledge of music. From the very first day of his accession to the throne until 1788 the Elector had not once permitted himself to be distracted from important administrative matters and had not yet given any thought to the need to provide himself with musical nourishment. A number of opera companies had visited Bonn during that period and given performances, but Maximilian had not undertaken anything to retain them in his city. Now, though, all the matters which had weighed down on the Elector's mind and occupied all his time and attention were resolved. The state of the Archbishopric's finances was gradually improving, and all the other branches of government administration were in the hands of able and conscientious ministers. The number of leisure-hours had increased, and the Elector could finally spare a part of his time to satisfying his natural inclination for art [23].

Chapter X

The most important musical matter for the Electorate was the establishment of a public opera-house with a well-staffed company and orchestra. Together with other young musicians, Beethoven joined the ranks of the latter as a violist. The four years that he spent in this orchestra were of great benefit to him in the sense that Beethoven gained first-hand experience of the finest operas of his times, including those created by Mozart, Gluck, Benda, Vincenzo Martini [sic] [24], d'Alayrac, Cimarosa, Grétry, Paisiello, Dittersdorf, Guglielmi, Sarti, etc. In these diverse works Beethoven had the opportunity to familiarize himself with all the technical subtleties of vocal and orchestral composition, which was a great boon to his musical development. Moreover, this work at the theatre was also beneficial in that it distracted him from the lamentable spectacle of disorder which reigned in his house. During his time at the orchestra Beethoven also became friends with the music director's son Reicha [25], who, in spite of opposition from his father, was enthusiastically trying his hand at composing, and, since he was a year younger than Beethoven, this awakened in the latter a certain spirit of friendly and beneficial rivalry.

Beethoven's life now followed an uneventful and smooth course—his days were filled with the various obligations that he had to discharge, as well as modest, everyday diversions, amongst which we may cite his frequent visits in the evenings to taverns and alehouses, especially the Zehrgarten, which was a meeting-place for the professors of the university and indeed for anybody who had quite a high position in society. However, it was only in the company of the Breuning family that he felt completely satisfied and happy. The widow Breuning's affectionate friendship gave her in effect a maternal power over Beethoven, and the good woman tried to use this power to his benefit—for example, in spite of her dear Ludwig's obstinacy, she would often force him to attend to those duties of his for which he had an insurmountable aversion, such as giving lessons regularly.

A certain Baron Westphal von Fürstenberg, who occupied a notable position at the courts of Trier and Cologne, had moved into the house opposite to that of the Breunings. Thanks to the widow Breuning's recommendation, Beethoven was engaged to give music lessons to the baron's family, but for some reason the young man wasn't at all pleased about this, and Madame Breuning often had to bring to bear all her maternal authority in order to force him to give his lesson. Sometimes she would literally have to drive Beethoven out of her house for this purpose: as he knew that he was being watched, he would go up to the door of the house opposite, take hold of the door knob, but then, overcome by hesitation, he might suddenly turn round and walk back, claiming that he preferred to give two lessons in a row the following day. If her exhortations and even invectives proved to be of no avail, then Madame Breuning would contemptuously shrug her shoulders and say: "He's got his raptus [26] again!"

Furthermore, the widow Breuning also had a beneficial effect on Beethoven in the sense that she could counteract to some extent the influence of his friends, who, with their excessive eulogies to Beethoven's talent, were beginning to awaken in him an immoderate pride and the conviction that he was an extraordinary person. Even if these assurances on the part of his friends were utterly justified, they might well have exerted a harmful influence on Beethoven's talent, as he still had a lot to learn and to work on. In fact he had even been inclined to put more faith in these 'friends' than in those who told him that it was necessary to continue working hard in order to become a true master of one's profession. Nevertheless, he was by then frequently invited to several high-society houses in the capacity of a virtuoso musician, and his playing—especially his improvised fantasias on a set theme or his musical portrayal of some well-known figure in society—awakened everyone's enthusiasm. His own compositions were also appreciated, but it was only very few people who believed in the great future that lay ahead of him, and he himself would occasionally remark how something that went down well in Bonn might not necessarily be sufficiently good for Vienna, the city of Mozart, Haydn, and Gluck. This thought started increasingly to trouble Beethoven and made him susceptible to those depressions which the widow Breuning referred to by the word "raptus". It is possible that these depressions were aggravated by his disappointments in love with two young girls, Mlle von Westerholt and Jeannette d'Honrath, for whom he cherished feelings of affection—quite strong, even if transient—but his love was not reciprocated by either of them.

In September 1791, the Elector set off for Messing [sic] [27] where he had to attend to some matters of the Teutonic Order, of which he was the Grand Commander. On this journey the Elector was accompanied not just by his court, but also by his entire theatre troupe, together with the orchestra in which Beethoven played. Thus, a whole horde of young actors, singers, and musicians embarked on this journey up the Rhine and the Main, during the finest time of the year and amidst universal high spirits and boisterousness. The comic actor Lux pronounced himself to be the king of the troupe and meted out various ranks and titles to the other members. Amongst these, Beethoven and Bernhard Romberg were appointed kitchen-boys (Küchenjungen). In Rüdesheim Beethoven was promoted to a higher rank by Lux and awarded a certificate to this effect, with a seal of pitch or cobbler's wax attached to a thick piece of rope, which made this diploma look very much like a papal bull. In this fashion, indulging all the time in such carefree, childish merriment, the jolly gang of artists reached Aschaffenburg, where the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz had built himself a summer palace. Also living there at the time was the Abbé Sterkel, who was very well-known as a composer and virtuoso. Beethoven's colleagues Ries and Simrock, the finest musicians in the Bonn court orchestra, took Beethoven and Romberg with them to see Sterkel. At his guests' request, Sterkel sat down at his instrument, and his delicate, somewhat effeminate, but at the same time masterly playing produced a strong impression on Beethoven, who until then had never heard such an accomplished performance. When the Abbé had finished, he asked Beethoven to play him something, too, but as the latter refused to do so out of modesty, Sterkel had to resort to a trick: he said that the latest set of variations published by Beethoven was so difficult that he doubted whether even the composer himself could play them. Spurred on by this, the young man, keen to prove Sterkel wrong, sat down at the piano and not only performed his difficult variations, but even added to them a few more which he improvised on the spot, whereby, to the amazement of everyone, he had also then and there made Sterkels virtuoso style his own. On 20 October, they were back in Bonn, and very soon life returned to normal for the Elector and his whole suite, including Beethoven. In the meanwhile, though, on the other bank of the Rhine the storm was gathering which would eventually destroy, amongst other things, that nest of civilization and art which was thriving so peacefully in Bonn under the protection of its wise Elector. The approaching of the French Republican armies forced Maximilian to take measures so that he could abandon his residence in good time. At the end of October the Elector's archives and treasury were packed up and dispatched down the Rhine. Amongst the many arrangements which had to be made in view of the approaching catastrophe, the Elector did not forget to take care of Beethoven, who was after all just a humble musician in his orchestra. Haydn, who had visited Bonn twice and had the opportunity to become acquainted with Beethoven's gifts, had made some very flattering remarks about the young man's talent, and this circumstance, together with Count Waldstein's repeated exhortations, induced the Elector to send Beethoven to Vienna, where he was to develop his talent further under Haydn's guidance [28].

Chapter XI

In November, Beethoven set off for Vienna. He had been promised a good salary of 600 guldens, but when he arrived at that city he received only 150 guldens, and, for some unknown reason, all subsidies from the Elector soon ceased, leaving the young man to fend for himself. That Beethoven did not consider himself obliged to Maximilian, is something that we can see from the fact that he did not dedicate a single one of his works to the Elector, whereas he always did so in the case of his patrons who had provided him with material assistance. Anyway, this young man of 22 now found himself in a huge city, without friends or connections, without support, and without any specific means of subsistence. However, he did already have a certain reputation, even if people's views about his talent as a composer were highly contradictory: that is, whereas some saw in his published works the makings of a genius, others regarded them as insignificant or even ridiculous and lamentable. Before coming to Vienna he had in fact written very little, especially in comparison with the tremendous productivity of Mozart, who at Beethoven's age had already composed 293 works, or that of Handel, too, who at the age of twenty was already staging his second opera, Nero. The twenty-two-year-old Beethoven was quite short in stature, dark-complexioned, pock-marked, dark-haired, with a somewhat flattened nose, front teeth that jutted out, and a forehead that was round like a sphere. In other words, he had a most unprepossessing appearance, and it was only in his eyes that there glistened a reflection of his radiant genius, which had been encased in a hull that was outwardly so little attractive.

On arriving in Vienna and after setting himself up there in the most humble fashion, Beethoven sought out Haydn and started his lessons with him. He had hardly had time to accustom himself to the new milieu and to the not particularly appealing prospect of living on his own in this capital-city, when something happened that caused him new and painful anguish and strongly damped his love for his home town. Beethoven's father died suddenly on 18 December 1792. When the Elector was informed of this sad news, he merely remarked that the death of his former court tenor would sharply reduce his revenues from the excise duty on alcohol. Nevertheless, the deceased's salary was transferred to the son, although it seems that the latter did not claim it at all, or if he did, then only very briefly, because, as we pointed out above, Beethoven was living in Vienna on his own means—as we shall see shortly, he did not have that much trouble in securing these.

Beethoven got on well with his teacher and saw him not only during their lessons, but also in the cafés of Vienna where they would often meet for a cup of coffee or chocolate. However, it must be said that on the whole he was not that fond of Haydn, and that he later said he had not found in him what he had been looking for. When Haydn suggested to Beethoven that on the title-page of his new works he might like to print the words "A pupil of Haydn", he refused outright, saying that he had learnt absolutely nothing during his lessons with him. However, at around the same time Beethoven became acquainted with the music theorist Schenk [29], and he would often complain to him about how he was just wasting his time with Haydn, whose many obligations prevented him from turning up on time for their lessons. As a result of these frequent complaints, Schenk agreed to become Beethoven's teacher in composition. Once, when looking through one of his new student's contrapuntal exercises, Schenk found several mistakes in it. Now it so happened that this exercise had been looked through by Haydn earlier. From then on the mistrustful Beethoven began to harbour the suspicion that Haydn was deliberately treating his work carelessly because in his heart of hearts he was afraid of his pupil becoming a rival to him. This suspicion is utterly unfounded, since, as is well known, Haydn had a most flattering opinion of his pupil, and if it is true that he did not show that much zeal in teaching Beethoven the rules of composition, then the reason for this must be either that at that time he was still working intensively himself, striving after the glory of being recognized as a composer of the first rank, or—and this supposition is by far the most likely—it was due to the fact that great artists are rarely good teachers at the same time. As they are far more interested in general manifestations of musical beauty than in technical details, they are hardly suited to spot all kinds of violations of the rules of music theory—rules which, by the way, are quite conventional—with the same nit-picking zeal that inveterate theorists of counterpoint love to display when correcting exercises.

Be that as may be, the point is that the disillusioned Beethoven, in order to avoid an open quarrel with the renowned composer, continued to call on Haydn, albeit only for the sake of appearances, as he was now studying not with him, but with Schenk. Incidentally, chance soon released Beethoven from his troublesome relations with Haydn: the latter had decided to go to England and wanted to take his pupil with him, but Beethoven, who had little faith in Haydn's sincerity and good intentions, refused flatly to go along on this tour.

After Haydn's departure Beethoven started to study counterpoint with Albrechtsberger [30] and instrumentation with Salieri. Albrechtsberger, a famous and learned contrapuntist of that age, was able to appreciable Beethoven's talent, but he did have some trouble with his new student's self-will and his reluctance to stick strictly to the rules. This was so because Beethoven had already reached a stage of his musical development at which it was no longer easy for him just to take on trust every theoretical rule, and he was unable to suppress the voice of his own instinct, which did not always agree with the multitude of scholastic rules that constituted music theory at the time—a theory which was not based on any solid principles. The exercises which Beethoven was set had mainly to do with strict counterpoint. In any case, one cannot fail to be amazed at the noble humility of this greatest musical genius, who, despite having already reached a certain maturity, was willing to subject himself to the tyrannical clutches of this scholarly pedant and allow the stirrings of his bold and profound genius to be curbed.

Although soon after his arrival in Vienna Beethoven was deprived of the subsidy that the Elector had promised him, he was not left without suitable means of living for long, and, indeed, very soon there opened up for him a wide sphere of activity, which provided him, if not with a brilliant livelihood, then at least with one that was comfortable.

After the death of Joseph II, this generous imperial patron of the arts, his brother Leopold succeeded to the throne and resolutely directed his attention to the theatre and opera-house. The new Emperor did not spare any expenses to raise his court opera-house to the highest possible level of perfection in all respects. He launched a whole series of beneficial reforms to improve the way in which the theatre was administered, but his death (on 1 March 1793) prevented these from being fully realised. The famous opera composer Salieri was discharged from his post as music director and appointed conductor at the court chapel, with the obligation of writing a new opera every year. This was done in order to give Salieri, whose duties as music director had taken up a lot of his time, the opportunity to dedicate himself entirely to composing. Thanks to his twenty years of energetic work as music director, the mainly Italian operas that were staged in Vienna were presented to the public in performances of absolute perfection. Indeed, opera in Vienna was then flourishing on the whole and was in such high demand that alongside the court theatre there was also Schikaneder's [31] opera company, which staged mostly German operas, including those of Mozart. However, it was not at all this branch of music which attracted Beethoven's energies, for his inborn instinct drew him towards another branch, and it was in this field that the tremendous genius of the symphonist Beethoven was to ripen and unfold.

In Vienna at that time, partly due to a sincere inclination for music, but partly also due to a fashionable trend, many small music circles had been set up which devoted their time and funds to the performance of mainly instrumental music. Wealthy grandees and aristocrats maintained their own splendid orchestras; those who were less rich would draw up orchestras from among their servants or they might get together to organize amateur musical soirées. However, few concerts were given, and when they were, the organizers made sure to hedge their bets by means of a subscription. Besides, since Mozart no other virtuoso had appeared in the city who could count on drawing large audiences to his concerts. Beethoven was highly regarded both as a piano teacher and as a virtuoso: he was literally snowed under with invitations to take part in these amateur musical soirées, and in fact he probably had to attend the latter more often than he actually wished to. We have already mentioned his aversion to giving lessons. He also felt much the same about having to appear as a virtuoso performer at these gatherings organized by the Viennese music circles. Subsequently Beethoven would also play at large public concerts, but he did so reluctantly, and, although he achieved great acclaim as a virtuoso, it was not this glory that his ambition yearned for. These were not the laurels that could satisfy him. Beethoven was drawn exclusively to composition.

As a result of the craze for amateur musical soirées in Vienna, there had developed a strong demand for instrumental, mainly chamber, music. In order to satisfy this demand, publishers were keen to commission and buy works of chamber music not only from famous masters, but also from young musicians who had just started their career, and this encouraged a very useful spirit of competition among the latter. A great deal of works appeared, many of which of course have vanished without leaving a trace, but the important thing is that the impulse had been given, and instrumental music, led by Haydn, now came up to opera, in which Gluck and Mozart (who completed what Gluck had begun) had created great paragons of lyrical-dramatic art. In this way Beethoven's gifts, which immediately raised him to a prominent position amongst the young composers of the time, became a considerable source of income for him.

Such an independent, financially secure position had a highly beneficial influence on Beethoven's genius. Having been accustomed since childhood to need and hardship, and not always sure of his daily bread, now, with this change in his circumstances, he could entrust himself entirely to the inclination of his creative spirit, and very soon, obeying his inner voice, which was no longer drowned by the bustle and worries of everyday life, he set off on new paths that opened up to an astonished world a whole realm of new aesthetic sensations.

With every day that passed his name acquired greater fame, and many people of high rank in the social hierarchy began to seek his acquaintance. The most important of all these acquaintances was the friendship which soon developed between Beethoven and Prince Karl Lichnowsky [32], a young music-lover and highly accomplished amateur. This prince became such good friends with Beethoven that he was able to persuade him to come and live in his house, and he won the composer's affection to such an extent that the latter spent several years under his roof.

Lichnowsky studied Beethoven's works with devotion and took an active part in his successful compositional endeavours. Amongst other things, he advised Beethoven not to allow himself to be troubled by the reproaches which were often levelled at the young man for the technical difficulty of his 'unplayable' works. Musicians would come together in Lichnowsky's house in order to perform Beethoven's newest works. It should, however, be said that Beethoven did not rush to bring out recently completed works, and that he would only publish them once he was sure that enough people would subscribe to the edition. It seems that in this respect he did not suffer any setbacks, since his means increased so much that he was now able to satisfy his every whim. For example, he once overheard Lichnowsky instruct his valet that if both of them, that is Lichnowsky and his housemate, rang the bell at the same time, he was to go and attend to the composer first. The following day Beethoven engaged a servant for himself. On another occasion Beethoven decided that he wanted to learn how to ride, and he bought himself a fine riding-horse. Indeed, he denied himself nothing that took his fancy. Those times (a mere three years back!) when he had carefully noted down each kreutzer that he had to spend were very much of the past now.

Beethoven worked tirelessly and attained a remarkable facility in composition, even if in this respect he could never compete with Mozart. Every sheet of music that he wrote would immediately be handed to four copyists who were permanently in attendance in Lichnowsky's antechamber. Once, when he was sitting next to a lady in a box at the court theatre during a performance of the opera La Molinara [33], his fair companion said, after listening to one aria, that she had once had some variations on the theme of the latter, but had unfortunately lost them. That very night, after he had got back home, Beethoven wrote six variations on the theme of the opera they had heard, and the next morning he sent them to the lady with the following note: "The variations lost by you and retrieved by Ludwig van Beethoven!" Every year the Society of Fine Artists organized a grand ball at the Redoutensaal. In 1795, Haydn had written 12 minuets and 12 folk dances for this ball. Two years later, in 1797, Beethoven wrote exactly the same number of dances for the ball, and soon his minuets became very popular. Indeed, Beethoven's works were gradually spreading out from the restricted circles of music-lovers into the broader public, and some of them (such as his Op. 11 trio, which was published in an edition of 400 copies that sold out very quickly) were a huge success.

At around this time Beethoven's brothers also moved to Vienna. The ginger-haired and ugly Karl, who had also made music his profession, was now able to lead a good life thanks to his brother, who provided him with money and opportunities to give lessons. Beethoven's youngest brother, Johann, a handsome and tall young man, first worked as an assistant apothecary before he could finally open his own pharmacy [34].

Chapter XII

Beethoven did not spend all his time in Vienna uninterruptedly. Thus, in 1796, for example, he went to Nuremberg. Now the Elector Maximilian was then living near that city, and it is likely that Beethoven made this journey because he wanted to clarify his relations with the Elector, as he was still officially a member of the latter's court orchestra, even if he was not receiving any money from Maximilian. On the way back Beethoven stopped in Prague, and the success which he achieved in that highly musical city induced him later to make another trip there, this time together with Lichnowsky. In Prague he won lots of friends and admirers of his talent—apart from laurels, he also earned a handsome sum of money in ticket sales, which allowed him to extend his journey to Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin. No records have come down to us about his stay in Dresden and Leipzig, but he often liked to recollect and tell people about the days he spent in Berlin. He played on several occasions at the court of King Frederick William II, and also composed two sonatas for piano and cello, which he performed himself together with Duport [35], the king's first cellist and a famous virtuoso of that time. As a farewell present Frederick William gave him a gold snuff-box, filled with louis-d'or coins, and Beethoven would always proudly mention this, emphasizing that it was not an ordinary snuff-box, but an incredibly luxurious one, of the kind that was normally given to foreign ambassadors. The Prussian king exerted considerable influence on the development of music in his capital-city, and it was thanks to his interest in German music that the operas of Mozart and Gluck were staged at the Berlin theatre, and that Handel's oratorios were performed in concerts at the court. The king liked Beethoven very much and, having rightly appreciated the composer's talent from the two cello sonatas that he had composed in Berlin, wanted to win such a remarkable artist for his court. With this purpose in mind, the king offered him very favourable conditions of employment, but Beethoven hesitated to accept them for the time being and wanted to think over the king's proposal once he was back in Vienna. However, the offer was not repeated, since Frederick William died shortly afterwards. The king's proposal had also been motivated by the fact that in Berlin at the time there was no truly outstanding composer in residence. Two years earlier, the splendid music director and composer Reichardt [36] had left the city, and his successors, Himmel and Righini, had not revealed any great talent for composition, especially of instrumental chamber music, which was then coming into fashion. Friedrich Heinrich Himmel [37], who was employed at the royal court as a pianist and composer, was almost certainly the leading virtuoso of the time, and Beethoven showed the requisite respect for him, even if he did not think his talent particularly strong. At first the two pianists seemed to get on well with one another, but this friendship soon soured into mutual hostility. Beethoven had a remarkable gift for improvisation, which in those times was valued far more than is the case nowadays, and his fantasias on a set theme always produced a strong, nay, overwhelming impression—to such an extent, indeed, that many listeners would be moved to tears, and some would even burst out sobbing. On one occasion Himmel insisted that Beethoven should sit down at the piano and improvise. The latter duly obliged, and after he had finished, the talentless and limited Himmel decided that it would be a good idea to show off his artistry, too, in front of his colleague. After several minutes during which Himmel had been letting himself go in a not particularly rich fantasia, Beethoven suddenly interrupted him with an unexpected question: "Well, when does it start proper?" Himmel, who had imagined that he had astonished and bowled over his friend, leapt up furiously, and, after a heated exchange of sharp remarks and insults, the two pianists parted as enemies. "But I thought Himmel was just playing a prelude to introduce his fantasia!" Beethoven would justify himself afterwards. Although they later patched up their quarrel, Himmel was unable to forget Beethoven's insulting remark and thirsted for revenge. An opportunity for this soon presented itself, albeit of quite a strange kind. The two musicians corresponded with one another. Once, when Beethoven asked in one of his letters if anything new had happened in Berlin, Himmel replied that there was a most striking piece of news, about which everyone in the city was terribly excited—namely, the invention of a lantern for the blind. Beethoven, in his naivety, did not understand the dirty meaning of this joke, and, taking it to be a completely serious fact, informed all his acquaintances about the news which he had heard from Himmel. He even rushed to his desk and wrote Himmel a second letter, asking him for more details about this ingenious invention. The reply which he duly received, it goes without saying, was such that this time Beethoven did not tell anyone about it. However, what is most amusing is that this mean prank put an end to their reconciliation for good.

In June, after a long series of triumphs (especially as an improviser), Beethoven made his way back to Vienna. This journey, which had given Beethoven an opportunity of seeing new countries and getting to know other customs, as well as bringing him into contact with a great many people, had a beneficial effect on him. He became more equable and well-mannered, and also learnt to value his true friends [38].

Chapter XIII

The patriotic mood of the Viennese public, which had been stirred up by the astonishing victories achieved by the young general Bonaparte over Austrian troops, also affected Beethoven. To celebrate the marching out of a division of Viennese volunteers, the talented poet Friedelberg wrote a poem which Beethoven set to music. This piece, however, did not become popular. On the whole, he spent the winter of 1796–97 working hard at his compositions, and the result of this was the publication, in February 1797, of several new remarkable works, amongst which we may single out a sonata for four hands (Op. 6), a trio (Op. 3), a quintet (Op. 4), and 12 variations on a Russian dance theme, which were dedicated to Countess Browne. The latter dedication gave rise to an anecdote which testifies to Beethoven's remarkable absent-mindedness. To thank him for the dedication of these variations, Count Browne had given him a magnificent riding-horse. Beethoven only rode it once and then completely forgot about its existence. His servant noticed this and immediately hastened to derive some profit from this circumstance by hiring out the horse. A few months later Beethoven had a nasty surprise when he was sent a bill detailing all the fodder consumed by a horse that he had only ridden once in his life!

At spring-time the war flared up again and plunged the merry citizens of Vienna into a bleak mood of dejection. On 16 March, Bonaparte crossed the Tagliamento and Isonzo rivers, and within two weeks he had already occupied most of Carniola (Krain), Carinthia, and the Tyrol, and was swiftly advancing towards Vienna. Friedelberg wrote another patriotic poem, "Ein grosses deutsches Volk sind wir" [We are a great German people], which Beethoven again set to music, but, like the first time round, this war-song did not catch on either—perhaps because very soon, after a peace treaty had been concluded and the volunteer divisions disbanded, the taste for war-songs suddenly evaporated completely.

In February 1798, General Bernadotte [39] arrived in Vienna to take up his post as envoy of the French Republic at the court of the Austrian Emperor. Bernadotte had made a significant contribution in the military campaign which ended with such lamentable consequences for the Austrians.

Since the presentation ceremony for the new ambassador had been postponed for two months on account of the Empress's imminent confinement, and foreign ministers were forbidden by etiquette to receive visitors and show themselves in society until they had been received in audience by the Emperor, Bernadotte had to lead a very modest life for several weeks and in fact spent almost all of his time at home without going out anywhere. Through the famous violinist Rudolph Kreutzer [40], a member of the envoy's suite, Bernadotte was introduced to Beethoven, who started calling on him frequently. No matter how wide the abyss may seem that separated the brilliant ambassador of the victorious Republic—for whom the Austrian government was obliged, according to the terms of the peace treaty, to build a new palace and theatre—from the humble composer, who had not yet risen to great fame, there is no doubt whatsoever about the amicable relations between Bernadotte and Beethoven. One mustn't forget, incidentally, that the future founder of a new Swedish royal dynasty was no more than the son of a poor provincial attorney, and this circumstance explains to some extent why this high-ranking dignitary condescended to make the close acquaintance of a musician whose tremendous creative genius he was probably able to appreciate anyway. Be that as may be, the fact is that Beethoven's relations with Bernadotte are of great significance in the composer's biography, since they gave rise to the creation of his Sinfonia eroica, that work in which for the first time Beethoven's genius manifested itself in all its strength and maturity, irrevocably tearing itself away from the imitation of the models provided by Haydn and Mozart. Bonaparte was then the object of universal amazement, and it is not surprising that Beethoven succumbed to the enthusiasm which the young military leader inevitably awakened everywhere. Bernadotte's admiring remarks about Bonaparte thus inspired the composer with the idea for one of his greatest works, his Third Symphony [41].

Chapter XIV

It is well known that nothing so encourages the development of a talent as competition does. So far Beethoven had had no rivals as a virtuoso. As for his composing, the fact is that, although he had already attained a considerable mastery, everything that he had written until then did not go beyond the ordinary, and if Beethoven had stayed still at that point, he would not have come to occupy that pre-eminent position which indisputably belongs to him among the multitude of composers. Now, though, a rival turned up who was so remarkable that he won over many of Beethoven's admirers and very soon managed to draw everyone's attention to himself, whereas before Beethoven had been the exclusive focus of attention.

Joseph Wölfl [42] was born in Salzburg, Mozart's home town: he was two years younger than Beethoven and already at the age of 7 had started playing in public. He was a pupil of Leopold Mozart and Haydn. On Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's recommendation he had been invited to Warsaw by Count Oginsky and had managed to win great glory in that city as a virtuoso and a composer. As a result of the turmoil into which Warsaw was plunged in 1794 and 1795, he had been forced to return to Vienna. Wölfl awakened great interest there as a composer of vocal and chamber music, but especially as a virtuoso whose unparalleled performance technique amazed everyone. Soon he was surrounded by an extensive circle of admirers, who were fascinated in the extreme by his virtuosic dexterity, and who had deserted Beethoven, since the latter could not match his rival in the art of executing passages astonishingly quickly and cleanly. Wölfls success was also considerably assisted by the fact that he had a sociable and easy character, in which the most salient traits were a child-like naivety, merriness, and extreme courtesy, thus contrasting sharply with the proud character of Beethoven, who treated even high-ranking figures in an offhand and arrogant manner. Wölfl was endowed by Nature with the most valuable virtuoso qualities, including a gigantic hand, which he could stretch so easily that it was no problem for him to play tenths with the same fluency as the virtuosi of our times get through octaves in rapid passages. The most difficult virtuoso pieces he would play with faultless precision, again in contrast to Beethoven, whose technique was not particularly distinguished by neatness of execution.

Wölfls unusual naivety landed him with the nickname "foolish Wölfl" (närrischer Wölfl), but he did not mind this at all. He was once asked why he never included in his works those virtuoso tours de force with which his playing was packed. "Well, what would the world say, " he replied; "given that it already calls me a fool, if I were to expect mere mortals to play what poses no difficulty whatsoever for my big hands?!"

Comparisons were often made between the two famous virtuosi, Beethoven and Wölfl, and, although the majority sided with the latter, the opinion of true connoisseurs was that Wölfl lacked inner fire and intensity, whereas Beethoven's playing was full of energy, inspiration, and a manliness which was sometimes on the brink of coarseness. As far as improvisation was concerned, Wölfl was undeniably inferior to Beethoven, who possessed the astonishing art of being able to develop a given theme and, no matter how insignificant it might be, to make it interesting by means of skilful elaboration. Wölfl had a perfect command of form, and even if his improvisations did not stand out for tempestuous inspiration or the sharp contrasts of a whimsical imagination, they nevertheless tickled the ear pleasantly and made the audience feel cheerful. Beethoven's fantasias, in contrast, were always sombre and left one with a painful impression. Besides, he would let himself be carried away by his inspiration and forget about the form, so that his improvisations often struck the listener as incoherent and inconsistent in the development of the main musical idea. Wölfl always did his best to come across as pleasant, whereas Beethoven was fond of original and strange sound combinations, and by means of these he wanted to instil a tragic mood into his listeners. Indeed, the merits of these two virtuosi were diametrically opposed: they complemented one another, as it were, and in this sense each was useful to the other. Wölfl and Beethoven sought to assimilate those qualities which they lacked but could see in the other, and this healthy rivalry had a beneficial effect on both of them. Who would then have imagined, when comparing these two musicians who were the focus of the public's attention, that their destinies were to be so different! One of them flashed by like a brilliant meteor before sinking into oblivion and carrying with him to the grave both his works and his glory. The other, after many years of toil and spiritual torment, left the world a series of works which are the greatest monuments to man's creative spirit. One was fated to have fleeting glory, only to be completely forgotten afterwards; the other's lot was the aureole of immortality and the noble astonishment of all civilized mankind.

Beethoven's productivity in this period of his life is amazing. In 1798, he wrote three piano sonatas (Op. 10), three trios (Op. 9), variations for cello and piano [43], three violin sonatas, and many other smaller works.

At the same time, though, he did not neglect his virtuosity, and in this respect he achieved great successes, which, alas, he was not to enjoy for very long. Beethoven was already starting to suffer from the ailment of deafness, which would crush and poison his whole life [44].

Chapter XV

In 1799, Beethoven made the acquaintance of two other musical celebrities of the age—namely, the double bass virtuoso Dragonetti [45] and the pianist Cramer [46]. Dragonetti possessed a phenomenal technique, combined with profound musical feeling. He was then on his way to London from Venice, his home town, and had stopped at Vienna along the way. Beethoven did not delay in calling on him, and they soon became friends. On one occasion, when Beethoven had invited the famous virtuoso round to his house and he found out that Dragonetti was able to play on his instrument without any difficulty works that had been written for the cello, he asked him to play one of his two cello sonatas (Op. 5/2). A double bass was immediately sent for and brought to Beethoven's house, and the composer sat down by the piano and started playing his part, whereby he did not take his eyes off Dragonetti for a single instant. When they got to the arpeggio in the finale of the sonata Beethoven was so astonished and fascinated by the artistry with which the renowned artist managed to elicit from his monstrous instrument the gentle sounds of a cello, that he jumped up and rushed to fold Dragonetti in his arms.

This acquaintance left Beethoven with the most pleasant recollections, but it certainly made life harder for the poor double bassists playing in orchestras, since in his subsequent symphonic works he demanded from them such strength and dexterity as are not within the reach of everyone.

Cramer was one of the finest piano virtuosi of those times. Denied recognition on the continent, Cramer moved to London, where he was held in great esteem. Now he had turned up in Vienna, not in order to astonish the public, but rather so as to perfect himself and to become familiar with the methods used by famous pianists on the continent. His technique was stronger and more precise than Beethoven's, although he was undeniably inferior to the latter as far as inspiration and expressivity were concerned. Beethoven himself did full justice to Cramer's artistry, whilst the latter for his part gladly acknowledged Beethoven's superiority as an improviser—a field in which he had no rivals. Older people observed that only Mozart, if he were to rise from the grave, would be able to compete with Beethoven in improvisation. After returning to London, Cramer told everybody that no one could boast of being an accomplished improviser if they had not heard Beethoven giving free rein to his fantasy at the piano. Once, when Cramer walked into Beethoven's house, he found him alone and improvising at the piano. He stopped by the doorway and stood there listening for a long time. After a while, though, he remembered how Beethoven so disliked eavesdroppers, and he walked away silently. The impression which Beethoven's playing had made on Cramer was so strong, however, that during the rest of his life he could not recall this incident without being overwhelmed by emotion [47].

Chapter XVI

We mentioned above that Beethoven came across a considerable number of people who were not only able to appreciate his creative gifts, but who praised to the skies everything that came from his pen. However, there were also quite a few spiteful enemies, who, full of hatred, would criticize both Beethoven's music and his personality. A particularly high number of detractors of Beethoven was to be found amongst the musicians who had long ago established themselves in Vienna, and who were jealous of any newcomer, especially if he managed to attract considerable attention on the part of the public, thereby undermining the reputation of local musicians. These people would spread anecdotes in which the oddities in Beethoven's character were presented in a ridiculous light and exaggerated to the point of caricature. They even scoffed at his works, calling them the fruits of a perverted and vulgar musical taste. All these pug-dogs, who accompanied his every step with their diligent but fruitless yelping, Beethoven would treat with sincere contempt, and, to their utmost fury, he did not pay the slightest attention to them. Beethoven was seeking to win the favour and protection of quite a different class in Viennese society: the class of powerful, influential, and wealthy people. He left no stone unturned in order to win over high-ranking members of society, and often his deferential tone would go beyond the limits of mere courtesy: he did not even disdain the use of flattery. On the whole Beethoven never distinguished himself by his ability to deal with people, and he completely lacked that sense of measure, decency, and worth which is so essential in human relations, and which is best described by the word "tact". The reason for this weakness in Beethoven must be ascribed to the deficiency of his upbringing.

From the very earliest age, since he lacked sensible and loving instructors to guide him as he became a musician by trade, he was infected in the professional musicians' milieu with moral habits which all his later activity and coming into contact with more cultivated people were unable to eradicate. Beethoven learnt from them the skill of ingratiating oneself with one's superiors by means of flattery, whilst at the same time treating inferiors with arrogant pride. He was completely unable to check his spontaneous impulses: on account of some insignificant trifle he might sometimes work himself up into a rage and quarrel with an acquaintance, but as soon as the need presented itself, he would start to worm himself abjectly into that person's good graces. At large social gatherings Beethoven behaved in a strained and aloof manner, but in the company of close friends he would give free rein to his joviality and irony, whereby the latter did not always express itself in a witty and moderate form. He had quite a lot of friends, but they rarely remained on friendly terms with him for long. Rather, as the result of some coarse outburst by Beethoven they would join the ranks of his ill-wishers.

A certain Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz [48] was Beethoven's closest friend and wholeheartedly devoted to him. He occupied a prominent post in the Hungarian court chancellery, was a decent cellist, and also composed a little. Zmeskall set such great store by the composer's friendship and his closeness to him, that he carefully preserved not only all his letters and notes, but any little scrap of paper that had something written on it in Beethoven's hand. In this way he preserved for future generations a lot of important biographical material, which allows one to clarify and get to the bottom of many aspects and details of Beethoven's character that would otherwise have eluded investigation. Zmeskalls good position in society, which forced Beethoven to keep within the limits of amicable politeness, contributed favourably to their growing friendship. Zmeskall not only succeeded in winning Beethoven as a friend—he also acquired a strong influence over him. He would often check his friend's intemperate impulses and served as the composer's intermediary in his constant quarrels with acquaintances. Indeed, he was something like Beethoven's supervisor and adviser in his confrontations with people: he had to rebuke him quite frequently, but this never led even to short-term tiffs. Zmeskalls solicitude for his friend reached such heights of obligingness, even in the slightest trifles, that in spite of his comparatively high position in the social hierarchy he did not shy at anything when it was a question of making Beethoven happy or satisfying his whims. Thus, for example, Beethoven didn't know how to sharpen feather quills (these being the only writing-instruments available then), and he would often entrust this task to Zmeskall, without any scruples about distracting him from his duties for that purpose. Zmeskall willingly obliged in attending to this whim and he preserved lots of little notes to this effect written by Beethoven in a bantering tone.

Among Beethoven's friends we should also single out Wenzel Krumpholz, second violin in the opera-house's orchestra and an enthusiastic admirer of Beethoven's genius. He could sense the composer's future greatness and became very attached to him. Beethoven would confide all his musical plans to Krumpholz, as he was very fond of him and trusted him, even if he did treat him in a somewhat offhand manner, sometimes insulting him and invariably addressing him as "my fool". Several years later (in 1816) a quarrel put an end to their friendship, and Beethoven died without having made it up with him.

We mentioned earlier the friendly relations between Beethoven and Prince Karl Lichnowsky. Professional and amateur musicians would gather in the house of this aristocratic dilettante on Fridays in order to perform chamber music works, often in the presence of the authors of these. Thanks to the latter fact, the performers had the benefit of being guided by observations from the composers whose music they were playing, and this allowed them to attain a remarkable perfection of ensemble. Their splendid performances of Beethoven's trios and string quartets in front of a large of audience of Viennese music-lovers meant that his chamber music soon became very popular and achieved a wide circulation. The quartet which gathered at Lichnowsky's house consisted of Schuppanzigh [49] (first violin), Sina [50] (second violin), Weiß [51] (viola), and Kraft [52] (cello). Sina and Weiß often had to miss these gatherings, and then Zmeskall and Lichnowsky himself would stand in for them. Schuppanzigh rose to great esteem in the music world of Vienna by taking on the obligations of conductor at the amateur concerts which were organized in the Augarten. All the members of the orchestra playing at these concerts were amateurs, but thanks to the efforts and artistry of their conductor they nevertheless attained such a high degree of perfection that they could faultlessly perform the most complicated symphonies by already established composers, as well as playing the works of young authors who were not very well-known yet. Since this association of amateurs pursued purely musical goals, the entrance fees for their concerts was minimal, and this meant that the latter attracted huge audiences and were tremendously successful.

Although Schuppanzigh himself was also an amateur, he was nevertheless endowed with a fine feeling for music, great energy, and resourcefulness. He was extraordinarily fat, but jovial, too, so he would take in good part all the jokes that were made at the expense of his comical appearance. This, however, did not in any way undermine his authority as a conductor.

As for Beethoven's relations with the fair sex, we have very little concrete information on this subject. Many sentimental stories purporting to be first-hand recollections have come down to us which were evidently fabricated for the purpose of poeticizing Beethoven's personality, just as later portraits and busts of him, which represent our hero in an embellished guise, were fashioned deliberately so as to conceal his true features. In all fairness, it must be said about the latter that they were hardly very attractive. Indeed, when looking at the graceful and divinely beautiful contours of his face, the tall stature, sturdy and handsome build, such as we are shown on these representations of Beethoven, who could possibly imagine that he was a small, dark-complexioned, pock-marked, ungainly man? The only positively reliable account concerning his love-affairs during this specific period of his life refers to an episode with the singer Magdalene Willmann, with whom Beethoven passionately fell in love. He proposed to her, but Magdalene turned down the honour of becoming the wife of a composer and virtuoso who was already famous by then, and preferred to marry a certain Signor Galvani. However, their conjugal bliss was short-lived, as Magdalene died in 1802. To the composer's offer of marriage she had replied that she did not want to be the wife of an ugly and half-crazed man. Such, by the way, was the general opinion shared by the women who knew Beethoven. His unprepossessing appearance, his oddities, and the peculiar outbursts of his irritable character were not apt to captivate the hearts of frivolous Viennese ladies, all of whom were infinitely more likely to fall for the dashing Guards' officers of that age [53].

Chapter XVII

In the period we are currently describing Beethoven's high position amongst the composers who were his contemporaries was gradually becoming firmly established, and his fame was ever growing. We can see this from the way publishers were so keen to obtain his manuscripts, especially his works of chamber music. His deafness was becoming worse, and the true premonition that soon he would lose his hearing altogether induced him to abandon his virtuoso career and to devote himself exclusively to composing. He knew that in terms of innate genius he could claim first place immediately after Mozart, and wanted not only to draw level with his predecessor, but, if possible, even to surpass him. His style was beginning to take shape, the original features of his independent creative work were becoming more distinct with every day that passed: he was beginning to attain the stage of maturity in his development.

Before we proceed to present the circumstances under which his finest symphonies and string quartets started to appear, we shall dwell a little on Beethoven the man and try to explain to the reader the characteristic traits of Beethoven's personality.

First of all, we should note that, as is usually the case with great men, and especially with great artists, hearsay, tradition, and the echo of the latter—namely, biographies of Beethoven—have done everything within their power to conceal the real truth regarding the composer's personal character. For as a matter of fact his was a purely human nature, which, though it was endowed with extraordinary gifts, displayed on the other hand considerable weaknesses, too.

Beethoven's greatest misfortune was that from his earliest years onwards his good and bad qualities manifested themselves far too sharply; that, having nobody to guide him during his childhood, he did not learn to restrain and overcome his passions, which could have served him as a source of strength and energy if only he had been able to cope with them properly. Now, though, the manifestation of these passions, applied to insignificant things, turned into irritability and weakness. The wretched milieu of actors and musicians in whose midst Beethoven had spent the years of his adolescence and early youth, their immorality, their cynical obsequiousness before superiors and arrogance towards inferiors, their lamentable lack of culture and coarse ignorance could hardly help to ennoble his soul and to soften the asperities of his character. Before his acquaintance with the Breuning family he had not even felt any higher intellectual needs, and although, as was explained above, his friendship with this wonderful family was of inestimable benefit to him, it was still too late for him to learn how to control himself: the habit of giving free rein to his first impulses would always be the most salient weakness in his character. These deficiencies in Beethoven's upbringing haunted him in the course of his whole life and manifested themselves in various extremes of conduct. One day he might be infuriated by some little trifle, whereas the following day his remorse about this would overstep the bounds of decency and dignity. If today he was proud, discourteous, and haughty, tomorrow he would be excessively obliging and flattering in front of those very people whom the day before he had tried to irritate by various unduly defiant outbursts. The poverty in which Beethoven had grown up also had a baneful influence on his life. He never knew the true value of money and would often throw gold coins about him by the handful, only to lapse into excessive thriftiness the next moment. Despite being endowed by nature with a lucid mind, albeit one that had not been properly developed by means of education, he nevertheless relied too little on himself and acquired the habit of leaning on the intelligence of others for support in his enterprises and plans. He became liable to pay heed to foolish advice or, even worse, when his pride had been wounded, he would not act on sensible advice but succumb to indecisiveness where it was essential to be firm. Thus, now obeying his first impulse, now losing time to vacillation, he would often do something precipitate which he would later bitterly lament and regret. In the course of time his physical ailment would further aggravate this lack of firm and sensible initiative.

Furthermore, modesty was not one of Beethoven's virtues: he became more susceptible to the delusions of vanity the less he valued other people. "I value people only according to the greater or lesser degree of benefit which I can derive from them!" he once wrote [54]. The arrogance and haughty carelessness with which Beethoven treated those around him provoked the mockery even of the good-humoured Haydn. When Beethoven's visits to his house became ever rarer and in the end almost stopped altogether, Haydn would ask his musical colleagues: "How's our Great Mogul getting on?"

In Beethoven's youth the Romantic fascination with the heroes of ancient, classical literature had spread across all civilized Europe, initially starting in Paris and gradually taking hold of educated circles in Germany, too. The democratic sentimentalism of the French philosophes was further encouraged by another new fashion, namely for the heroes of the young American Republic—Franklin, Adams, Washington, Knox—whose unsophisticated and simple way of life in their country retreats, surrounded by their loving families, at the end of the war was highly flattering for the theories now in vogue. The craze for the heroes of Antiquity and of American Independence had a beneficial effect on young people, filling them with enthusiasm for the ideal of a pure man who stood above all kinds of prejudices and passions, whereby they took as their role-models Scipio, Cincinnatus, Cato, Washington, and Franklin. Following the general trend, Beethoven, too, sought to elevate his own spirit by assiduously reading good German poets, but, in particular, also translations of classical authors and Shakespeare. He would speak enthusiastically about the noble heroes of Antiquity and wanted to imitate them, but between the feelings cherished by his spirit and the principles according to which he led his life there was a whole abyss. His soul was full of the purest intentions, the loftiest sentiments, but his irrepressible, unbridled and fiery temperament prevented him from putting into practice these intentions and feelings; it did not allow his noble character to develop and become firmly established. Only those who succeeded in getting close to Beethoven were able to appreciate fully the noble purity of his heart, which unfortunately only lay concealed in him and rarely manifested itself outwardly. But no matter how great his weaknesses were, none of the people who loved him doubted his profound and sincere love for everything that was good and beautiful, the noble frankness of his character, and the purity of his lofty soul [55].

(To be continued) [56]
P. Tchaikovsky


Published in the Saint Petersburg newspaper The Citizen (Гражданин), issues of 11 February [O.S.] (chapters I to VII), 19 February [O.S.] (chapters VIII to XI), 12 March [O.S.] (chapters XII to XIV), and 19 March 1873 [O.S.] (chapters XV to XVII).

Notes and References

  1. The owner and publisher of the Saint Petersburg-based newspaper The Citizen (Гражданин) was Prince Vladimir Petrovich Meshchersky (1839–1914), a former class-mate of Tchaikovsky at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence and one of the most unsavoury figures in Russian public life. From January 1873 to March 1874, the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky was the editor of this conservative newspaper (conflicts with the vain and reactionary Meshchersky eventually led to Dostoyevsky's resignation from a post which he had mainly accepted for financial reasons). Although nothing is known about any correspondence or conversations between Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky relating to the latter's contribution of this article to The Citizen, Abram Gozenpud, in his excellent study Dostoyevsky and the Musical and Dramatic Arts [Достоевский и музыкально-театральное искусство] (Leningrad, 1981), observes that Meshchersky's newspaper (which was set up in 1872) had not run any articles on music at all until this essay by Tchaikovsky. Gozenpud also notes how Tchaikovsky's article could not have been published without the consent of Dostoyevsky in his capacity as editor. Since Dostoyevsky greatly admired Beethoven, there were obviously no reasons for him to reject Tchaikovsky's article, but it is a great pity that no concrete evidence has emerged as yet of communications between these two great Russian artists!
  2. We know approximately when Tchaikovsky started work on this article from letter 288, written to his father Ilya from Moscow on 5/17 February 1873: "Time is flying so fast because I am very busy; I am working on a transcription of my opera [The Oprichnik], writing musical feuilletons for a local newspaper here [the Russian Register], and compiling [составляю] a biography of Beethoven for The Citizen!".
  3. Alexander Wheelock Thayer (1817–1897), American librarian, scholar, journalist, and diplomat. Born in Massachusetts, Thayer's first job was as a librarian at Harvard University. After reading the biography of Beethoven published by Anton Schindler in 1840 and noting the many inconsistencies (and downright falsifications) it contained, Thayer started doing research of his own into Beethoven's life. In 1849, he set sail for Europe in order to carry out his investigations on the ground. Journalistic work and finally a posting with the US diplomatic service in 1862 provided him with the funds he needed to conduct his meticulous research (for which he was also able to interview several contemporaries of Beethoven). Thayer only completed three volumes of his groundbreaking biography (which was published in German, the three volumes coming out in 1866, 1872, and 1879), which covered Beethoven's life up to 1816. Volumes 4 and 5 were completed and published posthumously in 1907 and 1908 by the eminent musicologist Hugo Riemann (1849–1919) on the basis of Thayer's research notes. The German text of Thayer's biography is available online [1] and has been consulted for the translation of Tchaikovsky's article in order to pinpoint passages (underlined) where he is expressing his own opinions about Beethoven, rather than just paraphrasing Thayer's detailed narrative.
  4. Tchaikovsky had copies of these two volumes in his personal library, and they are full of markings and underlining, showing how carefully he had studied Thayer's biography in preparation for this article. Vasily Yakovlev, in his research on Tchaikovsky's music review articles for the Soviet edition of Tchaikovsky's literary writings and correspondence—П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том II (1953)—was the first to point out that the composer had drawn on Thayer's biography when writing this article. Probably because of the 'compilatory' nature of this article it was not included in the separate edition of Tchaikovsky's music review articles also published under Yakovlev's editorship—П. И. Чайковский. Музыкально-критические статьи (1953).
  5. Joseph Clemens of Bavaria (1671–1723), Archbishop-Elector of Cologne from 1688 to 1723. The above chapter is in effect a condensed version of chapter I of volume 1 of Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Ludwig van Beethovens Leben, 5 volumes (Berlin, 1866–1908; volumes 4 and 5 edited posthumously by Hugo Riemann).
  6. Clemens August of Bavaria (1700–1761), Archbishop-Elector of Cologne from 1723 to 1761.
  7. Maximilian Frederick of Königsegg-Rothenfels (1708–1784), Archbishop-Elector of Cologne from 1761 to 1784.
  8. Ludwig van Beethoven, Sr. (1712–1773), Flemish-born German musician and wine merchant, the grandfather of the composer.
  9. The above chapter is based on chapters 2 and 3 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography.
  10. Johann van Beethoven (1740–1792), German court musician and tenor, the composer's father.
  11. The above chapter is based on chapter 7 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography.
  12. Maria Magdalena Kewerich (1746–1787), the mother of Ludwig van Beethoven.
  13. The above chapter is based on chapters 7 and 8 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography, but the observation that the new-born Ludwig "would subsequently illuminate the whole world with the rays of his mighty genius" [Людвиг, озаривший впоследствии целый мир лучами своего могучего гения] is Tchaikovsky's own.
  14. Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748–1798), German opera composer and conductor, the first important teacher whom Beethoven had as a boy.
  15. The above chapter is based on chapters 8 and 9 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography, but the praise for the farsightedness of the author of the first mention of Beethoven in the press—since that author (in fact it was Neefe) had been able "to discern in the boy the makings of a talent that would subsequently occupy first place amongst the composers after Mozart"—comes from Tchaikovsky himself.
  16. Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria (1756–1801), the youngest child of Maria Theresa of Austria and Emperor Francis I; he was Archbishop-Elector of Cologne from 1784 until 1801 (in effect until 1794).
  17. Wenzel Anton Graf Kaunitz (1711–1794), Austrian statesman, chancellor of state and minister of foreign affairs from 1753 to 1792; he was one of Maria Theresa's most trusted advisers.
  18. The above chapter is based on chapters 10 and 11 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography.
  19. The above chapter is based on chapter 12 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography.
  20. The above chapter is based on chapters 12 and 13 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography. However, the description of Mozart's Don Giovanni as "a colossal work" is Tchaikovsky's own, as is his reference to Beethoven's audition at Mozart's house as a "meeting between the world's two greatest composers". Likewise, although Thayer in chapter 12 cites in full Beethoven's earliest surviving letter (dated 15 September 1787 and addressed to Dr Schaden in Augsburg) in which he expresses in very moving terms what his mother had meant to him and how he no longer had anyone whom he could call by that sweet name, it seems to be Tchaikovsky himself who is speaking when he says that the young Beethoven was then "without friends or any guiding hand, unable to find in his surroundings anyone who might satisfy his passionate heart's yearning for fervent love". It is worth noting that Tchaikovsky lost his mother when he was just a few years younger than Beethoven, and that this was an equally traumatic event for him—see Tchaikovsky: A Life (1840–1865).
  21. Maria Helene von Breuning (1750–1838) was the head of this large family as she had been widowed at the age of 26.
  22. Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein (1762–1823), one of Beethoven's earliest patrons.
  23. The above chapter is based on chapters 13 and 14 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography.
  24. When taking notes from Thayer's biography, Tchaikovsky evidently failed to write down correctly the name of the Spanish composer Vicente Martín y Soler (1754–1806) and later decided that he was an Italian, turning his name into "Vincenzo Martini"!
  25. Anton Reicha (1770–1836), Czech-born naturalized French composer, a life-long friend of Beethoven, and later the teacher of Liszt and Berlioz. He was in fact not the son of the music director of the Bonn Hofkapelle, Josef Reicha, but his nephew, although it is true that he had been brought up by the latter because his father had died when he was still a baby.
  26. i.e. a passing mood, the Latin participle raptus = 'seized, carried away' also being the root of the word 'rapture' in English.
  27. This should be Mergentheim, an ancient town in Baden-Württemberg.
  28. The above chapter is based on chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 of volume 1 of Thayer's biography.
  29. Johann Baptist Schenk (1753–1836), Austrian composer; he wrote a number of works for the stage, and his most successful 'Singspiel' Der Dorfbarbier [The Village Barber], first produced in 1796, is still sometimes revived today. He gave Beethoven some lessons in counterpoint.
  30. Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736–1809), Austrian organist, composer, and music theorist.
  31. Emanuel Schikaneder (1751–1812), German theatre manager, singer, actor, and playwright; he is now remembered above all for his contribution to the libretto of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, in which he also appeared as Papageno at the premiere of the opera.
  32. Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky (1761–1814), one of Beethoven's most important aristocratic patrons.
  33. La Molinara, ossia L'amor contrastato (The Maid of the Mill, or Lovers' Rivalry), an opera by Paisiello first performed in Naples in 1789.
  34. The above chapter is based on chapters 18, 20, 21, and 22 of volume 1, as well as chapter 1 of volume 2 , of Thayer's biography. The following remarks, however, are very much Tchaikovsky's own: (i) when he says that only in Beethoven's eyes did there glisten "a reflection of his radiant genius", for he was otherwise quite unsightly in appearance; (ii) the observation that great artists, such as Haydn in Beethoven's case, rarely make good teachers because they are more interested in "general manifestations of musical beauty" than in technical details, and that only "inveterate theorists of counterpoint" like to mark and correct students' exercises (a clearly autobiographical detail, since Tchaikovsky disliked teaching his theory class at the Moscow Conservatory); (iii) the remark about Beethoven's "noble humility" in allowing the stirrings of his genius to be curbed by a "scholarly pedant" (perhaps also an autobiographical note, since Tchaikovsky as a student had been somewhat put off by the dry and pedantic teaching of Nikolay Zaremba)—Thayer puts a slightly different emphasis on Beethoven's studies under Albrechtsberger, arguing that in spite of all his youthful rebelliousness Beethoven was very much keen to master the established rules of composition; (iv) the observation about Beethoven's "tremendous genius" truly unfolding in the field of symphonic music again reflects Tchaikovsky's overwhelming preference for Beethoven as a symphonist (e.g. he did not like his later string quartets so much, and as for Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, the only parts of it which found favour with Tchaikovsky were those of a symphonic nature—see TH 310); (v) finally, the remark about Beethoven achieving great facility in composition, even if he "could never compete" with Mozart in that respect, also seems to have been inserted by Tchaikovsky into the narrative that he compiled on the basis of Thayer's text.
  35. Jean-Pierre Duport (1741–1818), famous French cellist.
  36. Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752–1814), German composer and essayist; he was a good friend of Goethe.
  37. Friedrich Heinrich Himmel (1765–1814), German pianist and composer.
  38. The above chapter is based on chapter 1 of volume 2 of Thayer's biography.
  39. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (1763–1844), French soldier, Marshal of France, ascended to the Swedish throne as Karl XIV Johan in 1818.
  40. Rudolph Kreutzer (1766–1831), French violinist and composer of German extraction, the dedicatee of Beethoven's famous Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major (the Kreutzer Sonata).
  41. The above chapter is based on chapters 1 and 2 of volume 2 of Thayer's biography. However, the concluding sentences, starting from "that work in which for the first time Beethoven's genius…" are very much Tchaikovsky's own (in TH 268, an article written a few months earlier, he had discussed the Eroica Symphony in similarly enthusiastic terms).
  42. Joseph Wölfl (1773–1812), Austrian pianist and composer.
  43. The Op. 66 Variations on the theme of "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
  44. The above chapter is based on chapters 2 of volume 2 of Thayer's biography. The reflections about the strikingly different fate which fell to the lot of Wölfl and Beethoven, however, are very much Tchaikovsky's own, and the same applies to the description of Beethoven's works as the "greatest monuments to man's creative spirit" and the reference to his "aureole of immortality".
  45. Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti (1763–1846), famous Italian double bassist.
  46. Johann Baptist Cramer (1771–1858), English pianist and composer of German origin; he later set up an instrument-manufacturing and music-publishing firm in London.
  47. The above chapter is based on chapter 2 of volume 2 of Thayer's biography.
  48. Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz (1759–1833), Hungarian civil servant, amateur cellist and composer. Beethoven dedicated his String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95, to him.
  49. Ignaz Schuppanzigh (1776–1830), Austrian violinist, leader of Count Razumovsky's private string quartet and a close friend of Beethoven to whom he gave violin lessons. He played at the premiere of many of the composer's string quartets.
  50. Ludwig Sina (1778–1857), violinist, played second violin in the Razumovsky Quartet; he helped to introduce Beethoven's music in France.
  51. Franz Weiß (1778–1830), Silesian-born violist, played with the Razumovsky Quartet; also a composer.
  52. Nikolaus Kraft (1777–1853), Czech cellist and composer, the son of Antonín Kraft (1749–1820), who was also a distinguished cellist and composer. Beethoven wrote the cello part of his Triple Concerto for Kraft Sr.
  53. The above chapter is based on chapters 3 and 4 of volume 2 of Thayer's biography. However, the vivid image of Beethoven's detractors yelping and snapping at his feet like pug-dogs [моськи] is Tchaikovsky's own. Likewise, the remarks about how Beethoven "did not even disdain the use of flattery" in order to win the favour of high-ranking and wealthy patrons, and about his lack of "tact" due to a deficient upbringing, seem to have been made by Tchaikovsky himself on the basis of the letters and contemporary accounts presented in Thayer's book (Thayer does not explicitly use the word "flattery" in describing Beethoven's relations with his patrons at this time of his life). Finally, the observation that Magdalene Willmann's unfavourable opinion about her suitor was shared by all the "frivolous Viennese ladies", who were "more likely to fall for dashing Guards' officers", also comes from Tchaikovsky himself.
  54. The phrase in question quoted by Thayer from a letter written by Beethoven in 1801 is as follows: "Ich taxire sie nur nach dem, was sie mir leisten—ich betrachte sie als bloße Instrumente, worauf ich, wenn's mir gefällt, spiele" ["I value them [some unspecified persons] only according to the services they do for me—I regard them as mere instruments for me to play when I feel like it"].
  55. The above chapter is based on chapter 4 of volume 2 of Thayer's biography. However, Tchaikovsky has included several observations of his own: (i) when he says that Beethoven was aware that his innate genius was second only to that of Mozart, and that he aspired to surpass his predecessor; (ii) the reference to the actors' and musicians' "cynical obsequiousness before superiors and arrogance towards inferiors", as well as to their "coarse ignorance", is nowhere expressed so explicitly in Thayer's book; (iii) the concluding sentences of the final paragraph have several contradictory additions by Tchaikovsky—whereas Thayer emphasizes that the all too human failings of Beethoven's youth, which prevented him from putting into practice his Stoic ideals, were not incompatible with a nobility and purity of soul, Tchaikovsky seems to imply at first by his additions that Beethoven's passionate temperament actually prevented him from developing a noble character and that the purity of his heart was rarely borne out in practice. Nevertheless, by returning to Thayer's more reverential narrative in the very last sentence, Tchaikovsky effectively contradicts the 'negative' features which he had added to Thayer's portrayal of Beethoven!
  56. As Vasily Yakovlev notes, nothing is known about why Tchaikovsky decided not to continue with this article after all. Subsequent issues of The Citizen for 1873 provide no explanation or even mention Tchaikovsky's article.