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Beethoven as critic

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

109. "Do not tear the laurel wreaths from the heads of Handel,
Haydn and Mozart; they belong to them,--not yet to me."

(Teplitz, July 17, l852, to his ten-year-old admirer, Emilie M.,
who had given him a portfolio made by herself.)

110. "Pure church music ought to be performed by voices only,
except a 'Gloria,' or some similar text. For this reason I prefer
Palestrina; but it is folly to imitate him without having his
genius and religious views; it would be difficult, if not
impossible, too, for the singers of today to sing his long notes
in a sustained and pure manner."

(To Freudenberg, in 1824.)

111. "Handel is the unattained master of all masters. Go and learn
from him how to achieve vast effects with simple means."

(Reported by Seyfried. On his death-bed, about the middle of
February, 1827, he said to young Gerhard von Breuning, on
receiving Handel's works: "Handel is the greatest and ablest of
all composers; from him I can still learn. Bring me the books!"

112. "Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived. I would
uncover my head and kneel on his grave."

(Fall of 1823, to J. A. Stumpff, harp maker of London, who acted
very nobly toward Beethoven in his last days. It was he who
rejoiced the dying composer by sending him the forty volumes of
Handel's works (see 111).)

["Cipriani Potter, to A. W. T., February 27, 1861. Beethoven used
to walk across the fields to Vienna very often. B. would stop,
look about and express his love for nature. One day Potter asked:
'Who is the greatest living composer, yourself excepted?' Beethoven
seemed puzzled for a moment, and then exclaimed: 'Cherubini!'
Potter went on: 'And of dead authors?' B.--He had always considered
Mozart as such, but since he had been made acquainted with Handel
he put him at the head." From A. W. Thayer's notebook, reprinted in
"Music and Manners in the Classical Period," page 208. H.E.K.]

113. "Heaven forbid that I should take a journal in which sport is
made of the manes of such a revered one."

(Conversation-book of 1825, in reference to a criticism of

114. "That you are going to publish Sebastian Bach's works is
something which does good to my heart, which beats in love of the
great and lofty art of this ancestral father of harmony; I want
to see them soon."

(January, 1801, to Hofmeister, in Leipzig.)

115. "Of Emanuel Bach's clavier works I have only a few, yet they
must be not only a real delight to every true artist, but also
serve him for study purposes; and it is for me a great pleasure
to play works that I have never seen, or seldom see, for real art

(July 26, 1809, to Gottfried Hartel, of Leipzig in ordering all
the scores of Haydn, Mozart and the two Bachs.)

116. "See, my dear Hummel, the birthplace of Haydn. I received it
as a gift today, and it gives me great pleasure. A mean peasant
hut, in which so great a man was born!"

(Remarked on his death-bed to his friend Hummel.)

117. "I have always reckoned myself among the greatest admirers of
Mozart, and shall do so till the day of my death."

(February 6, 1886, to Abbe Maximilian Stadler, who had sent him
his essay on Mozart's "Requiem.")

118. "Cramer, Cramer! We shall never be able to compose anything
like that!"

(To Cramer, after the two had heard Mozart's concerto in C-minor
at a concert in the Augarten.)

119. "'Die Zauberflote' will always remain Mozart's greatest
work, for in it he for the first time showed himself to be a
German musician. 'Don Juan' still has the complete Italian cut;
besides our sacred art ought never permit itself to be degraded
to the level of a foil for so scandalous a subject."

(A remark reported by Seyfried.)

["Hozalka says that in 1820-21, as near as he can recollect, the
wife of a Major Baumgarten took boy boarders in the house then
standing where the Musikverein's Saal now is, and that Beethoven's
nephew was placed with her. Her sister, Baronin Born, lived with
her. One evening Hozalka, then a young man, called there and found
only Baronin Born at home. Soon another caller came and stayed to
tea. It was Beethoven. Among other topics Mozart came on the
tapis, and the Born asked Beethoven (in writing, of course) which
of Mozart's operas he thought most of. 'Die Zauberflote' said
Beethoven, and, suddenly clasping his hands and throwing up his
eyes, exclaimed: 'Oh, Mozart!'" From A. W. Thayer's notebooks,
reprinted in "Music and Manners in the Classical Period," page
198. H. E. K.]

120. "Say all conceivable pretty things to Cherubini,--that there
is nothing I so ardently desire as that we should soon get
another opera from him, and that of all our contemporaries I have
the highest regard for him."

(May 6, 1823, to Louis Schlasser, afterward chapel master in
Darmstadt, who was about to undertake a journey to Paris. See
note to No. 112.)

121. "Among all the composers alive Cherubini is the most worthy
of respect. I am in complete agreement, too, with his conception
of the 'Requiem,' and if ever I come to write one I shall take
note of many things."

(Remark reported by Seyfried. See No. 112.)

122. "Whoever studies Clementi thoroughly has simultaneously also
learned Mozart and other authors; inversely, however, this is not
the case."

(Reported by Schindler.)

123. "There is much good in Spontini; he understands theatrical
effect and martial noises admirably.

Spohr is so rich in dissonances; pleasure in his music is marred
by his chromatic melody.

His name ought not to be Bach (brook), but Ocean, because of his
infinite and inexhaustible wealth of tonal combinations and
harmonies. Bach is the ideal of an organist."

(In Baden, 1824, to Freudenberg.)

124. "The little man, otherwise so gentle,--I never would have
credited him with such a thing. Now Weber must write operas in
earnest, one after the other, without caring too much for
refinement! Kaspar, the monster, looms up like a house; wherever
the devil sticks in his claw we feel it."

(To Rochlitz, at Baden, in the summer of 1823.)

125. "There you are, you rascal; you're a devil of a fellow, God
bless you!...Weber, you always were a fine fellow."

(Beethoven's hearty greeting to Karl Maria von Weber, in October,

126. "K. M. Weber began too learn too late; art did not have a
chance to develop naturally in him, and his single and obvious
striving is to appear brilliant."

(A remark reported by Seyfried.)

127. "'Euryanthe' is an accumulation of diminished seventh chords
--all little backdoors!"

(Remarked to Schindler about Weber's opera.)

128. "Truly, a divine spark dwells in Schubert!"

(Said to Schindler when the latter made him acquainted with the
"Songs of Ossian," "Die Junge Nonne," "Die Burgschaft," of
Schubert's "Grenzen der Menschheit," and other songs.)

129. "There is nothing in Meyerbeer; he hasn't the courage to
strike at the right time."

(To Tomaschek, in October, 1814, in a conversation about the
"Battle of Victoria," at the performance of which, in 1813,
Meyerbeer had played the big drum.)

130. "Rossini is a talented and a melodious composer, his music
suits the frivolous and sensuous spirit of the times, and his
productivity is such that he needs only as many weeks as the
Germans do years to write an opera."

(In 1824, at Baden, to Freudenberg.)

131. "This rascal Rossini, who is not respected by a single master
of his art!"

(Conversation-book, 1825.)

132. "Rossini would have become a great composer if his teacher
had frequently applied some blows ad posteriora."

(Reported by Schindler. Beethoven had been reading the score of
"Il Barbiere di Siviglia.")

133. "The Bohemians are born musicians. The Italians ought to take
them as models. What have they to show for their famous
conservatories? Behold! their idol, Rossini! If Dame Fortune had
not given him a pretty talent and amiable melodies by the bushel,
what he learned at school would have brought him nothing but
potatoes for his big belly."

(In a conversation-book at Haslinger's music shop, where Beethoven
frequently visited.)

136. "Goethe has killed Klopstock for me. You wonder? Now you
laugh? Ah, because I have read Klopstock. I carried him about
with me for years when I walked. What besides? Well, I didn't
always understand him. He skips about so; and he always begins so
far away, above or below; always Maestoso! D-flat major! Isn't,
it so? But he's great, nevertheless, and uplifts the soul. When I
couldn't understand him I sort of guessed at him."

(To Rochlitz, in 1822.)

135. "As for me I prefer to set Homer, Klopstock, Schiller, to
music; if it is difficult to do, these immortal poets at least
deserve it."

(To the directorate of the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde" of
Vienna, January, 1824, in negotiations for an oratorio, "The
Victory of the Cross" [which he had been commissioned to write by
the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston. H. E. K.].)

136. "Goethe and Schiller are my favorite poets, as also Ossian
and Homer, the latter of whom, unfortunately, I can read only in

(August 8, 1809, to Breitkopf and Hartel.)

137. "Who can sufficiently thank a great poet,--the most valuable
jewel of a nation!"

(February 10, 1811, to Bettina von Arnim. The reference was to

138. "When you write to Goethe about me search out all the words
which can express my deepest reverence and admiration. I am
myself about to write to him about 'Egmont' for which I have
composed the music, purely out of love for his poems which make
me happy."

(February 10, 1811, to Bettina von Arnim.)

139. "I would have gone to death, yes, ten times to death for
Goethe. Then, when I was in the height of my enthusiasm, I
thought out my 'Egmont' music. Goethe,--he lives and wants us all
to live with him. It is for that reason that he can be composed.
Nobody is so easily composed as he. But I do not like to compose

(To Rochlitz, in 1822, when Beethoven recalled Goethe's amiability
in Teplitz.)

140. "Goethe is too fond of the atmosphere of the court; fonder
than becomes a poet. There is little room for sport over the
absurdities of the virtuosi, when poets, who ought to be looked
upon as the foremost teachers of the nation, can forget
everything else in the enjoyment of court glitter."

(Franzensbrunn, August 9, 1812, to Gottfried Hartel of Leipzig.)

141. "When two persons like Goethe and I meet these grand folk
must be made to see what our sort consider great."

(August 15, 1812, in a description of how haughtily he, and how
humbly Goethe, had behaved in the presence of the Imperial court.)

142. "Since that summer in Carlsbad I read Goethe every day,--when
I read at all."

(Remarked to Rochlitz.)

143. "Goethe ought not to write more; he will meet the fate of the
singers. Nevertheless he will remain the foremost poet of Germany."

(Conversationbook, 1818.)

144. "Can you lend me the 'Theory of Colors' for a few weeks? It
is an important work. His last things are insipid."

(Conversation-book, 1820.)

145. "After all the fellow writes for money only."

(Reported by Schindler as having been said by Beethoven when, on
his death-bed, he angrily threw a book of Walter Scott's aside.)

146. "He, too, then, is nothing better than an ordinary man! Now
he will trample on all human rights only to humor his ambition;
he will place himself above all others,--become a tyrant!"

(With these words, as testified to by Ries, an eye-witness,
Beethoven tore the title-page from the score of his "Eroica"
symphony (which bore a dedication to Bonaparte) when the news
reached him that Napoleon had declared himself emperor.)

147. "I believe that so long as the Austrian has his brown beer
and sausage he will not revolt."

(To Simrock, publisher, in Bonn, August 2, 1794.)

148. "Why do you sell nothing but music? Why did you not long ago
follow my well-meant advice? Do get wise, and find your raison.
Instead of a hundred-weight of paper order genuine unwatered
Regensburger, float this much-liked article of trade down the
Danube, serve it in measures, half-measures and seidels at cheap
prices, throw in at intervals sausages, rolls, radishes, butter
and cheese, invite the hungry and thirsty with letters an ell
long on a sign: 'Musical Beer House,' and you will have so many
guests at all hours of the day that one will hold the door open
for the other and your office will never be empty."

(To Haslinger, the music publisher, when the latter had complained
about the indifference of the Viennese to music.)

Jan 6, 2016
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