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On composing


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



31. "As regards me, great heavens! my dominion is in the air; the
tones whirl like the wind, and often there is a like whirl in my
soul."

(February 13, 1814, to Count Brunswick, in Buda.)

32. "Then the loveliest themes slipped out of your eyes into my
heart, themes which shall only then delight the world when
Beethoven conducts no longer."

(August 15, 1812, to Bettina von Arnim.)

33. "I always have a picture in my mind when composing, and follow
its lines."

(In 1815, to Neate, while promenading with him in Baden and
talking about the "Pastoral" symphony.)

[Ries relates: "While composing Beethoven frequently thought of
an object, although he often laughed at musical delineation and
scolded about petty things of the sort. In this respect 'The
Creation' and 'The Seasons' were many times a butt, though without
depreciation of Haydn's loftier merits. Haydn's choruses and other
works were loudly praised by Beethoven."]

34. "The texts which you sent me are least of all fitted for song.
The description of a picture belongs to the field of painting; in
this the poet can count himself more fortunate than my muse for
his territory is not so restricted as mine in this respect, though
mine, on the other hand, extends into other regions, and my
dominion is not easily reached."

(Nussdorf, July 15, 1817, to Wilhelm Gerhard, who had sent him
some Anacreontic songs for composition.)

35. "Carried too far, all delineation in instrumental music loses
in efficiency."

(A remark in the sketches for the "Pastoral" symphony, preserved
in the Royal Library in Berlin.)

[Mozart said: "Even in the most terrifying moments music must
never offend the ear."]

36. "Yes, yes, then they are amazed and put their heads together
because they never found it in any book on thorough bass."

(To Ries when the critics accused him of making grammatical
blunders in music.)

37. "No devil can compel me to write only cadences of such a kind."

(From notes written in his years of study. Beethoven called the
composition of fugues "the art of making musical skeletons.")

38. "Good singing was my guide; I strove to write as flowingly as
possible and trusted in my ability to justify myself before the
judgment-seat of sound reason and pure taste."

(From notes in the instruction book of Archduke Rudolph.)

39. "Does he believe that I think of a wretched fiddle when the
spirit speaks to me?"

(To his friend, the admirable violinist Schuppanzigh, when the
latter complained of the difficulty of a passage in one of his
works.)

[Beethoven here addresses his friend in the third person, which is
the customary style of address for the German nobility and others
towards inferiors in rank. H. E. K.]

40. "The Scotch songs show how unconstrainedly irregular melodies
can be treated with the help of harmony."

(Diary, 1812-1818. Since 1809 Beethoven had arranged Folksongs for
Thomson of Edinburgh.)

41. "To write true church music, look through the old monkish
chorals, etc., also the most correct translations of the periods,
and perfect prosody in the Catholic Psalms and hymns generally."

(Diary, 1818.)

42. "Many assert that every minor piece must end in the minor.
Nego! On the contrary I find that in the soft scales the major
third at the close has a glorious and uncommonly quieting effect.
Joy follows sorrow, sunshine--rain. It affects me as if I were
looking up to the silvery glistering of the evening star."

(From Archduke Rudolph's book of instruction.)

43. "Rigorists, and devotees of antiquity, relegate the perfect
fourth to the list of dissonances. Tastes differ. To my ear it
gives not the least offence combined with other tones."

(From Archduke Rudolph's book of instruction, compiled in 1809.)

44. "When the gentlemen can think of nothing new, and can go no
further, they quickly call in a diminished seventh chord to help
them out of the predicament."

(A remark made to Schindler.)

45. "My dear boy, the startling effects which many credit to the
natural genius of the composer, are often achieved with the
greatest ease by the use and resolution of the diminished
seventh chords."

(Reported by Karl Friederich Hirsch, a pupil of Beethoven in the
winter of 1816. He was a grandson of Albrechtsberger who had
given lessons to Beethoven.)

46. "In order to become a capable composer one must have already
learned harmony and counterpoint at the age of from seven to
eleven years, so that when the fancy and emotions awake one
shall know what to do according to the rules."

(Reported by Schindler as having been put into the mouth of
Beethoven by a newspaper of Vienna. Schindler says: "When
Beethoven came to Vienna he knew no counterpoint, and little
harmony.")

47. "So far as mistakes are concerned it was never necessary for
me to learn thorough-bass; my feelings were so sensitive from
childhood that I practiced counterpoint without knowing that it
must be so or could be otherwise."

(Note on a sheet containing directions for the use of fourths in
suspensions--probably intended for the instruction of Archduke
Rudolph.)

48. "Continue, Your Royal Highness, to write down briefly your
occasional ideas while at the pianoforte. For this a little
table alongside the pianoforte is necessary. By this means not
only is the fancy strengthened, but one learns to hold fast in a
moment the most remote conceptions. It is also necessary to
compose without the pianoforte; say often a simple chord melody,
with simple harmonies, then figurate according to the rules of
counterpoint, and beyond them; this will give Y. R. H. no
headache, but, on the contrary, feeling yourself thus in the
midst of art, a great pleasure."

(July 1, 1823, to his pupil Archduke Rudolph.)


49. "The bad habit, which has clung to me from childhood, of
always writing down a musical thought which occurs to me, good
or bad, has often been harmful to me."

(July 23, 1815, to Archduke Rudolph, while excusing himself for
not having visited H.R.H., on the ground that he had been
occupied in noting a musical idea which had occurred to him.)

50. "As is my habit, the pianoforte part of the concerto (op. 19)
was not written out in the score; I have just written it,
wherefore, in order to expedite matters, you receive it in my
not too legible handwriting."

(April 22, 1801, to the publisher Hofmeister, in Leipzig.)

51. "Correspondence, as you know, was never my forte; some of my
best friends have not had a letter from me in years. I live only
in my notes (compositions), and one is scarcely finished when
another is begun. As I am working now I often compose three,
even four, pieces simultaneously."

(Vienna, June 29, 1800, to Wegeler, in Bonn.)

52. "I never write a work continuously, without interruption. I am
always working on several at the same time, taking up one, then
another."

(June 1, 1816, to Medical Inspector Dr. Karl von Bursy, when the
latter asked about an opera (the book by Berge, sent to
Beethoven by Amenda), which was never written.)

53. "I must accustom myself to think out at once the whole, as
soon as it shows itself, with all the voices, in my head."

(Note in a sketch-book of 1810, containing studies for the music
to "Egmont" and the great Trio in B-flat, op. 97. H. E. K.)

54. "I carry my thoughts about me for a long time, often a very
long time, before I write them down; meanwhile my memory is so
faithful that I am sure never to forget, not even in years, a
theme that has once occurred to me. I change many things,
discard, and try again until I am satisfied. Then, however,
there begins in my head the development in every direction, and,
in as much as I know exactly what I want, the fundamental idea
never deserts me,--it arises before me, grows,--I see and hear
the picture in all its extent and dimensions stand before my
mind like a cast, and there remains for me nothing but the labor
of writing it down, which is quickly accomplished when I have
the time, for I sometimes take up other work, but never to the
confusion of one with the other.

You will ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with
certainty; they come unsummoned, directly, indirectly,--I could
seize them with my hands,--out in the open air; in the woods;
while walking; in the silence of the nights; early in the morning;
incited by moods, which are translated by the poet into words, by
me into tones that sound, and roar and storm about me until I have
set them down in notes."

(Said to Louis Schlosser, a young musician, whom Beethoven honored
with his friendship in 1822-23.)

55. "On the whole, the carrying out of several voices in strict
relationship mutually hinders their progress."

(Fall of 1812, in the Diary of 1812-18.)

56. "Few as are the claims which I make upon such things I shall
still accept the dedication of your beautiful work with
pleasure. You ask, however, that I also play the part of a
critic, without thinking that I must myself submit to criticism!
With Voltaire I believe that 'a few fly-bites can not stop a
spirited horse.' In this respect I beg of you to follow my
example. In order not to approach you surreptitiously, but
openly as always, I say that in future works of the character
you might give more heed to the individualization of the voices."

(Vienna, May 10, 1826. To whom the letter was sent is not known,
though from the manner of address it is plain that he was of the
nobility.)

57. "Your variations show talent, but I must fault you for having
changed the theme. Why? What man loves must not be taken away
from him;--moreover to do this is to make changes before
variations."

(Baden, July 6, 1804, to Wiedebein, a teacher of music in
Brunswick.)

58. "I am not in the habit of rewriting my compositions. I never
did it because I am profoundly convinced that every change of
detail changes the character of the whole."

(February 19, 1813, to George Thomson, who had requested some
changes in compositions submitted to him for publication.)

59. "One must not hold one's self so divine as to be unwilling
occasionally to make improvements in one's creations."

(March 4, 1809, to Breitkopf and Hartel, when indicating a few
changes which he wished to have made in the symphonies op. 67 and
op. 68.)

60. "The unnatural rage for transcribing pianoforte pieces for
string instruments (instruments that are in every respect so
different from each other) ought to end. I stoutly maintain that
only Mozart could have transcribed his own works, and Haydn; and
without putting myself on a level with these great men I assert
the same thing about my pianoforte sonatas. Not only must entire
passages be elided and changed, but additions must be made; and
right here lies the rock of offence to overcome which one must
be the master of himself or be possessed of the same skill and
inventiveness. I transcribed but a single sonata for string
quartet, and I am sure that no one will easily do it after me."

(July 13, 1809, in an announcement of several compositions, among
them the quintet op. 29.)

61. "Were it not that my income brings in nothing, I should
compose nothing but grand symphonies, church music, or, at the
outside, quartets in addition."

(December 20, 1822, to Peters, publisher, in Leipzig. His income
had been reduced from 4,000 to 800 florins by the depreciation of
Austrian currency.)

[Here, in the original, is one of the puns which Beethoven was
fond of making: "Ware mein Gehalt nicht ganzlich ohne Gehalt."
H. E. K.])

Published:
Jan 6, 2016
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