Not even a Beethoven was spared the tormenting question of texts
for composition. It is fortunate for posterity that he did not
exhaust his energies in setting inefficient libretti, that he did
not believe that good music would suffice to command success in
spite of bad texts. The majority of his works belong to the field
of purely instrumental music. Beethoven often gave expression to
the belief that words were a less capable medium of proclamation
for feelings than music. Nevertheless it may be observed that he
looked upon an opera, or lyric drama, as the crowning work of his
life. He was in communication with the best poets of his time
concerning opera texts. A letter of his on the subject was found
in the blood-spotted pocketbook of Theodor Komer. The conclusion
of his creative labors was to be a setting of Goethe's "Faust;"
except "Fidelio," however, he gave us no opera. His songs are not
many although he sought carefully for appropriate texts.
Unhappily the gift of poetry was not vouchsafed him.
22. "Always the same old story: the Germans can not put together a
(To C. M. von Weber, concerning the book of "Euryanthe," at Baden,
in October, 1823. Mozart said: "Verses are the most indispensable
thing for music, but rhymes, for the sake of rhymes, the most
injurious. Those who go to work so pedantically will assuredly
come to grief, along with the music.")
23. "It is difficult to find a good poem. Grillparzer has promised
to write one for me,--indeed, he has already written one; but we
can not understand each other. I want something entirely different
(In the spring of 1825, to Ludwig Rellstab, who was intending to
write an opera-book for Beethoven. It may not be amiss to recall
the fact that Mozart examined over one hundred librettos,
according to his own statement, before he decided to compose "The
Marriage of Figaro.")
24. "It is the duty of every composer to be familiar with all
poets, old and new, and himself choose the best and most fitting
for his purposes."
(In a recommendation of Kandler's "Anthology.")
25. "The genre would give me little concern provided the subject
were attractive to me. It must be such that I can go to work on
it with love and ardor. I could not compose operas like 'Don
Juan' and 'Figaro;' toward them I feel too great a repugnance. I
could never have chosen such subjects; they are too frivolous."
(In the spring of 1825, to Ludwig Rellstab.)
26. "I need a text which stimulates me; it must be something
moral, uplifting. Texts such as Mozart composed I should never
have been able to set to music. I could never have got myself
into a mood for licentious texts. I have received many librettos,
but, as I have said, none that met my wishes."
(To young Gerhard von Breuning.)
27. "I know the text is extremely bad, but after one has conceived
an entity out of even a bad text, it is difficult to make changes
in details without disturbing the unity. If it is a single word,
on which occasionally great weight is laid, it must be permitted
to stand. He is a bad author who can not, or will not try to make
something as good as possible; if this is not the case petty
changes will certainly not improve the whole."
(Teplitz, August 23, 1811, to Hartel, the publisher, who wanted
some changes made in the hook of "The Mount of Olives.")
28. "Good heavens! Do they think in Saxony that the words make
good music? If an inappropriate word can spoil the music, which
is true, then we ought to be glad when we find that words and
music are one and not try to improve matters even if the verbal
expression is commonplace--dixi."
(January 28, to Gottfried Hartel, who had undertaken to make
changes in the book of "The Mount of Olives" despite the
prohibition of Beethoven.)
29. "Goethe's poems exert a great power over me not only because
of their contents but also because of their rhythms; I am
stimulated to compose by this language, which builds itself up to
higher orders as if through spiritual agencies, and bears in
itself the secret of harmonies."
(Reported as an expression of Beethoven's by Bettina von Arnim to
30. "Schiller's poems are difficult to set to music. The composer
must be able to rise far above the poet. Who can do that in the
case of Schiller? In this respect Goethe is much easier."
(1809, after Beethoven had made his experiences with the "Hymn to
Joy" and "Egmont.")
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- Jan 6, 2016
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