Beethoven, Ludwig van
Beethoven's work as a whole is divided into three periods, the division not altogether chronological, but made with special reference to style. The second period, Grove designates a " time of extraordinary greatness, full of individuality, character, and humor, but still more full of power and mastery and common sense." To this great period belong, in addition to the works before mentioned, the opera Leonora- Fidelio; the Mass in C; six symphonies, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth; overture to Coriolan; Music to Egmont; Piano Concertos in G and E flat; Violin Concerto; The Rasoumowsky Quartets; the quartet for strings in E flat and quartet for strings in F minor; piano trios; twelve piano sonatas, among them the one dedicated to Count Brunswick, the wonderful Appassionata; and the Liederkreis. In this period Beethoven reaches the zenith of his fame and prosperity.
It was in 1813, with the production of his Battle Symphony, that he was acclaimed patriot as well as musician; at the moment the Austrians and Germans were looking for fit expression of their joy over the defeat of the French. This work was suggested to Beethoven by an inventor who had made him an ear-trumpet and with whom he was on intimate terms. Maelzel was a man who understood the public taste, and it is evident Maelzel's influence was responsible for the Battle Symphony, which Grove rates as conceived on a " vulgar plan " and containing "few traces of Beethoven's genius. The Battle Symphony, first produced at a benefit concert for the soldiers disabled at the battle of Hanau, made a great sensation; the most distinguished musicians played in the orchestra, desiring to do their part in the patriotic demonstration, and the orchestra was conducted by Beethoven himself. The concert was a tremendous success and was repeated several times, the Battle-Piece always winning great applause. As " Wellington's Victory " it became very popular in England. The work is not placed among the notable Nine Symphonies.
To Beethoven's third period belong the Ninth Symphony; the Mass in D; the last five piano sonatas; and the last five string quartets. This is analyzed by Ernest Walker as the period of " new birth with its strange and sometimes painful struggles, and its steady, persisting reaching up to a supreme, dim ideal; but he (Beethoven) died too soon, and then that particular door in music was shut, and not even Brahms found the key."
Beethoven, the symphonist, is not at his best in the writing of opera. His one opera, Fidelio, which was written to Bouilly's libretto, Leonore, shows a lack of harmony between music and libretto, though the music itself is of marvelous beauty and grandeur. His temperament inclined him to symphonies and masses, the freedom of purely orchestral compositions invited him. Haydn and Bach put their best thought into their sacred compositions; not by preference did Mozart write operas; Wagner, poet as well as musician, was the one with " temperament for opera."
Fidelio, produced at a most unfortunate time, 1805, during the French occupancy of Vienna, was withdrawn after three nights. At any suggestion of revision, Beethoven was enraged, but the diplomacy of friends prevailed in the end and the world was enriched by the third Leonore Overture, which Wagner declares so much more than an overture, "mightiest of dramas in itself." The revised Fidelio-Leonore was brought out in 1806, and met with some success; again much revision was given and in 1814 it was produced with great success.
Beethoven's first mass, the Mass in C, is one of the best known of all masses. Its appeal is universal, its aim being to stir the soul rather than merely to please with melody. In this composition the ascendency of the orchestra is marked, Beethoven being the first musician to emphasize its importance over the voice in musical expression. The Mass in D, the Missa Solemnis, is, Bach's Mass in B minor excepted, the most colossal work ever written for the Catholic Church. The occasion for which the Grand Mass was originally designed, was the installation of Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmütz, but the work took years for its completion. Beethoven labored on it from the autumn of 1818 till the spring of 1823.
In 1809, there had come to Beethoven the offer of the post of music director to the King of Westphalia, Napoleon's brother, acceptance of which meant an assured income of over $1,400 and leisure for composing. Beethoven hesitated about refusing the offer, although it would have been very hard for him to leave Vienna, and very distasteful to accept favors of a Bonaparte. Fearing in the end he might be tempted to accept, three of his friends, The Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky, put together an annuity for him of 4,000 florins, nominally $2,000, but in paper money of fluctuating value. This sum became so lessened by the depreciation of paper and loss following the death of a donor, that in his later life Beethoven felt the harassment of poverty and the urgent need of writing for money. To better his financial condition in the days that proved to be the last ones, Ferdinand Ries, in London, labored zealously to awaken interest in the master, with the result, that an invitation came for Beethoven to visit London, with a concerto and symphony for the Philharmonic Society, a large sum being offered as inducement. This project, though not definitely abandoned, was destined never to be carried out.
It may be of interest, to Americans, to read that the Haydn and Handel Society of Boston wrote to Beethoven in 1823, offering him a commission to