Beethoven, Ludwig van
write an oratorio especially for its use. Elson relates that Beethoven was pleased with the commission from across the ocean, but adds: "Fortunately, it remained only a project; one shudders to think of the fate of a work of perhaps the caliber of Beethoven's great Mass, or the finale of the Ninth Symphony, handed over to the tender mercies of an American orchestra and chorus in 1823."
Beethoven's choral and solo vocal compositions are comparatively few. The oratorio, the masses, some cantatas, written in his younger days, the setting of Goethe's Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, an Opferlied and a Bundeslied, make up the list of his choral works. Of the eighty-three songs with piano accompaniment, there are not many that are to be considered as adding to his fame, although as Walker phrases it, it is "impossible to take up any collection of Beethoven's music without discovering pearls of great price." There is the wonderful song cycle, An die feme Geliebte; the splendid die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur; the great scena, Ah! Perfido; and the noble Elegischer Gesang.
The larger part of Beethoven's instrumental compositions is in the sonata form. Not counting immature work, the sum of the piano sonatas is thirty-two, many of them belonging with his very greatest work and of the pianist's best treasures. Beethoven's symphonies are nine in number; a small number, yet, as Herr von Eltenheim says, "each represents a world in itself, with an ideal center of its own. Thus, in his first symphony, we are introduced to a little idyll of the heart; the second presents to us a picture of the joyous vigor and amorous strivings of youth; the third suggests a world of daring heroism; in the fourth the wonders of a romantic world are revealed to us; tragical conflict with fate, and eventual victory is the theme of the fifth; while in the sixth we commune with ever-kindly nature; the seventh is a manifestation of joy in human existence; in the eighth the humorous element predominates; and finally, in the ninth, both an inferno and a paradise of the inmost soul are unrolled before our eyes."
Beethoven's music sounds the height and depth of emotion; beauty and peace of life intensity of pain; pasionate revolt, tenderness and calm of resignation. He gives strongest contrasts; this is brought out powerfully in the Mass in D. He was the first musician to bring to the fore an enthusiastic appreciation of nature, as he was the first to feel and express the modern social spirit.
It is the popular belief that Beethoven was the originator of program music; Grove calls attention to predecessors in this field, but adds that though Beethoven did not invent it, he raised it at once to a higher level than before, his program pieces having had a great effect on the art. Chief among these are the Pastoral Symphony, the Eroica Sinfonia, the Sonata pathetique, and his Liederkreis An die feme Geliebte. " The Pastoral Symphony," declares Mason, " of all Beethoven's works ventures farthest into the domain of program music; contains actual imitation of sounds and sights in nature, as the rippling of the brook (strings); the muttering of thunder (contrabasses in their low register) ; flashes of lightning (violins) ; the bassoon of an old peasant sitting on a barrel and able to play but three tones; and the song of the nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet)." Each movement has a descriptive heading, as Merry gathering of the peasants; Scene by the brook; Rejoicing and thankfulness after the storm, etc.
Of keenest interest to the student of Beethoven is the tracing of the influence upon the master of his forerunners Haydn and Mozart, as of deepest interest the debt owed Beethoven by Schumann, Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner. Hero-worship reached its climax in the feeling Wagner held for Beethoven, to whom he continually pays tribute. At the laying of the foundation stone of the Bayreuth Play House, Wagner spoke thus of what he had received from the master: "I wish to see the Ninth Symphony regarded as the foundation stone of my own artistic structure."
Edward Dannreuther, distinguished musician and critic, calls attention to the fact that though Beethoven was most industrious and enjoyed nearly double the years to work in that Mozart did, he left behind less than one-fourth as much work as either Mozart or Haydn. That Beethoven was a tremendous, tireless worker is shown in his Sketch-books, several of which have been preserved in their original form, in a notable collection in the British Museum. When he went on his long walks, he always carried a note-book with him, and at night kept one beside his bed. The pages of the books, including margins, are covered close with notes, first impressions being later worked over and over with infinite care and painstaking. He would keep a composition for years before sending it out, destroying much and continually re-writing. The apparent spontaneity of his work really had back of it the most laborious effort and painstaking care.
Joyousness is the characteristic of Beethoven's second period, that Heiterkeit Wagner uses so often in his rhapsody on Beethoven. In the third period this quality is less marked, but still existent.