Beethoven, Ludwig van
Grove calls attention to how strongly the humorous trait of his character is paralleled in his music; " In the finales of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies there are passages which are the exact counterparts of the rough jokes and horse-play. . . . The Scherzo of Symphony Number Two, where the F sharp chord is so suddenly taken and so forcibly held, might almost be a picture of the unfortunate Kellner forced to stand still while the dish of stew was poured over his head. The bassoons in the opening and closing movements of Number Eight are inimitably humorous; and so in many other instances."
In appearance, Beethoven was short and broad of shoulder, his head large and covered with a great shock of very black hair, snow-white in later life, his face is universally described as ugly but expressive, his complexion was ruddy, and his eyes his best feature. The expression of his face was generally one of intentness and abstraction, often of gloom. Beethoven, while careless of speech, his education being obtained at a common public institution and carried on only to his thirteenth year, was a man of considerable culture. He was very fond of the Greek classics, could quote passage after passage at length, and was familiar with Goethe, Schiller and other German poets. The English poet Thomson was his favorite, and of Shakespeare he was a loving student.
The strongest characteristic in his life was the sturdy independence, which made it impossible for him to live dependent on a patron. To be sure, the maintenance of this independence was made possible, by the development, in his day, of the art of printing music, making him able, as his predecessors had not been, to depend on the public rather than a patron. He would come and go at the bidding of no prince or sovereign. The incident is often told of his attitude toward royalty as demonstrated in his behavior the day he and Goethe, in company together at Toplitz, met the imperial family Goethe bowing with all reverence, Beethoven keeping the middle of the road, passing royalty unheeding, head in air. No fear of losing an income kept him from a rupture with Prince Lichnowsky, and after leaving that nobleman he did not again accept a post. He was always falling in love, now with a tailor's daughter, now with Countess or Baroness, but no breath of scandal ever touched his name. Krehbiel dwells on the nobility of his character, the chastity of his mind, the purity of his life. Beethoven was baptized and brought up a Catholic, but in mature life affiliated with no church. Though not a churchman, he was essentially religious. Dannreuther declares that the spirit of Beethoven is as humanizing as the spirit of Sophocles and that Beethoven is an ethical, a religious teacher. A work showing any sensual tendency, such as is noticeable in Mozart's Don Giovanni was very repugnant to him, and he refused with scorn to set to music anything that came below his ideal. Quoting Dannreuther directly, it is " the austere intensity of his nature which distinguishes Beethoven from Haydn and Mozart on the one hand, and constitutes a sort of elective affinity between him and such men as Sebastian Bach and Michelangelo on the other."
Of his influence as a musician it is said: " By virtue of Beethoven music has become the modern art." " In his hands it has become one of the main elements of esthetical culture, and the reigning art of our day." "There is no sculptor to set beside the Greek, no painting to set beside that of Florence and Venice; no poet has equaled Shakespeare, no musician has rivaled Beethoven."
From the great mass of literature on Beethoven, man and musician, mention should be made of a few of the best works. The authoritative biography is the work of an American, Alexander Wheelock Thayer. Thayer chose to have the biography appear first in German, and as yet there is no English translation. This work attempts no analysis of his music. The article on Beethoven in Grove's Dictionary is analytic, as well as historically accurate. One of the first sympathetic appreciations of Beethoven is found in Berlioz's Voyage Musical and in his A Travers Chants. The life of Beethoven written by his close friend, Schindler, is of very great interest but not entirely reliable; and Beethoven's own letters have intense interest. For the student of the master's method of composition, Nottebohm's contribution is of inestimable value. Attention should be called to Daniel Gregory Mason's, Beethoven and His Forerunners, and to Ernest Walker's, Beethoven, in the Music of the Masters series. Wagner's treatise on Beethoven is of peculiar value, though, as defined by Walker, it is rhapsodical almost to the point of incoherence.