Page images
PDF
EPUB

that Beethoven was very difficult of approach, and that, in fact, no one but his pupil, Ries, had the entrée at his lodgings. Moscheles did not meet his idol until the following year, and then, accidentally, in a music shop, the keeper of which had published soine of his early attempts at composition, and had just been speaking of him to Beethoven.

As the latter passed out he saluted the young aspirant with a benignant nod and a hasty remark, to which, says Moscheles, “I stammered forth a modest and humble reply." But the god of his idolatry broke away, and left poor Moscheles with a still greater longing for what he had so earnestly sought, and with the comfortable feeling that he was a musical nobody. He found consolation, however, in the recollection, that Beethoven had already begun to be afflicted with impaired hearing, and had become averse lo society.

The more difficult Moscheles found it to become acquainted with Beethoven, the more desirous of it he became, and neglected no occasion of hearing him play, or of attending musical meetings where he was to be present. Things continued in this state until 1814, when, having been requested to arrange Beethoven's beautiful opera of “ Fidelio,” it was necessary for Moscheles to obtain the assent of its author. This was granted, on condition that each piece should be submitted to his scrutiny before it was given to the engraver. Thus was the young artist at last brought into frequent contact with the gifted composer. The reserve of Beethoven gradually relaxed before the patience and assiduity of his admirer, in whom, too, he undoubtedly saw indications of superior musical talent. He received him with increasing kindness, and, ere long, with evident attachment, and the friendship between the two kindred spirits became at length firmly established.

It is not surprising, that, with such opportunities of studying the character of Beethoven, of understanding his peculiarities and the causes of his reserve and apparent moroseness, of enjoying his private performances, and learning so much of the origin and progress of his great works, the admiration of Moscheles should have become enthusiastic. He, however, does not conceal from us, that, for a long time, Beethoven's works were in some respects repulsive to him.

[ocr errors]

" In each of them,” he continues, " while I felt my mind fascinated by the prominent idea, and my enthusiasm kindled by the flashes of his genius, his unlooked for episodes, shrill dissonances, and bold modulations, gave me an unpleasant sensation. But how soon did I become reconciled to them ! all that had appeared hard I soon found indispensable. The gnome-like pleasantries, which, at first, appeared too distorted, the strong masses of sound, which I found too chaotic, I have, in after times, learned to love." - Vol. 1. p. xv.

Novel and eccentric as they then appeared, these works are now acknowledged to have marked, for good and evil, a new era in music. “Where,” says the critical Nägeli, as quoted by our author,

" Where shall the historian find words to depict the regeneration produced by Beethoven ? ***** Towering above all his contemporaries at the very beginning of his career, he excited, in later years, a new body of aspirants to enter the lists of inventive composition. Among these may be enumerated Hummel, Onslow, Reicha, Ries, Romberg, Spohr, Weber, Czerny, and Moscheles."

pp. xvii - xx. The brilliant success, which has crowned the efforts of many of these composers, is well known. Others, again, destitute of the inventive genius of the great master, have struck out a still newer path, and poured upon us their wild, incoherent rhapsodies. Of these we have a lamentable instance in Listz, whose attempts to excel his original are too often senseless capricios. Mere mechanical skill, and the construction of difficulties, to overcome which does not compensate for the time and labor, can give but ephemeral reputation ; nor can it be supposed, that compositions of this character can outlive their author.

Moscheles alludes with delicacy to these attempts to outdo Beethoven in boldness and originality. He would have been doing a much needed and acceptable service to the cause of legitimate music, had be more freely animadverted upon a style of composition which has nothing to recommend it, unless it be extravagance and noise.

From what has been stated as to the musical education of Moscheles, and the opportunities he enjoyed, it will readily be believed, that he has become thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Beethoven, and that his compositions are free from the absurdities which abound in so many of the modern fashionable productions. He has resided for many years in

[ocr errors]

London, and has the satisfaction of knowing, that he has largely and successfully contributed to the advancement of his art by his fine compositions, as well as by his spirited public performances and sound instruction of others. 'He is probably better known to most of our amateurs by his difficult compositions, and by the reputation he early acquired for rapid execution, and the vast volumes of sound he is said to draw from his instrument. “ Having a giant's strength, he was prompted by his youthful fire to use it like a giant. But his style has of late become more chastened, without losing boldness or fire, with which he now blends the delicate softness and tender expression of Cramer. His works are learned and full of imagination and feeling, showing throughout the good effects of the system of which we have spoken, and the durable influence of his early and continued study of the great classics of music. His late overture to “Joan of Arc” is pronounced worthy of Beethoven himself.

We have dwelt, at unexpected length, upon the editor of the biography before us. It is time to speak more particularly of his subject. Beethoven was born on the 17th of December, 1770, at Bonn in Prussia, but was not the son of William the Second, as had been reported, and repeated, according to M. Schindler, in no fewer than seven editions of the Conversations-Lexicon," greatly to the annoyance of the composer. This story was finally put to rest by Dr. Wegeler, who, at Beethoven's request, published a copy of the baptismal register duly attested, that the unblemished character of his parents, especially of his mother, should be made known to the world. His father was Johann van Beethoven, a singer, who died in 1792 ; his mother was a native of Coblentz, and died in 1787. Beethoven retained a lively recollection of his mother, and often spoke of her with filial affection and fervent gratitude, particularly as having had “much patience with his obstinacy." His education was neither much attended to, nor altogether neglected. He was taught "something of Latin " at school, but was kept to music at home. Like boys in some other countries, he had a great aversion to sitting still, and had to be driven “in good earnest ” to the music stool. taught the pianoforte and violin. Of the tones which he drew from the latter instrument wonderful stories have been told. Thus, it has been said, that he so enchanted a spider, that it was in the habit of letting itself down from the ceiling,

He was

[ocr errors]

and of alighting upon the instrument, which Beethoven's mother one day discovering, she destroyed the insect, “ whereupon little Ludwig dashed his violin to shatters.” Now, so far from this being the fact, Beethoven has declared, that “the very flies and spiders would have fled out of the hearing of his horrid scraping.'

The early acquaintance of Beethoven with the family of M. von Breuning led to his introduction to the literature of Germany; and to the last moment of his life he derived from it great enjoyment, and expressed his obligations to the kind friends who awakened him to its beauties. In other departments his literary attainments were also respectable. He read the Italian poets in the original language, and understood English, French, and Latin, conversing readily in the two last.

His deafness prevented his acquiring facility in speaking English, but he preferred English to French writers, because, as he said, “ Ils sont plus vrais.His favorite English authors were Shakspeare and Thomson. In his last sickness he is reported to have amused himself, in his intervals of ease, by reading the ancient Greek writers and the Waverley Novels.

Having received his first instructions in music, he was transferred from his father's care to that of M. Pfeiffer, a music director and man of talent. In 1785, his progress had been such, that he was appointed by the elector, Max Franz, brother of Joseph the Second, organist to the electoral chapel. About this time a circumstance occurred, which affords evidence of his extraordinary talent, and which was often mentioned by him, in after life, as a clever juvenile trick.

“On the last three days of the Passion week, the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah were always chanted ; these consisted of passages of from four to six lines, and they were sung in no particular time.

In the middle of each sentence, agreeably to the choral style, peculiar to the old church-music in general, a rest was made upon one note, which rest the player on the piano, for the organ was not used on those three days, – had to fill up with a voluntary flourish, as is likewise usual in the accompaniment of other choral performances.

“Beethoven told Heller, a singer at the chapel, who was boasting of his professional cleverness, that he would engage, that very day, to put him out at such a place, without his

pp. 31, 32.

being aware of it, yet so effectually, that he should not be able to proceed. Heller, who considered this as an absolute impossibility, laid a wager accordingly with Beethoven. The latter, when he came to a passage that suited his purpose, led the singer, by an adroit modulation, out of the prevailing mode into one having no affinity to it, still, however, adhering to the tonic of the former key ; so that the singer, unable to find his way in this strange region, was brought to a dead stand. Exasperated by the laughter of those around him, Heller complained of Beethoven to the elector, who, to use Beethoven's expression, 'gave him a most gracious reprimand, and bade him not play any more such clever tricks.'

By the time he had arrived at the age of twenty-two, Beethoven had acquired the friendship of Mozart, “ the source of all light in the region of harmony,” who, when he first heard Beethoven extemporize on a theme that was given to him, exclaimed, “ This youth will some day make a noise in the world.” He early made the acquaintance of the family of Prince Lichnowsky, and thus came under an inAuence which led to the most important consequences. This princely family was highly musical, and the prince became io him as a father, and the princess a second mother. He was allowed six hundred florins a year, (when shall the artist find such patronage in America ?) until he should receive some permanent appointment. Although the young man had his freaks and fancies, like most geniuses, they always found an apologist in the amiable princess. “They would have brought me up,” said he, “ with grandmotherly fondness, which was carried to such a length, that very often the princess was on the point of having a glass shade made to put over me, so that no unworthy person might touch or breathe upon me.”

The consequences of such indulgence and ill-judged kindness were soon too obvious, and they were far from being lessened by the fact, that his eccentricities were admired, and for a time the name of “ Beethoven ” became a general password, to which everything gave way.

It is not surprising that he now found himself an object of jealousy and attack to rival artists, and a remarkable trait of character was manifested.

“He never defended himself against criticism or attacks, so long as they were not directed against his honor, but VOL. LIII. — No. 113.

38

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »