THE GRAND MOGUL
BEETHOVEN arrived in Vienna on some date between 4th and 10th November 1792. From now onwards the Austrian capital became his home. At a period when music was fashionable in most great cities, Vienna stood high above all others by the splendour of its professional musicians, the cultivation of its connoisseurs and the prodigality of those princely patrons who vied with each other in the maintenance of house orchestras and chamber music organizations. If public concerts were few, opera was a constant factor, and the private concerts in the palaces of the nobility were an ideal ground on which to make music and meet musicians. Some idea of the prizes open to composers may be gained when we remember that Haydn’s oratorio The Creation and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony both had their first performances in private, one at the Schwarzenburg Palace, the other by Prince Lichnowsky’s orchestra.
This was the world in which Beethoven proposed to make his way, leaving his father and brothers in Bonn provided for, as he thought, by his father’s pension. Nothing worked according to plan. The hundred ducats Beethoven had counted on finding at Vienna were not there. On 15th December, two days after Beethoven’s twenty-second birthday, his father died at Bonn. The discovery was then made that Johann had embezzled (no doubt for drink) the portion of money allocated to maintain Karl and Johann junior. Political affairs went from bad to worse. The movements of French revolutionary armies kept poor Elector Max Franz fleeing or returning to Bonn and his electorate like an episcopal parched pea on a plate. His exchequer was jeopardized. By June 1793 his payments to Beethoven had ceased. By 1794 Max Franz too had left Bonn for ever, and in 1797 the electorate was incorporated in the French Republic.
For Beethoven the situation would have been desperate but that here, as in Bonn, the right friends came at the right time. Someone - probably the Elector Max Franz or Count von Waldstein - had given him valuable introductions which took him straight into the best circles. Another helping hand, I feel sure, was that of Haydn, who had fought poverty himself for eight dreadful years. If an entry in Beethoven’s pocket-book - ‘Haidn 8 groschen’ - relates to a lesson, then the famous man was taking his pupil for a peppercorn fee, eight groschen being about ninepence-halfpenny English money. There is something too very Haydnish in Beethoven’s choice of a lodging - first an attic, then a ground-floor room of the same house where Prince Lichnowsky lived. I suspect Haydn of telling Beethoven to adopt the policy (or was it strategy?) he himself had employed forty years earlier, when he planted himself under the same roof as Metastasio the poet, and secured thereby a good address and (presently) a patron. Such things were possible in old Vienna, for the great buildings were palaces on the bel étage, official dwellings on the second floor, and then dwindled in distinction as they rose, till almost any poor wretch might rent a garret under the roof. Once again the charm worked: before long Prince Karl Lichnowsky had taken Beethoven into his own lodging.
For us, Beethoven the composer is so important that he rather blocks our view of the beginning of his career. But during his first years in Vienna he was esteemed mainly as an executive artist - a solo pianist of extraordinary skill and daring, a mighty extemporizer and a teacher who soon attracted pupils from among the most brilliant young professionals and the most elegant young ladies of the noblesse. The tradition runs that he made his reputation by his ‘superb playing of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier,’ a reputation enhanced by his performance of his own piano works. He clinched it by his contests with the renowned pianists Gelinek, Wölfl and Steibelt. Gelinek emerged from the experience completely ‘debounced,’ and reported afterwards: ‘He [Beethoven] is no man; he is a devil. He will play me and all of us to death. And how he improvises!’ From which it will be seen that his fellow-pianists hardly loved him. This sort of thing only added to the zest of life for a young man living as an honoured guest in Prince Lichnowsky’s house, with a horse and groom of his own (which he forgot!), a salary of six hundred gulden a year and his feelings so considered that the servants had orders to answer his bell before the prince’s. Further, Prince Lichnowsky specially practised Beethoven’s piano works to prove to the world they were playable, and placed his string quartet of fine professional players at his service.
Prince Lobkowitz, another magnifico of music, and about Beethoven’s own age, also became intimate with him. The Freiherr van Swieten (friend of Haydn and Mozart), Count Moritz Lichnowsky (brother of the prince) and Baron von Gleichenstein were personal and patronal friends. The Freiherr Zmeskall von Domanowecz, a precise official in the Royal Hungarian Court Chancellery, fell for life beneath Beethoven’s spell and was perfectly happy to be his butt and to cut his pens for him, Beethoven being clumsy with his hands over everything save music. Schuppanzigh and Krumpholz the violinists, Hummel the pianist, Haring, Eppinger, Kiesewetter the singer, Amenda the young theologian, formed a second circle of devoted friends, to which presently were added intimates from Bonn days: Wegeler, Reicha, Stephan and Lorenz von Breuning. Few men have ever been so rich in friendship.
Meantime Beethoven was studying hard. He had begun his lessons under Haydn on arrival in Vienna; they continued for over a year, Haydn showing his pupil more kindness than biographers have been willing to admit. That the lessons were not a success and that relations were strained between the two men supports my statement, since Beethoven seldom accepted obligations with a good grace. We know from a letter of Beethoven’s own that Haydn took him for a long visit to Prince Esterhazy’s country seat at Eisenstadt in the early summer of 1793, a most useful trip for a young man making his way. Haydn also wished to take him to England. The latter project fell through, and Haydn departed in January 1794 with Elssler as a valet-copyist (imagine the sort of a valet Beethoven would have made!), leaving Beethoven free to betake himself openly to the famous pedagogue, Albrechtsberger, just as, sub rosa, he had already gone to Schenk in search of stricter tuition.
The lessons with Albrechtsberger continued till 1795. Beethoven also began an intermittent course of study under Salieri, Mozart’s old rival, in vocal composition, verbal accent, rhythm, metre, etc., and later learned a good deal about quartet writing from Aloys Forster.
Ferdinand Ries (son of Franz) came to Beethoven as a pupil while still a lad. He knew these early years at first hand and recalled the relations between Haydn, Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Beethoven thus:
I knew them all well; all three valued Beethoven highly, but were also of one mint touching his habits of study. All of them said Beethoven was so headstrong and self-sufficient [selbstwollend] that he had to learn much through harsh experience which he had refused to accept when it was presented to him as a subject for study.
And Thayer adds: ‘Particularly Albrechtsberger and Salieri were of this opinion.’ Haydn, as the great man, saw deeper.
Beethoven was bound to be a difficult pupil, for his work, though far advanced in some directions, was very backward in others, a result of his haphazard training in Bonn. This had to be corrected. The amount of elementary counterpoint he ground through before passing on to fugue would horrify modern students, but Beethoven wanted it, and knew he wanted it. Funny as it seems, like Satan reproving sin, his complaint against Haydn was that the lessons were too slack!
It is no use employing a razor to chop wood! Haydn was a great composer, not a pedagogue. The mistake lay in expecting him to give Beethoven’s unplastic technique the heavy mauling it needed before it could become an obedient tool. But in free composition Haydn may well have been one of those best teachers who make pupils do things for themselves. Judged by that criterion he succeeded brilliantly with the ‘Grand Mogul,’ as he called Beethoven. But Beethoven refused point-blank to be named his pupil. ‘ Though I had some instruction from Haydn, I never learned anything from him,’ said he.
He did owe much to Haydn. Any one can see it who compares their compositions. If in matters of form and style Beethoven’s early music was modelled on that of Mozart, Haydn was the starting-point for some of his boldest harmonic strokes, even in his mature work. Too much has been written of the differences and not enough of the debts between the two men. Admit that Beethoven was impatient and suspicious of Haydn’s advice over publication; admit that Haydn was self-complacent and displeased by Beethoven’s arrogance: what does the affair amount to when a couple of anecdotes crystallize the worst and best of it?
In the one, Haydn (whose Creation was still in the first flush of its success) met Beethoven just after his ballet Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus had been produced. Haydn stopped him and said: ‘Well, I heard your ballet yesterday and it pleased me very much!’ Beethoven replied: ‘Oh, dear Papa, you are very kind; but it is far from being a Creation.’ Haydn, surprised at the answer and almost offended, said after a short pause: ‘That is true; it is not yet a Creation, and I can scarcely believe it will ever become one.’ (Which is even more witty when one knows German and the scenario of Prometheus.)
The other story belongs to 1808, and is the last moment at which history shows Haydn and Beethoven together. Haydn, old and helpless, had been taken to the gala performance of the Creation at the university. Intensely moved by the music and his reception, he was being wheeled out at the end of the first part. The nobility thronged round him with praise and greetings. Beethoven came among them and, stooping, fervently kissed Haydn’s hand and forehead. By now he was great enough to be humble. Humility is the last word, however, that could be assigned to the Beethoven of 1792-1800. Rather was he like Lucifer, a son of the morning, glorying in his power. And what a morning! The world had once again that dawn look of being new-made. Democracy and its ideals were mounting to full tide in France, and the young Napoleon was rising as the greatest leader in a millennium. Beethoven watched, knowing that in himself too lay some such capacity to conquer the world. He regarded Napoleon, looking level-eyed at an equal. His interest intensified after General Bernadotte arrived in Vienna in 1798 and became an intimate acquaintance. Noble ideals had always attracted Beethoven: now power became predominantly his creed. There is bare truth behind his banter when in a letter to Zmeskall (1798) he says: ‘The devil take you; I want none of your moral [precepts], for Power is the morality of men who loom above others, and it is also mine; and if you begin again today I’ll torment you till you agree that everything I do is good and praiseworthy.’
As a matter of fact Beethoven’s conduct was not all good and praiseworthy in these years. His morality of Power led him into quarrels with his truest friends, rudeness to his patrons and (if the conclusions of some doctors are to be trusted) into a lapse from sexual morality that later brought on him its retribution. Even in 1796 he wrote to his brother Johann: ‘I hope your residence in Vienna will please you more and more - only beware of the whole tribe of bad women.’ Had Beethoven already become the burnt child who dreads the fire? His brothers had come to Vienna in 1795, after the debacle at Bonn. He had no false pride about acknowledging them in spite of his social successes and helped both with money until they could earn their own livings, Karl as Kassa-Officier in the K. K. Universal Staatschuldenkasse and Johann as an apothecary.
Also it is just to say there was more wisdom in Beethoven’s inconsiderateness towards Prince Lichnowsky than appeared on the surface. After the liveried servitude of the Bonn orchestra it was a giddy emancipation to be a free inmate of a palace, but even here there were rules. Wegeler relates that the prince’s dinner hour was fixed at four o’clock. ‘Now,’ said Beethoven, ‘it is desired that every day I shall be home at half past three, put on better clothes, care for my beard, etc. - I can’t stand that !’
Wegeler thought this mere waywardness. But Beethoven was right. The times and seasons of a creative artist do not follow the clock. If to Prince Lichnowsky and his suite punctuality seemed the keystone of their code, to posterity one work by Beethoven is more important than all the dinners they ever ate.
As the creative power in Beethoven strengthened, he hoped for a home of his own. He was always in love with some pretty girl or other, and had been so ever since Bonn days, as his men friends knew. But in 1795 his feelings for Magdalene Willmann, a charming singer, were serious enough for him to propose marriage. She refused, because ‘he was ugly and half crazy.’ The disappointment did not prove lasting. The intended home simply became independent lodgings. Work went on as usual. Beethoven made his first public appearance in Vienna with his own piano Concerto in B flat major, Op. 19, at the Burgtheater (at a concert in aid of the widows of members of the Tonkunstler-Gesellschaft), and in 1796 he went on a concert tour to Prague and Berlin, which perhaps included Dresden and Leipzig. On 21st June Beethoven appeared at the meeting of the Berlin Singakademie. ‘A chorale, the first three numbers of the mass (by Fasch, in sixteen parts) and the first six of the 119th Psalm were sung for him. Hereupon he seated himself at the pianoforte and played an improvisation on the theme of the final fugue.’ It made an overpowering impression on the audience, who crowded round him weeping. He was disgusted. ‘That is not what we artists wish - we want applause!’ he told Bettina von Arnim years afterwards.
Beethoven, at the zenith of his powers as a pianist, gave his own first public concert in Vienna, 2nd April 1800, and projected extended and triumphant tours. A number of his compositions had been published. Among his best known works composed up till now were the Symphony No. 1 in C major; two piano Concertos (C major and B flat major); the three piano Trios, Op. 1; three piano Sonatas, Op. 2; two Sonatas for piano and violoncello, Op. 5; the piano Sonatas, Opp. 7, 10, 13, 14; the Sonatas for piano and violin, Op. 12; the string Trios, Opp. 3, 8, 9; his famous song, Adelaide; the scena Ah! perfido; and a bunch of smaller things. To his contemporaries these works seemed daring: to us they appear charming with occasional signs of the later man. They form a group fairly homogeneous in style and for purposes of convenience critics have classed them into what they call Beethoven’s first period. Lovely as they are, they would not, on their own merits, have given Beethoven supreme rank. Had he died at thirty, had he carried out his design of becoming a travelling virtuoso, he would never have fulfilled his greatness. Composition is a jealous art, requiring all a man’s vitality. In the life of a virtuoso allegiance is divided. Beethoven might have become an earlier Liszt. He was saved from that fate by what appeared at the time his greatest disaster.