Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination / Edition 1

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Overview

In a series of powerful strokes, the music of Beethoven’s last years redefined his legacy and enlarged the realm of experience accessible to the creative imagination. Maynard Solomon’s Late Beethoven investigates the phenomenon of the final phase, focusing especially on the striking metamorphosis in Beethoven’s system of beliefs that began early in his fifth decade and eventually amounted to a sweeping realignment of his views of nature, antiquity, divinity, and human purpose.

Using the composer’s letters, diaries, and conversation books, Solomon traces Beethoven’s attraction to a constellation of heterogeneous ideas, drawn from Romanticism, Freemasonry, comparative religion, Eastern initiatory ritual, Mediterranean mythology, aesthetics, and classical and contemporary thought. Through these often arcane sources, Beethoven gained access to a vast reservoir of imagery and ideas with the potential to expand music’s expressive and communicative reach. This "multitude of productive images," writes Solomon, "provided kindling for the blaze of his imagination."

Late Beethoven is a rich tapestry of original perspectives on Beethoven’s music. Solomon sees the Seventh Symphony as a deployment of the rhythms of antiquity in an effort to revalidate the premises of the Classical world; the Ninth as an essay on the prospects and limits of affirmative, monumental endings; and the "Diabelli" Variations as a doorway to the universe of metaphoric significances that attach to beginnings.
In the Violin Sonata in G, op. 96, Solomon finds a restoration of the full range of pastoral experience that the ancient poets had known.
In the Grosse Fuge he locates issues of fragmentation and reassembly, and he suggests that pivotal passages of the last sonatas evoke sacred states of being.

These stimulating perspectives illuminate the inner world within which Beethoven dwelled during his last fifteen years and the ways in which his thought and music may be interrelated. Written in accessible and eloquent prose, and with numerous music examples, Late Beethoven is a serious contribution to understanding this miraculous quantum leap in Beethoven’s creative evolution.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
IMaynard Solomon had already delivered his final word on Beethoven -- in his biography Beethoven (1977, revised 1998), his Beethoven Essays (1988) and elsewhere — he would have already said a very great deal. But happily Mr. Solomon, who teaches at the Juilliard School and has written no less authoritatively about Mozart, has more to say.— James Oestreich
Library Journal
In this collection of 12 brilliant essays, the esteemed Solomon probes how and why Beethoven transformed himself in the later years of his life, leading to the composition of extraordinary quartets, sonatas, and symphonies. As with his previous, highly respected books (Beethoven; Mozart: A Life; and especially Beethoven Essays), the author investigates his topic here using a broad range of approaches and materials. He analyzes Beethoven's diary entries, letters, and conversation books and discusses the late compositions in light of the influence of contemporary philosophical and theological thought, integrating history, psychology, and musical analysis to produce a detailed picture of this singularly complex composer and his music. We have come to expect well-researched, insightful, and thought-provoking studies from Solomon; this book does not disappoint. Highly recommended.-Timothy J. McGee, Hastings, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520237469
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 5/14/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Maynard Solomon is on the Graduate Faculty at the Juilliard School. He is author of Mozart: A Life (1995), Beethoven Essays (1988), and Beethoven (1977, second edition 1998).

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Read an Excerpt

LATE BEETHOVEN

MUSIC, THOUGHT, IMAGINATION
By MAYNARD SOLOMON

University of California

Copyright © 2003 Maynard Solomon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23746-3


Chapter One

THE END OF A BEGINNING: THE "DIABELLI" VARIATIONS

* * *

For Lewis Lockwood

Now may be an appropriate time to reexamine an old notion in the literature on the "Diabelli" Variations, namely that Beethoven, initially scornful of so impoverished a theme, was persuaded to use it despite its triviality, and went on to demonstrate what implications could be drawn from such unpromising material. To give two examples out of many: in his classic book on Beethoven, Walter Riezler found the theme to be "entirely insignificant," but "expounded with incredible versatility"; and in his exemplary monograph on the "Diabelli" Variations, William Kinderman described Opus 120 as Beethoven's "only major work to have found its origin in the commonplace, a static, repetitious, and thoroughly banal theme," underscoring "the apparent absurdity of building a monumental edifice upon such slight foundations."

Naturally, the contrast between the theme and Beethoven's elaboration of it was observed from the very beginning, with Adolf Bernhard Marx writing in 1830 that "a sort of mischievousness or high spirits" had "led [Beethoven] to grasp a wholly agreeable but nevertheless wholly insignificant waltz and to use the same as a veritable mine of new ideas." Even the publishers' announcement in the Wiener Zeitung in 1823 stressed that "this work is the more interesting because of the fact that it is elicited from a theme which no one would otherwise have supposed capable of a working-out of that character in which our exalted Master stands alone among his contemporaries." Diabelli, however, saw no reason to apologize for his theme; quite the contrary-the announcement declares, "We are proud to have given occasion for this composition." It was, then, left to Beethoven's notoriously unreliable biographer, Anton Schindler, to inaugurate the legend that Beethoven himself regarded Diabelli's waltz as trivial or even ludicrous. Schindler claimed that the composer initially declined to participate in a collective set of variations on it because he felt that the theme, with its "cobbler's patches"-exact transpositions of a sequence up one step, called rosalias or Schusterflecken-"would leave the contributors open to ridicule." Nevertheless, "not long after this categorical refusal," Schindler recalled, Beethoven asked him to find out how much Diabelli was willing to pay for a full set of variations on the theme, and he reported that the composer was so "happily surprised" at the prospect of receiving the "unusually high price" of eighty ducats that he reversed himself, and even became eager "to demonstrate what could be done with an ordinary waltz, and even with a 'rosalia.'" But Beethoven's top asking price, documented in a letter to the publisher, was actually only half that amount; and Schindler's account is defective in every other respect as well, misstating the planned number of variations as well as both the time and the place of composition, and getting the date of the project's initiation wrong by more than four years. Clearly, he had no firsthand knowledge of the work's genesis, so his unsupported claim that Beethoven viewed the theme with contempt may safely be written off as an invention.

Of course, the theme has also had its eminent defenders, beginning with the very first reviewer, writing in 1823, who perceived "something simply remarkable in its construction and working out," continuing with Heinrich Rietsch's observation that because of the theme's "simple, clear construction, the lightly imprinted harmonic sequences provide a welcome playground for further creative fantasy," and culminating in Donald Francis Tovey's famous observation that the theme is "rich in solid musical facts from whatever point of view it is taken," cast in "reinforced concrete," as he put it, a prosaic theme that "sets the composer free to build recognizable variations in every conceivable way." Despite Tovey's authority, the primary narrative about Opus 120 that we have inherited continues to deny the seriousness, not only of the work's theme, but of Beethoven's purposes. Told from Schindler's unimaginative, narrow perspective, this story trivializes Beethoven's motives, which are reduced to a composer's vanity, whimsy, and greed, and we are foreclosed from asking about the significance of the theme and how it may be essential to alternative ways of understanding the work. Perhaps, given a statement of aesthetic assumptions, Diabelli's theme really can be shown to be trivial, banal, or musically defective, or even all three. The more fruitful issue, however, is not its perceived triviality, but what it may be capable of representing. Looked at more closely, it may turn out to be as rich in symbolic implications as Tovey found it to be in musical facts. We may eventually come to see it as an unusual waltz, pellucid, brave, utterly lacking in sentimentality or affectation. At the least, it represents a beginning, a point of departure, and this, in itself, may be a matter of some importance (ex. 1.1).

II

We know Beethoven by his beginnings-by themes, figures, rhythmic patterns, harmonic motifs, and sonic textures that instantly establish something essential about the character of a composition, that set out a range of possibilities for what is to follow, that arouse expectations that will be fulfilled or frustrated, that provide apertures of particularity through which we may glimpse, enter, and begin to explore worlds we never knew, let alone made. I use a geographical image here, for there is an inimitable, metaphorical way in which music may evoke geographies, terrains, locations, places. Partly, this has to do with the ways in which musical genres, even apart from their use of conventional topics and characteristic styles, may remain associated with their original social functions and conditions of patronage. Thus, the opening of a Mass or requiem has the capability of conveying us in imagination to those enclosures in which sacred music is customarily performed; the first measures of a serenade tell us that we are outdoors, that it is evening, that we are celebrating a ritual occasion in a pastoral locale; the first notes of a string quartet or keyboard sonata move us indoors-into a connoisseur's salon or, later, a concert hall; the rhythmic gesture of minuet and gavotte, contredanse and waltz bring to mind a great variety of spaces, from court, theater, band shell, and ballroom to the bourgeois interior.

Sometimes a beginning may connect us to something much less tangible even than a suggested sense of place, but its connective powers are nevertheless fully in play. Such openings tell us to expect nothing more than that the work is to be an example of a particular style. Even here, we are "placed": we find ourselves on familiar terrain simply because we are reminded of the sound of another composer; we are "in" Haydn or "in" Mozart, or perhaps "in" a denoted, recognizable subdivision of Classical style, therefore set within the borders of a tradition. Parody, quotation, and stylistic imitation are ways of locating us in time, or space, or tradition, ways of affirming or denying connections to the already existent, to the known. Analogously, the start of a work-say, the Sonata in C minor, op. 111, or the Grosse Fuge, op. 133-may bear the inimitable stamp of the hand that wrote it, summoning up images of the real or rumored workshop of its own composer, inviting us to use biographical knowledge (or legend) as a compass.

It is a question of orientation: the imagination is set in motion, taking the hint, seeking to find its bearings, asking directions, aiming to convert a mysteriously fluid stream of sound into some semblance of solid ground or recognizable terrain. Of course, it goes without saying that these are imaginary landscapes. Nevertheless, they make it possible for us to situate ourselves, to fulfill our need to know where we are in order to offset the sense of the uncanny that comes from the shock of crossing a threshold to another world. And even if we do not know where we are, we need some signpost by which we can estimate our distance from the known. It is a matter of being either at home or away, or-sideslipping into a different set of metaphors-safe or imperiled, celebrating one's own traditions or witnessing strange rituals. That may be why many listeners often feel an impulse to invent programs and literary prototypes for musical compositions-somehow to diminish the anxiety, terror, and loneliness that may be aroused by the musical evocation of an unrecognizable time and place.

In the openings of certain of his greatest works, Beethoven deliberately eradicates the implication of a safe haven. Instead, reckless of his listeners' comfort, he turns from validating the expected to inventing places where no one has ever gone before, in beginnings that suggest heightened, altered, and anxious states. These imply not safety but terror; not the comfort of an earthly pastoral but the remote sublimity of the immeasurable heavens; not the warm Arcadian greensward but distant, astral, or enigmatic regions, as for example in the opening of the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, op. 60 (ex. 1.2).

We can hereafter forgo the geographical simile-which has perhaps been stretched a bit beyond its appropriate limits. For by now Beethoven has shifted the metaphorical terrain from recognizable locations in nature or society to unplumbed reaches of the universe and to those "psychical localities" that are the scene of action of dreams, fantasies, and every representation of the imaginary. He does this, for example, in the openings of the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, not to affirm the chaotic and the strange but to demonstrate more powerfully the importance of overcoming them, in scenarios of desire, estrangement, and humiliation that eventuate in fulfillment, reconciliation, and convalescence.

Such works often are structured according to the ineluctable logic of clarification and familiarization. In stark contrast, most sets of classical variations open in the sphere of the recognizable, the familiar. The theme is given, taken for granted. When we hear the opening of a work like the Six Variations in G on Paisiello's "Nel cor più non mi sento," WoO 70, or the Variations in E-flat for Cello and Piano on Mozart's "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen," WoO 46, we already know this music, whether it is as a folk song or a popular aria from a fashionable opera; the drawing card of such works is usually a melody already pleasantly engraved in our minds, as in all of Beethoven's sets of variations from the 1790s (ex. 1.3).

Or, at least, we know its type; so that when Beethoven unfolds his "wholly new manner" in 1802, opening his Opus 34 Variations with a nostalgic Adagio instead of a hit tune, or his Opus 35 with the skeletal bass of a Haydnesque theme that has yet to materialize, or, later on, his C-minor Variations, WoO 80, with a dramatic variant of "La Folia," we do not experience these original themes as alien or disruptive, even though we recognize the daring of the composer having abandoned thematic ready-mades, fresh off the rack.

From this admittedly restricted standpoint, we may say that, embedded in the formal structures of Beethoven's late works are two great arcs of experience, in both of which he sought to inscribe, from opposite perspectives, chronicles of illumination and achievement. One arc begins from a dangerous-at least, unfamiliar-territory or state of being and makes its way to safety by a circuitous route; the other takes its point of departure in the familiar, which is then disassembled, chaoticized, deconstructed, and defamiliarized before it, in turn, rediscovers an ultimate state of concord.

It is evident to which of these arcs the "Diabelli" Variations belongs. Thus, it should not be a surprise that this set of variations opens with a familiar theme-type-a German dance or waltz, or Ländler-one that is redolent of the commonplace, the here and now, the solidly present, the factual rather than the fanciful. And it should not occasion surprise that Beethoven chose to use such a theme for a major experimental work of his last period. The theme designates a beginning, launched from the terrain of the familiar. More closely, it can be seen to represent a special kind of reference to the quotidian. The issue now becomes whether we are able, with more specificity, to come closer to the meaning of this particular embodiment of the quotidian.

III

I already have touched on how a composer may signify the familiar as a referential musical image. In doing so, Beethoven may have been appropriating to his purposes an idea of the familiar as a trope of poetic invention that was widespread among his contemporaries. The English Romantic poets, especially, were much concerned with dichotomies between the familiar and the unknown, defining the role of the poet as aiming to reveal the latter through an exploration of the former. In "A Defence of Poetry," Shelley wrote that poetry

strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.... It makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels us to feel that which we perceive, and to imagine that which we know. It creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.

It is not only a question of defamiliarization, but of discovery and renewal, for in addition to lifting the veil from "the hidden beauty of the world," poetry "awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought." But where can the poet locate those familiar objects? Wordsworth's famous prescription was to turn to the "humble and rustic," and there "to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to ... throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect."

Similar ideas were part of the fabric of German thought as well. Novalis described the need for chaos to "shimmer through the regular veil of orderliness" and referred to the "delight in revealing in the world what is beyond the world." It is only a short step to Wordsworth's "humble and rustic" from Herder's conception of poetry as a reflection of immediate life, his valorization of the folk and of folk art, his view that a vital national literature and language should keep "one foot on German earth."

Continues...


Excerpted from LATE BEETHOVEN by MAYNARD SOLOMON Copyright © 2003 by Maynard Solomon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue: A Sea Change

1. The End of a Beginning: The "Diabelli" Variations
2. Beyond Classicism
3. Some Romantic Images
4. Pastoral, Rhetoric, Structure: The Violin Sonata in G, Op. 96
5. Reason and Imagination: The Aesthetic Dimension
6. The Seventh Symphony and the Rhythms of Antiquity
7. The Masonic Thread
8. The Masonic Imagination
9. The Shape of a Journey: The "Diabelli" Variations
10.
Intimations of the Sacred
11. The Sense of an Ending: The Ninth Symphony
12. The Healing Power of Music

Abbreviations
Notes

Index

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First Chapter

Late Beethoven

Music, Thought, Imagination
By Maynard Solomon

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2003 Maynard Solomon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24339-0


Prologue

A Sea Change

It is well recognized that during his last years, especially from 1817 on, Beethoven's music underwent a transformation that redefined his legacy and in a series of powerful masterstrokes forever enlarged the sphere of human experience accessible to the creative imagination. Some may disagree about the precise dates of the inception of the late style, differ over the extent to which it emerged from immanent or external sources, and struggle to describe its characteristics in a coherent and meaningful way, but few have disagreed about the existence of the phase itself, let alone its seismic character or its chief examples-the late sonatas and string quartets, the "Diabelli" Variations and bagatelles, the Ninth Symphony and Missa solemnis. And many Beethovenians have called attention to adumbrations of particular aspects of the late style in keynote works written between about 1810 and 1816, seeing in the solo and string sonatas, chamber music, song cycle, and symphonies of those years signs of transition towards an emerging set of paradigms.

Students of Beethoven have wondered whether and how the phenomenon of the late style may be linked to the changing circumstances of his life.Many conceivable connections have been proposed and elucidated, often with fruitful results, for it is clear that no single perspective can exhaust the style's sources. Prominent among biographical factors are his state of mind, his descent into almost total deafness by 1818, and his increasing vulnerability to the aging process. Psychologically, of course, this was an era of enormous stress for Beethoven, and his inner conflicts have been thought to be somehow connected to the emergence of the late works. Attention is inevitably drawn to the failure of his marriage project by his early forties, followed by his renunciation of the possibility of domestic happiness, and his increasing tendency to isolate himself from the world. Here, one cannot overlook that the onset of the late style roughly coincided with the harrowing legal struggle over the guardianship of his nephew Karl. Historical and cultural factors also play their part: the close of a dramatic period in European history, climaxed by the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the consolidation of coercive regimes in the chief continental monarchies, exemplified by the autocratic Habsburg state under Emperor Franz II and Prince Metternich.

There is a conspicuous fusion of retrospective and modernist tendencies in Beethoven's late style, but the relative absence of contemporary musical influences confirms the weight of Beethoven's originality, his expanded rhetorical vocabulary, his formulation of unprecedented ways of representing states of being that flourish beyond the boundaries of ordinary experience, and his transformations of Classical structural models, preparing the way for their eventual dissolution. The exhaustion of the vaunted "heroic style" and its descent into self-parody in Wellington's Victory and other propagandist pièces d'occasion written in connection with the victory over Napoleon and the subsequent convening of the Congress of Vienna made it imperative that Beethoven locate a hitherto unimagined musical problématique. It was a time of many endings-historical, philosophical, biographical, stylistic-a period of flux in which old habits of mind needed to be reconsidered and the most deeply held beliefs subjected to scrutiny.

Without minimizing the importance of diverse efforts at reconstructing the multiple contexts within which the last works came into being, this book will focus on what appears to be a striking metamorphosis in Beethoven's system of beliefs, proposing that a thoroughgoing transformation was well under way by the years around 1810, gaining momentum as the decade proceeded, and that this eventually amounted to a sweeping realignment of his understanding of nature, divinity, and human purpose, constituting a sea change in Beethoven's system of beliefs. Signs of this realignment may be found in Beethoven's letters and conversation books, but they are especially distinct in his Tagebuch, the intimate diary he kept between 1812 and 1818, to which he confided his inmost feelings and desires. My aim is to encourage the inquiry into the connections-at least, the analogies-between Beethoven's thought and his later works.

II

In the wake of personal disappointments and as the consciousness of his own mortality cast a lengthening shadow, Beethoven was acutely aware that he would not have sufficient time to complete his creative endeavors. He thought he deserved a period of grace precisely for that purpose, writing: "before my departure for the Elysian fields I must leave behind me what the Eternal Spirit has infused into my soul and bids me complete. Why, I feel as if I had hardly composed more than a few notes." But he had little hope of divine intervention on his behalf; he agreed with Homer's calculation that "To men are allotted but a few days" (no. 170; Odyssey), and though he yearned for Pliny's "fame and praise and eternal life" (no. 114), and hoped against hope that he might live on, "even if by artificial means [Hilfsmitteln,] if only they can be found!" (no. 40), he knew that he was in a race against time.

Thus, Beethoven had to decide how he was to spend his remaining time on earth, whether to try to fill the dwindling days with simple pleasures or to pursue his dedication to great artistic challenges, or even to raise the stakes in his creative exertions. Predictably, but not without scorching conflicts, he opted for art against life, and this answer is written large and repeatedly throughout his Tagebuch, beginning with its very first entry in 1812: "You must not be a human being, not for yourself, but only for others; for you there is no longer any happiness except within yourself, in your art" (no. 1). Another entry sounds the same theme: "Live only in your art, for you are so limited by your senses. This is nevertheless the only existence for you" (no. 88). He renounced ordinary conceptions of personal gratification; he abandoned the dream of "a shiftless life, which I often pictured to myself" (no. 3). Sacrifice became the order of the day: "Everything that is called life should be sacrificed to the sublime and be a sanctuary of art" (no. 40); "Sacrifice once and for all the trivialities of social life to your art" (no. 169). These ideas of self-abnegation for the sake of music became an abiding belief; in 1824 he wrote, "Only in my divine art do I find the support which enables me to sacrifice the best part of my life to the heavenly Muses."

Beethoven's choices were designed to enhance his creativity and to provide favorable conditions within which it could flourish. He set in motion a process of stripping down to essentials, eliminating whatever he perceived to be superfluous and trivial, even renouncing the possibility of love and marriage and setting limits on his affectionate and social interactions. Knowing that the time remaining to him was sufficient for the working out of only a relative handful of his ideas, he steeled himself for the task ahead: to "develop everything that has to remain locked within you" (no. 41). This sacrificial stance was more than an abstract reflection of a moralizing creed; his later years were marked by an increasing withdrawal into inwardness, into a state very like the extended ritual silence of Brahman novices that he remarked upon in the Tagebuch (no. 94c). He considered retreating still further, into the quasi-monastic solitude of rural life, removed from the hurly-burly of the city. Perhaps he was hoping somehow to accomplish the impossible-to slow things down by constructing universes where events might move at a slower rate, thus to expand the time available to him.

Contemplating the encroachments of time and mortality, Beethoven set his priorities, determined which compositions he would write, and eventually laid out an ambitious program. By 1817-18 at the latest, when he was writing the closing entries of his Tagebuch, he had settled on a series of compositions, works that constituted the components of a vast creative effort. (Indeed, with the exception of the late quartets, the great works of the last decade were all actually begun in 1817-18.) In his last sonatas he chose to work out possible reconfigurations of musical form and to sound unplumbed depths of expressivity; he explored the possibility of describing a devotional journey in his "Diabelli" Variations-a Divine Comedy or Pilgrim's Progress in tones; he wrote a song cycle in the form of a Romantic circle-a wreath, a Liederkreis-so tightly woven that its constituent elements cannot be separated out; he composed a colossal symphony that presumed to dissolve boundaries between language and music, thus perhaps to restore the union of the arts rumored to have existed in ancient ritual drama; in that symphony and in a prodigious and learned Mass he aimed also to dissolve boundaries between religions and to locate some of the common denominators of every faith. He had many more works in mind than he had time for. In a process of compositional triage, he abandoned or postponed ideas for setting Goethe's Faust and Claudine von Villa Bella; Grillparzer's Melusine; an oratorio for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde to a libretto by Karl Bernard; and another oratorio, on Saul, to a text by Christoph Kuffner, that was intended to utilize music of the ancient Hebrews and the old modes. Also thrown overboard were a hybrid choral-symphonic Adagio Cantique, a Tenth Symphony, the Requiem he had promised his patron Wolfmayer, an orchestral overture on the letters B-A-C-H, a string quintet, a piano concerto, and doubtless a large number of other works. In view of his endless ambitious and even grandiose projects, he obviously had time for only a very small number of potboilers, written mostly in the aftermath of strenuous accomplishment.

He had set his creativity in opposition to his needs for consolation and pleasure, his longings to become a husband and a father, and his yearnings for a simple life, however trivial such an existence might have seemed in comparison to his art. It is fortunate, then, that Beethoven's art did not become his adversary, for one might think it inevitable that he would eventually lash out against a sacrificial imperative that insisted on his exclusive devotion to his artistic mission, as though he were an instrument of some unforgiving moral precept. And, perhaps, such a revolt did occur when he moved to seize control of his nephew Karl from the boy's mother, for it was an act through which he imagined that he had at last established the family that had been forbidden him, thereby fulfilling what he termed his "longing for domesticity" (no. 3). The torturing struggle to win the guardianship of his nephew revealed Beethoven's inability to sustain a renunciatory position. The desire for kinship overwhelmed both his defenses and his better judgment, even threatened to undermine his dedication to art. But in the end the creative and familial constellations reinforced one another, for Beethoven understood his action to become the boy's sole guardian as another form of self-denial, a burden undertaken by him as an acolyte of divinity: "Regard K[arl] as your own child," he wrote, "disregard all idle talk, all pettiness for the sake of this holy cause.... Your present condition is hard for you, but the one above, O He is, without Him is nothing. In any event the sign has been accepted" (nos. 80-81).

III

Beethoven searched world literature, mythology, art, philosophy, and religion for creeds that would justify so extreme a set of restrictions on ordinary human activity, to confirm the rightness of his choices. His readings in Homer, Schiller, Kant, and Herder, in the ancient classical writers and the modern Romantics, and in Brahman and Masonic texts provided a mosaic of ideas that gave voice to his own sentiments, offering guidance, wisdom, and the solace necessary for one who has accepted a stoical solution to the unyielding existential questions. Determined to leave his mark upon the world, he accepted the exhortation of the Bhagavad-Gita:

Let not thy life be spent in inaction. Depend upon application, perform thy duty, abandon all thought of the consequence, and make the event equal, whether it terminate in good or evil; for such an equality is called Yog, attention to what is spiritual. (no. 64b)

Blind Homer, as always, remained an inspiring mentor to the deaf composer:

Let me not sink into the dust unresisting and inglorious, But first accomplish great things, of which future generations too shall hear! (no. 49; Iliad 22.303-5)

Herder warned of the dangers attendant on such great endeavors, prescribing courage: "Risk everything, then! What God has granted to you, nobody can rob you of. Indeed, he granted it to you, to you, brave man" (no. 56; "Das Leben der Menschen"). The Masonic-Catholic dramatist Zacharias Werner enjoined him to seek "The great good of self-completion in creating! / You are the mirror image of the Eternal" (no. 60d; Die Söhne des Thals).

Also copied into his Tagebuch are extracts from Sir William Jones's vedic "Hymn to Narayena," with its appeal to the supreme deity to raise the poet's soul to heights of ecstasy:

Oh! Guide my fancy right, Oh! raise from cumbrous ground My soul in rapture drown'd, That fearless it may soar on wings of fire. (no. 62)

Thus, Beethoven chose art over life precisely because, for him, art provided plentiful compensations here and hereafter that were unavailable by other means. Music, though its creation required great sacrifices, was not itself a sacrificial burden. Rather, it offered innumerable strategies of prolongation to fend off forebodings of a darkening horizon. Through music Beethoven could locate and limn realms of permanence, constantly renewable, impervious to forces of decay and disintegration. Through music he could create impregnable, unified structures; describe endless forms of transcendence over hostile energies; inscribe narratives of return, refinding, and rebeginning; forge a channel between himself and a forbearing deity; invoke the healing powers of music. He could guarantee felicitous outcomes, overcome extreme odds, declare himself-and us-victors in every deadly game. In his music Beethoven could create ecstasies so powerful that they momentarily eradicated fear-or at least made it endurable.

Continues...


Excerpted from Late Beethoven by Maynard Solomon Copyright © 2003 by Maynard Solomon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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