Dec

18

 I just read Portrait of Beethoven by Fritz Zobeley, 1955. As Beethoven is perhaps the greatest musician of all time, I thought it might be interesting to record some of my impressions from the book as it might be resonant in many areas.

1. Greatness

His greatness according to Goethe came from "the feeling for proportions that have a unique beauty and are immortal." To judge his major and minor chords by quantification is as "nonsensical as looking at a painting and inquiring after the chemical formula of the paint used".

2. Music

Like almost all of eminence, Beethoven was reared in an environment where music was part of the day and fray. His father was a court organist and singer and his grandfather was an esteemed singer. He played every instrument from the age of 4 and dropped out of school to attend to his musical education. But he transcended all his teachers and developed new ideas after his apprenticeship ended.

3. A great businessman

Beethoveen always sold the same piece 5 or 6 times over to different publishers that thought they had exclusives. He managed to get retainers from all the noblemen of Vienna. When a devaluation occurred he insisted on immediate restitution. But he combined the courtly influence of the old days with profit making academies and concerts that he held in the new concert halls opened up after the Revolution. Whenever he was asked how he was doing he would answer "For a poor musician, as well as could be expected." I like to answer the same when asked… "For a poor speculator…". When his litigation to gain control of his nephew Karl occurred (the man who killed Beethoven), he insisted that his sponsors give him an increased retainer to stay in Vienna after insuring that he would win the litigation.

4. Deafness a blessing

Zobely believes that it was because of his deafness that he became the greatest musician of all. He had to combine precise harmonies and rhythms with big ideas in order to overcome his deafness.

5. Self esteem

He believed in his his own greatness above all. He often said "no one who hears my music will ever be the same." Or "I will soon teach them a thing or two." When a baroness whose home he had commandeered for a few years received thanks from him she said, "That's the least I could do" Beethoven immediately answered, "Yes, that's right". Near the end of his life he said, "I still hope to bring a few great works into the world."

6. He was very studious and systematic

He said, "I carry my thoughts about me for a long time. My memory is so tenacious that I am sure never to forget a theme that has once occurred to me… then I begin to develop it in every direction."

7. One with Nature

He got many of his ideas from Nature. He walked in the Vienna woods every morning, often scaring school kids on the way. "I wrest my ideas from nature herself — in the woods, on walks, stirred by ideas which I put into sounds."

8. Delegation

He delegated many of the non-musical things to other people except for his litigations. Schindler and Ries acted as his unpaid private secretaries for 10 years and handled all the details of life for him. He was thus free to specialize on music. This was good because he was always quarreling with his servants. "Rio met him and his face was full of scratches from a quarrel with his servants." He moved 15 times in one year as his landlords threw him out for untidiness and loud music. As Goethe said, "His talent astonishes me. Unfortunately however, he has an utterly untamed personality."

9. Love of women.

Beethoven was quite the ladies man. He wrote many of his short pieces in an effort like Gershwin to seduce many of his students. He was always falling in love with his students. Once Ries came in to see Beethoven raptly listening to a beautiful girl playing one of his Ecossaises "the sins of my youth" he called them. Ries asked him who it was that played so musically because Beethoven always walked out after 10 seconds when he heard someone playing, especially if you asked him to listen. "I never saw her before," Beethoven answered. They still can't figure out who he wrote his "immortal beloved" letter to because he fell in love so often and proposed marriage to so many who had to reject him because he was just a "poor musician". It is good to be inspired by sagacious, wealthy, and beautiful women.

To be continued. v

There is much debate as to whether Bethoveen had in mind a story from literature or apotheosis of a person or event for his compositions, but it is well known that he was the most literate of all composers before him especially compared to Hayden or Mozart who were both ignoramuses. He loved Shakespeare and Homer and often quoted them in erudite conversations recorded in his books. Zobeley concludes that B wanted the listener to impute whatever feelings appeared to literature that was most apt for the music. 

Peter Saint-Andre writes: 

The triple concerto is wonderful. Aside from its musical magnificence, it has various large sections reflecting the behaviors of the market. The beginning for instance, the pianissimo base phrase gradually turned to a stronger and higher pitched march is quite resembling the state where the market commences its actions. From the way the four instrumental threads mimicking and interacting with one another throughout the entire piece, one can get a sense of how a trend (or even bubble) develops in the market.


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