Beethoven - George Upton

New Friends

Wegeler kept his word. With a beaming countenance he appeared at Beethoven's house the next evening and exultantly said: "I have succeeded. Congratulate yourself, friend Ludwig! I shall introduce you this evening to a family with whom you will feel perfectly at home."

"And what kind of a family might that be?" said Beethoven, distrustfully. "You know I am not adapted to all the world, and that all the world is not adapted to me."

"But this family is in no way of the character which you so sweepingly apply to the world," replied Wegeler. "You will find it a model of the noblest sociality and a place where art and science are most zealously cherished. It is the family of the widow, Frau Hofrathin von Breuning, to which I have permission to introduce you."

"Ah! the Frau Hofrathin von Breuning," cried Ludwig, with a perceptibly brighter countenance.

"Truly that is something different from what I mean by 'all the world.' I have heard of this family. They are lovely people."

"The best in the world, Ludwig," eagerly protested Wegeler. "So hasten. Get yourself in readiness. They are expecting us immediately."

"I am already dressed," replied Beethoven, haughtily. "I have no other coat than this thread-bare one. If they won't have me in this, they shall not have me at all."

"Unruly, stubborn, cross-grained fellow that you are!" exclaimed Wegeler, with a laugh. "Will you never learn to master your capricious nature? Come along even in your threadbare coat. These dear people into whose circle I shall take you care only for your heart and disposition, not for your clothes. You are, like all geniuses, a most ridiculous fellow. But that does not signify. You already know them, and consequently you will learn to appreciate them. Frankly, you should not appear willful and capricious, but behave like a polite youth, and occasionally perform something on the piano in your own style. They are very fond of music and have much of it at their home. The Elector's chapel-master Ries, whom you know, and other members of the chapel, often enjoy pleasant intercourse in this hospitable home, and we certainly shall meet some of them there this evening."

"Now, that is a splendid suggestion," said Beethoven, with gleaming eyes. "Then I can appear as I am. Yes, they shall learn to know me! I have composed to-day a trio for pianoforte, violin, and violoncello. We will take it with us. If a violin and violoncello can be had I will play the piano, and they will open their eyes, these people, when they hear my composition."

"Oho! you have plenty of confidence that you have made something particularly good and beautiful," said Wegeler in gentle banter.

"Certainly I have," replied Beethoven, with self-assurance. "I tell you I have created something entirely new, which will please every one of good musical taste and will be widely imitated."

"But consider, Ludwig; you will be judged not by dilettanti, but by genuine connoisseurs," said Wegeler, earnestly.

"All the better," proudly replied Ludwig. "I never intend to compose for ignorance and stupidity."

"Well, then, take your trio. We will make a trial of it," said Wegeler. "Or, what is better, give it to me. I will say that it is a composition by one of my acquaintances. If it does not please, we need not mention your name; but if it pleases, as I wish and hope it may, then, at least, you may be sure they will not flatter or over-praise you."

"That is all right," answered Ludwig, as he handed the manuscript to his friend, who placed it in his pocket. "Now I am ready."

"Then we will start, for they will be waiting for us at the Breunings'," replied Wegeler.

Arm in arm they went through the already silent and dark streets until they came to a handsome house, before the door of which hung a lighted lantern. Wegeler was no stranger there. He conducted Ludwig up a broad, easy flight of steps, opened the door, and led his somewhat timid young friend into a spacious and brilliantly lighted apartment, in which a company of twelve persons was assembled. An elderly lady, whose face still revealed traces of beauty, and with an unusually noble and gracious expression of goodness and benevolence, advanced a few steps and received them with a kindly smile.

"Welcome, dear Wegeler," she said in a soft, gentle voice which came straight from the heart; "I think I make no mistake in welcoming in your companion my future young friend, Ludwig van Beethoven."

"You are right, gracious lady," replied Wegeler. "This is my friend Ludwig, and this, Ludwig, is the Frau Hofrathin von Breuning."

"Welcome, cordially welcome, dear Beethoven," said the Frau Hofrathin, extending her hand with friendly and very motherly good wishes.

Beethoven was by nature a strong, proud character, who did not easily bow before any one, and least of all was inclined to waste much civility in social intercourse. The amiability of Frau von Breuning, however, made such a deep impression upon him that he took the hand offered him, bowed low, and kissed it.

In the meantime the others present came forward. The sons of Frau von Breuning—Stephen, Christopher, and Lenz—shook the young man's hand cordially, and then the sister, Eleanora, welcomed him with a cordial inclination of the head and bright, friendly eyes. Some of the guests already knew Ludwig, particularly the chapel-master Ries, and some members of the Elector's chapel. He exchanged a few friendly words with them and was then presented to a handsome, distinguished-looking man, the Count von Waldstein, who, notwithstanding his high rank and standing, greeted him with genuine cordiality. In a short time Beethoven felt as much at home in this circle as if he had been in it for years, and Wegeler therefore quietly indulged the hope that his young protege would bring no discredit upon his urgent recommendations of him. He was in no way disappointed in this hope. Beethoven appeared more cheerful, companionable, frank, and affable than ever before, and when the talk turned upon music he seated himself at the piano without being urged, much to Wegeler's astonishment and delight, and played a long time with such a splendid technique and depth of feeling that all conversation at once stopped and every one paid the closest attention to his beautiful melodies.

"Brava, brava!" cried every one when the young artist finished his performance. Count Waldstein stepped up to him and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. "You have indeed done splendidly," he cordially said. "I fancy that I also understand music a little, and therefore speak so positively."

Chapel-master Ries complimented Ludwig so enthusiastically that he felt extremely comfortable as well as happy. Wegeler thought it an opportune time to try the new trio, and took it from his pocket. "As we are engaged with music," he said, "and as we have professional artists right at hand, I would beg you to play an entirely new composition, which by a happy chance has come into my possession."

"What is it?" said chapel-master Ries, "and who is the composer?"

"The composer wishes temporarily to remain unknown," replied Wegeler, "but the work is a trio for piano, violin, and violoncello."

"That can be arranged without any difficulty," said Ries. "Our Beethoven will play the piano-forte, friend Muller the violoncello, and I will undertake the violin. The instruments are here, so let us get to work at once."

In a few minutes the necessary arrangements were made and the trio began. The three accomplished artists easily played it at sight, and the audience paid close attention to the entirely original harmonies and melodies. The trio was played to its close smoothly and with precision, but instead of loud applause after the last tones there was a very painful silence. The good Wegeler turned pale with anxiety, but Beethoven sat as proud as Jupiter at the piano and seemed to have forgotten where or in whose company he was.

Chapelmaster Ries, was the first to break the uncomfortable silence and, turning quickly to Wegeler, said: "This is truly a charming composition, full of originality, and developed with true genius. Who is the composer? I am really eager to know, for I never before have heard such music."

"In fact, very strong but characteristic," Count Waldstein added.

"I have never heard anything more beautiful," said Christopher Breuning, enthusiastically and excitedly. "It must be an entirely distinctive artwork by Mozart, or perhaps something of Haydn's."

Wegeler, who had regained his natural color, smiled and shook his head. "Neither Mozart nor Haydn," said he. "The composer is a new man, and is in our midst."

"Ah! Count Waldstein," said Frau von Breuning with a light, graceful bow. "Do not deny it, Count. You have prepared a most pleasant surprise for us."

"On the contrary, dear lady, I should consider myself most fortunate if I could accept your compliment," replied Count Waldstein, "but I must reluctantly decline it. Probably we have to thank out chapel-master for the great surprise."

"No, no," said the chapel-master, "I will not adorn myself with borrowed feathers however beautiful they may be. But really, if I could accomplish such a work as this trio, I should regard myself as a pretty good artist."

"But who can the composer be if he is neither our dear Count nor the chapel-master?" said Frau von Breuning. "Surely you are just teasing us a little, dear Wegeler. Anyway, the composer of the trio is known by name."

"Yes, he has a name," said Wegeler, smiling, "but his name is not yet famous, though I have no doubt it will become so one day. The composer's name is—LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, and he has the honor to sit before your ladyship, at the piano."

If a bomb had fallen into the company it could not have caused greater astonishment than Wegeler's simple announcement. All present evidently were surprised in the highest degree. Beethoven alone sat entirely unmoved and at ease, and looked about him smilingly and unembarrassed.

"What is there to be astonished at?" he said. "I composed the entire trio to-day."

It is hard to describe the effect these few words produced. All crowded around Beethoven, and each had his word of admiration for him. He was quietly pleased when they shook his hand and overwhelmed him with compliments; but at last he became uneasy, and sprang up from his seat.

"This is too much," he said. "I do not deserve it. Later, years hence, perhaps,—but now? no! There are still those who can construct better things than I."

"But there are very few of them," said Count Waldstein, earnestly. "Anyway, I feel impelled to exercise all my influence for the advancement of a talent such as yours, dear Beethoven. I beg you to consider me as your fatherly friend and patron."

Beethoven bowed, and stammered a few words of thanks. A moment later he had forgotten the assurances of the Count and was chatting in the most intimate manner with the sons of Frau von Breuning, who welcomed this talented new acquaintance with genuine enthusiasm. The mother also graciously conversed with the young man, and at last asked him if he would at some future time give piano lessons to her daughter Eleonora, which Beethoven naturally was glad to promise.

As it was getting rather late, the company left one after another. Beethoven withdrew with Wegeler, and warmly thanked his friend on the street for introducing him into this pleasant family circle.

"I did it with all my heart," said Wegeler, "and with the hope that it will be for the pleasure and advantage of both parties."

All of Wegeler's hopes were realized. Beethoven soon found himself at home among his new friends. This was not strange, for the Hofrathin entertained a true motherly affection for him, and her children regarded him as a brother. Beethoven himself, at a later period, often declared that his happiest years were spent in the Breuning home.

Thus weeks and months passed. Beethoven's outward circumstances gradually improved, for the Hofrathin Breuning was assiduous in procuring pupils for him among her acquaintances, which paid well at that time. Ludwig could now furnish a part of the support for his brave mother, so that matters gradually became more pleasant in the household life. Everything contributed to keep him in good humor, so that he commended himself more and more to the affection and goodwill of his new friends.

Ludwig had heard nothing for a long time from Count Waldstein about the patronage he had promised. In reality he had hardly given it a thought. But the Hofrathin Breuning many a time quietly wondered that the Count should have forgotten his protege so quickly and completely, "especially when there is so much he might do for his advantage," she said to herself. "He is a favorite with the Elector, and hardly needs do more than drop a word occasionally to interest him in our Beethoven. If he would do so but once, everything else would take care of itself, and I should no longer have any anxiety about the young man's future."

But none of the Hofrathin's wishes or hopes seemed likely to be realized. Count Waldstein appeared now and then in the Hofrathin's social circle, but seldom remained there long, and seemed to concern himself little about Beethoven, though at times he gave him a friendly word. One evening, however, he asked for the trio which Beethoven composed, and requested permission to keep it a few days. The permission naturally was granted promptly and willingly, although Beethoven did not appear to attach the slightest importance to the Count's request. Frau von Breuning, however, smiled to herself in silent satisfaction. She anticipated and conjectured more than Ludwig, and this simple, unimportant act aroused the hope that something would come of it, and that his interests would be promoted.

Nothing in the least occurred in the next few days to confirm these hopes, and Frau von Bruning, though she still clung to her hope, had to admit to herself there was little foundation for it, when one evening Count Waldstein appeared entirely unexpectedly in the circle of friends who were entertaining themselves with music. Besides the Breuning family, Beethoven, Wegeler, and chapel-master Ries were present. All extended a respectful and friendly greeting to the Count. He smiled contentedly, roguishly looked at Beethoven, and pressed his right hand upon his left breast-pocket, in which something light rustled.

"Young man," he said good-humoredly, "what do you imagine I am carrying here in my coat-pocket? Guess!"

"How can I guess, Count?" replied Ludwig.

"It must be something of considerable importance, since Your Grace is so mysterious about it."

"Why, yes, important enough for certain people, though to me simply pleasant and agreeable. But I already perceive you are not gifted with the faculty of guessing, dear Ludwig, so I must help you a little. This mysterious thing in my pocket is a document from the electoral court. I got sight of the address there, and incidentally, as I intended to visit my worthy friend here, I took the document with the intention of handing it to the person addressed. He is a certain Ludwig van Beethoven, and I was sure I should find him here."

"A document from the electoral court to me! Impossible!" exclaimed Beethoven, at first astonished and then delighted, while the kindly face of Frau von Breuning was lit up with joy.

"Yes, yes, to you, my young friend," said the Count, as he removed the document from his pocket. "Here, take it. Open it, and see what the Elector has done for you."

Beethoven slowly took the large envelope, looked at the address and seal, and shook his head. "The Count doubtless is only making sport of me," he said. "If I break the seal I shall only be heartily laughed at."

"Oh, you most distrustful of all distrustful men and musicians!" the Count replied. "How can you entertain such a foolish supposition? Open it! Open it! Quick!"

"I will not," replied Beethoven, firmly, as he placed the envelope on the table.

"You foolish fellow, you can do as you please, of course," said the Count, a little impatiently. "This much I know, however, that our most gracious lord, the Elector, has not done this for a fool, but for his court organist, and this highest of all honors he has bestowed upon you in this document."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Beethoven.

"I thought so," joyfully said the Hofrathin.

"Fine! splendid!" cried all the others.

Beethoven was so overcome with astonishment that he seemed as rigid as a statue, but at a sign from the Count, chapel-master Ries opened the envelope, showed the signature of the Elector, and the appointment of Ludwig van Beethoven as court organist, carefully drawn up in due form.

"Hearty congratulations, Ludwig," said he, handing the document to him. "I call this good fortune, even if it does come to the one most deserving of it."

All present surrounded Beethoven and congratulated him. He received their good wishes with a radiant smile and beaming eyes. Then he suddenly rushed to Count Waldstein, pressed his lips to his hand, and exclaimed to him from the fulness of his heart, "Thanks! thanks! my benefactor!" Thereupon he seized his hat, crying joyously, "To my mother, to my good mother! Goodnight to all!"—and was out of the house as quick as a flash.

No one wondered at his somewhat strange behavior. All knew him and his ways and manners, and all were his friends, which signified for him all that was sincerely true and good.