Beethoven - George Upton

In Vienna

The most distinguished and refined society of that period was accustomed to assemble at the house of Prince Lichnowski, and the best music was often performed there by the most eminent artists. Both the Prince and his amiable wife had received a thorough musical education, and loved and promoted music of the highest kind.

Beethoven brought a most cordial letter of introduction from Count Waldstein to the Prince, and consequently received an immediate invitation to a musical evening at the Lichnowski palace, which he of course accepted.

Upon entering the splendid apartments of the Prince, he found a brilliant company assembled. The contrast with his simple, ordinary dress made him feel a little uneasy, and he would have quietly slipped away had not Prince Lichnowski fortunately prevented his attempt to escape, just in time. Beethoven's name had hardly been announced to him by a servant before he hastened to receive him, greeted him in the most cordial manner, bade him welcome, and shook hands with him warmly.

"I am exceedingly delighted to see you at my house," said he. "My friend, Count Waldstein, has written many nice and kindly things about you, and His Electoral Highness, the Archbishop, has added with his own hand the strongest and most hearty words of recommendation. I hope you will feel perfectly at home with us very soon. I beg you to come with me, that I may present you to the Princess, who will be no less pleased than myself to make your acquaintance."

After such a cordial reception Beethoven quickly regained his composure, and walked through the hall at the Prince's side with uplifted head and without permitting the glitter and finery of the other guests to disturb him. Many eyes followed with astonishment the strange figure which, notwithstanding its entire lack of physical attractiveness, suggested the bearing of the lion, and notwithstanding its youthfulness concealed something great and distinguished under its insignificant exterior.

The Princess Lichnowski received the young man with an expression of gracious satisfaction, which was very agreeable to Beethoven. "It is nice that you are here," said she. "I hope we shall be good friends, and then we shall have some good music together. Dear Mozart"—she turned quickly to a simply but nicely dressed gentleman who stood near by—"please come here a moment."

Mozart smilingly obeyed the summons and bowed low before the Princess, who held out her hand familiarly to him, and said: "No such ceremony between us, sir. Here, look at this young man. This is Herr Ludwig van Beethoven of Bonn, the electoral chamber musician and court organist—and this, my dear Beethoven, is our world-renowned master, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the brightest sun in our musical firmament."

Mozart greeted the young man, of whom he perhaps had not yet heard, in a friendly but at the same time somewhat cool manner. Beethoven, on the other hand, who enthusiastically admired Mozart's compositions, could not conceal his delight that an opportunity was offered him to make the acquaintance of the great master, and expressed his feelings in the most emphatic manner.

"Let us be a little more quiet, young man," interposed Mozart, smiling at Beethoven's excessive adoration. "I can readily believe you like some of my compositions, and that pleases me. But we will not make too much noise about them. I see that you know me, but I do not yet know your ability as a musician. Therefore may I ask that sometime you will give us something of your best on the piano? I shall be delighted if I can return your compliments."

Beethoven needed no second request. He felt inspired by the presence of the high priest in the temple of art, whose wonderful melodies had so charmed him, and he replied eagerly and quickly: "Where is the piano? If you will listen to me, Herr Mozart, I will play at once."

"All the better," said Mozart. "'There is a piano in the next room. Let us go there."

"Brava!" said the Princess, as she clapped her hands. "We shall hear something beautiful now. Let us go at once."

Beethoven, his heart swelling with pride and eager to show himself to the master of music in the most advantageous light, threw himself into his work with impetuous vigor, and played continuously for a full quarter of an hour whatever the occasion and his own genius suggested. Those present listened intently, and when Beethoven brought his performance to a close with some splendid chords, a storm of applause followed. Prince and Princess Lichnowski openly expressed their astonishment at Beethoven's artistic skill, and all the others praised him. Mozart alone remained calm and unexcited, and contented himself with saying a few coolly polite words of praise.

Beethoven blushed and turned pale alternately. He had expected a warmer recognition on the part of the renowned master, and such cool civility chilled the enthusiasm and inspiration in his breast like an icy breath. With a bitter smile he bowed his proud head and covered his heated brow with his hand. A moment before, he thought he had accomplished something excellent. Had his feelings deceived him? Had he completely overestimated his talent? That was a terrible thought.

Silence reigned in the room. The guests also were disturbed by Mozart's reserved manner,—the same Mozart who was always so willing to praise and quick to appreciate, when there was occasion for praise and appreciation, and who now showed not a trace of his customary enthusiasm after such a specially masterly performance.

"You judge the young man too severely, dear Mozart," whispered Prince Lichnowski to him. "His playing has really electrified me."

"Oh, that performance is of no great consequence," replied Mozart, with a shrug of the shoulder. "It is only a prepared show-piece which the young man has given us; I do not allow myself to be excited by such things."

This was said in a low voice, but Beethoven heard it. The cloud disappeared from his brow. He raised his head, shook his mane, and with flashing eyes said to Mozart:

"No, sir, that is not a show-piece learned by heart that I played, but a free fantasie. In proof of this I ask you to give me a theme for another free fantasie, and then I will show you what I can do."

"Oho! Oho! don't get too excited, young man," replied Mozart. "You can have a theme—develop this one."

Mozart leaned over Beethoven's shoulder, played the theme, and then stepped back a little. Beethoven instantly grasped the theme. He always played best when aroused, and at this instant he was still excited by the presence of the honored master. He developed the theme with such skill and brilliancy of technique that he carried his audience away with wonder at his inspired performance.

All indifference and coolness disappeared from Mozart's manner. With the young musician's first passages and accords, deep interest was apparent on his countenance, and when Beethoven finished his fantasie and arose from the piano, Mozart went up to him, embraced him, and said in a tone of voice all could hear, "This young man, some day or other, will make a noise in the world."

Now it was all joy and exultation. Beethoven was visibly affected, and trembled, while flashes of triumph shot from his piercing eyes. The princely couple and the guests overwhelmed him with congratulations.

After that evening Beethoven was regarded in Vienna as destined to musical greatness, and he found friends and well-wishers everywhere. Prince Lichnowski was completely devoted to him. He gave him a room in his palace, and a standing invitation to his table as a guest.

Beethoven thoroughly appreciated these friendly attentions, but he was not on that account any the less obstinate and self-willed. Proud of his genius, which the great Mozart had so clearly recognized, he did not display a fawning, servile manner. He seemed rather like one who was on guard against favors, than as one who was receiving them.

Prince Lichnowski, an extremely amiable man, and one who was well acquainted with the world, let Beethoven go his own way. He clearly recognized the great genius of his young friend, and did not trouble himself about the oddities, and at times rude ways, in his behavior. The Princess did the same. She valued and admired the inner worth of the young artist, and did not concern herself about his rough exterior.

The first visit of Beethoven to Vienna was not a long one. His leave of absence, or, if you prefer, his term of banishment from the electoral court at Bonn, approached its end, and he must return home. His devoted friends, Prince and Princess Lichnowski chief among them, let him go reluctantly, and cordially and urgently invited him to return soon.

"Always consider my house as your residence, dear Beethoven," said Prince Lichnowski, as he embraced him at his departure. "Whether I may be in Vienna or not, you will always find a room ready for you here." The Princess manifested the same kind feeling.

Beethoven was deeply affected by his separation from these noble and devoted friends, and with heart-felt emotion expressed his gratitude for all the favors he had received.

"I shall come again," said he. "Be it sooner or later, depend upon it, I shall come. Vienna has become very dear to me. Such friends as I have found here are treasures for a lifetime. One must find such friends to appreciate the joyousness of living." So he departed; but he forgot neither his promises nor his affectionate friends and admirers.

In the narrow limits of Bonn the young eagle, Beethoven, could not spread his wings for his highest flight. He longed to be back again in the Kaiser city. There were the great masters of the art, Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart, whose music was admired by all cultured persons; and there, music was considered the highest of all the arts and was most honored. Beethoven needed such a soil to bring his mighty genius to its highest development, and therefore his thoughts repeatedly turned toward Vienna, and he longed for nothing so ardently as to go back there. This was not because he loved and esteemed his old friends in Bonn less than his new Vienna friends. He clung to them with all his earlier attachment; but his art urged him on to the highest and holiest things of life, and it was only in Vienna that he could find at that time the soil fitted to bring his art to its complete blossoming.

The Elector, in whose good graces Beethoven still remained, heard of the ardent wishes of the young man from Count Waldstein, but for a long time he did nothing to promote them. A fortunate dispensation brought the renowned Haydn to Bonn in July, 1792, and Beethoven did not lose the opportunity to renew the acquaintance which he had made during his first visit to Vienna.

Haydn manifested delight at seeing the young artist again, and expressed his astonishment that he had not yet gone back to Vienna, where he would be received with the greatest possible pleasure and honors.

"It is not my fault that I was not there long ago," he replied. "The Elector wishes me to remain here, and I am so greatly indebted to him that it is impossible for me to oppose his desires."

"That is truly an unanswerable argument," said Haydn. "For all that, keep up good courage. Everything will come out right yet."

And so it did, and more quickly than Beethoven had dared to hope. The good Haydn eloquently appealed to the Elector to gratify the young man's wishes, and Count Waldstein reinforced him so enthusiastically that the Elector at last decided to let him go. It was done as a mark of favor and honor; and delighted with the realization of his longings, Beethoven returned, in 1792, to his loved Vienna, where he was to settle down for the rest of his life.

His friends in Vienna received him with open arms. Prince Lichnowski again arranged a room for him in his palace, and gave him a seat at his table, and the Princess treated him as if she had been his mother. Beethoven accepted all these proffered favors with gratitude, and such truly intimate relations soon existed between his patron and himself; that his peculiarities, and the little improprieties of which he was often guilty, failed to disturb them for any length of time. And the young musician showed himself peculiar, very peculiar, often extremely so. For instance, he did not come to the table for a long time. Prince Lichnowski asked him the reason, and Beethoven curtly replied:

"What! do you think it strange that I am not seated promptly at table at four o'clock in the afternoon? Must I be at home every day at half-past three, dress myself, comb my hair, and shave? Not by any means! I will not endure it. I decided at the very first it was best to go to a restaurant. There at least I am under no restraint, and I can go and eat at any hour I please."

The Prince let him have his own way. He fully realized that one must not put bridle and reins on an artist like Beethoven, but must let him go as he pleases.

At another time Beethoven took a fancy to have daily horseback rides, and had hardly intimated his purpose when Prince Lichnowski generously placed his entire stable at his disposal.

"What!" said Beethoven, "shall I ride a strange horse? shall I go and obsequiously ask the stable-master every time I wish to ride whether it is agreeable to him to saddle a horse for me? I will do nothing of the kind; I will buy my own horse."

And he did so. He rode a fortnight, and then seemed entirely to have forgotten that he had a horse. His whim was over, and his servant had been doing a profitable business for a long time by hiring the horse out by the hour.

On still another occasion Beethoven rang his bell several times one morning, but the servant did not answer the call. When he came at last, and excused his neglect by saying that he was ordered to wait upon the Prince, Beethoven flew into a passion, took the fellow by the collar, and marched him to the Prince.

"This churl has let me wait," he cried in a furious rage, "because you had called him."

"That is all right, of course," said the Prince, quietly. "Excuse me, dear Beethoven; but you, Friedrich"—he turned and spoke decidedly to the servant—"must serve Herr van Beethoven first when he and I ring for you at the same time."

The young artist's anger was quickly changed to shame, and the result was that he procured a servant of his own that very day, to answer his bell.

The Prince, as usual, let him do as he pleased, without paying any attention to his extraordinary conduct. The good understanding between them was so little disturbed by it that he gave him an annuity of six hundred gulden, for the Elector of Cologne had died in the meantime, and by his death Beethoven's salary as chamber musician was cut off.

The young artist's obstinacy was not only displayed in his countenance, but in his behavior toward other people. One day he was invited by an old, wealthy Countess to a reception which she gave in honor of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Beethoven accepted the invitation, for he highly esteemed the Prince, with whom he was personally acquainted and of whom he once said:

"He plays the piano not like a Prince, but like a correct, skilful musician." There was music, and the Prince was friendly and unconstrained in his intercourse with Beethoven. When they were invited to supper Beethoven noticed that the haughty old Countess had arranged to serve the Prince and certain gentlemen of the higher nobility at a special table. He arose in a rage, uttered some coarse expressions about the "old fool," put on his hat, turned his back upon the whole company, and rushed out like the thundering Jupiter.

All the greater was his delight when the Prince shortly afterwards compensated him in a most satisfactory manner. The Prince gave a dinner of state a few days later, to which, besides Beethoven, the "old fool" and the guests of the previous evening were invited. When they went to the table he seated Beethoven at his right hand and the old Countess at his left. Beethoven at last was contented, and chatted with the Prince during the dinner in the most agreeable manner.

Beethoven cordially despised what is called etiquette, and he neither could nor would submit to the etiquette of the royal court. The Archduke Rudolph had prevailed upon Beethoven, though he was very unwilling to do it, to give him lessons on the piano and in composition. He highly esteemed the Prince, and on that account faithfully performed his "court service," as he called his lessons to the Archduke, but submission to instructions from the court chamberlain, who tried to make him observe the formalities of etiquette, was far from his intentions. The chamberlain, however, did not relax his efforts to instruct him in the regulations, and made all sorts of signs to him, until at last Beethoven's patience was completely worn out.

One day, when the chamberlain attempted to give him a stricter lesson than usual, Beethoven said in a violent tone: "Sir, follow me to the Archduke's room. I am sick of your everlasting court chamberlaining and will make an end of it, once for all."

The chamberlain's face grew a yard long at Beethoven's order to go to the Archduke, as well as at his furious tone. He indignantly refused to obey the sharp command, and Beethoven might perhaps have been still more vociferous had not the Archduke himself, who had heard the dispute, opened the door at that instant and come out of his room.

"What is going on here?" he asked, astonished at the wrathful expression on Beethoven's face.

"Herr Archduke, I have the utmost possible respect for Your Royal Highness, but if I am expected to obey all the orders and instructions the court chamberlain is continually pestering me with, then I must give up coming here any more, for I don't care about such trifles."

The Archduke smiled good-naturedly and then turned with a serious countenance to his chamberlain.

"I must request you," he said, "to let Herr van Beethoven go his own way undisturbed. He is my teacher, and I regard myself simply as his pupil. I consider it an honor to be one."

The chamberlain of course accepted this suggestion in silence, and concealed his chagrin in a low bow. Beethoven did not again have cause to complain of him. The chamberlain always kept out of his way if he could. It was not, however, silly caprice and obstinacy which made Beethoven so haughty, but simply the consciousness of his own greatness, which made him feel himself a peer of all the great ones of the earth. He would never humble himself, and he would not be humbled by any one else; hence at times his justifiable haughtiness of manner.

His outward circumstances improved every year that he spent in Vienna. In 1792 he had the opportunity to avail himself of instruction by Haydn and others, which greatly assisted his artistic progress. Eight years later he had composed famous works, and was justly ranked as one of the first masters in his art, whose star of glory shone not less brilliantly than those of Mozart and Haydn. He visited in the highest circles of Vienna society, and was on friendly terms with the most distinguished members of the aristocracy of the Austrian 'capital.' Notwithstanding this, his manner of life was extremely simple; but he was somewhat peculiar in his personal habits. A description of one day in his life will give the reader some idea of his habits.

It is a fine summer day. As the first rays of the sun stream into his chamber, Beethoven springs from his bed and rushes to the basin to wash in cool, fresh water. A bath was an absolute necessity to him. He pours one pitcherful after another over his head and hands, and indulges so freely in this refreshment that he does not notice the wash-basin is running over. In a (few minutes the floor is inundated, so that the is standing in the water like a duck. He no longer thinks of the bath. His head being refreshed, he begins composing, and while thus engaged continually pours streams of water over his body, at the same time roaring, and humming to himself—for he had no voice for singing—in a way that would have made a dog run. His old housekeeper in the outer room hears the noise and knows from experience what it all means. She pounds on the door with, both fists and cries: "Alas! Herr van Beethoven! Herr van Beethoven!"

"What is the matter?" he thunders back from his more.

"You will flood all Vienna if you go on in this way."

Now, for the first time, Beethoven comes to his senses. Ashamed of what he has done, he discontinues his ablutions, quickly throws on his clothes, and hurries to the desk in his room to create one of those majestic masterpieces which are destined to astonish the world. Suddenly he throws down his pen, and calls: "Christine!"

The old housekeeper thrusts her head in the doorway. "What is your pleasure, Herr van Beethoven?"


The head vanishes, but shortly after, the whole figure of the old woman appears. With an air of solemnity she gives her master a tin box. Beethoven opens it. It is filled with roasted coffee beans. Beethoven sniffs their fragrance with delight, then takes the box and counts the beans, one by one, with scrupulous accuracy, placing them in a little pile on the table.

"Sixty! hold!" he cries. "That is one cup. Now another." Again he carefully counts sixty beans, and then gives both piles to the housekeeper.

"Here is enough for two cups. Make it good, or I will make it myself to-morrow."

The housekeeper promises to do her best, and Beethoven resumes his work, sketching down notes with wonderful rapidity. When the housekeeper brings the coffee, he sips it with evident satisfaction, and then goes to the window to see what the weather is.

"Beautiful! The sun shines! I will take a walk," he says.

"Oh, you never trouble yourself much about the weather," suggests the old woman. "We know that you run around the city two or three times every day, whether it blows, rains, freezes, or snows. I believe you would walk even if you knew that the heavens above you would fall."

Beethoven assents to this. "It is healthy." Then he takes his hat and disappears.

He walks rapidly at first, until he is away from the bustle of the streets. Then he slackens his speed, and moves on at a moderate pace, with his hands behind him, his head thrown back, his eyes fixed upon the sky. Sometimes he remains motionless, as if he were unconscious of the world around him. Upon these occasions his figure rises to its full height, and his eyes roll and flash brightly, looking upward or straight forward with the eyeballs fixed and motionless. A moment of the highest inspiration has come to him, as it often came, not alone in the streets, but also in the midst of the gayest company.

After some minutes of this inward ecstasy, Beethoven goes on his way, runs around the city a few times, and then rushes to his house as if his head were burning. People in the streets stare at him, wondering why he hurries so, looking neither to the right nor to the left. In this way he reaches his house, and enters his room.

"For mercy's sake, Herr van Beethoven, where have you left your hat?" exclaims his housekeeper.

Beethoven does not hear her. He rushes to the piano, plays beautiful melodies for an hour, then hastens to his desk and writes with the enthusiasm of one inspired.

When he again lays down his pen his house-keeper ventures to approach him and repeat her question—"For mercy's sake, Herr van Beethoven, where have you left your hat?"

"Lost it, very likely," he replies in a distracted sort of way.

"But, sir, this is the third time in two months," she says. "You are so absent-minded I really must fasten your hat upon your head more securely."

Beethoven smiles. "I will buy another," he says, and thus the matter ends.

"Ries," calls Beethoven after a little. A young man soon appears, and salutes the master reverently and tenderly. He is the son of Beethoven's old friend, chapel-master Ries of Bonn. The great master, who usually was extremely reluctant to give lessons, accepted the young man as a pupil as a mark of gratitude to his father. Chapel-rnaster Ries had been very kind to Beethoven's mother in the last years of her life, and Beethoven repaid his kindness by this favor to his son.

"Let us get to work," says he.

Young Ries puts some sheets before the master, and, now at the piano, now at the desk, they are speedily absorbed in their work, which is continued until the housekeeper announces that dinner is ready. Work is laid aside, and they refresh themselves with a frugal repast. Beethoven, always simple in his tastes, drinks a little of the wine grown on the heights around Buda. Fresh, clear spring-water is his favorite beverage, copious draughts of which satisfy his needs.

After dinner they go out to enjoy the sylvan beauty of the Schonbrunn gardens. Ries accompanies the master, but there is little conversation between them. Beethoven's brain is restlessly at work. It seems, indeed, that the beauty of the spot was made only for the purpose of inspiring his musical ideas. He frequently stops, and jots them down in a notebook which he always carries, and in which he preserves them for future use. As evening approaches they return to the city. On their arrival at home, the old housekeeper hands Beethoven two notes, which had been delivered during his absence. One is from Prince Lichnowski, simply inviting Beethoven to a musical soiree that evening. The other is from Baron Swieten, and is characteristic enough. It runs: "Dear Beethoven, if there is nothing to prevent, I should be glad to see you about nine o'clock this evening, with your nightcap in your pocket."

"Well, this will do for to-day," says Beethoven, as he throws both the invitations on the table. "I feel at home with the Prince, and I can enjoy myself at Van Swieten's. But I shall be late to bed. When Van Swieten tells me to come with my night-cap it means in plain language, c will not let you off before midnight.' Well, let it be so. He is, at least, a clever musician and a generous host. That's all right. But when you are continually pestered by people who have not the slightest idea of music, and who only invite you that they may give their guests some piano-pounding, and then force you to play until the blood under your fingernails is on fire, the devil might stand it,—I won't."

"Well, the Prince will not be likely to force you to play, and Van Swieten just as little," says Ries quietly.

"Yes, you are right. I will go, and am glad to go."

And he goes. Between one and two in the morning he returns in a lively, cheerful mood which promises pleasant dreams. He is in bed in five minutes, and five minutes later is sleeping soundly. And so ends the day—one day in Beethoven's life.