Beethoven and Goethe Author(s): Scott Goddard Source: Music & Letters, Vol. 8, No. 2, Beethoven (Apr., 1927), pp.

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in instrumental music. Goethe with his wide interests sustained by phenomenal powers of and expressionwas lookedupon as though he were the comprehension possessorof divine attributes. men irresistibly curious as to the nature of things and the ways of mankind. AMONG the . by the time he reached the middle years. and of a thousand to whom the name Beethoven is at least not empty of meaning there are probably but ten in whom Goethe awakens response.immensely extendedsince the days of Leonardo.andhis opinionwassoughtwithan almost Delphic reverence. and lived five years after his death) stands supreme in the history of art in eighteenth century Germany and after. It may be well to digress for a moment in order to attempt some diagnosis of Goethe's musical constitution. and few people of that time would have been anything but surprised to hear the verdict of history that places the two men on the same plane. and that what he did know failed to move him. men whose minds were laid open to all the currents of knowledge. More surely than any of his Goethe was able to keep under survey the whole field contemporaries of human knowledge. Goethe contemporaries (who was twenty-one when Beethoven was born. He alone is worthy to be comparedwith men of the Italian Renaissance like Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. through the pianoforte. During Beethoven's lifetime the writer enjoyed an honourablereputation and a far-reaching fame such aa the musician never attained to. But during their lives there was no question as to which of the two played the greater part in the popular imagination. For there is no doubt that Goethe had little knowledge of Beethoven's work. His acquisitive mind had taken on. though he was not alone there. In his early years he was taught the pianofortebut does not appearto have made sufficient headway to make it possible for him to play even passably or to become interested. Now the case is altered.BEETHOVENAND GOETHE of Beethoven one is pre-eminent. a marvellousflexibility. Neither did he succeed in gauging the importanceof Beethoven in the developmentof art. There seemed to be nothing in which he was not willing to interest himself. It is only when we endeavourto determine the degree of his appreciation of music in general and of Beethoven's music in particular that our admiration for the high power of his intellect suffers a check and is changed to a feeling of astonishmentthat in this direction the admirable law which guided that great mind should have ceased to function. and most things he comprehendedwith a fullness that showed his extraordinary depth of insight.

Byron but a little older. All these had fulfilled their mission men perfectly and it was high time that they departed. in the he returned to it again. filled with the breath of life. Raphael the same. the part as well as the whole coming from one source. with do had to case this in that realised they a to made be what she sing songis. who came to Goethe him interest to and first was the man old an the latter was already interesting." The musicians that Goethe counted among his friends were. For him music implied the voice. flour and sugar ! It is a creation of the spirit. at one burst.' . " He said solemnly: ' Ah.. Mignon may justifiably Being but not an aria !" Goethe's inclinations tended more and more. so that it cannot be said that the creative artist tried first this thing or cut that one into a certain shape or disposed of anything as he himself willed it. The exception is Mendelssohn. towards purely vocal and away from abstract He could appreciate Mozart. so that other this in do to long-lived should still find something left for them world. Surely they could have .. but that doesn't move himself and after some time one. as the years went on. most is the Zelter music. " Mozart died in his thirty-sixth year. a simple song. play it together !' And later at table.) The song and the aria were his chief delight. In these genres he showed his usual lively critical sense. for instance. This tendency was strengthened by his gradual severence from the ideas implicit in the phrase " Sturm und Drang" (in which abstract instrumental music with its increased freedom of expression found a place). with one exception. and by the journey to Italy (1786). it's immense. (In the "Italienische Reise " it is more often a question of that kind of music.* in Beethoven's instrumental * Mendelssohn's description of the effect on Goethe of hearing the first is of great movement of the C minor Symphony played on the pianoforte Beethoven's with interest as showing the narrow extent of his acquaintance so much as astound work. unimportant figures whose name and work are now when forgotten. Speaking. and his powers of appreciation stopped short at opera. heard in 1768 perform at a concert at Frankfurt." And again: " How can people talk of Mozart composing 'Don Juan ' ! Composition ! As though it were a piece of biscuit made up of egg. where he seems to have heard a large amount of vocal music.' Then he muttered on to One might well be afraid of said: ' That magnificent stuff.. when they were both smlall children.166 MUSIC AND LETTERS When a young man he took lessons at Strassburg on the violoncello with no more lasting result. whom he had instrumental music. to Eckermann of Beethoven's setting of " Kennst du das Land " he said: " I cannot comprehend how it is that Beethoven and Spohr so misunderstand the nature of a song while they are at work on it . and only seldom of instrumental compositions or performances. the divine spirit of his genius so overpowered him that he was forced to carry out its commands. quite crazy ! must be like when they all the roof's falling in ! And to think of what it midst of other conversation.

Reichardt. With him the break with eighteenth century conventions was to lead. in other cases. and commissioning him to write music for "Egmont. composer of the music to Goethe's " Lila.BEETHOVEN AND GOETHE 167 both for his published correspondencewith Goethe (with its rather complacenttalk about Beethoven) and because he was Mendelssohn's master and introducedthe young Felix to Weimar. in order that he might be able to talk about it. Goethe with his passion for knowledge of everything took music en passant. puts it in this writing manner: " For him (Goethe) music was little more than a means of providing adornment. The case is a curious one. dignity. whose correspondence with Goethe may still be studied. charm to life. And there was von Seckendorff. F . an estimable musician. Kayser. Ferd. VIII. Herr Gundolf. of two the men and their mutual reactions. and in no way did he feel for it as being that expression of universal principles that Beethoven both saw in his imagination and realised in his works. works which reflect the ideas of " Sturm und Drang." But it was to be a species of revolt very different from that which fired Beethoven's imagination. after " Gotz von Berlichingen " (1778) and "Werther " (1774). and eventually (1786) journeyed to Italy. sending him to study in Vienna under Gluck." This insensibility on Goethe's part to any but the more superficial appeal of music-differing signally from his approach and reaction to the other arts-was the direct result of the changed outlook on life that he underwent when. From then onwards the character of his work changed. onie from which I never have quite been able to escape. It is as though Goethe's mind was unable to project upon music that searching light of the intellect that seemed always able. Of Ph." he came under the influence of the hellenist Winckelmann. to pierce the outward appearance of things and lay bare their hidden spirituality. passionate bestowal of favour upon questionable talent was a fault of my early years. Further there was Joh. via the Vol." Goethe's own words are sufficient comment: "Foolish." Kayser was the first cultured musician to enter the Goethe circle. moved-it is the common experience of all writers of music-in an invisible world whose messages he translated into sounds." None of these men were of first rank and none were able by their example to stir Goethe from his conception of music as being a thing that a cultured person should know something of. tending towards a classicism that was to strike what Walter Pater called a " note of revolt against the eighteenth century. ease. Beethoven on the other hand. Chr. executant and critic. who went to Italy to stay with Goethe and whom Goethe helped. Goethe may be said to have lived in a visible world whose reflection he revealed in poetry and the most poetic prose. Music retaliated by withdrawing herself from such treatment.

There are days when I cannot understand how another can be that I love her only. To this Beethoven The Heiligenstadt added a postscript on the 10th:I brought sad farewell. will it be mine to know joy again in the temple of Nature and of man ? Never ? Oh. -" and Werther's letter dated 4th Sept. even so is my hope I leave this place almost as I came." a work pertaining to that earlier period. the hope I treasured-that Thus I say farewell-a here with me-of being cured. now deserts.ETTERS French Revolution.all tlhe other young people of that day. like the young Mendelssohn of later years.168 MUSIC AND I. . t Kiigel " also relmarks on the similarity that exists between that passage die geliebte "Ja which begins testament" in the Heiligenstadt Ja es. 3." The passionate unreason of the book seems to have impressed itself as strongly upon his imagination as it did upon that o. which Goethe finished. ? my letters * u1dolf . as the leaves fall and wither in autumn. let that filled me in the bright summer days have vanished. 4. was attracted to Goethe by " Werther. . with some feeling of a duty performed. Kdgel. There is no doubt that the young Beethoven. To him Goethe was still the author of the " Sturm und Drang " works. to the brotherhood of man. As late as 1818. the last sign he gave of interest in the romantic feelings of his youth. His imagination was fired by " Egmont. and from the Didn't I tell you in one of trees all about the leaves now strew the ground." Leipsir. O Godhead. the man who had disappointed Beethoven. Werther " that one must look for the counterpart of that particular turn of thought and manner of expression which colours the pianoforte sonatas. That Beethoven was strongly under the influence of the early romantic works of Goethe is probable. not even realised by the majority. Napoleon. is so long since the still there dawn for me but one day of pure joy-it voice of true joy has been known to me! When. at any rate to a certain extent." will was dated 6th Oct." and was not understood. when. and have nothing else but her to know and understand and possess. Op. indulged It led him to a purely aristocratic view of life wherein everything was to be invested with the balanced grace of a Grecian mode of life. 27 (2) and 57.. fond of her-is permitted to be fond of her-seeing utterly. and the C minor and D minor symphonies. This change of front came as a surprise to those of his contemporaries who had fallen under the spell of the unrestrained romanticism of " Werther. he could write to the German patriots Korner and Arndt: "R attle away at your chains! This man is too big for you. in Rome as late as 1787. . just after Moscow. wholly. and it is autumn in me and about me. me utterly. was always a type of hero. as follows: Sept. To Goethe.. 1802. you'll never be able to shatter him ! " The revolt against the eighteenth century that Goethe in was in another direction than that which Beethoven took. Yes ! That is it. beginning: lHoffung ist so. It is certain that Beethoven failed to take it into account. My leaves turn yellow. The high hopes dry and withered. 0 Providence. Nature has felt the first touch of autumn. " oethe und Beethoven. that would be too cruel I He speaks of his hopeless deafness. Werther of his hopeless love. 13. Sept.So far Beethoven could po 1894. and there is much to be said for KSgel's' observation that it is in .

" And again: " How can one ever adequately thank that most precious jewel of a nation.* And it must be owned that Bettina von Arnim had enough discernment to recognise a big lion when she saw him. The most popular authority for a description of the meeting is Bettina Her reputation for Brentano (von Arnim. and it is no longer possible to accept her tale absolutely. We have seen that he knew Goethe through the early works. as she later became). a great Poet! " Here we may for a moment digress in order to review the actual circumstances of the meeting between Beethoven and Goethe.on Aug. but not necessarily literal. finding in the early writings an echo of his own youthful turbulence. veracity has of late had a severe strain put upon it. Also it is improbablethat Beethoven would be so lacking in either gratitude or good sense as to have treated his friend and patron. 215). but his music still remained practically unknown to him. strode on through the amazed. though what still remains true of the intimate dealings between this delightful young literary lady and the two great men has even now all the charm of the finest ingenious. better informed. The piquancy of her best story-that of the meeting of Beethoven and Goethe with a group of royalty in the streets of Teplitz-has been taken away by recent research. but simply from an unrestrained delight in writing a good. and Goethe on Aug. tale. "search out all those words that are expressive of my deepest reverence and admiration. personages).BEETHOVEN AND GOETHE 169 with Goethe. In the meantime Beethoven had met the man whose work he had known since long and for whom he had come to have feelings of veneration. when Goethe is supposed to have stoodlpolitely aside while Beethoven. Goethe had heard of Beethoven from Zelter. It is evident that the discrepancies which are to be found between the facts as they are now known and as they were depicted by Bettina von Arnim arise. awe-struck little group of royal would bring the " yesterday" of the letter to Aug. seeking for a solution of his insistent difficulties. Kogel (p. In 1810 he finished the " Egmont " music. 227) has sufficientlydemonstratedthe improbabilityof the third of the so-calledBeethoven-Bettinaletters (that in which Beethoven is representedas himself describingthe notoriousmeeting with the royal family in the streets of Teplitz. not so much from a deliberate attempt at falsification on her part. yet ingenuous. taking the date of the letter to be Aug. but not until 1812 did this finally reach Goethe's hands. settling his hat more firmly on his head. 11." he writes to Bettina von Arnim. But it must be remembered that he had remained under their influence and was unaware of the change in the * Dr. 9. The situation was easy for her to deal with. 14) points out that Beethoven left Teplitz at the latest. Thayer goes so far as to say that he will believe in the authenticity of the letter so soon as he is confronted with the original. Deiters (Thayer (Krehbiel)II. the ArchdukeRudolf (who is made to appear as one of the collection of royalty through which Beethovenmade his way that day) in such a manner. tuft-hunting. Beethoven was. 15 (which . in this case. " When you mention me in your letters to Goethe.

his reputation as statesman and man of letters by nof unshakable. Both men. He is of a laconic nature and will become doubly so because of this lack. writing to Breitkopf and Hartel on Aug. however. says " Goethe is more fond of the atmosphereof courts than is becomingin a poet. as his hearing is leaving him. in July. forget all else for the sake of such outward show. Beethoven eager to express the reverence and admirationhe felt for the author of " Werther. 1812. on Sept. were pleased to deal with the resourcefuland amusing Bettina." Goetheby that time in the full tide of popularesteem. the very thing to puzzle and annoy Goethe. The letter was badly put together. to be excused. who should be looked up to as being the foremost teachers of the nation. a: misfortunewhen dealing with Goethe. 9th. But Beethoven played to him and thus expressed himself more completely than he could through speech. The encounter. wrote to Goethe to eleven years after the Teplitz meeting. and the two men were not to meet again. writing to Zelter from Karlsbad. No call. in varying degrees. 1828." And Goethe. Beethoven. mars the musical part of him less than the social. where they were both taking a cure. and much to be pitied. unfortunately he is an utterly untamed personality. who was a master of the wellturned phrase and the well-modulatedexpression. therefore. especially in this case. but he does not make it any more enjoyable either for himself or others by his attitude. which. 8. none the less. His talent amazed me. He is. 1812. where Beethoven's sense of reverence may well have had the effect of making his sentences unwieldy.170 AND LETTERS A0MUSIC writer's outlook. Beethoven's deafness was already firmly enough ingrained to be a hindrance to intercourse. He is said . himself careful of his words and delicate in his letter-writing. having no real knowledgeof Beethoven as an artist to cause him to look to the meeting with more than a mild interest. was not in the habit of shouting his fine conversation. Beethoven " ask for a subscriptionfor the edition of the Missa Solennis " from the Weimar court." On Feb. a favour he could grant to Bettina. not altogether in the wrong in holding the world detestable. It is only necessary to read her description of her unexpectedlyappearingat a large dinner-partyaccompaniedby the great Beethoven to realise that the characterof dea ex machina was not displeasing to her. says: "I made Beethoven's acquaintance in Teplitz. turgid and redundant. to talk of the absurd behaviour of virtuosi when poets. Their first recordedutterances about each other after the Teplitz meeting show the impressionsthat remained. too. perhaps. Beethoven and Goethe were both willing to help towards a meeting. 2nd of the same year. resulted in no lasting friendship. They met and talked once or twice at Teplitz. " Werther " and all such youthful ebullitions well behind him. Goethe.

. Beethoven's note-books are filled with quotations from Goethe. . . which is necessary to me."* The failure lay with Goethe. As soon as this stage is passed. I hope at last to write that which for Art and for me is the highest thing-' Faust. 1883. 75). when I took my walks and at other times.. . and it was he who said this to Rochlitz: "He has killed Klopstock for me . But Goethe. . "Beethoven quoted by Frimmel. How happy he made me then ! great man was with me! . of the change in Goethe's mental outlook. . That's the reason he can be set to music. . without in any way realising Beethoven's greatness.. but hard of hearing. tries to enlist his sympathy by touching on a subject that to the musician meant nothing.BEETHOVEN AND GOETHE 171 to have been ill at the time the letter came. And in conversation with Biihler (1828) he said: " Because of money. But as Ambros says: " Goethe . not so deaf then as I am now. he lives and wants us all to live with him. at last. he saw in him little more than a person unfitted for society through his deafness and rendered difficult of approach because of his rough exterior and caustic temperament. By that I do not mean that I write simply for money. but to the writer much: " . We must take it that. . . seems to have been moved but little by the spiritual grandeur of this apparition (Beethoven). yes. Nobody else can be set to music so easily as he. * Ambros: "Beethoven." Vienna. You smile that I should ever have read Klopstock ! I gave myself up to him many years. . . It is of interest to see how Beethoven." He is reported by Rochlitz to have said (in 1822): " I became I was acquainted with him (Goethe) in Karlsbad (Teplitz). At any rate the plea remained without attention. I would have gone to my death for him.'" SCOTT GODDARD. Goethe and Michelangelo. I cannot write only what I like the most. How patient the ." und Goethe." (Thayer (Krehbiel) II. . cognisant. ten times! " Goethe might be expected to have been the one man among Beethoven's contemporaries to understand and value the greatness of his genius. Beethoven at least knew Goethe a his that Goethe had never felt able to take with works. step through to Beethoven's regard compositions. for years I have been a father to the son of a deceased brother-a promising youth-wholly devoted to science and already at home in the rich lord of Hellenism.

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