"A Trip to the Shrine of Beethoven"
By RICHARD WAGNER
A Remarkable Indication of the Astonishing Imagination of the Great Musician-Dramatist
Reprinted by Special Request
[It is hard to read the following without believing that Richard Wagner actually made the trip to Vienna and met the great symphonic composer. This fanciful journey will he published in The Etude in three installments. Our readers will find the third installment of particular interest, as it contains Wagner's conception of Beethoven's ideas upon his works. This article represents Wagner's strong likes and dislikes. His anti-Semitic prejudices were well known and he was none too fond of things English, which may account for his inability to win the sympathies of the English public as a conductor. Wagner personally was so irritable, excitable and nervous in his earlier years that actors, singers and musicians resented his directions and often conspired to ruin his works, as in the case of the first performance of "Tannhäuser" in Paris. To those who read "between the lines" the following imaginary pilgrimage to a shrine of musical art reveals Wagner's characteristics better than they are shown in a biography.—Editor's Note.]
My native town is a commonplace city of central Germany. I hardly know for what I was originally intended; I only remember that I heard one evening a symphony of Beethoven; that I thereupon fell ill of a fever; and that when I recovered I was—a musician. Perhaps it may be a result of this circumstance that even after I had become acquainted with much other noble music I still loved, honored and idolized Beethoven more than all. I knew no greater pleasure than to bury myself in the depths of this great genius, until at length I imagined myself a part of it; and began to honor myself as this little part—to gain higher conceptions and views; in brief, to become that which the wise are wont to call—a fool. But my madness was of an amiable sort, and injured no one; the bread that I ate while I was in this condition was very dry, the drink that I drank was very thin; for giving lessons is not a very profitable business with us, O honored world and executors!
So I lived for awhile in my garret, until it suddenly occurred to me that the man whose creations I most honored—was still alive! I did not comprehend why I had not thought of this before. It had not for a moment suggested itself to me that Beethoven still existed; that he could eat bread and breathe the air like one of us; yet this Beethoven still lived in Vienna, and was also a poor German musician!
And now my peace of mind was over. All my thoughts tended toward one wish—to see Beethoven! No Mussulman ever longed more faithfully to make his pilgrimage to the grave of the prophet, than I to the room in which Beethoven lived.
But how should I bring about the execution of my purpose? It was a long journey to Vienna, and I should need money to make it; I, an unfortunate, who hardly made enough to keep life in his body! I must devise some extraordinary means to gain the necessary sum.' I carried to a publisher a few piano sonatas that I had composed after the model of the master, and speedily convinced the man that I was a lunatic. Nevertheless he was good enough to advise me, that if I wanted to earn a few thalers by my compositions I had better set to work to gain a small reputation by galops and potpourris, I shuddered; but my longing to see Beethoven won the day; I composed the galops and potpourris, but I could not bring myself to cast a glance at Beethoven during this period—for I feared to alienate him utterly.
To my grief, however, I was not even paid for this first sacrifice of my purity; for the publisher explained to me that the first thing to be done was to make myself something of a name. I shuddered again, and fell into despair. But this state of mind nevertheless produced several excellent galops. I really received some money for these, and at last believed I had enough to carry out my project. Two years had passed, however, and I had lived in perpetual fear that Beethoven might die before I had earned a reputation by galops and potpourris. But, thank God, he has outlived the brilliancy of my renown! Glorious Beethoven, forgive me this reputation! It was made solely that I might behold thee!
Ah, what bliss! my goal was reached. Who was happier than I? I could pack my bundle, and take up my journey to Beethoven! A holy awe oppressed me as I passed out at the gate and turned me toward the south. I would gladly have taken a place in the diligence—not because I cared for the hardship of pedestrianism—for what fatigues would I not go through for such an object?—but because I could reach Beethoven the sooner so. But I had done too little for my reputation as a composer of galops to have secured money enough to pay my fare. I bore all difficulties, and deemed myself happy that I had progressed so far that these could lead me to my goal. What emotions I felt—what dreams! No lover could be happier who, after a long parting, turned back toward the love of his youth.
So I came into beautiful Bohemia, the land of harpers and roadside singers. In a little town I came upon a company of traveling musicians. They formed a little orchestra, made up of a bass-viol, two violins, two horns, a clarinet and a flute, and there were two women who played the harp, and two female singers with sweet voices. They played dances and sang ballads; money was given to them, and they went on. I met them again in a shady place by the roadside; they were encamped there and were dining. I joined them, said that I, too, was a wandering musician, and we were soon friends. As they played their dances, I asked them timidly if they could play my galops. The blessed people! they did not know them. Ah, what a happiness that was for me!
I asked them if they did not play other music besides dances. "Most certainly," they said; "but only for ourselves, and not for the fastidious people." They unpacked their music. I caught sight of Beethoven's great Septuor; in amazement I asked them if they played that, too? "Why not?" replied the eldest. "Joseph has a lame hand and cannot play the second violin just now; otherwise we would enjoy playing it for you."
Beside myself, I forthwith seized Joseph's violin, promised to supply his place as far as I could; and we began the Septuor.
Ah, what a delight it was! Here, beside the Bohemian highway, under the open sky, the Septuor of Beethoven was performed with a clearness, a precision, and a deep expression, such as one seldom finds among the most masterly of virtuosos!
O great Beethoven, we brought to thee a worthy sacrifice!
THE COMING OF THE ENGLISHMAN.
We were just at the finale, when—for the road passed up a steep hill just here—an elegant traveling-carriage drew near us, slowly and noiselessly, and at last stopped beside us. An amazingly tall and wonderfully fair young man lay stretched out in the vehicle; he listened with considerable attention to our music, took out his pocket-book, and wrote a few words in it. Then he let fall a gold- piece from the carriage, and drove on, speaking a few words of English to his servant—from which discovered that he must be an Englishman.
This occurrence threw us into a discord; luckily we had finished the performance of the Septuor. I embraced my friends, and would have accompanied them; but they explained that they must leave the highway here and strike into a path across the fields to reach their home. If Beethoven himself had not been waiting for me, I would have gone thither with them. As it was, we separated with no little emotion, and parted. Later it occurred to me that no one had picked up the Englishman's gold-piece.
In the next inn, which I entered to refresh myself, I found the Englishman seated at an excellent repast. He looked at me for a long while, and at last addressed me in passable German.
'"Where are your companions?" he asked.
"They have gone home," said I.
"Take your violin," he continued, "and play something. Here is some money."
I was offended at this, and explained that I did not play for money; further, that I had no violin; and I briefly related to him how I had met the musicians.
"They were good musicians," said the Englishman, "and the Beethoven symphony was also good."
This observation struck me; I asked whether he himself was musical.
"Yes," he answered; "I play the flute twice a week; on Thursday I play the French horn; and on Sundays I compose."
That was certainly a good deal; I stood amazed. I had never in my life heard of traveling English musicians. I decided, therefore, that they must be in a most excellent position if they could make their wanderings with such fine equipages. I asked if he was a musician by profession.
For some time I received no reply; at last he answered slowly that he was very wealthy.
My error was plain; I had certainly offended him by my inquiry. Somewhat confused, I remained silent, and went on with my simple meal.
The Englishman, who again took a long look at me, began again. "Do you know Beethoven?" he asked.
I replied that I had never been in Vienna, but that I was at this moment on the way thither to satisfy the keen longing that I felt to see the idolized master.
"Where do you come from?" he asked. "From L———-? That is not far. I come from England, and also desire to know Beethoven. We will both make his acquaintance; he is a very celebrated composer."
What an extraordinary meeting! I thought. Great master, what different people you attract! On foot and in carriages they make their pilgrimages to you! My Englishman interested me greatly, but I confess that I envied him very little on account of his finer carriage. It seemed to me that my difficult pilgrimage was more holy and loyal, and that its goal must give me more pleasure than him who went in pride and splendor.
The postilion blew his horn; the Englishman drove on, calling to me that he would see Beethoven sooner than I.
I had gone but a few miles further when I unexpectedly came upon him again. This time it was on the road. One of the wheels of his carriage had broken; but he still sat within in majestic calm, his servant behind him, in spite of the fact that the wagon hung far over to one side. I discovered that they were waiting for the postilion, who had gone on to a village a considerable distance in advance to bring a wheelwright. They had waited a long while; and as the servant only spoke English, I determined to go forward myself to the village to hurry the postilion and the wheelwright back. I found the former in a tavern, where he was sitting over his brandy, not troubling himself especially about the Englishman; but I nevertheless succeeded in speedily taking him back with the mechanic to the broken carriage. The damage was soon repaired; the Englishman promised to announce me at Beethoven's, and drove away.
What was my amazement to overtake him the next day again. This time he had not broken a wheel, but had halted calmly in the middle of the road, and was reading a book; and he appeared quite pleased as he saw me again approaching.
"I have waited some hours," said he, "because it occurred to me just here that I had done wrong not to invite you to drive with me to Beethoven's. Driving is far better than walking. Come into the carriage."
I was amazed. For a moment I hesitated whether I should not accept his offer; but I remembered the vow that I had made the day before when I saw the Englishman drive away—I had vowed that no matter what might happen I would make my pilgrimage on foot. I declared this to be my resolution, and now it was the Englishman's turn to be astonished. He repeated his offer, and that he had waited hours for me, in spite of the fact that he had had his wheel thoroughly repaired at the place where he had passed the night, and had been much delayed thereby. I remained firm, however, and he drove away.
To tell the truth I had a secret prejudice against him, for a peculiar feeling forced itself upon me that this Englishman would some time or other bring me into great embarrassment. Besides, his admiration of Beethoven and his intention to make his acquaintance impressed me as rather the impertinent mood of a rich aristocrat than as the deep and earnest yearning of an enthusiastic soul. For these reasons I felt an inclination to avoid him, that I might not debase my own pious longing by his companionship.
But as though my fate were trying to reveal to me into what a dangerous connection with this man I should some day come, I met him again on the evening of the same day, stopped before an inn and apparently waiting for me a second time—for he sat backwards in his carriage and looked back along the road in my direction.
"Sir," said he, "I have again been waiting, some hours for you. Will you ride with me to see Beethoven?"
This time my surprise was joined with a certain disgust. This extraordinary persistency in serving me could be only interpreted in one way—that the Englishman, perceiving my growing dislike for him, was endeavoring to force himself upon me for my own injury. I again refused his offer, with" unconcealed irritation. He cried out haughtily, "Damn it, you seem to care very little for Beethoven," and drove rapidly away.
This was, as it turned out, the last time that I met the islander during the whole of the journey that remained before reaching Vienna. At last I trod the streets of the city; the end of my pilgrimage was reached. With' what emotions I entered this Mecca of my faith! All the difficulties of the long and weary journey were forgotten; I was at my goal—within the walls that surrounded Beethoven.
I was too deeply moved to think of the immediate fulfilment of my project. I at once inquired, it is true, for Beethoven's dwelling, but only to take up my quarters in his neighborhood. Almost opposite the house in which the master lived, there was a hotel, not too expensive for me; here I hired a little room in the fifth story, and prepared myself for the greatest event of my life—a visit to Beethoven.
After I had rested for two days, and had fasted and prayed, but had not taken a single look at Vienna, I summoned up my courage, left the hotel, and crossed obliquely to the marvelous house. I was told that Beethoven was not at home. This rather pleased me than otherwise, for I gained time to collect myself. But when the same answer was given to me four times before night—and with, a certain heightened tone—I decided that this was an unlucky day, and gave up my visit in despair.
As I went back to the hotel, who should nod to me with considerable cordiality from a window of the first story but—my Englishman!
"Have you seen Beethoven," he called to me.
"Not yet; he was not in," I answered, surprised at this repeated encounter. He met me on the steps and insisted with remarkable cordiality on my going, to his room.
"Sir," said he, "I have seen you go to Beethoven's house five times to-day. I have been here a number of days, and took lodgings in this wretched hotel in order to be near him. Believe me, it is a very difficult task to get at Beethoven; the gentleman has many caprices. I called on him six times when I was first here, and was always refused. Now I have taken to getting up very early and sitting at the window until late in the evening, to see when he goes out. But the gentleman never seems to go out."
"You think then that Beethoven was at home today, but denied himself to me?" cried I, excitedly.
"Undoubtedly; you and I have both been turned away. And it is especially disagreeable to me, for I didn't come to see Vienna, but Beethoven."
This was very sad news for me. Nevertheless I made the experiment again the next day—but again in vain. The gates of heaven were shut against me.
"Whoever satisfies the inner necessity of his being is free, because he feels himself at one with himself, because everything which he does answers to his nature, to his true needs "—Richard Wagner.