The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About

A Trip to the Shrine of Beethoven, Part III, by Richard Wagner

A Fictitious Journey indicating astonishing imagination of the Great Musician-Dramatist
[This remarkable article, which is reprinted by special request, was commenced in The Etude for August. The previous parts have principally to do with Wagner's Imaginary Journey to the Home of the great Symphonist. On the way he meets an eccentric Englishman and has various other experiences, but the following section contains the most interesting part of the description, as it deals directly with Wagner's meeting with Beethoven.—Editor's Note.]
Here I was—in the sanctuary; but the horrible embarrassment into which the villainous Britisher had led me robbed me of all that beneficent mood that was necessary to worthily enjoy my good fortune. Beethoven's appearance was certainly not in itself adapted to have an agreeable and soothing effect. He was in a somewhat disorderly dishabille; he wore a red woolen belt around his body; long, stiff, gray hair hung in disorder about his head; and his gloomy, repellent expression did not tend to allay my confusion. We sat down at a table covered with pens and paper.
There was a decided feeling of awkwardness; no one spoke. Beethoven was evidently out of temper at having to receive two persons instead of one.
At last he began by saying in a harsh voice— "You come from L——- ?"
I was about to answer, but he interrupted me; laying a pencil and sheet of paper before me, he added: "Write; I cannot hear."
I knew of Beethoven's deafness, and had prepared myself for it. Nevertheless it went through my heart like a pang when I heard his harsh and broken voice say "I cannot hear.'' To live in the world joyless and in poverty; to find one's only exalted happiness in the power of music—and to have to say "I cannot hear!" In one moment there came to me the full understanding of Beethoven's manner, of the deep sorrow in his face, of the gloomy sadness of his glance, of the firm-set haughtiness of his lips: he could not hear!
Confused, and without knowing what I said, I wrote an entreaty for his pardon and a brief explanation of the circumstances that had forced me to appear in the company of the Englishman. The latter sat silent and contented opposite Beethoven, who, when he had read my words, turned to him rather sharply with the inquiry what he desired from him?
"I have the honor"—replied the Briton.
"I can't understand you," cried Beethoven, hastily interrupting him. "I cannot hear, and I can speak but little. Write down what you want with me."
The Englishman quietly reflected for a moment, then drew an elegant music-book from his pocket, and said to me "Good.—Write—I request Herr Beethoven to look at this composition of mine; if he finds a passage that does not please him, he will have the kindness to mark a cross against it."
I wrote down his request literally, in the hope that we might thus get rid of him. And such was really the result. After Beethoven had read it, he laid the Englishman's composition on the table with a peculiar smile, nodded abruptly, and said, "I will send it to you."
With this my "gentleman" was content. He rose, made an especially magnificent bow, and took his leave. I drew a long breath—he was gone.
Now for the first time I felt myself in the very sanctuary. Even Beethoven's features grew   obviously brighter; he looked quietly at me for a moment, and began:
"The Englishman has caused you no little trouble." said he. "Find consolation with me; these traveling Englishmen have tortured me to death. They come to-day to see a poor musician as they would go to-morrow to look at some rare animal. I am heartily sorry to have confounded you with him. You wrote me that you were pleased with my compositions. I am glad of that, for I have little confidence now in pleasing people with my productions."
This cordiality in addressing me soon did away with all my embarrassment; a thrill of joy ran through me at these simple words. I wrote that I was by no means the only one filled with such ardent enthusiasm for every one of his creations, as to have no dearer wish than, for instance, to gain for my native city the happiness of seeing him once in its midst; that he might then convince himself what effect his works produced upon the public.
"I can well believe," he answered, "that my compositions are more appreciated in North Germany. The Viennese often provoke me; they hear too much wretched stuff every day, to be always in the mood to take an earnest interest in anything serious."
I sought to combat this view, and instanced the fact that I had yesterday attended a performance of "Fidelio," which the Viennese public had received with the most obvious enthusiasm.
"Hm! Hm!" muttered the master—"The 'Fidelio'! But I know that the people only applaud it out of vanity, after all, for they imagine that in my rearrangement of the opera I only followed their advice. So they seek to reward me for my trouble, and cry bravo! It's a good-natured, uneducated populace; so I like better to be among it than among wise people. Does 'Fidelio' please you?"
I told him of the impression that the performance of the day before had made upon me, and remarked that the whole had gained most gloriously by the additions that had been made to it.
"It is vexatious work," said Beethoven; "I am no composer of operas; at least I know of no theatre in the world for which I would care to compose an opera again. If I should make an opera according to my own conception, the people would absolutely flee from it; for there would be no airs, duets, trios, and all that nonsense to be found in it, with which operas are stitched together nowadays; and what I would substitute for these no singer would sing and no audience hear. They all know nothing deeper than brilliant falsehoods, sparkling nonsense, and sugar-coated dulness. The man who created a true musical drama would be looked upon as a fool—and would be one in very truth if he did not keep such a thing to himself, but wanted to bring it before the public."
"And how should one go to work," I asked excitedly, "to produce such a musical drama?"
"As Shakespeare did when he wrote his plays," was the almost angry answer. Then he continued: "The man who has to trouble himself with fitting all sorts of brilliant prattle to women with passable voices, so that they may gain applause by it, should make himself a Parisian man-milliner, not a dramatic composer. For myself, I am not made for such trifling. I know very well that certain wiseacres say of me for this reason that though I have some ability in instrumentation I should never be at home in vocal music. They are right—for they understand by vocal music only operatic music; and as for my being at home in that—Heaven forbid!"
I ventured to ask if he really thought that any one, after hearing his "Adelaide," would dare to deny him the most brilliant genius for vocal music also?
"Well," he said after a short pause, "'Adelaide' and things of that kind are small matters, after all, that soon fall into the hands of the professional virtuosi—to serve them as opportunities to bring out their brilliant art-touches. Why should not vocal music form a great and serious genre by itself as well as instrumental—that should receive as much respect from the frivolous tribe of singers in its execution, as is demanded of an orchestra in the production of a symphony. The human voice exists. It is a far more beautiful and noble organ of tone than any instrument of an orchestra. Ought it not to be brought into as independent use as this latter. What new results might not be gained by such a method! For it is precisely the character of the human voice, utterly different by nature from the peculiarities of an instrument, that could be brought out and retained, and could be capable of the most varying combinations. In instruments, the primal organs of creation and nature find their representation; they cannot be sharply determined and defined, for they but repeat primal feelings as they came forth from the chaos of the first creation, when there were perhaps no human beings in existence to receive them in their hearts. With the genius of the human voice it is entirely otherwise; this represents the human heart, and its isolated, individual emotion. Its character is therefore limited, but fixed and defined. Let these two elements be brought together, then; let them be united! Let those wild primal emotions that stretch out into the infinite, that are represented by instruments, be contrasted with the clear, definite emotions of the human heart, represented by the human voice. The addition of the second element will work beneficently and soothingly upon the conflict of the elemental emotions, and give to their course a well-defined and united channel; and the human heart itself, in receiving these elemental emotions, will be immeasurably strengthened and broadened; and made capable of feeling clearly what was before an uncertain presage of the highest ideal, now changed into a divine knowledge."
Beethoven paused here a moment, as if fatigued. Then, with a light sigh, he continued: "It is true that many obstacles are met with in the attempt to solve this problem; in order to sing one has need of words. But what man could put into words the poetry that must form the basis of such a union of elements? Poetry must stand aside here; for words are too weak things for this task. You will soon hear a new composition of mine which will remind you of what I am now explaining. It is a symphony with choruses. I call your attention to the difficulty I had in this, in getting over the obstacles of the inadequacy of the poetry which I required to help me. Finally I decided to choose our Schiller's beautiful 'Hymn to Joy;' this is at least a noble and elevating creation, even though it is far from expressing what in this case, it is true, no verses in the world could express."
Even now I can hardly comprehend the happiness that I enjoyed in the fact that Beethoven himself should thus help me by these explanations to the full understanding of his last giant symphony which at that time must have been barely finished, but which was as yet known to no one. I expressed to him my enthusiastic thanks for this certainly rare condescension. At the same time I expressed the delighted surprise that he had given me in this news that the appearance of a new and great work of his composition might soon be looked for. Tears stood in my eyes—I could have kneeled before him.
Beethoven seemed to perceive my emotion. He looked at me half sorrowfully, half with a mocking smile, as lie said: "You will be able to be my defender when my new work is spoken of—think of me then; the wise people will believe me mad—at all events they will call me so. Yet you see, Herr R——-, that I am not exactly a madman, though I might be unhappy enough to be one. People demand of me that I shall write according to their conception of what is beautiful and good; but they do not reflect that I, the poor deaf man, must have thoughts that are all my own—that it is impossible for me to compose otherwise than as I feel. And that I cannot think and feel the things that they deem beautiful," he added ironically, "that is my misfortune!"
With this he rose and strode up and down the room with short, quick strides. Deeply moved as I was, I also rose—I felt myself trembling. It would have been impossible for me to continue the conversation either by pantomime or writing. I perceived that the time had come when my visit might grow burdensome to the master. To write my deep- felt thanks and my farewell, seemed cold; I contented myself by taking my hat, standing before Beethoven, and letting him read in my eyes what was passing within me.
He seemed to understand me. "You are going?" he asked. "Do you remain any time longer in Vienna?"
I wrote that I had no other aim in this journey than to become acquainted with him; that as he had deemed me worthy of such an unusual reception, I was more than happy to find my goal reached, and should start the next day on my return.
He answered smiling, "You wrote to me how you furnished yourself with money for this journey. You should stay here in Vienna and make galops— they are popular wares here."
I declared that all that was over for me, for that I knew nothing that could ever again seem to me to deserve such a sacrifice.
"Well, well," he said, "perhaps something will yet be found! I—fool that I am—should be far better off if I made galops; if I go on as I have hitherto, I shall always be in want. Bon voyage!" he went on; "bear me in mind, and console yourself with me in all your trials!"
Deeply moved and with tears in my eyes, I was about to take my leave, when he called to me— "Wait! Let us finish up the musical Englishman. Let us see where the crosses come in."
With this he seized the Englishman's music-book, and smilingly looked through it; then he carefully folded it up again, wrapped it in paper, took up a heavy music pen, and drew a gigantic cross across the whole wrapper. And then he handed it to me with the remark, "Kindly return the fortunate being his masterpiece. He is an ass—and yet I envy him his long ears. Farewell, mein Lieber, and remember me in kindness."
With this he dismissed me. Deeply agitated, I passed out of the room and from the house.
*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
At the hotel I met the Englishman's servant, as he was arranging his master's trunk in the traveling carriage. His goal, too, had been reached; I was compelled to confess that he too had shown persistency. I hurried to my room and made my preparations to begin, the next day, my pedestrian journey back again. I had to laugh as I looked at the cross on the wrapper of the Englishman's composition. Yet the cross was a memorial of Beethoven, and I begrudged it to the evil demon of my pilgrimage. My decision was quickly made. I took the wrapper off, took out my galops, and wrapped them instead in this condemnatory covering. I returned the Englishman his composition without a wrapper, and accompanied it with a note in which I informed him that Beethoven envied him, and that he declared he did not know where to put a cross on such a work.
As I left the hotel I saw my wretched companion getting into his carriage.
"Good-by"—he shouted—"You have done me a great service. I am delighted to have made Herr Beethoven's acquaintance. Will you go to Italy with me?"
"What are you after there?" asked I in reply.
"I want to make the acquaintance of Rossini—he is a very celebrated composer."
"Good luck!" I called. "I know Beethoven; and with that I have enough for all my life."
We parted. I cast one longing look towards Beethoven's house, and turned to the northward— exalted and ennobled in heart.
Anyone who has heard and studied a great deal that is good ought not to need a teacher to spur him on. The student should always bear in mind the greatest models, and emulate them, playing a great deal with accompaniment; he should become more and more familiar with masterpieces, and enter earnestly into a sense of their beauties; then the gradual development the pupil attains will place him above the; common run of amateurs.—Moscheles.

<< Etude Gallery of Musical Celebrities     Forgotten Rivals of Great Composers >>

Monthly Archives


The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music