Yesterday afternoon I attended a performance of Symphony No.7, Op.92, by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was time well spent and I cannot imagine enjoying a piece of music more thoroughly. It was just flat out fun.
I find Beethoven (perhaps, more accurately, the times he lived in) fascinating. When he was a lad of 5 or 6 growing up in Bonn his drunken father was abusing him to practice his music which, apparently, he did not want to do because he did not like music. His father harbored a fantasy of his son repeating the story of Mozart's youth and bringing large sums of money into the home. It was not to be. His father would take his own life before the arrival of fame and fortune for the Beethoven name.
Around that the time that his father was beating him to make him practice his piano Adam Smith was publishing an Investigation Into the Nature And Causes Of The Wealth of Nations and a gang of colonial malcontents was publishing the Declaration of Independence. The world was well on its way to changing and Ludwig was going to make a contribution to that change.
He once said of himself,
"For years I have avoided almost all society, because I cannot tell people I am deaf. I have to appear as a misanthrope; I, who am so little of one."
For a figure of such public reknown that must have been a horrible torment. I am no Beethoven historian and it has been many years since I read anything of any depth about the man but I have this lingering notion that he was considered to be a miserable, mean man. Was he? Or was he something else entirely?
By the time he wrote the Seventh he was quite deaf and knew it was irreversable. The symphony was first performed, with Beethoven himself conducting, as a benefit for Austrian and Bavarian soldiers wounded at the Battle of Hanau. His composition, Wellington's Victory was also premiered at the benefit concert. Napolean could run but, ultimately, he could not hide.
Upon hearing the Seventh Beethoven's contemporary composer, Carl Maria von Weber said,
"the extravagances of this genius have reached the ne plus ultra, and Beethoven is quite ripe for the madhouse."A review published in a newspaper of the day said:
"Mr. Van Beethoven goes his own path, and a dreary, eccentric, and tiresome path it is: learning, learning, and nothing but learning, but not a bit of nature or melody. And, after all, it is but a crude and undigested learning, without method or arrangement, a seeking after curious modulations, a hatred of ordinary progressions, a heaping up of difficulties, until all the pleasure and patience are lost."Ripe for the madhouse he may have been. Pleasure and patience lost? I beg to differ, but what do I know.