09/08/06 - beethoven controversy

In today's excerpt - the arrival of the nineteenth century sees a change in the career of Ludwig van Beethoven. With it, an elegant virtuoso pianist of the Viennese salons becomes a serious composer. As his deafness curtails his social and performing life, he pours his musical soul into ever more important compositions, notably "Eroica", a symphony of enormous dimensions that profoundly influences the form but confounds the greater part of his followers. An article from the April 26, 1805 edition of Der Freimuthige contains the following observation regarding the new symphony:

"Some people, Beethoven's special friends, maintain that it is precisely this symphony that is his masterpiece, that this is the genuine style for first-rate music, and that if it fails to please now it is because the public is not sufficiently cultured, from an artistic point of view to appreciate all these ethereal beauties; when a few thousand years have elapsed, it will not fail to make its effect.

"Another group denies that the composition has any artistic value and claims to see in it an unfettered quest for strangeness and effect. Through curious modulations and abrupt transitions, by joining together the most disparate elements, as for example, when a pastoral in the grandest style is torn apart by the basses, by three horns, etc., a certain unwanted originality may result without much difficulty; but genius reveals itself not in the strange and the bizarre, but in the beautiful and the lofty.

"The third group, a very small one, stands halfway between the others—it concedes that the symphony has many beauties, but also grants that the continuity is often completely disrupted, and that the enormous length of this longest, and possibly most difficult of all symphonies, exhausts even the connoisseur and for the mere music lover it is unbearable; it would like Beethoven to employ his undoubtedly enormous talents in offering us works like his early compositions which have put him eternally in the company of the greatest instrumental composers. It is afraid, however, that if Beethoven pursues his present bent both he and the public will suffer. His music could soon reach the point where one would take no pleasure in it, unless well-versed in the rules and problems of the art, but on the contrary would leave the concert hall with an unpleasant feeling of exhaustion, from having been overwhelmed by a mass of disconnected and cumbersome ideas and a persistent noise from all the instruments.

"The public and Herr van Beethoven, who conducted, were not happy with each other on this evening; the public thought this symphony was too weighty, too long, and himself too ill-mannered, because he did not incline his head to acknowledge the applause which came from a section of the audience. On the contrary, Beethoven felt the applause was not sufficient."


Alan Kendall


The Chronicle of Classical Music


Thames & Hudson Ltd, London


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