Friday, March 29, 2013

Beethoven: The Universal Composer (quotes)

I just finished reading Edmund Morris’s Beethoven: The Universal Composer. While there’s no doubt Beethoven was a musical genius, he was also kind-of a terrible person. Here are some quotes I took from that book:

The improvisations of a genius are of a different order, frightening in their proximity to madness: one has only to read about Nijinsky’s last dance, or watch films of Picasso at work. If the folly is not held at bay by structure, it can destroy.

The career of every artist is marked with great opportunities that for “various reasons” come to nothing.

In any case, Beethoven had much to learn from Haydn just by staying close and sharing the old composer’s professional life--browsing scores, discussing points of instrumentation, attending rehearsals, and exchanging the strange half-sung, half-mimed, almost wordless sentences that musicians alone understand.

To their watercolor notion of “composition” as something clear, pretty, and small scale, he was a dauber in oil, making slash strokes on canvases too big for the prince’s drawing room.

But the Revolution was now consummated, and to Beethoven’s more forward-looking listeners, especially young ones, the violence and bigness of his style matched the new aesthetics of force and “unbuttoned” emotion.

But the seeds of inspiration are planted in strange places, and flower, often after long delay, without conscious watering.

Courtliness and containment--the twin essential of High Classical style--were as much a part of Haydn’s musical personality as wildness was a part of Beethoven’s.

Writing them and suppressing them, he accepted loneliness as a precondition for the life of an artist.

The scholar-pianist Charles Rosen, who, with Lockwood, has done much in recent years to illuminate Beethoven’s standing in German intellectual history, quotes a remark by Friedrich von Schlegel to the effect that musicians tend to be more rational in their works than they are in their everyday lives.

Thus, Beethoven had been from the very start of his career a darling of the informed, the privilege, and the powerful. To claim, along with his mythifying biographers, that he simply punched his way up Parnassus is, in DeNora’s words, “to mystify genius” and to ignore the extent to which his success “was the product of social mediation.”

“O God! give me the strength to conquer myself, nothing at all must fetter me to life.”
“So all is illusion--friendship, kingdom, empire, all is just a mist which a breath of wind can disperse and shape again in a different way!!” Beethoven wrote on April 8. He was actually trying, in his clumsy way, to be jocular about quite another matter, but the notion that no reality, outside that of artistic truth, could be trusted was ingrained in him.

He made clear that “freedom”--imagination operating beyond constraints--and “progress”--a constant originality of achievement--were impossible without scholarship.

Ten years before, at the premiere of Der glorreiche Augenblick, Beethoven had been the toast of European royalty. He was now, in perhaps the strangest turn of his career, a hero of the people. The Ninth Symphony’s success was extraordinary...

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