5 Tales From the Complicated Life of Beethoven



Passionate, moody, troubled, social — Beethoven's personality is hard to pin down. Here are a few wild stories from his life that provide a glimpse into a life misunderstood.

As Salieri's Vocal Student

Antonio Salieri has a bad rap in many a mind, thanks to insidious rumors about his distaste for Mozart which were bolstered by his characterization in the play (and later, film) Amadeus. But he was a talented composer in his own right, and can take some credit for being a teacher to Beethoven himself. When Ludwig went to Vienna, he sought instruction from the Italian composer. From Salieri, Beethoven learned the art of vocal music; the student would set Italian texts to music, and his teacher would correct them. One interesting anecdote from Beethoven’s own pupil, Carl Czerny: Once, Salieri had some negative feedback for one of Beethoven’s songs, but admitted he just couldn’t get it out of his head. Beethoven’s reply? “Then, Herr Salieri, it cannot have been so utterly bad!”




Symphony No. 2 — Fun in a Dark Place

For much of his life, Beethoven struggled with severe cramping and gastrointestinal issues as well. While we aren’t sure exactly what was the cause of these issues, there’s a chance his symptoms were due to irritable bowel syndrome. And the composer-killer syphilis may have been involved as well. On top of that, around the time he finished his second symphony, Beethoven was beginning to notice he was losing his hearing. It was a rough time — he wrote of his “miserable” and “unhappy” situation — and began to withdraw from social functions. With all of this in mind, it’s pretty interesting to hear how energetic and lively his second symphony is, especially it’s finale. Chicago Symphony Orchestra annotator Phillip Huscher declares it has a “nose-thumbing sense of humor,” and contemporary critic Hector Berlioz wrote that it was “smiling throughout.”

 



"Eroica," or, When Your Hero Isn't a Hero

In 1804, Beethoven completed his masterful third symphony. It's big and bold, and from those striking opening chords the audience knows it's in for something big. So it was only appropriate that this magnificent symphony be dedicated to someone of equal importance. And who better than to dedicate your best work than to your idol? For Beethoven, there was no question that his own hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, should be the dedicatee. At least, until he realized his own personal hero was a maniacal dictator bent on world domination. When he learned Napoleon had declared himself emperor, Beethoven lamented, “[Napoleon] is nothing but an ordinary being! Now he will trample the rights of man under foot and pander to his own ambition.” Beethoven scratched out Napoleon’s name from the dedication page, tore it up, and retitled it “Sinfonia Eroica,” for the true heroes of the world.



Fighting With Art

Once Beethoven got over his disillusionment with Napoleon, he used his art to actively resist his Imperial Majesty. Toward the end of 1813, Beethoven completed his orchestral piece Wellington's Victory, Op. 91 that celebrated Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Vittorio. It’s a battaglia, a musical form in which the sounds of the orchestra mimic the opposing sides of a battle. Listen closely and you can hear the sounds of war, as well as patriotic tunes representative of both sides. For the English, “Rule Britannia” and “God Save the King”; for the French, “Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre” (which you may know as “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”). However, the piece wasn’t loved by everyone and Beethoven responded to one critic with fighting words: “What I shit is better than anything you have ever thought.”



Lovestruck

The “Elise” in “Für Elise” is still a mystery, but a popular idea is that it’s a nickname of Therese Malfatti, one of Beethoven’s piano students. Even though he was much older than her, Beethoven fell wildly in love with her. He suddenly began to care about his appearance and putting his best foot forward, which was slightly off brand for a guy who was wholly committed to just doing his thing. Anyway, the story goes, he wrote this piece just for her. But when Malfatti invited Beethoven over for a dinner party so he could meet the parents he dropped the glass ball into a million pieces. Maybe he was nervous, but apparently Beethoven drank way too much punch and, when asked to play this “Für Elise,” found himself unable to perform. It was a bad look, and Malfatti’s parents forbade him from ever seeing their daughter again.

Beloved as “Für Elise” is today, it may have been intended to remain a private work — it was found among Malfatti's affects when she died in 1851 and wasn’t even published until 1867.




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Warren Woodruff Attending CHOA Tower of Talent



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Yannie Tan and Laura Zhang

Muses: Clara and Robert Schumann ... and Brahms



She was an eight-year-old Wunderkind; he was an aspiring composer in his teens who saw her at a concert and so admired her playing that he sought piano lessons from her father. When Clara turned 18, Robert Schumann asked Herr Wieck for his daughter’s hand in marriage, but he was vehemently opposed to the union: so began years of agonizing separation and tender correspondence, with many sheets of manuscript exchanged, including some of Schumann’s most affecting Lieder and piano miniatures. He wrote to his yearned-for beloved, “You appear in the Novelletten in every possible circumstance, in every irresistible form... They could only be written by one who knows such eyes as yours and has touched such lips as yours.”



The lovers eventually took Clara’s domineering father to court after he threatened to disinherit her and confiscate her concert earnings. They won love’s battle and were at last married in 1840, the day before her 21st birthday. In celebration of their joyous union, Robert presented his bride with the song cycle Myrthen as a wedding gift – a bouquet or “myrtle of flowers”. He also gave her a marriage diary, in which the couple wrote regular entries for four years (often about their sex life). They settled into a routine: while Robert spent most of his time composing, Clara managed to give concerts and compose a thing or two herself in between running the household and wrangling eight children. 



Brahms

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One of the most frustrated love triangles in Romantic music was formed when Clara began to champion the music of the young composer Johannes Brahms – like her, a piano phenomenon. He quickly became a great friend of the Schumann family. When Robert’s mental health deteriorated, leading to his institutionalization and untimely death in 1856, Brahms moved in with his older mentor Clara to help look after her children while she coped with the loss of her husband.

Brahms, who was mentored by composer Robert Schumann,  launched himself into an extended period of work on his First Symphony shortly after declaring his love for Schumann’s wife Clara. A letter survives in which he declared, “I can do nothing but think of you … What have you done to me? Can’t you remove the spell you have cast over me?

So, did they or didn’t they? Schumann’s biographers frown at the suggestion. But this is the story that Brahm’s letters tell; they start formally “Honored Lady”, a bit later; “Cherished Friend”; finally “Most Adored Being- Every day I greet and kiss you 1000 times” or “Please go on loving me as I go on loving you always and forever”. Living under one roof in Dusseldorf for several months and hiking together along the Rhine valley. Platonic? If you wish. In later life Brahms, secretive and aware of posterity, threw into the Rhine a bundle of Clara’s letters. Platonic correspondence? If you wish. And Clara writes her children, protesting her innocence “I can truly say, my children, that I have never loved a friend as I loved him…( his role during the crisis…) Believe all that I, your mother, told you and do not heed those petty and envious souls who grudge him my love and friendship, trying to bring up for question our relationship, which they neither understand nor ever could.”  Brahms never married and as Clara was lying, crippled with stroke, waiting for the end, he was finishing his 4 Serious Songs “O death how welcome is thy call”. He almost missed the funeral and as he watched Clara being lowered into the grave, where 40 years earlier he had watched Robert being placed, he lost his composure and was sobbing behind the bushes. A few months later he died as a result of a chill he caught while trying to arrive for Clara’s funeral in time.

Piano Quartets in E flat minor, Opus 47 (Robert Schumann) G minor, Opus 25 (Johannes Brahms) were both premiered with the participation of Clara Schumann, guiding muse and one of the most distinguished pianists of the day.




Source: Limelight Magazine.com