BEETHOVEN'S STUDY YEARS
Beethoven probably did not have an inordinate amount of luggage when he set out on his journey to Vienna. Extensive research, however, over time provided us lay readers with various sources on the basis of which we can begin to imagine the inordinate amount of emotional baggage he left Bonn with. Of these sources, Maynard Solomon's writings on Beethoven provide us with the--do date--most understandable and comprehensive overview of these issues. A brief outline of the writer's understanding of this overview is provided here:
- Beethoven was the oldest son of an alcoholic father who used him to gain a second breadwinner for the family as soon as possible;
- Beethoven's mother did not fight any of these circumstances; rather, she endured them. She was reported by her neighbors as never having smiled. Habitually, she would allow herself to build up a glorified image of grandfather Ludwig van Beethoven in her son Ludwig's mind. She was also overheard by the Fischer family, on the occasion of their daughter's marriage plans, to have uttered "warnings about marriage" (Solomon: 14);
- That Beethoven overtly cherished the memory of his mother, yet also, at some level, rejected her for not standing up for her and her children's rights. His rejection of her found its expression in several ways:
- he continually insisted that he was two years younger than he actually was;
- based on this "different birth date", there opened itself the possibility that his father was not his real father;
- based on this possibility, he later never took much pains to contradict rumors that he was the illegitimate son of one of the kings of Prussia. Only in his fall 1826 letter to his lifetime friend Wegeler did he finally stand up for the moral integrity of his mother;
- that he, after he had moved to Vienna, left room for the public and the nobility to believe that the van in his Flemish name might be the equivalent to the German von (which native speakers of the Dutch and Flemish languages could certainly contradict from a language-point-of-view) and that he was, therefore, also of noble birth. This was, in effect, also a rejection of his real family.
This is discussed here so as to let us try to understand why Beethoven, after settling in Vienna after his arrival, did not return to Bonn when his father died of dropsy of the heart in December, 1792. We must also look at the possibility that Johann van Beethoven was already seriously ill when his son Ludwig left Bonn. Beethoven's inner driving force to free himself from Bonn may have been based on the psychological truth that he had already died numerous emotional deaths that were inflicted on him by his father--and that his father, in his alcoholism, had committed countless acts of suicide in the eyes of his family. Moreover, Beethoven can also be considered as having closed an emotional door on these issues in his 1789 petition to the Bonn court.
We should conclude this issue by looking at the aftermath of his father's death. Franz Ries of Bonn would again assist the family while Beethoven petitioned to the Bonn court to ensure that his brothers' upkeep would be paid from his salary. These matters were eventually settled in early 1793. The petition to the Elector also records a startling fact: After the 1789 court decree, Ludwig van Beethoven had allowed that it was not enforced, as his father pleaded with him that he should let him receive the pension directly and that out of it he would give his oldest son the "decreed" share of 100 florins for the household. Solomon considers it a sign of Beethoven's integrity towards his father that he agreed to this.
By re-focusing on the possibility that Beethoven had "closed the door" on relying on his father in 1789, we can understand that he was aware that only freedom from this burden would set his creative powers free, and that, once he was in Vienna, he pursued the development of his creative powers with the full force of his personality in the various ways in which his creativity and eagerness to perfect himself expressed themselves:
- Soon, he moved from the attic room he first rented to a room on the main floor of a building in the Alserstraße (his new patron, Prince Lichnowsky, had his city apartment there) and devoted the major part of his time to the study of counterpoint with Haydn, and
- in becoming soon acquainted with new patrons such as Prince Lichnowsky and Baron van Swieten, son of the personal physician of Empress Maria Theresia, a patron of the old masters Bach and Handel and a friend of Mozart, Beethoven could soon prove his capabilities as a pianist in their midst as they and their peers would begin to open their salons to the newcomer.
With respect to Beethoven's counterpoint studies with and relationship to Haydn, we should take careful note of what Barry Cooper, in his new Beethoven biography, has to report with respect to certain aspects of it. The first important comment is that on Beethoven's counterpoint exercises and the, up to this point, not conclusively contested widely held belief of his secret study under Schenk:
"Beethoven's main purpose in visiting Vienna had been to study composition with Haydn, and he began shortly after arrival, continuing throughout 1793. Haydn's teaching was based mainly on Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, and his customary method was to teach the rules of counterpoint (such as those concerning parallel fifths) before making the student work through exercises in each species of counterpoint in two voices, then each species in three voices, then in four, resulting in about 300 exercises altogether. Beethoven's copy of the rules is lost, but about 245 of his exercises survive, some with corrections probably in Haydn's hand. (7) It has sometimes been assumed that such a large number of exercises was spread through most of the year. However, it has not hitherto been noted that the ink used in these exercises is absolutely and strikingly consistent, while other Beethoven manuscripts from the same year show a variety of inks, mostly of a darker shade. (8) The conclusion must be, therefore, that these exercises were written rapidly, in perhaps less than six weeks. Beethoven's numerous errors also suggest a certain hastiness in his completion of the exercises. Haydn marked a few of the errors, but he did not pedantically annotate every one; many were probably just discussed orally, and it cannot be assumed from the unmarked ones, as many writers have done, that he took insufficient care with his pupil's work. One notable feature of the exercises is that they were based in the church modes, enabling Beethoven to become thoroughly acquainted with composing in the modal system--a sound he was to return to in some of his late works.
According to a well-known and widely believed account written by Johann Schenk in 1830, Beethoven grew dissatisfied with Haydn's teaching after about six months, and from then on Schenk secretly helped Beethoven with his counterpoint exercises, without payment; Beethoven had to write out each exercise after Schenk had corrected it, so that Haydn would think it was Beethoven's own work. There are, however, inaccuracies and inconsistencies in Schenk's account, and it cannot be reconciled with the 245 counterpoint exercises in Beethoven's hand. This manuscript can hardly be the fair copy incorporating Schenk's corrections, since it contains a large number of grammatical errors but no obvious copying errors. It could be the version presented initially to Schenk (since the annotations have not been confirmed as being in Haydn's hand); but if so, Schenk overlooked a surprisingly large number of errors, and it would be odd that Beethoven preserved this version rather than the corrected one. Coupled with numerous other inaccuracies in Schenk's account, however, these problems indicate that the entire story was probably invented by Schenk in an attempt at selff-aggrandizement. (9)" (Cooper: 43-44; bolding and italics mine; with respect to Coopers notes (7) refers to Nottebohm, Beethovens Studien, 21-43, and he mentions that the 'original MS is in Vienna, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde', (8) to Cooper's own essay 'Ink': 'The ink in the counterpoint exercises for Haydn appears to match type C, which is found on three 'Kafka' leaves on the same paper type, but never at the beginning of the leaf', and (9) refers to Webster, 'Haydn and Beethoven', 10-14).
Let us, however, also look at Thayer's quotation of Schenk's account which the standard biography reports as having been conveyed to Thayer by Otto Jahn of Bonn:
"In 1792, His Royal Higness Archdike Maximilian, Elector of Cologne, was pleased to send his charge Louis van Beethoven to Vienna to study musical composition with Haydn. Towards the end of July, Abbe Gelinek informed me that he had made the acquaintance of a young man who displayed extraordinary virtuosity on the pianoforte, such, indeed, as he had not observed since Mozart. In passing he said that Beethoven had been studying counterpoint with Haydn for more than six months and was still at work on the first exercise; also that His Excellency Baron van Swieten had earnestly recommended the study of counterpoint and frequently inquired of him how far he had advances in his studies. As a result of these frequent incitations and the fact that he was still in the first stages of his instruction, Beethoven, eager to learn, became discontented and often gave expression to his dissatisfaction to his friend. Gelinek took the matter much to heart and came to me with the question whether I felt disposed to assist his friend in the study of counterpoint. I now desired to become better acquainted with Beethoven as soon as possible. . . . The first thing that I did the next day was to visit the still unknown artist who had so brilliantly disclosed his masterhship. On his writing desk I found a few passages from his first lesson in counterpoint. A cursory glance disclosed the fact that, brief as it was, there were mistakes in every mode. Gelinek's utterances were thus verified. Feeling sure that my pupil was unfamiliar with the preliminary rules of counterpoint; I gave him the familiar textbook of Joseph Fux, Gradus ad Parnassum, and asked him to look at the exercises that followed. Joseph Haydn, who had returned to Vienna towards the end of the preceding year [July 24, 1792, noted by this online writer] was intent on utilizing his muse in the composition of large masteworks, and thus laudably occupied could not well devote himself to the rules of grammar. I was now eagerly desirous to become the helper of the zealous student. But before beginning the instruction I made him understand that our cooperation would have to be kept secret. In view of this I recommended that he copy every exercise which I corrected in order that Haydn should not recognize the handwriting of a stranger when the exercise was submitted to him. . . . I began my honourable office with my good Louis in the beginning of August, 1792, and filled it uninterruptedly until May, 1793, by which time he finished double counterpoint in the octave and went to Eisenstadt. If His Royal Highness had sent his charge at once to Albrechtsberger his studies would never have been interrupted and he would have completed them. . . . About the middle of May he told me that he would soon go with Haydn to Eisenstadt and stay there till the beginning of winter; he did not yet know the date of his departure. I went to him at the usual hour in the beginning of June but my good Louis was no longer to be seen. He left for me the following little billet which I copy word for word: 'Dear Schenk! It was not my desire to set off to-day for Eisenstadt. I should like to have spoken with you again. Meanwhile rest assured of my gratitude for the favors shown me. I shall endeavor with all my might to requite them. I hope soon to see you again, and once more to enjoy the pleasure of your society. Farewell and do not entirely forget your Beethoven.' It was my intention only briefly to touch upon my relations with Beethoven; but the circumstances under which, and the manner in which I became his guide in musical composition constrained me to be somewhat more explicit. For my efforts (if they can be called efforts) I was rewarded by my good Louis with a precious gift, viz: a firm bond of friendship which lasted without fading till the day of his death." (Thayer: 140 - 142).
While already Thayer-Forbes entertains a discussion of the pro's and con's of Schenk's story, this 1964 edition did not have at its disposal, yet, the argument set forth above by Cooper on the basis of the consistency of Beethoven's ink in his exercises, which appear to lend strong support to Cooper's contentions.
In his discussion of Beethoven's relationship with Haydn, Cooper brings forth a further argument in favor of not describing it as controversial and difficult as has traditionally been done:
"In November 1793 Beethoven assembled some recently completed works to send to Maximilian Franz as evidence of his progress, and wrote a slightly apologetic letter indicating that he had spent much of the year studying music rather than composing, and expressing the hope that he would be able to send something better the following year as a result. Haydn wrote to the Elector at the same time, commenting briefly on the works being sent:I am taking the liberty of sending to your Reverence . . . a few pieces of music--a quintet, an eight-voice 'Parthie', an oboe concerto, a set of variations for the piano and a fugue, composed by my dear pupil Beethoven who was so graciously entrusted to me. They will, I flatter myself, be graciously accepted by your Reverence as evidence of his diligence beyond the scope of his own studies. On the basis of these pieces, expert and amateur alike cannot but admit that Beethoven will in time become one of the greatest musical artists in Europe, and I shall be proud to call myself his teacher. (16)
The copies sent to the Elector do not survive, but the first four works on Haydn's list correspond exactly to the four that Beethoven is believed to have completed in Vienna that year. The quintet is almost certainly Hess 19, the eight-voice Parthie must be the Octet (the autograph of which is headed 'Parthia'); and the oboe concerto is the lost Hess 12. The set of variations for piano is more puzzling, since Beethoven's earlier sets had been written in Bonn (Simrock had copies) and no more are known before 1795; but Haydn was probably referring to the Figaro Variations for piano and violin. Indeed it would be surprising if this work were not sent to the Elector, since it was the only one yet published in Vienna. Moreover the printed title page describes it as variations 'pour le clavecin ou piano-forte', with the violin part 'ad lib'. (17) Haydn's loose description of 'variations for piano' is therefore compatible with it. The one item unidentified is the fugue. This may be completely lost, but it could be one of the fugues now associated with Beethoven's studies with Albrechtsberger in 1794. Of these, the most likely candidate is the Fugue in E minor for string trio (Hess 29). . . . The Elector's reply, dated 23 December, must have been a shock to Haydn:
the music of young Beethoven which you sent me I received with your letter. Since, however, the music, with the exception of the fugue, was composed and performed here in Bonn before he departed on his second journey to Vienna, I cannot regard it as progress made in Vienna. . . . I very much doubt that he has made any important progress in composition and in the development of his musical taste during his present stay, and I fear that, as in the case of his first journey to Vienna, he will bring back nothing but debts. (18)
If taken at face value these comments are damning, suggesting that Beethoven deceived Haydn and tried to deceive the Elector. The manuscript material for the works in question, however, paints a very different picture. The only one of the four for which extensive sketches survive on Bonn paper is the Figaro Variations; but there are further substantial sketches for this on Vienna paper, indicating that the work did not reach its final version in Bonn. The other three works are unequivocally Viennese; extensive sketches for the second movement of the Concerto and the third of the Octet, and the autographs of the Octet and the Quintet, were all written on Vienna paper; the remaining manuscript sources are lost, and the only sign of any pre-Vienna activity on these works is a tiny four-bar motif from the Octet, written on a Bonn leaf but perhaps not until the autograph was being written out in Vienna.[19, Johnson, Beethoven's Early Sketches, passim] Although it is conceivable that all four works had been completed in Bonn and were merely revised (though rather thoroughly) in Vienna, there is no evidence, apart from the Elector's letter, that this was the case. Moreover, if Beethoven were submitting works merely revised, why did he not include the impressive and newly revised B-flat Piano Concerto? And why would he write to Simrock in August 1794, 'Have you performed my Parthie yet?' [20 Albrecht 12] it the Octet were w work already hear in Bonn before his departure? Thus the Elector or his advisers must have confused these four works with others wrrten by Beethoven before he left Bonn, and Haydn was fully justified in sending him them as evidence of Beethoven's progress" (Cooper: 47 - 48).
As we can see, Cooper mainly bases his arguments on his findings as to what compositions Beethoven had worked on extensively in Vienna in 1792 - 1793. This would show his relationship to Haydn in a less unfavorable light, and the reasons for Beethoven not joining his teacher on his second journey to England in the winter of 1794 appear to--if indeed, both Beethoven and Haydn were sure to have sent genuine 1793 compositions to Bonn--have been based on other considerations than those of a cooling off of their relationship due to this apparent embarrassment. After Haydn's departure, the esteemed composer Albrechtsberger took over the role of completing Beethoven's tuition in counterpoint.
Cooper (50 - 52) reports of those studies and mentions as their basis Albrechtsberger's Anweisung zur Composition, which lasted 'for a little over a year' and refers to almost two hundred pages of exercises that have survived. He also quotes Ferdinand Ries who reported that Albrechtsberger's opinion of Beethoven was that he was "'always so stubborn and so bent on having his own way that he had to learn many things through hard experience which he had refused earlier to accept through instruction'" and features Ex. 4.2 of the Fugue in D minor with Beethoven's draft and Albrechtsberger's corrections. Perhaps, we can listen to a good midi file of this part of the Fugue in D minor:
Returning to Beethoven's role as an outstanding piano virtuoso, we can report that he took the musical scene by storm as a performer and that, even a virtuoso and composer of variations as astute as Abbé Gelinek, openly admitted that Beethoven's talent to improvise on a given theme was unsurpassed at this time and may even have been more passionate in its expression than that of Mozart.
Having conquered the salons of Vienna by storm as a pianist and been seriously devoted to his studies, Beethoven also saw himself being re-joined by his friend Wegeler and his brother Caspar Carl in 1794 and, for a brief period, also by some of his other Bonn friends, due to Bonn having been taken over by the French revolutionary army. The Elector also eventually returned to Vienna. The Court organist who, according to Bonn court records, had been "in Vienna without pay until recalled", no longer could be recalled to serve as a court musician in his native city.
Beethoven would soon make his debut in a series of concerts at the end of March, 1795. His official and formal music studies came to an end at that time.