BEETHOVEN IN HIS OWN WORDS AND THE WORDS OF OTHERS

Here are some famous and not-so-famous quotes by the composer and his contemporaries/colleagues, offering valuable insights into the life and work of Beethoven.


Beethoven on Music:

  "Music is the wine which incites us to new creation, and I am the Bacchus who presses this glorious wine for mankind - and grants them drunkenness of the spirit. When they are again sober, they will have fished up much which they may take with them onto dry land.":



Beethoven on his compositional powers:

  "I am well aware that God is nearer to me in my art than to others. I consort with Him without fear. I have always recognized and understood Him. Nor am I in the least anxious about the fate of my music. Its fate cannot be other than happy. Whoever succeeds in grasping it shall be absolved from all the misery that bows down other men."



A childhood acquaintance recalls Beethoven's father:

  "I remember seeing him often, this tiny boy, standing on a footstool in front of the clavier, to which the implacable severity of his father had so early condemned him.

Beethoven's father frequently used violence when it came to making him start his musical studies. There were few days when the boy was not beaten in order to compel him to the piano. His father was not merely strict, but cruel, often locking him up in the black damp of the cellar, and depriving him of food.

Upon returning drunk from the tavern at the midnight hour, he would frequently shake the sleeping child awake and force him to the piano, where he was compelled to practice until dawn."



The pianist Gelinek on Beethoven's piano playing:

“Satan himself must be hidden in that young man! I have never in my life heard anyone play like that! He improvised on a theme which I gave him as I never heard even Mozart improvise. Then he played some of his own compositions which are in the highest degree remarkable and magnificent. He overcomes all difficulties and draws effects from the piano such as the rest of us couldn't even allow ourselves to dream about.”



Daniel Steibelt on Beethoven's piano playing:

“Beethoven's piano-playing wasn't simply 'better' than anyone else's - that kind of thing is always going to be very personal and subjective - it was different in kind from everyone else's. Carl Czerny, who later became one of his pupils and a great connoisseur of piano-playing, was much struck by the contrast between Beethoven's playing and Mozart's.”



Carl Czerny on Beethoven's piano playing:

“Mozart favored clear and markedly brilliant playing, based more on staccato than legato, and with a witty and lively execution. The pedal was rarely used and never necessary. The outstanding feature of Beethoven's playing, on the other hand, was a characteristic and passionate strength, alternating with all the charms of a smooth cantabile. He drew entirely new and daring sounds from the piano, partly by his use of the pedal, but also through the strict legato of his chords, which created a new type of singing tone and many other previously unimagined effects. His playing was spirited, grandiose and, especially in adagio, very full of feeling, and romantic. His performances, like his compositions, were tone-paintings of a very high order and conceived only for a total effect.”



Carl Czerny again on Beethoven's piano playing:

“His improvisation was most brilliant and striking. In whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to achieve such an effect upon every listener that frequently not an eye remained dry, while many would break out into loud sobs, for there was something wonderful in his expression in addition to the beauty and originality of his ideas and his spirited style of rendering them. After ending an improvisation of this kind, he would burst into loud laughter and banter his hearers on the emotion he caused in them. 'You are all fools!' he would cry.”



The composer Reicha reminisces in Beethoven:

“He once asked me to turn pages for him. But I was mostly occupied in wrenching the strings of the piano which snapped, while the hammers stuck among the broken strings. Beethoven insisted on playing to the end, so back and forth I leapt, jerking out a string, disentangling a hammer, turning a page... I worked harder than Beethoven.”



Beethoven on life in Vienna:

“We are having very hot weather here; and the Viennese are afraid that soon they will not be able to get any more ice cream. As the winter was so mild, ice is now scarce. Here various important people have been locked up; it is said that a revolution is about to break out - but I believe that so long as an Austrian can get his brown ale and his little sausages, he's not likely to revolt. People say that the gates leading to the suburbs are to be closed at 10 p.m. The soldiers have loaded their muskets and you dare not raise your voice here or the police will take you into custody.”



The teacher/composer Albrechtsberger on Beethoven:

“If I were you, I shouldn't have anything to do with him. He has learned nothing and will never amount to anything.”



Beethoven on his studies with Haydn:

“From whom I learned absolutely nothing.”



Beethoven on morality:

“Don't talk to me about your ethics and your moralizing. Power. Power is the morality of men who stand above the rest. It is also mine.”



Beethoven on people who considered themselves his "friends":

I consider them mere instruments, on which I play when it pleases me. I value them according as they are useful to me.”



An aristocratic patron recalls Beethoven's manner:

“Whenever he came to visit, he used to stick his head in the doorway and make sure that there was no-one there whom he disliked. He was small and very plain-looking, with an ugly red, pock-marked face. His hair was dark and hung shaggily around his face. His clothes were commonplace in the extreme. Moreover, he spoke in a strong dialect and in a rather common manner. In general, his whole being did not give the impression of any particular cultivation; in fact, he was unmannerly in both gesture and demeanor. He was also very haughty. I myself have seen the mother of Princess Lichnowsky, Countess Thun, going down on her knees to him as he lolled on the sofa, and begging him to play something. But Beethoven continued stubbornly to refuse.”



Beethoven to one of his aristocratic patrons:

“Prince! Prince? What you are, you are by circumstance and birth. What I am, I am through myself. Of princes there have been and will be thousands. Of Beethovens there is only one.”



Beethoven divulges his growing hearing problems to a close friend:

“You want to know something about my present situation. Well, on the whole it is not at all bad. Indeed I am very pleasantly situated. But that jealous demon, my health, has thrown a mean spoke in my wheel: for some time my hearing has been growing progressively weaker - on top of which my ears now hum and buzz continuously day and night. And my abdomen, which was ever in a wretched state, has also grown steadily worse. The truth is that in spite of my great successes I have been leading a most miserable existence. For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people, "I am deaf". If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a truly dreadful state.”



Ferdinand Ries relates an incident with Beethoven:

“Beethoven took particular pleasure in wandering through the countryside. One day we set out happily together and soon found ourselves in lonely woods on the beautiful mountain slopes of Baden. After having walked for about an hour, we sat down to rest in the grass. Suddenly, from the slope on the other side of the valley, came the sound of a shepherd's pipe, whose unexpected melody under the clear blue sky, in the deep solitude of the woods, made a remarkable impression on me. Since Beethoven was sitting next to me, I commented on this. The sounds continued so bright and clear that it was not possible to miss a single note. He listened, but I was able to see from his expression that he had heard nothing. In order not to sadden or alarm him, I pretended that I too could no longer hear them. But the sweet fascination which these sounds had exercised on me at first now turned into a feeling of the most profound sadness. Almost without realizing it, I walked along silently, sunk in sad thoughts, at the side of my great master, who, as before, was occupied with his own inner meditations, continued to hum indistinguishable phrases and tones, and to sing aloud. When after several hours we returned home, he sat down impatiently at the piano and exclaimed, almost angrily, "Now I shall play something for you." With irresistible fire and mighty force he played what was later to become the 'Allegro' of the great 'Sonata Appassionata. That is a day which will remain forever etched upon my mind.”


Next: Beethoven Innovations

Ludwig van Beethoven

(1770-1827)