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Excerpts from Jan Swafford: Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph (2014)

"Beethoven understood which media and genres Haydn and Mozart were supreme in, and which
ones had been less important for them. He charted his path with that in mind, genre by genre.
Both his predecessors had spent much of their careers composing for harpsichord, while
Beethoven was a pure pianist and piano composer. There he could be bold. When it came to
idiomatic piano writing - exploiting the full range of touch, articulation, volume, texture, and
color available to the piano as opposed to the harpsichord - one of his prime models was Muzio
Clementi, who wrote one of the first substantial bodies of work for piano. At the same time, as a
composer in general Clementi posed no threat to Beethoven. Clementi wrote attractively and
idiomatically for the piano, Mozart and Haydn beautifully in general, but as far as Beethoven
would have been concerned, the first truly significant repertoire for the piano as such was
waiting to be written. He intended to write that repertoire." (page 111)

"In the middle of January 1801, Haydn conducted his Creation at a benefit for wounded soldiers
in the Grosser Redoutensaal of the Hofburg. In another benefit at the end of the month,
Beethoven felt well enough to play his Horn Sonata, now in print as op. 17, with Giovanni
Punto. Haydn conducted two of his symphonies on that program.
Beethoven had other matters on his mind. In January he wrote another long letter to publisher
Franz Anton Hoffmeister in Leipzig, laying on his respect, pleasure, gratitude, humility, etc. If he
was in demand, he still felt the need to court publishers vigorously. As a practical item, he offers
to make a piano arrangement of the Septet. He names his prices for the pieces accepted: 20
ducats (around 100 florins) for the Septet arrangement; the same for the C Major Symphony (a
shockingly low price); the B-flat Piano Concerto for a bargain 50 florins. He also asks 100
florins for the big B-flat Piano Sonata (No. 11), reassuring Hoffmeister, “This sonata is a terrific
piece, most beloved and worthy brother.” He goes on to give quite lucid reasons for the prices, in
effect telling the publisher his business: “I find that a septet or a symphony does not sell as well
as a sonata. That is the reason why I do this, although a symphony should undoubtedly be worth
more . . . I am valuing the concerto at only [45 florins] because, as I have already told you, I do
not consider it to be one of my best concertos . . . I have tried to make the prices as moderate for
you as possible.” " (page 170)

"The Second Symphony is an extravagantly comic piece, but there had been one private joke in
the course of the program. Beethoven had not had time to write down the piano part of the Third
Concerto before the concert—only the orchestral parts. So the solo music existed only in his
head, to be fleshed out with improvisation en route. No one in those days publicly played from
memory. Beethoven arrived on stage, took his bow, sat down at the piano, and placed a sheaf of
music on the stand. Young conductor Ignaz von Seyfried, who had helped out through the
marathon rehearsal, was the designated page-turner. When Beethoven opened the solo part,
Seyfried discovered that the pages were largely full of empty measures, with only a few
“Egyptian hieroglyphs” to remind the composer of passages. Seyfried spent the concerto riveted
in fear, watching Beethoven for his nodded cues to turn the pages of invisible music. At dinner
afterward Beethoven had a large helping of laughter over Seyfried’s anxiety." (page 202)

"The later Romantic generations of the nineteenth century saw his intensely personal music, and
saw it rightly, as a revelation of the individual consciousness and personality: the individual as
hero, fundamental to the Romantic vision of the world. To the degree that in his youth Beethoven
absorbed the Kantian ideas that were in the air, he learned that freedom is required to become a
complete human being and that every free person must think and judge for himself as an
individual. That, Kant said, is the essence of Enlightenment. He also said that the world as it is
perceived and interpreted by each person is all that is possible for human beings to know. The
self is essentially the world. And like the Hero’s journey in the Eroica, that self is continually in
flux, continually becoming." (page 237)

"The Waldstein took its place as one of the defining works of the Second Period in its heroic
mode, but it is much more than that. For Beethoven in the white-hot years of his full maturity,
this sonata was a feat of disciplined craftsmanship that would have been practically
unimaginable if he had not done it. Enforcing a relentless economy of material, he marshaled
every element of music—melody, harmony, rhythm, volume, register, timbre, form, proportion,
key—to create the effect of a twenty minute crescendo of intensity and excitement on an
instrument of limited pitch, color, and volume. In every dimension—expressive, technical,
pianistic—here is a defining demonstration of what musical composition is about. Only
Beethoven was capable of doing it, and only he was capable of surpassing it. A year later, with a
work called Appassionata, he did just that." (page 241)

"He had become close to pianist Marie Bigot and her husband Paul Bigot de Morogues,
Count Razumovsky’s librarian. This couple was not rich and powerful, like his aristocratic
patrons, but simply people he liked and appreciated. Marie he admired for her playing, which she
had showed off in reading through the water-stained Appassionata manuscript at sight. As a
performer Marie is recorded as being not only technically brilliant but also imaginative and
individual. In 1805, when she first played for Haydn, the old man threw his arms around her and
exclaimed, “Oh, my dear child, I did not write this music—it is you who have composed it!” In
the same spirit, Beethoven said after listening to her render a sonata of his, “That’s not exactly
the character I wanted to give this piece, but go right ahead. If it isn’t entirely mine, it’s
something better.” As musicians sometimes say of a conductor or a coach, Beethoven let his
performers play, gave them the reins if they were artists he respected. When he said to Marie
Bigot, “[I]t’s something better,” he meant better for you, because it’s yours." (page 286)

“Speak to Goethe about me . . . tell him to hear my symphonies and he will say that I am right
in saying that music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which
comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend . . . The encased seed needs
the moist, electrically warm soil to sprout, to think, to express itself. Music is the electrical soil
in which the mind thinks, lives, feels. Philosophy is a precipitate of the mind’s electrical essence;
its needs which seek a basis in primeval principle are elevated by it . . . Thus every real
creation of art is independent, more powerful than the artist himself and returns to the divine
through its manifestation. It is one with man only in this, that it bears testimony of the mediation
of the divine in him . . . Everything electrical stimulates the mind to musical, fluent,
outstreaming generation. I am electrical in my nature.” (p 352)

“As 1813 began, the element of the Tagebuch that prevailed in his external life was the despair
of the first pages. Signs of desperation and loneliness were all over him. Occasionally in notes to
his old bachelor friend and helper Baron Zmeskall, a new and peculiar term began to turn up, a
shared code. In February, Beethoven wrote, “Be zealous in defending the Fortresses of the
Empire, which, as you know, lost their virginity a long time ago and have already received
several assaults—”; “Enjoy life, but not voluptuously— Proprietor, Governor, Pasha of various
rotten fortresses!!!!”; “Keep away from rotten fortresses, for an attack from them is more deadly
than one from well-preserved ones.”61 The codes here are transparent enough. Beethoven is
talking about prostitutes, solicitations, the threat of venereal disease. (A later conversation book
cites the title of a French treatise on venereal diseases.)62 Most bachelors in those days put off
marriage until they were settled into a career, and patronized whores as a matter of course. It was
estimated that in a population of around two hundred thousand Viennese in 1812, roughly 10
percent were full- or part-time prostitutes.63 Once, violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh took Beethoven
to a brothel and had to avoid Beethoven’s wrath for weeks. Still, it is likely Beethoven was
acquainted with the institution before 1813. In these depressed years he began frequenting
brothels more often, usually with old bachelor Zmeskall, his faithful helper in that as in much
But his loneliness could not have been alleviated by these fleeting and tainted pleasures. All of it
offended his spirit, his idealization of women and love, his puritanical instincts". (page 385)

Tomaschek recalled Beethoven saying, “It has always been known that the greatest pianoforte
players were also the greatest composers; but how did they play? Not like the pianists of today,
who prance up and down the keyboard with passages which they have practiced—putsch, putsch,
putsch;—what does that mean? Nothing! When true pianoforte virtuosi played it was always
something homogeneous, an entity; if written down it would appear as a well thought-out work.
That is pianoforte playing; the other thing is nothing.” What Beethoven was talking about was
not playing from score but rather improvisation. Czerny noted that Beethoven’s more formal
improvisations sounded like a published piece, just as Beethoven here said they should. (page

"But in the B-flat [op. 130], another Beethoven pattern is going to be put aside. After four
movements, call them comic, ironic, dancing, and gently wistful, comes the “Cavatina,” one of
the most elegiac and tragic of all movements by Beethoven or anyone else. It is a song of endless
heartbreak, the models for which in his life were endless. Beethoven said he had never been so
moved in composing a movement; even the thought of it brought him to tears. In his youth he
had laughed at the tears of his listeners when he improvised. Now the tears were his own, and he
did not scorn them." (page 565)

"Through it all, business went on. In the week after Karl shot himself, Beethoven dispatched the
newly finished Quartet in C-sharp Minor to Schott, his letter including a joke that it was
“patched together from pieces filched here and there.” When he discovered that Schott had not
understood the joke and was alarmed that the piece might not be entirely new, Beethoven had to
send another letter to explain, it is really a "flaming new Quartet". " (page 573)

"Beethoven finished the F Major Quartet and the alternate finale for the B-flat Quartet, then
turned to a String Quintet in C Major. After breakfast he was out of the house, walking through
the fields in his usual style, shouting and singing and waving his arms conducting the music in
his head, stopping to write in a sketchbook. He returned for lunch and a rest in his room, then
went back out until dusk. At one point his antics in the fields scared a team of oxen, which bolted
down a hill followed by their driver, a farm boy. When the boy had gotten his team calmed down
and back on the road, Beethoven once again turned up waving and shouting and spooked them
again. This time the oxen ran all the way home. When the driver asked who this fool was, he was
told it was the famous brother of the landowner. “A hell of a brother that is!” the boy
exclaimed." (page 578)