|This article is reprinted from the Winter 1995 issue of FIDELIO Magazine.
In Celebration of Ludwig van Beethovens 225th Birthday
by Anno Hellenbroich
A number of studies have been published recently on Beethovens late works, taking up Beethovens creative thought process in a radically new way, with the aid of examples from his late quartets. These include: Bruce Director, What Mathematics Can Learn from Classical Music (1994)1; Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., On the Subject of Metaphor (1992)2 and Mozarts 1782-86 Revolution in Music (1992)3; Jelena Wjaskowa, The Initial Stage of the Creative Process in Beethoven: A Study, with Sketches of the First Movement of the Quartet Op. 130 (1988)4; Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., Beethoven as a Physical Scientist (1989)5; and others.6
If, today, 170 years after the debut performance of the Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, one listens to the legendary Amadeus Quartets recording of this work, and if one goes over it repeatedly in ones mind, it cannot fail to grow into an ever greater wholea whole which, to ones astonishment, lays bare to ones reflecting consciousness, the works internal coherence.
All attempts to mystify this artistic actuality of the creative process in Beethovenattempts such as those of the Romantics up through Wagner; or, on the other hand, to formalize his work, such as has been done by the Frankfurt School and its epigones (e.g., The Formal Strategies of the Late Quartets); or, finally, to simply deny the existence of Beethovens unique creative accomplishmentall these attempts, when judged against the sheer greatness of his compositions, as anyone can confirm for himself, remain just what they are: a waste of time.
The Classical Ideal of Beauty
Anyone today who wants to properly understand Beethovens powerful creative accomplishment in the latter years of his life, must always keep in mind this theme of the Beautiful added to the Good, a theme that repeatedly crops up in Beethovens thinking. This is because, for Beethoven, progress in art is science, but a kind of science that is inextricably bound to the ultimate aim of perfecting the individual human being. Beethoven was brimming with the aspirations of great Classical humanism, among which was to ennoble individual human beings and mankind as a whole. Representatives of the Vienna Circle and the Frankfurt School, on the other handwith Theodor Adorno in the forefronthave attempted to treat Beethovens artistic accomplishments as something completely separate from this moral and scientific orientation toward the goal of musical lawfulness. But to deny the connection between these fundamental convictions and the ideal of Beauty in the late quartets, means not to understand Beethoven at all.
Evidence of Beethovens Working Methods
The sheer quantity of Beethovens output during the years of the late quartets, was monumental. After receiving a commission in 1822 from Princess Galitzin for three quartets, Beethoven worked between 1822 and 1825 on the E-flat Major Quartet Op. 127, which was first performed on March 6, 1825. In 1824 and 1825 he composed the Quartet Op. 132 (first performed in September, 1825). The Quartet Op. 130 was composed between May and November, 1825, the Op. 131 over the course of 1825-26, and the Quartet Op. 135, as well as the final version of Op. 130, were completed during the last two years of his life. For the Quartet Op. 131 in C minor alone, there are over six hundred sheets of sketches, which give us a peek inside the workshop of this constructively creative artist. And, as is perhaps more well-known, during the same period, the Ninth Symphony (1822-24) and the monumental Missa Solemnis (1819-23) were also composed. Much of the labor of correcting, checking, and copying other works, such as the Consecration of the House Overture Op. 155, and the Bagatelles Op. 126, also falls into this same 1824-25 period.
The Late Works and the Musical Unit-Idea
This question of the sequence of unit-idea series, ruled by the Classical ideal of Beauty, as the central theme of any work of Classical art, and of its aesthetic effect, was addressed by Friedrich Schiller in his philosophical essays. Schiller introduced a concept of bounding, which later came to have an increasingly important influence in the development of geometry, and especially in the mathematics of Georg Cantor. Cantor defined generative principles, as well as a principle of bounding or constraint, in the determination of infinite manifolds of increasing power (cardinality).7
Since Beethovens later works increasingly show new musical solutions as successive discoveries of new connections, we must seek, from our present-day standpoint, to replicate this conception of higher Types of musical manifolds in our understanding of Beethovens compositional methodwithout, however, raising any claim that Beethoven explicitly thought in those terms. Yet, that is, in fact, the way he composed. For example, the central importance of the development of the C-minor figurethe Royal Theme from J.S. Bachs Musical Offeringin giving generations of Classical composers, especially Mozart and Beethoven, the challenge to offer ever bolder solutions and extended thought-objects of great, musical metaphors, has been shown.8
In this connection, Schillers notion of the overcoming of constraints, or, in musical terms, of the creation of new orders of lawfulness within the well-tempered system, is of crucial importance for understanding the laws of construction of Beethovens late works. In a much too little noticed essay against Kant, On the Estimation of Aesthetic Magnitude, Schiller writes:
A certain maximum magnitude is prescribed to every thing, either through its species (if it is a work of nature), or (if it is a work of freedom) through the constraints arising from its underlying cause and purpose. We employ this measure of magnitude, more or less consciously, in every observation of objects; but our perceptions are very different, depending upon whether the measure we apply is more fortuitous or more necessary. If an object exceeds the idea of its species-magnitude, it will, to a certain degree, put us into a state of bewilderment. We will be surprised, and our experience expands, but insofar as we take no interest in the object itself, what remains is simply a feeling, that the magnitude which we expected has been exceeded. We have derived this measure merely from a series of empirical experiences, and there is no necessity whatever at hand that it must always fit. If, on the other hand, a product of freedom exceeds the idea which we established for ourselves about the constraints of its cause, we will no doubt feel a certain sense of admiration. What startles us in such an experience is not merely the exceeded expectation, it is at the same time that the constraints have been cast off. There, in the earlier case, our attention simply remained on the product, which was of indifferent concern in itself; here, our attention is drawn toward the generative force, which is moral, or is at least associated with a moral being, and as such it must necessarily interest us. This interest will increase just to that degree, that the force constituting the active principle is the more noble or more weighty, and the constraint which we find exceeded is the more difficult to overcome.9
Schillers observation here, that in the case of compositions (works of freedom), the creative output (generative force) in the overcoming of the bounds of given musical rulessuch as the use of the Lydian to replace the major-minor system (the casting off of constraints)produces amazed admiration, quite precisely describes Beethovens own working principles in his later works.
Opus 132 and the Lydian
But it was the work of Bruce Director et al., that first pointed out an aspect of the Lydian musical interval (meaning, narrowly defined, the interval between F and B-natural), which yields a much more far-reaching understanding of the internal composition the entire quartet, as well as of Beethovens much more complex conception in the opening bars of the first movement. The construction of the entire quartet has been shaped, of course, in a vocal-recitative manner, and connections to the Ninth Symphony are quite apparent. But from a compositional standpoint, here in this quartet Beethoven has created a unit-idea of the Lydian interval, whose far-reaching significance has not been adequately recognized heretofore. Already in the eight-measure exposition of this multiply intertwining manifold (Assai sostenuto), Beethoven, in his juxtaposition of the four instrumental voices, which are united by the cellos playing of the basic interval-ideaa fifth A-E constrained by half-steps on either side (the leading tone G♯ upwards, or, in inversion, F downwards)produces, on every beat beginning with measure 3, an ever denser number of Lydian intervalsif we consider merely the vertical juxtaposition of the voices. If one then considers the further unfolding of the first movement has a succession of increasing manifolds of musical unit-ideas, we see that Beethoven has created a generative, but at the same time constraining principle (in the form of the Lydian interval). Thus, as is demonstrated in What Mathematics Can Learn from Classical Music, the sequence a-b-c-b-a-a-g#, which is actually presented in the cellos upper register, can be replicated in the mind as the first derivative of the preceding work of the first ten measures [See Figure 1].
FIGURE 1. Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet Op. 132 in A minor, measure 1-12.
This tone-sequence has much the appearance of a motive or theme developed earlier by Haydn and Mozart for thorough-composition; but Beethoven composed it on a new plane of manifold lawfulnesses, creating thereby a new metaphor. This creative process in Beethoven can be better understood today from the standpoint of our knowledge of the development of the Cantor and Riemanns theory of manifolds. To put it in the words of Georg Cantor (whose 150th birthday was celebrated this year in his hometown of Halle, Germany):
Theory of manifolds: With this term I describe a very comprehensive pedagogical concept which, up to now, I have only attempted to elaborate in the special form of a theory arithmetic or geometric aggregates. Namely, by manifold or aggregate I generally mean that Many which can be thought of as Onei.e., that totality of determinate elements which can be united into a whole by means of some law; and with this I believe I am defining something related to the Platonic eidos or idea, and to what Plato, in his dialogue Philebos, or, The Highest Good, calls mikton. To this, Plato counterposes the apeiron, i.e., the Unlimited, Indefinitewhich I, for my part, call the non-genuine infiniteas well as peras, i.e., boundary, and declares the former to be an ordered mixture of the latter two.
The Whole ... Inside My Head
Beethoven himself, in a number of remarks, referred to the significance of the whole in the creative process. Thayer-Deiters-Riemann report in the celebrated Life of Beethoven,11 that among the sketches for the Quartet Op. 95 (circa 1810) one finds the following entry in Beethovens handwriting: Sich zu gewöhnen gleich das ganzealle Stimmen wie es sich zeigt im Kopfe, zu entwerfen (Get accustomed right away [to] the wholesketch out all voices, as it appears in my head.) Thayer (Riemann, Deiters) comments on this: This surely means (the comma after Kopfe is missing in the original) that in the future, Beethoven wanted to accustom himself to jotting down not only the melody lines in his sketchbooks, but also the harmony or contrary voicesthe whole, as it sounded within his own imagination. Apparently, he occasionally had the experience that when the same idea re-emerged in his imagination, certain things no longer appeared along with it, and that loss was bothersome to him.12 It is certainly indisputable that memory is essential in the creation of new works. Yet this commentary fails to acknowledge Beethovens crucial convictionthat of the Platonic eidos or ideawhich Beethoven expressed in this note to himself.
Thayer also mentioned a recollection of Charles Neate (an English pianist and promulgator of Beethovens works in England) of a conversation he had in 1815 with Beethoven while on a walk near Baden. Neate was attempting to impose an interpretation of the Pastoral Symphony (No. 6) by insisting that Beethoven had a great gift for drawing musical pictures. Beethoven, however (according to Neate) answered by giving an entirely different meaning to the word picturenamely, in the sense of the eidos, the thought-object: I always have a picture in my thoughts when I am composing, and I work toward it.13 Here, as in his work on the Quartet Op. 95, Beethoven had in mind the whole in the creative sense, and thus the One, in the Platonic sense, which guides the creative process. We are reminded of the correspondence between Schiller and Körner on the musical setting of poems, where Schiller insists that The music must never just paint words and concern itself with petty games; rather, it must follow only the spirit of the poetry as a whole.
In 1814, Beethoven wrote the following in a letter to Treitschke, who had assisted him in the arduous task of reworking his opera Fidelio for a second time: Now, of course, everything has to happen all at once, and I could more quickly write something completely new, than add the new to the old. The way I am accustomed to writein my instrumental music, tooI always have the whole before my eyes; but here, my whole has been divided up all over the place in a certain way, and I have to think my way into it all over again.14
Beethovens Working Methods
In his sketchbook entries from the period when he was working on the A minor quartet in 1825, one finds, alongside everyday matters such as his worries about his nephew and thoughts on current political events, that Beethoven had very special reading interests as well. For example, the pages of his conversation book covering the months of April and May 1825 also contain initial sketches for the A minor quaret. One particular entry there reveals that Beethoven was also experimenting with tone-sequences above which he wrote the word Dor, i.e., the Dorian mode. The same page also contains an entry about books for sale: I.H.F. Meinckes Handwörterbuch der Metrik etc. [Pocket Dictionary of Metrics] Leipzig 1825. His nephew mentions the price of a book Schillers Life. Following this are further sketches on the quartets chorale section. Below this is a copy of an advertisement from the Wiener Zeitung which gives prices for books, including il parnasso italiano la divina comedia di Dante alighierila gerusaleme liberata di Tasso etc. These rather arbitrarily selected pages give some idea of the literary interests which Beethoven had throughout his adult lifealong with Plato, Shakespeare, and Goethe. And, scattered between the lines, one can read about where one can find the best red wine in the city, and advice to Beethoven to stick to a healthy diet: At lunchtime, instead of stewed beef, you should have steak brought to you, which greatly strengthens you. Further on, his nephew reports on the advice offered by Dr. Braunhofer, who treated Beethoven during his serious illness in April 1825: You should eat something so that the wind gets pressed out of you, and, once again, there is an admonition to eat only steak for lunch. On May 11, 1825, having recovered from his illness, Beethoven sent a letter to Dr. Braunhofer, containing the canon Doktor sperrt das Tor dem Tod, Note hilft auch aus der Not (Doctor, bar death from my gate, notes help one out of trouble, too) [See facsimile].
And again one finds notes in Beethovens hand concerning his nephew Karl: I see Karl has gotten very palethe cold mountain air must be at fault for the bleeding. Then a few notes on mundane affairs: patent pen nib by Gänsekiel etc., another note that at the Wallishauer High Market [one can obtain] Schillers Life by Döring with Schillers portrait etc. paperb.a book which his nephew apparently did buy for him later on.
Beethoven Research in Russia
This little story throws a spotlight on a Beethoven tradition in certain Russian circles, which has a very special significance from our 1995 perspective, now that Leningrad has once again become St. Petersburg.
The late Beethoven scholar Nathan Fischman reports on how the son of Prince Galitzin took the autograph manuscripts of the A minor quartet and of the Op. 130 quartet from his estate and presented them to the great violinist Joseph Joachim. It is known that Prince Nicolai Borissovitch Galitzin (1794-1866), who was a gifted cellist, came into contact with Beethoven in 1822, and in a letter to him, offered him 150 ducats to compose three string quartetsan offer which Beethoven accepted. Beethoven dedicated the three quartets Op. 127, 130, and 132, as well as his Overture to The Consecration of the House Op. 124, to Galitzin. It was also this same Prince Galitzin, who interceded with Tsar Alexander I to obtain prepayment to Beethoven for a fair-copy of the score of the Missa Solemnis, and the prince himself also subscribed for an additional copy, which he received in late 1823. It was also he who set into motion preparations for the first full performance of the mass, which occurred on April 7 (March 26 old calendar) 1824 in Petersburg.
As Fischman reports it, the autograph copies of these quartets were not the only items sent to Russia, but also a copy of Beethovens very first string quartet. This score apparently reached Russia via a friend of Beethoven, the violinist Karl Amenda, who traveled to Courland (now western Latvia) in the summer of 1799 on family matters, and later settled in the Latvian city of Talsen. Fischman comments that these quartets were there [in Russia] long before they had ever appeared in print. This sheds light on a characteristic feature of the Beethoven tradition in Russia at the beginning of the last century: The earliest ones to partake of Beethovens creativity, were amateur players of string quartets. (For example, in 1804, the String Quartets Op. 18 were played by a family ensemble of J.M. Wielhorsky [1753-1807], one of the founders of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Society. Seven years later, the Op. 59 quartets, dedicated to Prince A.K. Razumovsky, were performed in Moscow.)
Galitzin and Joseph Joachim
Beethoven, Joseph Böhm, and the Vienna School
Schuppanzigh: His brother is a real dolt. I said that I would not present it [the quartet] before it was really perfected. How can he think that of me, after I have certainly acknowledged it to be the greatest quartet ever? It is true that we did it too early, and that it didnt come off as it should have; but that wasnt the fault of myself alone, but of all 4 of us. Thats a despicable lie. Thats silly babbling, Im not capable of saying such a thing. I was misunderstood, I said that I didnt want to give [it] on the following Sunday, because its still too new and too difficult for us. Does he, then, believe everything his brother says? I havent seen his brother since the quartet. Who adores him more than I do? Give me my part to study, and then a week from tomorrow well give it as well as its in our power to do. Believe me, theres a whole pack of hangmen here, who dont know what to say about me when it comes to performance technique, they cant get anywhere near me, and so they come around, infected with such piggishness, its all from the Büring Conservatorial Appendix [Schuppanzigh means Pieringer (the second violinist) and Merk, who were employed by the conservatory and who were performing quartets along with Böhm] Just let his brother tell me that to my face. Sure, I have played it often. Its certainly not any more difficult than the 2nd or 3rd [quartet]. Böhm isnt capable of playing his quartet right, I insist. ... The public quartet performances go as well together that way, as they could possibly go. There arent any mechanical difficulties in there, its only the originality that makes it difficult, which you cant grasp at first sight. If Böhm gives it for his benefit, I have nothing else to add; but if nothing comes of it, just give it back to me again, and I promise it will go well. He mustnt imagine that it really went off all that badly; at these few rehearsals it went quite well. Im absolutely not saying that it went perfectly. I just said that I cant be angry at him over the fact that this obsecenity is just his brothers stupid babblings.15
But despite Schuppanzighs pleas, Beethoven, finally fed up with Schuppanzighs evidently slapdash playing, entrusted Joseph Böhm with the task of performing this quartet. Böhm later reports, very precisely:
When he heard this, Beethoven flew into a rage, and both the public and the performers were taken to task with harsh words. Beethoven could not rest until vengeance had been exacted. He sent for me very early in the morning. In his usual brusque manner, he told me, You must play my quartetand that was that. Further comments, second thoughts were of no avail: what Beethoven wanted, just had to happen. There was diligent study, and frequent rehearsals under Beethovens own watchful eyes. And I do not say under Beethovens watchful eyes lightly, since the unfortunate man was already so deaf by then, that he could no longer hear the divine sounds of his own compositions. But a rehearsal in his presence was still no easy matter. With unbroken attention, his eyes would follow the bow, from which he could discern even the slightest unsteadiness in tempo or rhythm, and could correct it immediately. It was this quartet that had a meno vivace at the end, which seemed to me to weaken the effect of the whole. I therefore recommended that at the rehearsal, the tempo should remain unchanged at that point, which was done, and which indeed did make a better impression. Beethoven, meanwhile, crouched in a corner, not hearing it at all, but watching with unbroken attention. Then, after the final stroke of the bow, he said laconically, Can stay that way, went to the music stand, and crossed out the meno vivace in all four parts. The quartet was finally performed, and was received with a veritable storm of applause.16
Professor Joseph Böhm was a much sought-after violin teacher, whose Viennese School later produced generations of great violinists and also influenced Joseph Joachim. When one listens to a performance of Beethovens late works by the Amadeus Quartet, one can also hear, in this ensembles forty years of work on these late works of Beethoven, something that has been passed on directly, from person to person, from Böhms personal work with Beethoven, via such teachers as Jakob Grün, Joseph Joachim, Max Rostal, Carl Flesch, to the Amadeus Quartets first violinist Norbert Brainin.
Rediscovering Beethovens Inventions
Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus Quartet described Beethovens artistic significance for today in the following terms: It is my view that Beethoven, during his last ten years of life, was the greatest artist who ever lived, regardless of his particular artistic field. No one has ever even come close to him. He stood completely alone. This is shown especially in his last six string quartets, which are really unique. Nothing comparable has ever been composed, written, or fashioned. And for this basic reason, people such as myself and others, have devoted their entire lives to the task of mastering the art of string quartet playing, so that we can play Beethovens six late quartets. Thats really what its all about.
1. Fidelio, Vol. III, No. 4, Winter 1994, pp. 37-56.
2. Fidelio, Vol. I, No. 3, Fall 1992, pp. 17-50.
3. Fidelio, Vol. I, No. 4, Winter 1992, pp. 4-29.
4. In Harry Goldschmidt, ed., Zu Beethoven 3, Aufsätze und Dokumente (Berlin: 1988).
5. Executive Intelligence Review, Vol. 16, No. 22, May 26, 1989, pp. 16-37.
6. I.e., Beethoven, Interpretationen seiner Werke, Bd. II, ed. by Albrecht Riehmüller, Carl Dahlhaus, and Alexander L. Ringer (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 1994).
7. See Bruce Director, op. cit.
8. See Hartmut Cramer, Mozarts Bach-Studien-schlissel zu Seinen Werke, Ibykus, Vol. 10, No. 36, 3rd Quarter, 1991.
10. Sieghard Brandenburg, (The Historical Background to the Heiliger Dankgesang in Beethovens A-minor Quartet Op. 132, in Beethoven Studies 3, ed. by NAME Tyson (CITY: PUBLISHER, 1982).
11. Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Ludwig van Beethovens Leben, ed. by Hermann Deiters and Hugo Riemann, vol. 3 (1923) (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1971). For an abridged English-language translation, see Thayers Life of Beethoven, rev. and ed. by Elliot forges (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964)
12. Ibid., p. 246.
13. Ibid., p. 506.
14. Ibid., p. 423.
15. Ludwig van Beethoven Konversationshefte, vol. 7 (Hefte 77-90) ed. under auspices of the Deutsch Staatsbibliotec Berlin (Leipzig: Duetsche Verlag fur Musik, 1978), pp. 196-198 (Heft 86, ca. March 26-April 2, 1825).
16. Thayer, op. cit., vol. 5 (1908)(Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1971), p. 181.
17. Ibid., p. 180.
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