By ERNEST MOSS.
Beethoven is the most provocative of the great composers. Probably if a musician were told to name the composer whose music rouses the most vehement controversy his mind would spring to Berlioz. But it seems likely that the controversy which Berlioz arouses does not spring so much from the character of his music as is generally supposed.
If Berlioz had not been such a bizarre personality, and if he had not written music whose programme was as likely to fire the public imagination as the "Symphonie Fantastique," his music would perhaps have been easily assimilated, its intentions accepted, and it would justly have been admired for a brilliancy which is not limited to the scoring.
No Standards of Comparison
But Beethoven's music is in itself full of contradictions, and the originality of his genius is so extraordinary that it obscures from the start almost any method of estimating his music at its proper worth.
There are no standards of comparison. Bach and Mozart, even Wagner and Verdi had sufficient in common with their contemporaries for us to he able to attempt at least the decision "is this music good or bad of its kind."
With Beethoven his music is completely unlike anybody elses (except occasional surface resemblences in late Haydn), its inten
tions are not clear. Beethoven was perhaps the first man who sought in music a final spiritual nourishment, he was colassally ambitious, his musical pride shrieks
at you at times. He consciously wrote for posterity. Mozart, it is true, refused to write " for long ears," but all the same he wrote speedily and as a rule with an im
mediate end in view. Beethoven, as we know from his sketch books rejected again and again musical suggestions which occurred to him and polished and repolished his work until he felt he had done the best for himself. Haydn wrote well over a hundred symphonies, Beethoven nine, if we discount conjectures about an early work. Beethoven had four shots at an overture to his opera Fitielio (the best known is Leonora No. Ill) and was prob
ably then dissatisfied. He expected so much of music that he abandoned it for speech at one of the most dramatic points of his opera.
What was the Aim?
What, then, was Beethoven trying to do that he had so high an estimate of his mission? The variety of replies shows how great is the enigma.
The social theorists say that he was moralizing by music, bent on a re-orientation of society. The anti-Beethoven neo-classicists condemn him for consciously trying to project personality into music. They point to Bach and Mozart as "objective " types. But the interpretations of the personal qualities expressed (in the third and fifth symphonies for example) are sufficiently varied to be worthless.
The idolators of "programme" music point to the Pastoral Symphony (in some ways the most potent of Beethoven's symphonies, the peak of music to Berlioz, comparatively second-rate to the admirers of the odd numbers). The protagonists of " absolute" music, who are not necessarily to be identified with the neo-classicists cling to Beethoven's assertion that the music did not attempt scene-painting (in spite of the thunderstorm, etc.), and to his astounding sense of architectural design. Eiger said that when he heard the Fifth he felt like a travelling tinker looking at the Forth Bridge.
Some more about Beethoven next week.