By ERNEST MOSS.
The wonderful originality of Beethoven's music makes it difficult to judge. Critical opinion is not unanimous in putting it in the highest class. I think I remember reading that Stravinsky said Beethoven may have been a great man but that he was no musician.
Maritain quotes, apparently with approval, the opinion that Beethoven sometimes departs from the eternal principles of his art, Mozart never. As though to say, Beethoven tried to make music be-. come something other than itself. Maritain also says (I still quote from memory) that there was a decline in spirituality from Bach to Beethoven.
Deryck Henschel! (of Arena) says that Beethoven's middle period is " full of the most nauseating vulgarity."
Against moderate views like these, that Beethoven was no infallible god, is the more traditional view that Beethoven summed up all that went before him, brought music to its highest reaches, was the prince of composers.
A Devil Among Composers
A third violent view is that Beethoven was an arch-devil among composers who brought music down from the heights of contemplation to the battle ground of noise and conflict.
There is some treth in this. Beethoven's " will to power " urged him to shout his wares, and he often quite obviously Strains after effect until he brings you to weariness from sheer exhaustion. One does not easily leave the Fifth Symphony in a peaceful frame of mied. And Beethoven certainly loved noise. Some of his codas are almost interminable. He cannot let well alone. The last movement of the Fifth says all it really has to say in the first few bars.
At the same time it is useless to make a general statement as if it covered all Beethoven's music, or anyone's for that matter.
When Deryck Hanschell and a host of other critics talk of the " trashy quality to be found in Mozart" or " the nauseating vulgarity " of Beethoven. etc., the statements are often quite valueless because they are not supported by chapter and verse. Admittedly this is a fault that it is very easy to be guilty of, but one which conflicts terribly with criticism of which the aim is " the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste."
And with Beethoven it is hard to realize that the first slimy variation on the theme of the slow movement of the Fifth and the stark cacophany of the Grosse Fuge for string quartet are the work of the same man. Nor is it easy to make a valuable generalisation which will cover the works even of the middle period. .
A Mastery of Scale
This much perhaps can be said of it; that Beethoven showed a mastery of the scale passage which has probably never been equalled.
He built his themes on scale (the two themes of the first movement of the Violin Concerto, the scherzo of the Seventh Symphony will do as examples) and in his piano concertos he decorated with pure scale with a brilliance which has never been surpassed. Arpeggios, octave scales and runs hi thirds and sixths make up almost all the substance of the piano part of the magnificent Emperor Concerto.