Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Beethoven Man or Monster?

Beethoven man or monster?

I think, like many now and in the past, I have revered the brilliance of Beethoven's music. I knew little of the man but that mattered not. Beethoven's music is heroic. Just listening to it transports me to another better world so it was with great anticipation and pleasure that I started to  read a book  that my husband, an Oxford educated GP, suggested I should find illuminating. I did. I found it uncomfortable and 'un-putable downable' as the  romantic musical icon disintegrated before my eyes. The man and the music did not match. ( see my blog on Icons)

The portrait of the romantic hero on the left is very different from the tight lipped nondescript portrait above. They hardly look like the same man. The man above is the true Beethoven much to the regret of many biographers who would have preferred the one on the left.

The book was 'Beethoven and his Nephew' by Richard and Editha Sterba and from which I shall quote as they explain the 'difficulty ' rather better than I. Although Beethoven's music is of the Gods Beethoven in real life was not an attractive character to put it mildy. Wagner, another musical genius,  was another composer whose personal life left a lot to be desired and is  angelic when compared to Beethoven. I am not saying that anything in Wagner's personal life is to be excused and the same goes for Beethoven. The world knows about Wagner but it seems turns a 'blind eye' to Beethoven.
'For most people is is surprising - for many, indeed, it is painful - to learn that the ideal image of Beethoven which they have gained from literature and formed in themselves from their experience of his works is in such contradiction to his real personality. For the partly conscious, but in greater measure unconscious, need in mankind to believe in ethically higher figures, paramount and superhuman affects not only biographers; it is common to all men. They stubbornly defend the illusion of the ideal figure against reality. In our our culture this need for an ideal figure finds one of its typical forms of expression in overevaluation of the artist.'
In the case of no other genius, certainly, did idealizing biography find it more of a problem to distort the facts than in dealing with Beethoven.
Heroization seeks to bridge over the contradiction between work and man which in Beethoven's case was felt to be particulary strong and painful. But the contradiction itself can only be a mattter of appearance. Basically there must be unity between man and work.'

Ref Beethoven and his Nephew A Psychoanalytic Study of their relationship by Edutha Sterba and Richard Sterba MD. London Dennis Dobson GB 1957 Original edition published in USA by Pantheon books.

The BBC's latest documentary Beethoven by Charles Hazlewood  below is an excellent example of a carefully edited romanticized biography that is not exactly 'wrong' but not exactly the truth.  It presents beethoven in the best possible light that distorts the facts. The last journey to Vienna that Beethoven took in an open cart in the worst of weather where he caught pneumonia that eventually killed him was his own fault. Beethoven hated his brother Johann's wife Theresa so much that he refused to travel in the same closed private coach with her and preferred an open cart even in a blizzard.  All of this episode has been carefully 'spinned' not to offend. There is nothing 'wrong' it is just not what actually happened and makes Beethoven look heroic. Beethoven wasn't.

Personally I find the difference between the music and the man fascinating. It is important not to confuse the two. Just because one is romantic heroic composer does not mean one to be admired and lauded as an example to copy in real life.

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