Selected Letters of Beethoven

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PREFACE

BY DR. LUDWIG NOHL

TO THE

LETTERS OF LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN.

In accompanying the present edition of the Letters of Ludwig van Beethoven with a few introductory remarks, I at once acknowledge that the compilation of these letters has cost me no slight sacrifices. I must also, however, mention that an unexpected Christmas donation, generously bestowed on me with a view to further my efforts to promote the science of music, enabled me to undertake one of the journeys necessary for my purpose, and also to complete the revision of the Letters and of the press, in the milder air and repose of a country residence, long since recommended to me for the restoration of my health, undermined by overwork.

That, in spite of every effort, I have not succeeded in seeing the original of each letter, or even discovering the place where it exists, may well be excused, taking into consideration the slender capabilities of an individual, and the astonishing manner in which Beethoven's Letters are dispersed all over the world. At the same time, I must state that not only have the hitherto inaccessible treasures of Anton Schindler's "Beethoven's Nachlass" been placed at my disposal, but also other letters from private sources, owing to various happy chances, and the kindness and complaisance of collectors of autographs. I know better, however, than most people--being in a position to do so--that in the present work there can be no pretension to any thing approaching to a complete collection of Beethoven's Letters. The master, so fond of writing, though he often rather amusingly accuses himself of being a lazy correspondent, may very probably have sent forth at least double the amount of the letters here given, and there is no doubt whatever that a much larger number are still extant in the originals. The only thing that can be done at this moment, however, is to make the attempt to bring to light, at all events, the letters that could be discovered in Germany. The mass of those which I gradually accumulated, and now offer to the public (with the exception of some insignificant notes), appeared to me sufficiently numerous and important to interest the world, and also to form a substantial nucleus for any letters that may hereafter be discovered. On the other hand, as many of Beethoven's Letters slumber in foreign lands, especially in the unapproachable cabinets of curiosities belonging to various close-fisted English collectors, an entire edition of the correspondence could only be effected by a most disproportionate outlay of time and expense.

When revising the text of the Letters, it seemed to me needless perpetually to impair the pleasure of the reader by retaining the mistakes in orthography; but enough of the style of writing of that day is adhered to, to prevent its peculiar charm being entirely destroyed. Distorted and incorrect as Beethoven's mode of expression sometimes is, I have not presumed to alter his grammar, or rather syntax, in the smallest degree: who would presume to do so with an individuality which, even amid startling clumsiness of style, displays those inherent intellectual powers that often did violence to language as well as to his fellow-men? Cyclopean masses of rock are here hurled with Cyclopean force; but hard and massive as they are, the man is not to be envied whose heart is not touched by these glowing fragments, flung apparently at random right and left, like meteors, by a mighty intellectual being, however perverse the treatment language may have received from him.

The great peculiarity, however, in this strange mode of expression is, that even such incongruous language faithfully reflects the mind of the man whose nature was of prophetic depth and heroic force; and who that knows anything of the creative genius of a Beethoven can deny him these attributes?

The antique dignity pervading the whole man, the ethical contemplation of life forming the basis of his nature, prevented even a momentary wish on my part to efface a single word of the oft-recurring expressions so painfully harsh, bordering on the unaesthetic, and even on the repulsive, provoked by his wrath against the meanness of men. In the last part of these genuine documents, we learn with a feeling of sadness, and with almost a tragic sensation, how low was the standard of moral worth, or rather how great was the positive unworthiness, of the intimate society surrounding the master, and with what difficulty he could maintain the purity of the nobler part of his being in such an atmosphere. The manner, indeed, in which he strives to do so, fluctuating between explosions of harshness and almost weak yieldingness, while striving to master the base thoughts and conduct of these men, though never entirely succeeding in doing so, is often more a diverting than an offensive spectacle. In my opinion, nevertheless, even this less pleasing aspect of the Letters ought not to be in the slightest degree softened (which it has hitherto been, owing to false views of propriety and morality), for it is no moral deformity here displayed. Indeed, even when the irritable master has recourse to expressions repugnant to our sense of conventionality, and which may well be called harsh and rough, still the wrath that seizes on our hero is a just and righteous wrath, and we disregard it, just as in Nature, whose grandeur constantly elevates us above the inevitable stains of an earthly soil. The coarseness and ill-breeding, which would claim toleration because this great man now and then showed such feelings, must beware of doing so, being certain to make shipwreck when coming in contact with the massive rock of true morality on which, with all his faults and deficiencies, Beethoven's being was surely grounded. Often, indeed, when absorbed in the unsophisticated and genuine utterances of this great man, it seems as if these peculiarities and strange asperities were the results of some mysterious law of Nature, so that we are inclined to adopt the paradox by which a wit once described the singular groundwork of our nature,--"The faults of man are the night in which he rests from his virtues."

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