Galway was given fascinating insights into the turbulent life of one of Europe’s men of genius last weekend. Music for Galway, which continues to present the very best classical music in innovative and challenging ways, devoted three days exploring the literary and musical passion of the great Ludwig van Beethoven. And, would you believe it? Gave us both an Irish and a Galway connection.
The Galway connection is the translation of Beethoven’s letters by an interesting Galway University scholar Emily Anderson. Ms Anderson, who became an outstanding German linguist, was born in Galway at the end of the 19th century. She later enjoyed a brilliant career with the British Foreign Office, including a period at the Allies’ Middle East GHQ in Egypt, deciphering German coded messages during World War II.
In 1938 she single-handedly assembled, edited and translated into English hundreds of letters of the Mozart family. Her three volumes of The Letters of Mozart and His Family, are still regarded as a monumental undertaking. They were praised not only for the perfect language, but because of Mozart’s total disregard for order in his short life of music and poverty.
I imagine poor Beethoven was equally disorganised. But Ms Anderson’s next achievement was to gather the scattered writings of this difficult, socially awkward, and eccentric man. Despite his almost illegible handwriting, she published The Letters of Beethoven to equal academic acclaim.
Beethoven appears to have quarrelled with everyone sooner or later. He was frequently abusive. He worked long hours into the night. If his supper was not kept warm or properly cooked, he was likely to hurl his food at his housekeeper. Servants just ran away; others, after a few days, refused to work for him. He was frequently unwell. In his letters he agonised over money, contracts, his health, stagecoach timetables; and tragically, his growing deafness. As he grew older, and because of his fame and wild appearance, he was instantly recognised. People laughed as he passed them in old clothes, his hat back on his head. Because of his deafness he would wave his arms, and make sounds of the music in his head. Boys threw stones at him. Once he forgot to put on his trousers. On one occasion he was mistaken for a tramp, arrested and put in prison. He was rescued by a neighbour. All this was magnificently, and poignantly captured by actor Rod Goodall, who appeared in character at intervals during the weekend concert, reading extracts from Beethoven’s letters, translated by Emily Anderson.
‘Do continue to love me’
Here is one letter Beethoven wrote, and probably never sent, as it was found among his effects after his death. It was probably directed at a young lady admirer Antonie Brentano.
Even when I am in bed my thoughts rush to you, my eternally beloved, now and then joyfully, then again sadly, waiting to know whether Fate will hear our prayer--To face life I must live altogether with you or never see you. Yes, I am resolved to be a wanderer abroad until I can fly to your arms and say that I have found my true home with you and enfolded in your arms can let my soul be wafted to the realm on blessed spirits--alas, unfortunately it must be so--You will become composed, the more so as you know that I am faithful to you; no other woman can ever possess my heart--never--never--Oh God, why must one be separated from her who is so dear. Yet my life in Vienna at present is a miserable life--Your love has made me both the happiest and the unhappiest of mortals--At my age I now need stability and regularity in my life--can this coexist with our relationship?--Angel, I have just heard that the post goes every day--and therefore I must close, so that you may receive the letter immediately--Be calm; for only by calmly considering our lives can we achieve our purpose to live together--Be calm--love me--Today--yesterday--what tearful longing for you--for you--you--my life--my all--all good wishes to you--Oh, do continue to love me--never misjudge your lover's most faithful heart.
Ever yours ever mine ever ours
Probably most women today would love to receive a letter of such intensity and passion. And such behaviour, far from rendering Beethoven disreputable in the eyes of the musical world, made him more fascinating. Historian Paul Johnson* writes that his behaviour was regarded as ‘the eccentricities of a genius - the follies, agonies, and hallmarks of a man’s titanic struggles with the forces of creation, his divine madness..’
He longed to find a wife. Yet he probably frightened away the few lovers he had with his overbearing passion. A young soprano, Wilhelmine Schroder, described his last appearance as a conductor, November 3 1822. He tried to direct the musicians and singers in his Fidelio, ‘ with a bewildered face and unearthly, inspired eyes, waving his baton back and forth with violent gestures...then suddenly breaking down, he shouted ‘ Out, quick!’ ran home, flung himself on a sofa, and covered his face with his hands.’
Beethoven is best known for his sweeping symphonies at a time of the waking of the great romantic consciousness throughout Europe at the end of the 18th and early 19 centuries. Despite the debilitating Napoleonic Wars, it was a dynamic time for new ideas. It loudly proclaimed liberalism over the confined structures of previous times. It embraced the heroic; and new philosophies for educating the child. It was the time of the poets William Blake, Byron, Shelly, John Keats, and Wordsworth; the artists JMW Turner, John Constable, and the amazing landscapes of Casper David Friedrich.
And a surprising gentle Beethoven. The audience at the Town Hall were charmed and moved to hear his rarely performed Irish Songs beautifully sung by Charlotte Reidijk and Irish tenor Robin Tritschler, accompanied by Osiris Piano Trio from Holland.
Next week: More on this landmark concert; and its organiser Dr Jane O’Leary
NOTES: The Birth of the Modern - World Society 1815-1830 by Paul Johnson published by Weidenfeld &Nicolson 1991.