Beethoven: Impressions by His Contemporaries compiles remembrances of the great composer by his friends, teachers and fellow artists. The collection, now in the public domain, presents “a remarkably full and convincing picture of Beethoven and his time.” To honor the worldwide celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, here’s one of the volume’s many vignettes.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, 1791, author and composer Carl Ludwig Junker overflowed with admiration for his “friend Beethoven” in these enthusiastic terms:
It was astonishing how he could take in compositions at a glance — even manuscripts and large scores — and how well he played them. In this respect, he had no equal. His manner of interpreting them was always decisive, but sharp and hard. The same praise is due his presentation of the great masters’ compositions. He played Handel’s oratorios and Gluck’s works wonderfully well, thereby earning the greatest applause, and this also held true of Johann Sebastian Bach’s fugues.
He once told me that as a boy he had been negligent and had not taken much to task, and that his musical training had been poor. “And yet,” he continued, “I had a talent for music.” It was touching to hear him utter these words with all seriousness, as though none otherwise would have suspected it.
On another occasion, the conversation turned on the fame which his name had gained throughout the world. “Nonsense,” he said, “I never thought of writing for reputation and honors! What is in my heart must come out and so I write it down.”