Beethoven: Impressions by His Contemporaries compiles remembrances of the great composer by his friends, teachers and fellow artists. The collection, now in public domain, presents “a remarkably full and convincing picture of Beethoven and his time.” In honor of the worldwide celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, here’s a sample of the volume’s many vignettes.
It is a curious fact that occasionally those who began their career as prodigies will develop an aversion in their later years against wunderkinder. This was true of Beethoven, and it required considerable urging on the part of biographer Anton Schindler, as known from a conversation with Beethoven on April 13, 1823, to persuade the master to attend a concert of Franz Liszt, then 11 years old, on the following day.
I was about 11 years of age when my venerated teacher Czerny took me to visit Beethoven. He had told the latter about me a long time before and had begged him to listen to me play. Yet Beethoven had such a repugnance to infant prodigies that he always had violently objected to receiving me.
Finally, however, he allowed himself to be persuaded by the indefatigable Czerny, and in the end, cried impatiently: “In God’s name, then, bring me the young Turk!” It was 10 o’clock in the morning when we entered the two small rooms in the Schwarzspanier house which Beethoven occupied — I somewhat shyly, Czerny amiably encouraging me. Beethoven was working at a long, narrow table by the window. He looked gloomily at us for a time, said a few brief words to Czerny and remained silent when my kind teacher beckoned me to the piano. I first played a short piece by Ries.
When I had finished, Beethoven asked me whether I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the C Minor Fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier. “And could you also transpose the fugue into another key?” Beethoven asked me. Fortunately I was able to do so. After the closing chord, I glanced up. The great master’s darkly glowing gaze lay piercingly upon me. Yet suddenly a gentle smile passed over his gloomy features; Beethoven came quite close to me, stooped down, put his hand on my head and stroked my hair several times. “A devil of a fellow,” he whispered, “a regular young Turk!”
Suddenly I felt quite brave. “May I play something of yours now?” I boldly asked. Beethoven smiled and nodded. I played the first movement of the C Major Concerto. When I had concluded, Beethoven caught hold of me with both hands, kissed me on the forehead and said gently: “Go! You are one of the fortunate ones. For you will give joy and happiness to many other people. There is nothing better or finer!”
Liszt told the preceding in a tone of deepest emotion, with tears in his eyes and a warm note of happiness sounded in the simple tale. For a brief time, he was silent, and then he said: “This event in my life has remained my greatest pride — the palladium of my whole career as an artist. I tell it but very seldom and — only to good friends!”