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Chapter 8: Beethoven

Symphony #5 in Literature

Below is a discussion of Beethoven's 5th Symphony from Howard's End by E.M. Forster (1879-1970)

Chapter V
It will be generally admitted that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man. All sorts and conditions are satisfied by it. Whether you are like Mrs. Munt, and tap surreptitiously when the tunes come—of course, not so as to disturb the others—or like Helen, who can see heroes and shipwrecks in the music's flood; or like Margaret, who can only see the music; or like Tibby, who is profoundly versed in counterpoint, and holds the full score open on his knee; or like their cousin, Fraulein Mosebach, who remembers all the time that Beethoven is echt Deutsch; or like Fraulein Mosebach's young man, who can remember nothing but Fraulein Mosebach: in any case, the passion of your life becomes more vivid, and you are bound to admit that such a noise is cheap at two shillings. It is cheap, even if you hear it in the Queen's Hall, dreariest music-room in London, though not as dreary as the Free Trade Hall, Manchester; and even if you sit on the extreme left of that hall, so that the brass bumps at you before the rest of the orchestra arrives, it is still cheap.

"Whom is Margaret talking to?" said Mrs. Munt, at the conclusion of the first movement. She was again in London on a visit to Wickham Place.

Helen looked down the long line of their party, and said that she did not know.

"Would it be some young man or other whom she takes an interest in?"

"I expect so," Helen replied. Music enwrapped her, and she could not enter into the distinction that divides young men whom one takes an interest in from young men whom one knows.

"You girls are so wonderful in always having—Oh dear! one mustn't talk."

For the Andante had begun—very beautiful, but bearing a family likeness to all the other beautiful Andantes that Beethoven had written, and, to Helen's mind, rather disconnecting the heroes and shipwrecks of the first movement from the heroes and goblins of the third. She heard the tune through once, and then her attention wandered, and she gazed at the audience, or the organ, or the architecture. Much did she censure the attenuated Cupids who encircle the ceiling of the Queen's Hall, inclining each to each with vapid gesture, and clad in sallow pantaloons, on which the October sunlight struck. "How awful to marry a man like those Cupids!" thought Helen. Here Beethoven started decorating his tune, so she heard him through once more, and then she smiled at her Cousin Frieda. But Frieda, listening to Classical Music, could not respond. Herr Liesecke, too, looked as if wild horses could not make him inattentive; there were lines across his forehead, his lips were parted, his pince-nez at right angles to his nose, and he had laid a thick, white hand on either knee. And next to her was Aunt Juley, so British, and wanting to tap. How interesting that row of people was! What diverse influences had gone to the making! Here Beethoven, after humming and hawing with great sweetness, said "Heigho," and the Andante came to an end. Applause, and a round of "wunderschoning" and pracht volleying from the German contingent. Margaret started talking to her new young man; Helen said to her aunt: "Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing"; and Tibby implored the company generally to look out for the transitional passage on the drum.

"On the what, dear?"

"On the drum, Aunt Juley."

"No; look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back," breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right. Her brother raised his finger; it was the transitional passage on the drum.

For, as if things were going too far, Beethoven took hold of the goblins and made them do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push, and they began to walk in a major key instead of in a minor, and then—he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! Gusts of splendour, gods and demigods contending with vast swords, colour and fragrance broadcast on the field of battle, magnificent victory, magnificent death! Oh, it all burst before the girl, and she even stretched out her gloved hands as if it was tangible. Any fate was titanic; any contest desirable; conqueror and conquered would alike be applauded by the angels of the utmost stars.

And the goblins—they had not really been there at all? They were only the phantoms of cowardice and unbelief? One healthy human impulse would dispel them? Men like the Wilcoxes, or ex-President Roosevelt, would say yes. Beethoven knew better. The goblins really had been there. They might return—and they did. It was as if the splendour of life might boil over and waste to steam and froth. In its dissolution one heard the terrible, ominous note, and a goblin, with increased malignity, walked quietly over the universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! Even the flaming ramparts of the world might fall. Beethoven chose to make all right in the end. He built the ramparts up. He blew with his mouth for the second time, and again the goblins were scattered. He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life and of death, and, amid vast roarings of a superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things.

Helen pushed her way out during the applause. She desired to be alone. The music had summed up to her all that had happened or could happen in her career.

She read it as a tangible statement, which could never be superseded. The notes meant this and that to her, and they could have no other meaning, and life could have no other meaning. She pushed right out of the building and walked slowly down the outside staircase, breathing the autumnal air, and then she strolled home.

"Margaret," called Mrs. Munt, "is Helen all right?"

"Oh yes."

"She is always going away in the middle of a programme," said Tibby.

"The music has evidently moved her deeply," said Fraulein Mosebach.

"Excuse me," said Margaret's young man, who had for some time been preparing a sentence, "but that lady has, quite inadvertently, taken my umbrella."

"Oh, good gracious me!—I am so sorry. Tibby, run after Helen."

"I shall miss the Four Serious Songs if I do."

"Tibby, love, you must go."

"It isn't of any consequence," said the young man, in truth a little uneasy about his umbrella.

"But of course it is. Tibby! Tibby!"

Tibby rose to his feet, and wilfully caught his person on the backs of the chairs. By the time he had tipped up the seat and had found his hat, and had deposited his full score in safety, it was "too late" to go after Helen. The Four Serious Songs had begun, and one could not move during their performance.

"My sister is so careless," whispered Margaret.

"Not at all," replied the young man; but his voice was dead and cold.

"If you would give me your address—"

"Oh, not at all, not at all;" and he wrapped his greatcoat over his knees.

Then the Four Serious Songs rang shallow in Margaret's ears. Brahms, for all his grumbling and grizzling, had never guessed what it felt like to be suspected of stealing an umbrella. For this fool of a young man thought that she and Helen and Tibby had been playing the confidence trick on him, and that if he gave his address they would break into his rooms some midnight or other and steal his walking-stick too. Most ladies would have laughed, but Margaret really minded, for it gave her a glimpse into squalor. To trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge; the poor cannot afford it. As soon as Brahms had grunted himself out, she gave him her card and said, "That is where we live; if you preferred, you could call for the umbrella after the concert, but I didn't like to trouble you when it has all been our fault."

His face brightened a little when he saw that Wickham Place was W. It was sad to see him corroded with suspicion, and yet not daring to be impolite, in case these well-dressed people were honest after all. She took it as a good sign that he said to her, "It's a fine programme this afternoon, is it not?" for this was the remark with which he had originally opened, before the umbrella intervened.

"The Beethoven's fine," said Margaret, who was not a female of the encouraging type. "I don't like the Brahms, though, nor the Mendelssohn that came first and ugh! I don't like this Elgar that's coming."

"What, what?" called Herr Liesecke, overhearing. "The 'Pomp and Circumstance' will not be fine?"

"Oh, Margaret, you tiresome girl!" cried her aunt.

"Here have I been persuading Herr Liesecke to stop for 'Pomp and Circumstance,' and you are undoing all my work. I am so anxious for him to hear what WE are doing in music. Oh,—you musn't run down our English composers, Margaret."

"For my part, I have heard the composition at Stettin," said Fraulein Mosebach, "on two occasions. It is dramatic, a little."

"Frieda, you despise English music. You know you do. And English art. And English literature, except Shakespeare, and he's a German. Very well, Frieda, you may go."

The lovers laughed and glanced at each other. Moved by a common impulse, they rose to their feet and fled from "Pomp and Circumstance."

"We have this call to pay in Finsbury Circus, it is true," said Herr Liesecke, as he edged past her and reached the gangway just as the music started.

"Margaret—" loudly whispered by Aunt Juley.

"Margaret, Margaret! Fraulein Mosebach has left her beautiful little bag behind her on the seat."

Sure enough, there was Frieda's reticule, containing her address book, her pocket dictionary, her map of London, and her money.

"Oh, what a bother—what a family we are! Fr—frieda!"

"Hush!" said all those who thought the music fine.

"But it's the number they want in Finsbury Circus."

"Might I—couldn't I—" said the suspicious young man, and got very red.

"Oh, I would be so grateful."

He took the bag—money clinking inside it—and slipped up the gangway with it. He was just in time to catch them at the swing-door, and he received a pretty smile from the German girl and a fine bow from her cavalier. He returned to his seat upsides with the world. The trust that they had reposed in him was trivial, but he felt that it cancelled his mistrust for them, and that probably he would not be "had" over his umbrella. This young man had been "had" in the past badly, perhaps overwhelmingly—and now most of his energies went in defending himself against the unknown. But this afternoon—perhaps on account of music—he perceived that one must slack off occasionally or what is the good of being alive? Wickham Place, W., though a risk, was as safe as most things, and he would risk it.

So when the concert was over and Margaret said, "We live quite near; I am going there now. Could you walk round with me, and we'll find your umbrella?" he said, "Thank you," peaceably, and followed her out of the Queen's Hall. She wished that he was not so anxious to hand a lady downstairs, or to carry a lady's programme for her—his class was near enough her own for its manners to vex her. But she found him interesting on the whole—every one interested the Schlegels on the whole at that time—and while her lips talked culture, her heart was planning to invite him to tea.

"How tired one gets after music!" she began.

"Do you find the atmosphere of Queen's Hall oppressive?"

"Yes, horribly."

"But surely the atmosphere of Covent Garden is even more oppressive."

"Do you go there much?"

"When my work permits, I attend the gallery for the Royal Opera."

Helen would have exclaimed, "So do I. I love the gallery," and thus have endeared herself to the young man. Helen could do these things. But Margaret had an almost morbid horror of "drawing people out," of "making things go." She had been to the gallery at Covent Garden, but she did not "attend" it, preferring the more expensive seats; still less did she love it. So she made no reply.

"This year I have been three times—to 'Faust,' 'Tosca,' and—" Was it "Tannhouser" or "Tannhoyser"? Better not risk the word.

Margaret disliked "Tosca" and "Faust." And so, for one reason and another, they walked on in silence, chaperoned by the voice of Mrs. Munt, who was getting into difficulties with her nephew.

"I do in a WAY remember the passage, Tibby, but when every instrument is so beautiful, it is difficult to pick out one thing rather than another. I am sure that you and Helen take me to the very nicest concerts. Not a dull note from beginning to end. I only wish that our German friends had stayed till it finished."

"But surely you haven't forgotten the drum steadily beating on the low C, Aunt Juley?" came Tibby's voice. "No one could. It's unmistakable."

"A specially loud part?" hazarded Mrs. Munt. "Of course I do not go in for being musical," she added, the shot failing. "I only care for music—a very different thing. But still I will say this for myself—I do know when I like a thing and when I don't. Some people are the same about pictures. They can go into a picture gallery—Miss Conder can—and say straight off what they feel, all round the wall. I never could do that. But music is so different from pictures, to my mind. When it comes to music I am as safe as houses, and I assure you, Tibby, I am by no means pleased by everything. There was a thing—something about a faun in French—which Helen went into ecstasies over, but I thought it most tinkling and superficial, and said so, and I held to my opinion too."

"Do you agree?" asked Margaret. "Do you think music is so different from pictures?"

"I—I should have thought so, kind of," he said.

"So should I. Now, my sister declares they're just the same. We have great arguments over it. She says I'm dense; I say she's sloppy." Getting under way, she cried: "Now, doesn't it seem absurd to you? What is the good of the Arts if they 're interchangeable? What is the good of the ear if it tells you the same as the eye? Helen's one aim is to translate tunes into the language of painting, and pictures into the language of music. It's very ingenious, and she says several pretty things in the process, but what's gained, I'd like to know? Oh, it's all rubbish, radically false. If Monet's really Debussy, and Debussy's really Monet, neither gentleman is worth his salt—that's my opinion."

Evidently these sisters quarrelled.

"Now, this very symphony that we've just been having—she won't let it alone. She labels it with meanings from start to finish; turns it into literature. I wonder if the day will ever return when music will be treated as music. Yet I don't know. There's my brother—behind us. He treats music as music, and oh, my goodness! He makes me angrier than any one, simply furious. With him I daren't even argue."

An unhappy family, if talented.

"But, of course, the real villain is Wagner. He has done more than any man in the nineteenth century towards the muddling of the arts. I do feel that music is in a very serious state just now, though extraordinarily interesting. Every now and then in history there do come these terrible geniuses, like Wagner, who stir up all the wells of thought at once. For a moment it's splendid. Such a splash as never was. But afterwards—such a lot of mud; and the wells—as it were, they communicate with each other too easily now, and not one of them will run quite clear. That's what Wagner's done."

Her speeches fluttered away from the young man like birds. If only he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh, to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce foreign names correctly! Oh, to be well informed, discoursing at ease on every subject that a lady started! But it would take one years. With an hour at lunch and a few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily from childhood? His brain might be full of names, he might have even heard of Monet and Debussy; the trouble was that he could not string them together into a sentence, he could not make them "tell," he could not quite forget about his stolen umbrella. Yes, the umbrella was the real trouble. Behind Monet and Debussy the umbrella persisted, with the steady beat of a drum. "I suppose my umbrella will be all right," he was thinking. "I don't really mind about it. I will think about music instead. I suppose my umbrella will be all right." Earlier in the afternoon he had worried about seats. Ought he to have paid as much as two shillings? Earlier still he had wondered, "Shall I try to do without a programme?" There had always been something to worry him ever since he could remember, always something that distracted him in the pursuit of beauty. For he did pursue beauty, and, therefore, Margaret's speeches did flutter away from him like birds.

Margaret talked ahead, occasionally saying, "Don't you think so? don't you feel the same?" And once she stopped, and said, "Oh, do interrupt me!" which terrified him. She did not attract him, though she filled him with awe. Her figure was meagre, her face seemed all teeth and eyes, her references to her sister and her brother were uncharitable. For all her cleverness and culture, she was probably one of those soulless, atheistical women who have been so shown up by Miss Corelli. It was surprising (and alarming) that she should suddenly say, "I do hope that you'll come in and have some tea. We should be so glad. I have dragged you so far out of your way."

They had arrived at Wickham Place. The sun had set, and the backwater, in deep shadow, was filling with a gentle haze. To the right the fantastic sky-line of the flats towered black against the hues of evening; to the left the older houses raised a square-cut, irregular parapet against the grey. Margaret fumbled for her latch-key. Of course she had forgotten it. So, grasping her umbrella by its ferrule, she leant over the area and tapped at the dining-room window.

"Helen! Let us in!"

"All right," said a voice.

"You've been taking this gentleman's umbrella."

"Taken a what?" said Helen, opening the door. "Oh, what's that? Do come in! How do you do?"

"Helen, you must not be so ramshackly. You took this gentleman's umbrella away from Queen's Hall, and he has had the trouble of coming round for it."

"Oh, I am so sorry!" cried Helen, all her hair flying. She had pulled off her hat as soon as she returned, and had flung herself into the big dining-room chair. "I do nothing but steal umbrellas. I am so very sorry! Do come in and choose one. Is yours a hooky or a nobbly? Mine's a nobbly—at least, I THINK it is."

The light was turned on, and they began to search the hall, Helen, who had abruptly parted with the Fifth Symphony, commenting with shrill little cries.

"Don't you talk, Meg! You stole an old gentleman's silk top-hat. Yes, she did, Aunt Juley. It is a positive fact. She thought it was a muff. Oh, heavens! I've knocked the In-and-Out card down. Where's Frieda? Tibby, why don't you ever—No, I can't remember what I was going to say. That wasn't it, but do tell the maids to hurry tea up. What about this umbrella?" She opened it. "No, it's all gone along the seams. It's an appalling umbrella. It must be mine."

But it was not.

He took it from her, murmured a few words of thanks, and then fled, with the lilting step of the clerk.

"But if you will stop—" cried Margaret. "Now, Helen, how stupid you've been!"

"Whatever have I done?"

"Don't you see that you've frightened him away? I meant him to stop to tea. You oughtn't to talk about stealing or holes in an umbrella. I saw his nice eyes getting so miserable. No, it's not a bit of good now." For Helen had darted out into the street, shouting, "Oh, do stop!"

"I dare say it is all for the best," opined Mrs. Munt. "We know nothing about the young man, Margaret, and your drawing-room is full of very tempting little things."

But Helen cried: "Aunt Juley, how can you! You make me more and more ashamed. I'd rather he had been a thief and taken all the apostle spoons than that I—Well, I must shut the front-door, I suppose. One more failure for Helen."

"Yes, I think the apostle spoons could have gone as rent," said Margaret. Seeing that her aunt did not understand, she added: "You remember 'rent'? It was one of father's words—Rent to the ideal, to his own faith in human nature. You remember how he would trust strangers, and if they fooled him he would say, 'It's better to be fooled than to be suspicious'—that the confidence trick is the work of man, but the want-of-confidence trick is the work of the devil."

"I remember something of the sort now," said Mrs. Munt, rather tartly, for she longed to add, "It was lucky that your father married a wife with money." But this was unkind, and she contented herself with, "Why, he might have stolen the little Ricketts picture as well."

"Better that he had," said Helen stoutly.

"No, I agree with Aunt Juley," said Margaret. "I'd rather mistrust people than lose my little Ricketts. There are limits."

Their brother, finding the incident commonplace, had stolen upstairs to see whether there were scones for tea. He warmed the teapot—almost too deftly—rejected the orange pekoe that the parlour-maid had provided, poured in five spoonfuls of a superior blend, filled up with really boiling water, and now called to the ladies to be quick or they would lose the aroma.

"All right, Auntie Tibby," called Heien, while Margaret, thoughtful again, said: "In a way, I wish we had a real boy in the house—the kind of boy who cares for men. It would make entertaining so much easier."

"So do I," said her sister. "Tibby only cares for cultured females singing Brahms." And when they joined him she said rather sharply: "Why didn't you make that young man welcome, Tibby? You must do the host a little, you know. You ought to have taken his hat and coaxed him into stopping, instead of letting him be swamped by screaming women."

Tibby sighed, and drew a long strand of hair over his forehead.

"Oh, it's no good looking superior. I mean what I say."

"Leave Tibby alone!" said Margaret, who could not bear her brother to be scolded.

"Here's the house a regular hen-coop!" grumbled Helen.

"Oh, my dear!" protested Mrs. Munt. "How can you say such dreadful things! The number of men you get here has always astonished me. If there is any danger it's the other way round."

"Yes, but it's the wrong sort of men, Helen means."

"No, I don't," corrected Helen. "We get the right sort of man, but the wrong side of him, and I say that's Tibby's fault. There ought to be a something about the house—an—I don't know what."

"A touch of the W's, perhaps?"

Helen put out her tongue.

"Who are the W's?" asked Tibby.

"The W's are things I and Meg and Aunt Juley know about and you don't, so there!"

"I suppose that ours is a female house," said Margaret, "and one must just accept it. No, Aunt Juley, I don't mean that this house is full of women. I am trying to say something much more clever. I mean that it was irrevocably feminine, even in father's time. Now I'm sure you understand! Well, I'll give you another example. It'll shock you, but I don't care. Suppose Queen Victoria gave a dinner-party, and that the guests had been Leighton, Millais, Swinburne, Rossetti, Meredith, Fitzgerald, etc. Do you suppose that the atmosphere of that dinner would have been artistic? Heavens, no! The very chairs on which they sat would have seen to that. So with out house—it must be feminine, and all we can do is to see that it isn't effeminate. Just as another house that I can mention, but won't, sounded irrevocably masculine, and all its inmates can do is to see that it isn't brutal."

"That house being the W's house, I presume," said Tibby.

"You're not going to be told about the W's, my child," Helen cried, "so don't you think it. And on the other hand, I don't the least mind if you find out, so don't you think you've done anything clever, in either case. Give me a cigarette."

"You do what you can for the house," said Margaret. "The drawing-room reeks of smoke."

"If you smoked too, the house might suddenly turn masculine. Atmosphere is probably a question of touch and go. Even at Queen Victoria's dinner-party—if something had been just a little Different—perhaps if she'd worn a clinging Liberty tea-gown instead of a magenta satin."

"With an India shawl over her shoulders—"

"Fastened at the bosom with a Cairngorm-pin."

Bursts of disloyal laughter—you must remember that they are half German—greeted these suggestions, and Margaret said pensively, "How inconceivable it would be if the Royal Family cared about Art." And the conversation drifted away and away, and Helen's cigarette turned to a spot in the darkness, and the great flats opposite were sown with lighted windows which vanished and were refit again, and vanished incessantly. Beyond them the thoroughfare roared gently—a tide that could never be quiet, while in the east, invisible behind the smokes of Wapping, the moon was rising.

"That reminds me, Margaret. We might have taken that young man into the dining-room, at all events. Only the majolica plate—and that is so firmly set in the wall. I am really distressed that he had no tea."

For that little incident had impressed the three women more than might be supposed. It remained as a goblin footfall, as a hint that all is not for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and that beneath these superstructures of wealth and art there wanders an ill-fed boy, who has recovered his umbrella indeed, but who has left no address behind him, and no name.

This chapter from "Howard's End" has been reprinted under the Project Gutenberg License.

Back to Ancillary Readings

Missa Solemnis in Literature

Below is a discussion of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis from the essay, "Music at Night" by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Music at Night
by Aldous Huxley

Moonless, this June night is all the more alive with stars. Its darkness is perfumed with faint gusts from the blossoming lime trees, with the smell of wetted earth and the invisible greenness of the vines. There is silence; but a silence that breathes with the soft breathing of the sea and, in the thin shrill noise of a cricket, insistently, incessantly harps on the fact of its own deep perfection. Far away, the passage of a train is like a long caress, moving gently, with an inexorable gentleness, across the warm living body of night.

Music, you say; it would be a good night for music. But I have music here in a box, shut up, like one of those bottled djinns in Arabian Nights, and ready at a touch to break out of its prison. I make the necessary mechanical magic, and suddenly, by some miraculously appropriate coincidence (for I had selected the record in the dark, without knowing what music the machine would play), suddenly the introduction to the Benedictus in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis begins top trace its patterns on the moonless sky.

The Benedictus. Blessed and blessing, this music is in some sort the equivalent of the night, of the deep and living darkness, into which, now in a single jet, now in a fine interweaving of melodies, now in pulsing and almost solid clots of harmonious sound, it pours itself, stanchlessly pours itself, like time, like the rising and falling, falling trajectories of a life. It is the equivalent of the night in another mode of being, as an essence is the equivalent of the flowers, from which it is distilled.

There is, at least there sometimes seems to be, a certain blessedness lying at the heart of things, a mysterious blessedness, of whose existential occasional accidents of providences (for me, this night is one of them) make us obscurely, or it may be intensely, but always fleetingly, alas, always only for a few brief moments aware. In the Benedictus Beethoven gives expression to this awareness of blessedness. His music is the equivalent of this Mediterranean night, or rather of the blessedness as it would be if it could be sifted clear of irrelevance and accident, refined and separated out into its quintessential purity.

'Benedictus, benedictus…' One after another the voices take up the theme propounded by the orchestra and lovingly meditated through a long and exquisite solo (for the blessedness reveals itself most often to the solitary spirit) by a single violin. 'Benedictus, benedictus…' And then, suddenly, the music dies; the flying djinn has been rebottled. With a stupid insect-like insistence, a steel point rasps and rasps the silence.

At school, when they taught us what was technically known as English, they used to tell us 'express in our own words' some passage from whatever play of Shakespeare was at the moment being rammed, with all its annotations-particularly the annotations-down our reluctant throats. So there we would sit, a row of inky urchins, laboriously translating 'now silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies' into 'now smart silk clothes lie in the wardrobe,' or 'To be or not to be' into 'I wonder whether I ought to commit suicide or not.' When we had finished, we would hand in our papers, and the presiding pedagogue would give us marks, more or less, according to the accuracy with which 'our own words' had expressed the meaning of the Bard.

He ought, of course, to have given us naught all round with a hundred lines to himself for ever having set us the silly exercise. Nobody's 'own words,' except those of Shakespeare himself, can possibly 'express' what Shakespeare meant. The substance of a work of art is inseparable from its form; its truth and its beauty are two and yet, mysteriously, one. The verbal expression of even a metaphysic or a system of ethics is very nearly as much of a work of art as a love poem. The philosophy of Plato expressed in the 'own words' of Jowett is not a philosophy of Plato; now in the 'own words' of say, Billy Sunday, is the teaching of St. Paul's teaching.

'Our own words' are inadequate even to express the meaning of other words; how much more inadequate, when it is a matter of rendering meanings which have their original expression in terms of music or one of the visual arts! What, for example, does music 'say'? You can buy at almost any concert an alalytical programme that will tell you exactly. Much too exactly; that is the trouble. Every analyst has his own version. Imagine Pharoh's dream interpreted successively by Joseph, by the Egyptian soothsayers, by Freud, by Rivers, by Adler, by Jung, by Wohlgemuth: it would 'say' a great many different things. Not nearly so many as the Virgin of the Rocks and the Sistine Madonna have no less lyrically said.

Annoyed by the verbiage and this absurd multiplicity of attributed 'meanings', some critics have protested that music and painting signify nothing but themselves; that the only things they 'say' are things, for example, about modulations and fugues, about colour values and three-dimensional forms. That they say anything about human destiny or the universe at large is a notion which these purists dismiss as merely nonsensical.

If the purists were right, then we should have to regard painters and musicians as monsters. For it is strictly impossible to be a human being and not to have views of some kind about the universe at large, very difficult to be a human being and not to express those views, at any rate by implication. Now, it is a matter of observation and painters and musicians are not monsters. Therefore…The conclusion follows, unescapably.

It is not only in programme music and problem pictures that composers and painters express their views about the universe. The purest and most abstract artistic creations can be, in their own peculiar language, as eloquent in this respect as the most deliberately tendencious.

Piero della Francesca

Madonna della Misericordia by Piero della Francesca (ca. 1415-1492)

Piero della Francesca

The Virgin Annunciate by Cosima Tura (1430-1495)

Compare, for example, a Virgin by Piero della Francesca with a Virgin by Tura. Two Madonnas and the current symbolical conventions are observed by both artists. The difference, the enormous difference between the two pictures is a purely pictoral difference, a difference in the forms and their arrangement, in the disposition of the lines and planes and masses. To any one in the least sensitive to the eloquence of pure form, the two Madonnas say utterly different things about the world.

Piero's composition is a welding together of smooth and beautifully balanced solidities. Everything in his universe is endowed with a kind of supernatural substantiality, is much more 'there' than any object of the actual world could possibly be. And how sublimely rational, in the noblest, the most humane acceptation of the word, how orderedly philosophical is the landscape, are all the inhabitants of this world! It is creation of a god who 'ever plays the geometer.'

What does she say, this Madonna from San Sepolcro? If I have not wholly mistranslated the eloquence of Piero's forms, she is telling us the greatness of the human spirit, of its power to rise above circumstance and dominate fate. If you were to ask her, 'How shall I be saved?' 'By Reason', she would probably answer. And, anticipating Milton, 'Not only, not mainly opun the Cross,' she would say, 'is Paradise regaines, but in those deserts of utter solitude where man puts forth the strength of his reason to resist the Fiend.' This particular mother of Christ is probably not a Christian.

Turn not to Tura's picture. It is fashioned out of a substance that is like the living embodiment of flame flame-flesh, alive and sensitive and suffering. His surfaces writhe away from the eye, as though shrinking, as though pain. The lines flow intricately with something of that disquieting and, you feel, magical calligraphy, which characterizes certain Tibetan paintings. Look closely; feel your way into the picture, into the painter's thoughts and intuitions and emotions. This man was naked and at the mercy of destiny. To be able to proclaim the spirit's stoical independence, you must be able to raise your head above the flux of things; this man was sunk in it, overwhelmed. He could introduce no order into his world; it remained for him a mysterious chaos, fanatically marbled with patches, now of purest heaven, now of the most excruciating hell. A beautiful and terrifying world, is the Madonna's verdict; a world like the incarnation, the material projection, of Ophelia's madness. There are no certainties in it but suffering and occasional happiness. And as for salvation, who knows the way of salvation? There may perhaps be miracles, and there is always hope.

The limits of criticism are very quickly reached. When he has said 'in his own words' as much, or rather as little, as 'own words' as much, or rather as little, as 'own words' can say, the critic can only refer his readers to the original work of art: let them go and see for themselves. Those who overstep the limit are either rather stupid, vain people, who love their 'own words' and imagine that they can say them in more than 'own words' are able in the nature of things to express. Or else they are intelligent people who happen to be philosophers or literary artists and who find it convenient to make the criticism of other men's work a jumping-off place for their own creativity.

What is true of painting is equally true of music. Music 'says' things about the world, but in specifically musical terms. Any attempt to reproduce these musical statements 'in our own words' is necessarily doomed to failure. We cannot isolate the truth and contained in a piece of music; for it is a beauty-truth and inseparable from its partner. The best we can do is to indicate in the most general terms the nature of the musical beauty-truth under consideration and to refer curious truth-seekers to the original. Thus, the introduction to the Benedictus in the Missa Solemnis is a statement about the blessedness that is at the heart of things. But this is about as far as 'own words' will take us. If we were to start describing in our 'own words' exactly what Beethoven felt about this blessedness, how he conceived it, what he thought its nature to be, we should very soon find ourselves writing lyrical nonsense in the style of the analytical programme makers. Only music, and only Beethoven's music, and only this particular music of Beethoven's, can tell us with any precision what Beethoven's conception of the blessedness at the heart of things actually was. If we want to know, we must listen-on a still June night, by preference, with the breathing of the invisible sea for background to the music and the scent of lime trees drifting through the darkness, like some exquisite soft harmony apprehended by another sense.
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Beethoven's Symphony #5

Beethoven wrote his masterful Symphony #5 in C Minor between the years 1804 and 1811. The first movement of this symphony is possibly Beethoven's best known work. The composition is a masterpiece for its monothematic construction which is developed entirely from the recognizeable four-note motive. Beethoven dedicated the work to Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky.

"See inside" this music with Stephen Malinowski's brilliant animation that places rhythm, orchestration, dynamics, pitch, and texture in this stunning video. To learn more about Stephen Malinowski's "Music Animation Machine", visit http://www.musanim.com.

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Ancillary Readings Symphony #5 in Howard's End
Missa Solemnis in Aldous Huxley's "Music at Night" essay
Music Animation: Symphony #5

Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven (b. Bonn, Germany, 17 December, 1770 – d. Vienna, Austria, 26 March, 1827) is one of the most important composers in the history of western music. More than anyone, he shaped the course of western art music during the 19th Century and greatly influenced composers of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Beethoven inherited the Viennese Classical tradition from Mozart and Haydn. This inheritance included a dedication to formal design, particularly to one form – the Sonata Form, with its inherent tonal conflicts and thematic contrasts – and an underlying belief that interest in music derives from following and, then, understanding the process of how ideas are worked out from the beginning to the end of a composition. Early in his career as a composer and performer Beethoven absorbed and subsequently extended all aspects of Viennese Classicism. But, shortly after the turn of the new century Beethoven began to suffer from two personal difficulties: growing deafness and an inability to sustain happy personal relationships. Both plagued him for the remainder of his life and significantly colored his career. The continuing failures of his important relationships and his growing deafness seem to correspond with his compositional style becoming markedly more personal as he grew older.

In combining the tradition of Viennese Classicism with a radically new level of personal expression, Beethoven became regarded as the dominant musical figure of the 19th Century. Every important composer who followed him acknowledged his influence on his work. The combination of the respect for his music and his continuing popularity has made him the most revered composer in the history of western music.

Early Years

Three generations of Beethoven's family were employed as musicians at the Court of the Electorate of Cologne in Bonn. This is important to remember because it places Beethoven firmly in the line of servant-musicians to the aristocracy to which his predecessors Mozart and Haydn had belonged. His father, a very undistinguished tenor singer, pianist and violinist at the Court, and an alcoholic, gave him his first lessons. Beethoven's first public performance was as an eight-year old pianist in one of his father's student recitals. He probably took additional piano lessons, organ lessons,violin and viola lessons from other musicians at the Court, but his general education extended only as far as elementary school. In 1779 Beethoven began working with his first significant teacher, the new Court Organist at Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe. In 1781 a newspaper article reports that Beethoven is a "boy of 11 years old and of most promising talent" and that "he plays piano very skillfully with power" and "would surely become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he were to continue as he has begun." In 1782 he became an assistant and substitute for his teacher in the Court Orchestra and soon became harpsichordist in the Opera Orchestra, where he learned all of the popular operas of the time. In 1783 he had his first significant compositions published, Three Piano Sonatas (WoO 47).

From 1783 to 1792 Beethoven continued to study, play piano and serve as a violist in the Court Chapel and Opera Orchestras and to compose. In 1787 he visited Vienna, but remained only two weeks due to the death of his mother. In 1789 he became head of his family as his father's drinking caused him to lose his position. During this time, however, Beethoven formed several friendships that helped support him throughout his life. One was with Count Ferdinand Waldstein, an influential music patron, to whom Beethoven in 1804 later dedicated one of his most well known piano sonatas, the "Waldstein" Sonata, Op. 53.

Life in Vienna

Finally, in 1792 Beethoven left for Vienna never to return. He went to study composition with the great composer, Haydn. But, the master and pupil did not suit each other's personalities and lessons were abandoned when Haydn left for London in 1793. Beethoven also took lessons with Johann SchenkInformationJohann Schenk (1753-1836) was a prominent composer at St. Stephen's Cathedral Vienna, and also composed incidental music , the Court Composer, Antonio Salieri,InformationAntonio Salieri (1750-1825) was a hugely influential and cosmopolitan composer based in Vienna and born in Italy, Salieri's works fell out of favor until a historically questionable portrayal in the 1984 movie, "Amadeus" sparked renewed interest in his music. and most importantly with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger,InformationJohann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809) was known also for his writings and teaching, he led music at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna and his influence on Beethoven was summed up by the composer himself, "Patience, diligence, persistence, and sincerity will lead to success." who taught him counterpoint. This was the extent of his musical training and preparation. Nevertheless, it seems to have served him well as his career progressed.

By 1795 Beethoven was becoming popular as a pianist and composer with those in Viennese aristocratic circles. Members of the Viennese aristocracy were addicted to music and theater and spent lavishly on it. Princes Lobkowitz and Karl von Lichnowsky, Court Councillor von Kees, Baron van Swieten and the Russian ambassador, Count Razumovsky regularly entertained with large concerts played by their own musicians. The young Beethoven often performed concerts in their homes, as was the custom of the time. All became important patrons of Beethoven later in his life. Within a short period of time Beethoven became the most sought after pianist in Vienna and was considered one of the leading virtuosos of the day in Europe. 1795-1800 also was an important time of growth for Beethoven as a composer. He wrote his most important early compositions during this time including his first symphony, first piano concerto, his Septet, Op. 20, the first major group of String Quartets, the Op. 18 Quartets, his Op. 23 and 24 Violin Sonatas and a number of piano sonatas. However, in June 1801, as he was ascending to the peak of his career, Beethoven was forced to confess that he was going deaf. Although this condition had been developing for several years, the public admission of it marks a turning point in Beethoven's life that defines him as an artist for posterity.

In 1802 Beethoven suffered the first of several failures in relationships. He fell in love with the Countess Giuletta Giucciardi, to whom he dedicated the Moonlight Piano Sonata. That Beethoven would court a countess is not surprising because he lived in the society of the aristocracy and he was highly regarded as an artist. This is a far different situation from that which his father, not to mention Mozart and Haydn, as young musicians experienced and demonstrates how Viennese society was evolving around the turn of the Century. It also shows how Beethoven viewed himself as one who was on the same human level as his patrons, for at about this time, although he displayed difficulty in social situations, Beethoven began to think of himself as a "Prince of Music" and not beholding to persons of aristocratic rank.

The year 1803 marks the beginning of Beethoven's first period of extraordinary compositional creativity and accomplishment. It also is the first time in which he shows despair over the rapidly increasing and irreversible loss of his hearing. From 1803 to 1808 Beethoven suffered deep depression twice due to his hearing loss and entered into another subsequently disappointing amorous relationship. During these five years, though, Beethoven composed at least a half dozen works that today are still thought of as among the masterworks of western music. In the spring of 1803 he wrote the Oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives. In the summer he wrote the "Kreutzer" Violin Sonata. In the late summer he wrote his Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica." In the fall he wrote the "Waldstein" and "Appasionata" piano sonatas, Op. 53 and 57. From 1804-1806 he wrote the "Razumovsky" string quartets. In 1804-1805 he wrote the first version of his only completed opera, Fidelio. In 1806 he wrote his Violin Concerto, most of the Piano Concerto No. 4, the Coriolan Overture and the Mass in C (this for Prince Esterhazy II, Haydn's former patron). In 1807 he completed almost all the his Symphony No. 5 and in the summer of 1808 he finished his Symphony No. 6 and two of the Op. 70 Piano Trios.

By this time Beethoven was not only a celebrated pianist, but in addition, a popular composer. Viennese society placed him at the top of the musical heap. Viennese tastes favored symphonic and chamber music. To garner true fame across all of Europe at the time required the composition of operas. Composers such as Cherubini and Mehul (both French) whose operas were staged from London to Prague were the true international stars of the time. Beethoven sought this fame with his opera Leonora (later changed to Fidelio). But, it was neither entirely successful, nor popular at first. His true strength lay in instrumental composition. With the compositions of this period Beethoven revolutionized the conception of symphonic writing and the Sonata Form, the frame of instrumental compositions within the world of Viennese Classicism.

With the works of this period Beethoven began to engage with very large-scale compositions that involved extra-musical ideas. The "Eroica" Symphony is characteristic of this development. Originally conceived as a work to honor Napoleon Bounaparte, Beethoven withdrew his dedication because of Napoleon's imperialistic ambitions and rededicated it to simply, "A Hero." The Symphony is a masterpiece. Its scope, incredible originality and technical mastery are astonishing. For example, in the first movement the powerful motive that outlines an E-flat Major triad and constitutes the first theme is something no one had ever before thought was possible to construct a movement upon. Then, the way in which Beethoven inserts the motive into almost all parts of the movement, creating extreme musical drama and unifying the movement, is unprecedented. Modulations into very distant keys (the supertonic and seventh degree), an enormous development section in the first movement and driving fugattos throughout the entire work that are extremely strong also signal a completely new approach to working with symphonic design.


A scultpture by German artist Franz von Stuck (1863-1928)

Emotional forcefulness, expanded range and radical new concepts of form set the tone for Symphony No. 5 and No. 6, as well as the later Symphonies, No. 7 and No. 9. These works establish a new ideal in symphonic conception and set them apart from anything in the 18th Century tradition. The Symphony No. 5 (1807/1808) typifies thematic unification as "organic" construction. Based on the model of Symphony No. 3, here the "Fate" theme of the first movement and the horn call before the second theme dominate the entire movement. The concept of classic balances is completely abandoned, the large codasInformationAn extended passage at the end of a piece of music, which disturbs the form, or structure, of the piece, but can also add a lot to the desired effect of the composer. of the first and last movements create a sense of propulsion or "progress" from the beginning of the symphony to the end. The dark turmoil of the first movement resolves itself through the succeeding three movements into a triumphal conclusion in the coda of the last movement. Beginning with the "Eroica," Beethoven's symphonic composition establishes the impression of a psychological journey or growth process through the course of a piece. There is a transcendent sense of overcoming that ends in triumph. This is the true journey of the hero. It is further aided by extra-musical ideas (the titles of Symphony No. 3 – "Eroica," – and No. 6 – "Pastorale" – and the literary text of Symphony No. 9. "Evolving" themes, expanded transitions and actual thematic restatements in succeeding movements all help create this sense. All of this, however, is new.

During the years that followed, roughly from 1808 through 1813, Beethoven continued producing major compositions at a remarkable rate. Works from this time that remain the backbone of classical music repertory include The Chorale Fantasy, the "Les adieux" Sonata, the Piano Concerto No. 5, the "Harp" String Quartet and the String Quartet in F Minor, Op, 95 "Quartetto Serioso," the "Archduke" Piano Trio in B-flat, the Symphonies No. 7 and 8 and the Incidental Music to Egmont. In almost all of these pieces Beethoven continues his explorations of new ways to enlarge, strengthen and organize compositions that increase the drama and emotion of the music and suggest a heroic journey. This creative explosion took place against an exceptionally turbulent personal background. There were troubling relationships with two women, one of which nearly resulted in marriage, but ultimately failed. In addition, the French invaded Vienna and occupied the city for two months in 1809, causing displacement and severe financial loss for many of Beethoven's patrons, including two, who underwrote an annuity on which Beethoven lived. Finally, Beethoven interfered with his brother Johann's marriage, an exceptionally high-handed act that resulted in a permanent split between the brothers.

In 1814 Beethoven was at the height of his popularity in Vienna. Even his financial situation was relatively secure. But, the personal failures of the previous few years and his almost total deafness overwhelmed him and he sank into a severe depression. This depression lasted for almost three years and contributed to a complete stagnation in his creative output. Whatever energy he had went into trying to gain custody of his nephew, Karl, a battle that lasted for more than four years. Beethoven ultimately won the struggle, but when Karl then attempted suicide, Beethoven was again shattered.

Late Life

Beginning late in 1816 Beethoven gradually resumed composing. This last decade of Beethoven's life usually is thought of as his Third Period of composition, in which his style becomes much more personal and idiosyncratic and the pieces he composed seem to belong to no particular time period. Some of the most important of these works are the "Hammerklavier" Sonata, Op. 106, finished in 1818, the three piano sonatas, Op, 109, 110 and 111, finished in 1820, 1821 and 1822 respectively, the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, the Missa Solemnis, completed in 1822, Symphony No. 9, first performed in May 1824 and the final group of string quartets, the E-flat major, A minor, B-flat major with the "Grosse fuge" and the C minor. Public opinion by this time had turned against Beethoven as it had against Mozart in the early 1790s. Beethoven seems to be composing these works more for himself than for performance to Viennese audiences. Still, these are the works on which the myth of Beethoven, the hero who is forced to struggle against enormous obstacles and triumphs for the betterment of humankind, are based. On the 26th of March 1827, however, Beethoven's struggle ended and he died of hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.

Ode to Joy Found in the last movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is this iconic text by Friedrich von Schiller commonly known as the "Ode to Joy." Beethoven set the poem to a primarily stepwise melody that exemplifies his genius.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, überm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein,
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja - wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Was den großen Ring bewohnet,
Huldige der Sympathie!
Zu den Sternen leitet sie,
Wo der Unbekannte thronet.

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An der Brüsten der Natur,
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küße gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod.
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such ihn überm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
daughter from Elysium,
we, drunk with fire, step into
your holy shrine, Heavenly One.
Your magic binds together again
that which custom has rigidly divided:
all human beings become brothers
wherever your gentle wing is.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, over the starry canopy
there must be a loving Father dwelling.

Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt
to be a friend to a friend,
whoever has won a dear wife,
may he mix in his rejoicing!
Yes, whoever can call even only one soul
his on the round earth!
And whoever never could, let him leave
secretly, weeping, from this union.
Whatever inhabits the great Circle,
may it honor sympathy!
It [sympathy] leads to the stars,
where the Unknown is enthroned.

All beings drink Joy
at the breast of Nature;
all good [beings], all evil [ones]
follow her rosy trail.
She gave us kisses and grapes,
gave us] a friend, tested by death itself.
Delight was given even to the worm,
and the angel stands before God.
Are you falling down, Millions?
Do you perceive your Creator, World?
Seek him above the starry canopy!
He must be dwelling above the stars.

During the last ten years of his life Beethoven endured severe emotional trauma and in his professional life had to wrestle with the musical changes that resulted from the passage of one era into the next. The technical solutions he adopted in his music were to increase the level of lyricism, to reduce musical ideas to very basic units, to emphasize variation technique, but a new type of variation that takes apart themes and transforms them as the basis of a composition, as well as the extensive use of counterpoint. Beethoven takes these solutions and integrates them into a sonata style in which there is a finely controlled tonal field. His motivation seems to be to try to find a more direct and personal type of communication, to humanize his music and to reach directly to listeners' hearts.

Musical Influence

Beethoven's musical style and productivity as a composer relates directly to his emotional state more so than any other composer before him. The most important characteristics of his life and work can be summarized as follows:
Beethoven's influence on the course of Western Music is unprecedented and immense. He stands out among the handful of greatest musical artists in the Western tradition.

Chapter 8: Music for Listening