Thursday, October 21, 2010

10/21 Reichardt's Journals

Here's the first part of a series of letters by Johann Reichardt as published in "Beethoven Depicted by his Contemporaies" By Ludwig Nohl (1877).  It's a bit long but it gives a really good feeling of what it must have been like to be a music fan in Beethoven's heyday...(I'll start my own multi-part post about Vienna on Monday so I guess that means this unintentional break from structural analysis goes on for a few more days...sorry analysis fans!).

Nohl: "About the year 1809, Beethoven wrote to Breitkopf and Hartel at Leipzig, "What do you think of Reichardt's letters? As yet, I have only seen fragments of his scrawl."  Reichardt, born at Konigsberg in 1752, bandmaster in Berlin to Frederick II. in 1775, was an intelligent man, a universal favorite, and well known both by his travels and his literary activity...the occasion of these letters to his wife was a journey to the land of music and musicians to seek recruits for the Cassel opera..."

November 30th, 1808. "I have at last been to see the excellent Beethoven. They care so little about him here that no one could tell me where he lived, and I really had a great deal of trouble to find him out. At length I discovered him in a large, lonely house (Krugerstrasse, No. 1074, first floor above the courtyard): he looked at first as dark as his dwelling, but soon brightened up, and seemed as pleased to see me again as I was to see him, and talked very freely and kindly on many subjects about which I wanted information. His nature is a strong one, with a cyclopean exterior, but truly affectionate, agreeable and good within. He sees a great deal of a Hungarian Countess Erdody, who occupies the front of the large house; but he has quite separated from Prince Lichnowsky, who lives at the top, and with whom for several years he used to reside. I wished also to see the Prince and his wife, he is an old friend, and the Princess is a daughter of the excellent Countess Thun, to whom I am indebted for most of the enjoyment of my first visit to Vienna; but neither of them was at home, and I soon learned that the Princess lived in great retirement."

Marie Erdody
December 5th, 1808. "I was invited by a friendly affectionate note from Beethoven, who had missed seeing me, to another very agreeable dinner at Countess Erdody's, the lady of his house. My enjoyment was almost spoiled by emotion. Imagine a very small, pretty, delicate lady of twenty-five, married in her fifteenth year, but afflicted since her first confinement with an incurable malady, and for the last ten years never out of bed for more than two or three months together. She has three charming healthy children, who hang about her like chains. Music is her only pleasure; she plays Beethoven's compositions very finely, limping from one piano to the other, her feet being still much swollen, and with it all so bright, kind, and good. This made me quite melancholy during what would otherwise have been a very cheerful repast, with six or eight good musical companions. We led Beethoven to the piano, and he improvised for about an hour with such masterly power and skill, pouring out his whole soul, sounding the innermost depths, and soaring to the loftiest heights of the divine tone-art, that I was repeatedly moved to tears; words could not express the fervour of my delight, and I hung on his neck like a happy, excited child; I rejoiced, also, as a child over the pleasure which he and all enthusiastic spirits received from my Goethe songs."

December 10th, 1808 "Today I must tell you about a splendid quartet party, which Schuppanzigh, a first-rate violinist, has started for the winter by subscription, under the auspices of the ex-Russian ambassador, Rasumowsky. It is to meet at a private house every Thursday from twelve to two o'clock. We were present for the first time last Thursday. The party was not large, but it consisted of sincere, earnest, attentive lovers of music, just the right audience for this most refined and agreeable of musical reunions. Had Haydn merely originated and promulgated the quartet form, he would have been a great benefactor to the whole musical world. It is a kind of music best of all adapted to produce sympathetic enjoyment among refined lovers of music, but is very difficult to perform to perfection, because while the whole and each individual part must be clearly distinguishable, the effect can only be thoroughly satisfactory when all the parts blend in the utmost purity and unity. And as it is a beneficent provision of nature that needs and capacities generally go hand in hand, every one derives a certain satisfaction from a performance on which he bestows all the pains in his power; it, therefore, not unfrequently happens that the stern critic and connoisseur finds great enjoyment in such unions, from which it might have been thought his highly refined artistic nature would have repelled him.
"But this quartet was altogether excellent, although some thought that it was better last year, when Kraft was connected with it. Herr Schuppanzigh himself has a peculiarly piquant style, most suitable for the humorous quartets of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; or rather which has been formed by an appropriate execution of these masterpieces. He plays the most difficult passages clearly, although not always with absolute purity (this quality is, indeed, rarely displayed by our present virtuosi); he accentuates very accurately and expressively; his cantabile, also, is very singing and full of feeling. He is a good leader, and his able associates thoroughly enter into the meaning of the composer, but he frequently disturbs me by his execrable habit—which is universal here—of beating time with the foot, very often when there is no occasion, and from mere habit, or to heighten the forte. You rarely hear a forte and never a fortissimo, without vehement stampings by the leader.

"On the first Thursday, besides a quartet by Haydn, charming, naive, and full of good humour, and a more powerful and elaborate quartet by Mozart, Beethoven's beautiful and clear sextet (Op. 71), with wind instruments, was performed with very fine effect. A French horn player, from the Theatre an der Wien, particularly pleased me. His fine depth of tone and the perfect purity of his semi-tones reminded me of our late excellent Thurschmidt. I shall take care not to miss hearing this beautiful quartet music, for which Herr Schuppanzigh has sent me a ticket. A few days later, Beethoven gave me great pleasure by inviting this pleasant quartet party to Countess Erdody's, that I might hear some of his new compositions. He played himself very firmly and well in a new trio for piano, violin, and violoncello (Op. 70, dedicated to Countess Erdody), of great power and originality.

"An excellent performance was also given of some of Beethoven's earlier quartets. Herr Schuppanzigh shows especial skill and facility in playing Beethoven's difficult works, in which the violin often competes with the piano in complicated figures, and the piano with the violin in cantabile. The delicate and amiable Countess, whose cheerfulness is so touching, and her friend, another Hungarian lady, showed such hearty, enthusiastic enjoyment of every bold touch and delicate turn, that the sight of them did me almost as much good as Beethoven's masterly work and execution. Happy the artist who can command such listeners!"

Reichardt was present shortly afterwards at an amateur concert, given in three rooms, so small that work which was really good could scarcely produce any effect. A first-rate Neapolitan guitar player was present. Reichardt says:
"This was suited to the room and to the company, who were delighted with it, yet who did not seem to feel that the effect of Beethoven's gigantic overture to Collin's Coriolanis was quite destroyed. The composer being present, the performers exerted themselves to the utmost, and the violent crashes in so small a space almost made my head split. I was very pleased to see the good Beethoven appearing quite en fete, especially as he cherishes the hypochrondriac fancy that everybody here persecutes and despises him. His peevishness may, indeed, have repelled many of the good-natured jovial Viennese; and those who do recognise his great talents and merit may not have sufficient kindness and tact to offer him material aid in such a manner as not to hurt the susceptibilities of the delicate, sensitive, and suspicious artist. I was often deeply grieved to see the honest, excellent man gloomy and suffering; but I am convinced that his best and most original work can only be produced during these wayward despondent moods. Those who enjoy his works should never lose sight of this consideration, and not take offence at his eccentricity and ruggedness, if they would truly admire him."

Marie Bigot
On Dec. 16, Reichardt made the acquaintance of an enthusiastic devotee and friend of Beethoven, the charming and intelligent Madame Marie Bigot (nee Kiene von Colmar). She was then twenty-two years of age, and had so delighted old Haydn that he exclaimed, "Oh, my dear child, I never made this music, it is you who compose it." And Beethoven said to her, when she had been playing one of his new sonatas, "That is not exactly the character I intended to give the piece; but go on, if it is not mine, it is better than mine." Reichardt writes again:
"We have had another morning concert in the small Redoutensaale. It was given by a first-rate pianist, a Madame Bigot, whose husband, an excellent and gentlemanly Berlinese, is librarian to Count von Rasumowsky. With regard to the general public, the selection of pieces was far from being appropriate, for she chose one of Beethoven's hardest concertos, and his difficult and bizarre variations on a peculiar theme of eight bars (32 Variations in Cmin WoO 80). But to the connoisseur she offered thereby an additional proof of her proficiency. Even in the most difficult passages, her execution was perfectly clear and faultless, and she displayed extraordinary dexterity and certainty with the left hand. The programme consisted almost exclusively of music by Beethoven, who appears to be her patron saint. The concert commenced with a good and powerful rendering of one of his splendid symphonies, and concluded with his Herculean overture to Coriolanus, which sounded better in this large hall than in the little room the other day. It occurred to me that Beethoven had represented himself rather than his hero."

Hofburg Redoutensaal

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