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Beethoven writes about how to learn to compose

June 1, 2008

This letter was written to the Archduke Rudolph.

Vienna, 1st July(?)1823

YOUR IMPERIAL HIGHNESS!

[The following comes at the end of the letter, which is reproduced in full below.]

Let Y.I.H. continue specially to accustom yourself to note down at once, when at the pianoforte, any ideas that may come to you; for that purpose you ought to have a small table near the pianoforte. By such means not only will imagination be strengthened, but one learns also how to fix at the moment the most out-of-the-way ideas. To write without pianoforte is likewise necessary, and often to develop a choral melody with simple, and again with various contrapuntal figures, and even beyond that. This will certainly not give Y.I.H. a headache, but rather, when one finds oneself absorbed in art, a great pleasure. Gradually grows the power of representing just what we wish to feel, an essential matter to noble-minded men. My eyes order me to stop. All kind and good wishes to Y.I.H. to whom I commend myself………….

With deepest respect,
Most faithful servant
L.v.BEETHOVEN

Beethoven’s Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London & Toronto, 1926, p.306.

To the ARCHDUKE RUDOLPH
Vienna, 1st July(?)1823

YOUR IMPERIAL HIGHNESS!
Since the departure of Y.I.H. I have been for the most part unwell; yes, now I have been suffering from severe pain in the eyes, which has only so far improved, that for the last eight days I have been again able to make use of my eyes, though sparingly.Y.I.H. will see from the enclosed receipt of the 27th June that some music was sent. As Y.I.H. seemed to take pleasure in the Sonata in C minor, I did not think that I was taking too much upon myself, if I surprised you with the dedication of it. The Variations have been copied for at least five or even six weeks, nevertheless my eyes would not allow of my looking through the whole of it; in vain did I hope to get all right again, so finally, I had to get Schlemmer to look over it, and it ought, though not very neatly written, to be correct. The Sonata in C minor was printed in Paris in very faulty fashion, and as it was here reprinted therefrom, I took as much care as I possibly could in correcting it.

Of the Variations I will shortly send a beautifully printed copy.
With regard to the Mass, which Y.I.H. wished to become more generally known, my bad state of health which has now continued for several years, and through which I incurred heavy debts, compelled me to refuse invitations to go to England, and rendered it imperative to think of a way in which I could somewhat better my position; so the Mass appeared to me suitable for this. I was advised to offer it to several Courts, and however unpleasant, I thought that if I did not do so, I should draw reproaches on myself. I therefore sent an invitation to several Courts to subscribe to this Mass, fixed the fee at 50 ducats, as it was thought that this would not be too much; also, that if several more subscribed, it would not be altogether unprofitable. Up to now the subscription has brought honour, for their Royal Majesties of France and Prussia have accepted, and I have also recently received a letter from my friend Prince Nicolas Galitzin at St. Petersburg in which this truly amiable Prince announces that His Imperial Russian Majesty had also accepted the subscription, and that I soon should have news from the Imperial Russian Embassy here. Notwithstanding all this, I do not receive, although others too have subscribed, by any means as much as a publisher would have given. I have, however, the advantage that the work remains mine. The costs of copying are already great, and will become still greater as three new movements will be added to it, and these, as soon as I have finished them, shall be sent to Y.I.H. Perhaps Y.I.H. will not mind graciously speaking about the Mass to His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke of Tuscany, so that the same may also take a copy of the Mass. The invitation was sent some time ago now to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, through von Odelgha, the agent here, and he sincerely assures me that the invitation will certainly be accepted; however, I do not place much faith in this, as several months have passed without any result. As the matter is now in progress, it is natural that one should do everything that is possible to accomplish the aim in view. This undertaking was unpleasant for me, and still more so to inform Y.I.H. about it, or to notify you of anything, but necessity knows no law. I, however, thank Him Who dwells above the stars, that I can again begin to use my eyes. I am now writing a new Symphony for England for the Philharmonic Society, and I hope to complete it within a fortnight. I cannot strain my eyes for long at a time, hence I beg Y.I.H. graciously to be patient about the Variations which seem to me to be very charming, but which still demand further looking through. Let Y.I.H. continue specially to accustom yourself to note down at once, when at the pianoforte, any ideas that may come to you; for that purpose you ought to have a small table near the pianoforte. By such means not only will imagination be strengthened, but one learns also how to fix at the moment the most out-of-the-way ideas. To write without pianoforte is likewise necessary, and often to develop a choral melody with simple, and again with various contrapuntal figures, and even beyond that. This will certainly not give Y.I.H. a headache, but rather, when one finds oneself absorbed in art, a great pleasure. Gradually grows the power of representing just what we wish to feel, an essential matter to noble-minded men. My eyes order me to stop. All kind and good wishes to Y.I.H. to whom I commend myself.

With deepest respect,
Most faithful servant
L.v.BEETHOVEN

Beethoven’s Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London & Toronto, 1926, pp.304-306.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2008 7:11 pm

    It is amazing to “comment” on the writings of the great master, Ludwig van Beethoven. What an amazing connection from our time to his. Just wanted to say that the other evening I heard his Sonata for Violin and Piano #5, the “Spring”. Hadn’t heard it in a while. While highly regarded as a symphonist, dare we forget that this great composer was also a master of the chamber music form. It was refreshing to hear this classic work performed. It is of equal challenge for the violinist and pianist.

  2. Justin Theunissen permalink
    September 9, 2008 10:14 am

    What an amazing man…

  3. February 27, 2009 1:30 am

    Hmm, very cognitive post.
    Is this theme good unough for the Digg?

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