|It was a typical dark and cloudless night under the Cezch summer sky. Two men walked arm in arm down the street, discussing music, poetry and art long after the sun had sunk below the horizon.|
One man, the obvious elder of the two, seemed somewhat less engaged in the interlocution* than the younger man who was motioning exuberantly with his arms and laughing uproariously at the jokes he and his friend were making.
Then they noticed, almost simultaneously, a group of figures in the distance; hardly illuminated in the horizon by the moonlight. As the two men grew closer, the elder recognized the group. “It is the Empress and her dukes.” He said. “Enjoying the summer night just as we are.”
The younger seemed to be vexed by this.
He entwined his arm tightly around his friend’s and said, “Just maintain your pace and keep your arm in mine; they have to step aside for us, not us for them.”
The elder, Goethe, looked at Beethoven with a mixture of confusion and condescension; it was a rare outlook in 1820 to dislike the nobility (like the Impressionists) and to believe that people were born equal and that the right of birth was no right at all.
Goethe stepped to the side of the road and bowed deeply and pressed his hand to his heart as the Empress and her envoy passed, removing his hat in a large, sweeping motion.
Beethoven, however, called by many of his contemporaries as “an unlicked bear,” crossed his arms and walked straight through the group of nobles. As he did this, most of them sheepishly turned to him and with feigned cordiality, smiled and nodded as he walked.
After the envoy had passed, Beethoven waited for his artistic hero to catch up to him. Although he had written in a letter to his friend, “I would have gone to death, yes, ten times to death for Goethe,” once the poet had caught up to him, Beethoven curtly said “I have waited for you because I respect you and I admire your work, but you have shown too much esteem to those people.”
Goethe, 21 years older than Beethoven, had grown up in the age of reason. He believed in the inherent validity of the aristocracy and the natural social hierarchy. Beethoven was recorded to say this about the aristocracy and Goethe’s attitude towards it:
|“Goethe delights in the court atmosphere far more than is becoming for a poet. Is there any point in talking about absurdities of virtuosos, when poets, who should be regarded as the nation’s first teachers, forget everything for the sake of this glitter?”|
|To Beethoven, the aristocracy represented a flawed and useless facet of an obsolete society. To Goethe, Beethoven represented an irreverent, impetuous and uncultured aspect of society. Goethe said…|
|“His talent astounded me; nevertheless, he unfortunately has an utterly untamed personality, not completely wrong in thinking the world detestable, but hardly making it more pleasant for himself or others by his attitude.”|
|Goethe, the most famous poet and writer in Germany, and Beethoven, a young, musical upstart.|
One was praised everywhere and unequivocally; the other was called “a self-tormentor, who is foolishly ecstatic, blissfully unhappy, guilelessly extravagant, presumptuous and crude.” -Nietzsche.
So my question for you is this, my fellow Examiner:
What have you read by Goethe, and what have you heard by Beethoven?
The Golden Scribe
*Word of the day: Interlocution: a conversation.The Golden Scribe