Part 3 out of 4
fires of heaven; like Prometheus, he did not suffer in silence, but
roared or moaned his demigodlike anguishes in immortal rhythms.
A strange contrast he made with the versatile, the catholic, the elegant
and cheerful Goethe, his acquaintance, and his rival in collecting
women's loves into an encyclopaedic emotional life.
Beethoven, unlike his fellow giant Haendel, despised the pleasures of the
table; he substituted a passion for nature. "No man on earth can love
the country as I do!" he wrote; and proved it in his life. His mother
died when he was young, and he found a foster-mother in Frau von
Breuning, of Bonn. Her daughter Eleonore, nicknamed "Lorchen," seems to
have won his heart awhile; she knitted him an Angola waistcoat and a
neckcloth, which brought tears to his eyes; they spatted, and he wrote
her two humbly affectionate notes which you may read with much other
intimate matter in the two volumes of his published letters. He still
had her silhouette in 1826, when he was fifty-six.
Three years before, he had succumbed, at the age of twenty, to the
charms of Barbara Koch, the daughter of a widow who kept the cafe where
Beethoven ate; she made it almost a salon of intellectual conversation.
Barbara later became a governess in the family of Count von Belderbusch,
whom eventually she married. Next was the highborn blonde and coquettish
Jeannette d'Honrath, who used to tease him by singing ironical love
ditties. Then came Fraeulein Westerhold, whom he loved vainly in the
Doctor Wegeler, who married Eleonore von Breuning, said that "In Vienna,
at all events while I was there, from 1794 to 1796, Beethoven was always
in love with some one, and very often succeeded in making a conquest
where many an Adonis would have found it most difficult to gain a
hearing. I will also call attention to the fact that, so far as I know,
each of Beethoven's beloved ones was of high rank."
To continue the catalogue. There is a picture extant of a Cupid singeing
Psyche's wings with a torch; it is inscribed: "A New Year's gift for the
tantalising Countess Charlotte von Brunswick, from her friend,
There was Magdalena Willmann, a singer, whom he as a youth befriended
and proposed to in later days, only to be refused, "because he was very
ugly and half crazy," as she told her niece.
An army captain cut him out with Fraeulein d'Honrath; his good friend
Stephan von Breuning won away from him the "schoene und hochgebildete"
Julie von Vering, whom Beethoven loved and by whom he was encouraged;
she married Stephan in 1808, and died eleven months later, after
Beethoven had dedicated to her part of a concerto. He wrote a letter
beautiful with sympathy to poor Stephan. Then he loved Fraeulein Therese
von Malfatti and begged her in vain to marry him. He called her the
"volatile Therese who takes life so lightly." She married the Baron von
Droszdick. We have a letter wherein Beethoven says: "Farewell, my
dearest Therese; I wish you all the good and charm that life can offer.
Think of me kindly, and forget my follies." She had a cousin
Mathilde--later the Baroness Gleichenstein--who also left a barb in the
well-smitten and accessible target of his heart. Even Hummel, the
pianist, was his successful rival in a love affair with Fraeulein
The Hungarian Countess Marie Erdoedy (_nee_ Countess Niczky) is listed
among his flames, though Schindler thinks it "nothing more than a
friendly intimacy between the two." Still, she gave Beethoven an
apartment in her house in 1809, and he writes that she had paid a
servant extra money to stay with him--a task servants always required
bribing to achieve. But Thayer says that such a menage could not last,
as Beethoven was "too irritable, too freakish and too stubborn, too
easily injured and too hardly reconciled." Beethoven dedicated to her
certain trios, and she erected in one of her parks in Hungary a handsome
temple in his honour, with an inscription of homage to him. In his
letters he calls her his "confessor," and in one he addresses her as
"Liebe, liebe, liebe, liebe Graefin," showing that she was his dearie to
the fourth power.
Also there was Amalie Sebald, "a nut-brown maid of Berlin," a
twenty-five-year-old singer, of beauty and brain. In a letter to Tiedge
in 1812, Beethoven says:
"Two affectionate words for a farewell would have sufficed me; alas! not
even one was said to me! The Countess von der Recke sends me a pressure
of the hand; it is something, and I kiss her hands as a token of
gratitude; but Amalie has not even saluted me. Every day I am angry at
myself in not having profited by her sojourn at Teplitz, seeking her
companionship sooner. It is a frightful thing to make the acquaintance
of such a sweet creature, and to lose her immediately; and nothing is
more insupportable than thus to have to confess one's own
foolishness.... Be happy, if suffering humanity can be. Give, on my
part, to the countess a cordial but respectful pressure of the hand, and
to Amalie a right ardent kiss--if nobody there can see."
In Nohl's collection of Beethoven's letters is an inscription in the
album of the singer, Mine. "Auguste" Sebald (a mistake for "Amalie").
The inscription reads, as Lady Wallace ungrammatically Englishes it:
"Ludwig van Beethoven:
Who even if you would
Forget you never should."
In another work, Nohl mentions the existence of a mass of short notes
from Beethoven to her, showing "not so much the warm, effervescent
passion of youth, as the deep, quieter sentiment of personal esteem and
affection, which comes later in life, and, in consequence, is much more
lasting." One of the letters he quotes. It runs:
"What are you dreaming about, saying that you can be nothing to me? We
will talk this over by word of mouth. I am ever wishing that my presence
may bring peace and rest to you, and that you could have confidence in
me. I shall hope to be better to-morrow, and that we shall be able to
pass a few hours together in the enjoyment of nature while you remain
here. Good night, dear Amalie; many, many thanks for the proof you give
me of your attachment to your friend,
There are other of these notes in Thayer's biography. She seems to have
called the composer "a tyrant," and he has much playfulness of allusion
to the idea, and there is much about the wretchedness of his health.
Amalie Sebald seems to have been of great solace to him, but, like all
the rest, she married some one else, Justice-councillor Krause.
It was for her that Beethoven composed his cycle of songs, "To the
far-away love" _[An die ferne Geliebte],_ according to Thayer; and of
her that he wrote to Ries: "All good wishes to your wife. I, alas, have
none; I have found but one, and her I can never possess."
Years later he said to his friend Giannatasio that five years before he
had loved unhappily; he would have considered marriage the happiness of
his life, but it was "not to be thought of for a moment, almost an utter
impracticability, a chimera." Still, he said, his love was as strong as
ever; he had never found such harmony, and, though he never proposed, he
could never get her out of his mind.
In 1812 Carl Maria von Weber was in Berlin, and became ever after a
devoted admirer of Amalie's virtues, her intellect, and her beauty.
Five years later we learn of Beethoven's receiving letters and presents
from "a Bremen maiden," a pianist, Elise Mueller. And there was a poetess
who also annoyed him.
In this same year, 1817, he was much in the society of "the beautiful
and amiable" Frau Marie L. Pachler-Koschak, of Gratz. He had met her in
1812, and admired her playing. As late as 1826 we have letters from her,
inviting him to visit her in Gratz. But in 1817--he being then
forty-seven years old--the acquaintance was so cordial that Schindler,
who observed it, called it an "autumnal love," though the woman's son
later asserted that it was only a kinship of "artistic sympathy,"--in
fact, Beethoven called her "a true foster-mother to the creations of his
brain." Thayer says, however, that Beethoven never met her till after
she married. Beethoven is implicated in the riddle of the letters of
Bettina Brentano von Arnim. This freakish young woman had some
acquaintance with Goethe, and after his death published letters alleged
to have been sent to her by him. She also gave the world certain letters
said to have come to her from Beethoven. It has been pretty well proved
that the naive Bettina was an ardent and painstaking forger on a large
scale. She included a series of sonnets which were written to another of
Goethe's "garden of girls" before he ever met Bettina. But she appears
to have vitiated her clever forgeries by a certain alloy of truth, and
it may be that her Beethoven letters are, after all, fictions founded on
fact. The language of these letters is somewhat overstrained, but
Beethoven could rant on occasion, and Ludwig Nohl believed the letters
to be genuine, since a friend of his said he had seen them and
recognised Beethoven's script. Thayer accepts the entanglement with
Bettina as a fact, and thinks it was, at that crisis in Beethoven's
life, "a happy circumstance that Bettina Brentano came, with her beauty,
her charm, and her spirit, to lead his thoughts in other paths."
Wegeler has alluded to the fact that Beethoven's love affairs were
always with women of high degree. But others have called him a
"promiscuous lover," because he once used to stare amorously at a
handsome peasant girl and watch her labouring in the garden, only to be
mocked by her; and more especially because of a memorandum of his pupil
Ries, who wrote: "Beethoven never visited me more frequently than when I
lived in the house of a tailor with three very handsome but thoroughly
respectable daughters." In 1804 Beethoven wrote him a twitting allusion
to these girls. But such a flirtation means little, and besides they
were beauties, these daughters of the tailor. And Beethoven's own mother
was a cook.
Ries describes him as a sad flirt. "Beethoven had a great liking for
female society, especially young and beautiful girls, and often when we
met out-of-doors a charming face, he would turn round, put up his glass,
and gaze eagerly at her, and then smile and nod if he found I was
observing him. He was always falling in love with some one, but
generally his passion did not last long. Once when I teased him on his
conquest of a very beautiful woman, he confessed that she had enchanted
him longest, and most seriously of all--namely, seven whole months!"
Ries also records a humourous scandal of an occasion when he found
Beethoven flirting desperately with a fair unknown; Ries sat down at the
piano and improvised incidental music to Beethoven's directions--
"_amoroso," "a malinconico_" and the like.
Once a devoted admirer, wife of a Vienna pianist, longed for a lock of
the composer's outrageously unkempt hair, and asked a friend to get her
one. At his suggestion, Beethoven, who was a practical joker of boorish
capabilities, sent her a tuft from the chin of a goat. The trick was
discovered, and the scorned woman vented her fury in a letter; the
repentant Beethoven made ample apology to her, and spent his wrath on
the head of the suggester of the mischief.
Crowest spins a pretty yarn of Beethoven's acting as _"postillon
d'amour"_ by carrying love letters for a clandestinely loving couple.
Many of his own love-longings were couched in the form of the
dedications prefixed to his compositions. The piano sonata, Op. 7, was
inscribed to the Countess Babette von Keglevics, later the Princess
Odeschalchi, and is called for her sake "der Verliebte." Other
"gewidmets" were to the Princesses Lichtenstein and von Kinsky, to the
Countesses von Browne, Lichnowsky, von Clary, von Erdoedy, von Brunswick,
Wolf-Metternich, the Baroness Ertmann (his "liebe, werthe, Dorothea
Caecilia"), and to Eleonora von Breuning.
All these make a fairly good bead-roll of love-affairs for a busy, ugly,
and half-savage man. It is not so long as Leporello's list of Don
Juan's conquests, "but, marry, t'will do, t'will serve." I find I have
catalogued twenty-six thus far (counting the tailor's three daughters as
one). And more are to come.
And yet, in the face of such a directory of desire, you'll find Von
Seyfried and Haslinger venturing the statement, that "Beethoven was
never married, and, what was more marvellous still, never had any love
passages in his life," while Francis Hueffer can speak of "his grand,
chaste way." On this latter point there is room for debate. Crowest
adopts both sides at once by saying: "In the main, authorities concur in
Beethoven's attachments being always honourable. There can be no doubt,
however, that he was an impetuous suitor, ready to continue an
acquaintance into a more serious bond on the slenderest ground, and
without the slightest regard to the consequences on either side." Thayer
takes a middle ground,--that, in the Vienna of his time and his social
grade, it was impossible that Beethoven should have been a Puritan,
while he was, however, a man of distinctly clean mind. He could not
endure loose talk, and he once boxed the ears of a barmaid who teased
him. All his life he had a horror of intrigue with another man's wife,
and he once snubbed a man who conducted such an affair.
Why, then, thus warm-hearted and clean-hearted, thus woman-loving, did
he never marry? Ah, here is one of the sombrest tragedies of art. To
say, "Poor Beethoven!" is like pitying the sick lion in his lair. Yet
what is more pitiful? Love was the thorn in this lion's flesh, and there
was no Fraeulein Androcles to take it away.
Beethoven was born to the humblest station and the haughtiest
aspirations, was left to a sot and a slave-driver for a father, and was
early orphaned of his mother. In the first letter we have of his, he
says: "She was a good and tender mother to me; she was my best friend.
Ah, who was more happy than I when I could still breathe the sweet name
of 'mother!' to ears that heard? Whom now can I say it to? Only to the
mute image of her that my fancy paints."
This same letter, written when he was seventeen, tells three other of
his life-long griefs--lack of funds, ill health, and melancholia. He had
no childhood; his salad days were bitter herbs; his later life was one
wild tempest of ambition frustrated, of love unsated or unreturned, of
friendship misprized or thought to be misprized.
And then his deafness! When he was only thirty, the black fog of silence
began to sink across his life; two years later he was stone-deaf, and
nearly half his days were spent in the dungeon of isolation from real
communion with man or with his own great music. He lived, indeed, as he
said, _inter lacrimas et luctum_.
The blind are usually placid and trustful; it is the major affliction of
the deaf that they grow suspicious of their intimates and abhorrent of
themselves. There is nothing in history more majestic than the battle of
this giant soul against his doom; nothing more heartrending than his
bitter outcries; nothing loftier than his high determination to serve
his turn on earth in spite of all. He was the very King Lear of music,
trudging his lonely way with heart broken and hair wild in the storms
that buffeted him vainly toward the cliffs of self-destruction.
To such a man a home was a refuge pitifully needed, and for a while
longingly sought. I have mentioned various women to whom he offered the
glorious martyrdom that a life with him must needs have been. There were
two others whom he deeply loved. One of these was the famous Italienne,
whose very name is honey and romance as he writes it in the dedication
of his "Moonlight Sonata" (Op. 27, No. 2)--"_alla damigella contessa
Giulietta Guicciardi."_ It was in 1802, when he was thirty-two and she
eighteen, that he wrote her so luscious name on the lintel of that
sonata, so deep with yearning, so delicious in its middle mood, and so
passionately despairing in its close. She had been his pupil. She told
Otto Jahn long years after, when she was sixty-eight years old, that
Beethoven had first inscribed to her the Rondo, Op. 51, No. 2, but, in
his fickle way, he transcribed it to the Countess Lichnowsky, and put
her own name over the "Moonlight Sonata" instead.
It was probably the beauty and tender reciprocation of Giulietta that
inspired Beethoven to write to Wegeler in 1801:
"Life has been a little brighter to me of late, since I have mingled
more with my fellows. I think you can have no idea, how sad, how
intensely desolate, my life has been during the last two years. My
deafness, like a spectre, appears before me everywhere, so that I flee
from society, and am obliged to act the part of a misanthrope, though
you know I am not one by nature. This change has been wrought by a dear,
fascinating girl, whom I love, and who loves me. After two years, I bask
again in the sunshine of happiness, and now, for the first time, I feel
what a truly happy state marriage might be. Unfortunately, she is not of
my rank in life. Were it otherwise, I could not marry now, of course; so
I must drag along valiantly. But for my deafness, I should long ago have
compassed half the world with my art--I must do it still. There exists
for me no greater happiness than working at and exhibiting my art. I
will meet my fate boldly. It shall never succeed in crushing me."
But Giulietta went over to the great majority of Beethoven's
sweethearts, and married wisely otherwise. Three years after, at her
father's behest, she wedded a writer of ballet music, the Count
Gallenberg, to whom Beethoven later advanced money. Twenty years
afterward, in 1823, Beethoven wrote in one of those conversation-books
which his deafness compelled him to use: "I was well beloved of her,
more than ever her husband was loved. She came to see me and wept, but I
scorned her." (He wrote it in French, "J'etais bien aime d'elle, et plus
que jamais son epoux.... Et elle cherche moi pleurant, mais je la
meprisais"), and he added: "If I had parted thus with my strength as
well as my life, what would have remained to me for nobler and better
Giulietta was long credited with being the woman to whom he wrote those
three famous letters, or rather the one with the two postscripts, found
in the secret drawer of an old cabinet after his death, and addressed to
his "unsterbliche Geliebte." They were written in pencil, and either
were copies or first draughts, or were never sent. They show his Titanic
passion in full flame, and are worth quoting entire. Thayer gives them
in an appendix, in the original, but I quote Lady Wallace's translation,
with a few literalising changes:
"My angel, my all, my self--only a few words to-day, and they with a
pencil (with yours!). My lodgings cannot be surely fixed until
to-morrow. What a useless loss of time over such things! Why this deep
grief when Necessity decides?--can our love exist without sacrifices,
and by refraining from desiring all things? Can you alter the fact that
you are not wholly mine, nor I wholly yours? Ah, God! contemplate the
beauties of Nature, and reconcile your spirit to the inevitable. Love
demands all, and rightly; so it is with me toward you and with you
toward me; but you forget so easily that I must live both for you and
for myself. Were we wholly united, you would feel this sorrow as little
as I should.
"My journey was terrible. I did not arrive here till four o'clock
yesterday morning, as no horses were to be had. The drivers chose
another route; but what a dreadful one it was! At the last stage I was
warned not to travel through the night, and to beware of a certain wood,
but this only incited me to go forward, and I was wrong. The carriage
broke down, owing to the execrable roads, mere deep rough country lanes,
and had it not been for the postilions I must have been left by the
wayside. Esterhazy, travelling the usual road, had the same fate with
eight horses as I with four. Still I felt a certain degree of pleasure,
which I invariably do when I have happily surmounted any difficulty. But
I must now pass from the outer to the inner man. We shall soon meet
again; to-day I cannot impart to you all the reflections I have made,
during the last few days, on my life; were our hearts closely united for
ever, none of these would occur to me.
"My breast is overflowing with all I have to say to you. Ah! there are
moments when I find that speech is nothing at all. Take courage!
Continue to be ever my true and only love, my all! as I am yours. The
rest the gods must ordain--what must and shall become of us.
"Your faithful LUDWIG."
"Monday Evening, July 6th.
"You grieve! My dearest being! I have just heard that the letters must
be sent off very early. Mondays and Thursdays are the only days when the
post goes to K----from here.
"You grieve! Ah! where I am, there you are also with me; how earnestly
shall I strive to pass my life with you, and what a life will it be!!!!
Now!!!! without you and persecuted by the kindness of people here and
there, which I as little wish to deserve as they do deserve--the
servility of man towards his fellow man--it pains me--and when I regard
myself as a part of the universe, what am I? what is he who is called
the greatest?--and yet herein is shown the godlike part of humanity! I
weep in thinking that you will receive no intelligence from me till
probably Saturday. However dearly you may love me, I love you more
fondly still. Never disguise yourself from me. Good night! As a patient
at these baths, I must now go to rest." [A few words are here effaced by
Beethoven himself.] "Oh, God, so near! so far! Is not our love a truly
celestial mansion, but firm as the vault of heaven itself?"
"Good Morning, July 7th.
"Even in my bed, still my thoughts throng to you, my immortal
Beloved!--now and then full of joy, and yet again sad, waiting to see
whether Fate will hear us. I must live either wholly with you, or not at
all. Indeed, I have resolved to wander far from you till I can fly into
your arms, and feel that they are my home, and send forth my soul in
unison with yours into the realm of spirits. Alas! it must be so! You
will take courage, for you know my fidelity. Never can another possess
my heart--never, never! Oh, God! why must one fly from what he so fondly
loves? and yet my existence in W----was as miserable as here. Your love
made me at once the most happy and the most unhappy of men. At my age,
life requires a uniform equality; can this be found in our mutual
relations? Angel! I have this moment heard that the post goes every day,
so I must conclude, that you may get this letter the sooner. Be calm!
for we can only attain our object of living together by the calm
contemplation of our existence. Be calm--love me--to-day--yesterday--
what longings with tears for you--you! you!--my life!--my all! Farewell!
Oh! love me well--and never doubt the faithful heart of your beloved L.
"Ever each other's."
These impassioned letters to his "immortal beloved" were believed by
Schindler to have been intended for Giulietta, and dated by him at first
in 1803 and then in 1806. But Thayer, after showing how careless
Beethoven was of dates, and how inaccurate, decides that these letters
could not have been written before 1804. Since Giulietta was married
Nov. 3, 1803, to Count Gallenberg, she could not have been the one whose
life he hoped to share.
Who then remains? Thayer suggests that the woman thus honoured may have
been another Therese, the Countess Therese von Brunswick. She was the
cousin of Giulietta, whose husband said of Beethoven that Therese
"adored him." About the time of these letters, he wrote to her brother,
"Kiss your sister Therese," and later he dedicated to her his sonata,
Op. 78. Some months after this he gave up his marriage scheme. Of
Therese, Thayer says that she lived to a great age--"_ca va sans
dire_!--" and was famed for a noble and large-hearted, but eccentric
character. As for remembrance of Beethoven, one may apply to her the
words of Shakespeare, 'She died and gave no sign.' Was it perhaps that
she did not dare?
Even after seeing the above words in type, I am able to add something
more definite to Thayer's argument--if one is to believe a book I
stumbled on in an old bookshop, and have not found mentioned in any of
the Beethoven bibliographies. The book bears every sign of telling the
truth, as it makes no effort at the charms of fiction. It is by Miriam
Tenger, who claims to have known the Countess Therese well for many
years, and who describes the adoration with which her friends regarded
her, the painter Peter von Cornelius calling her "the most remarkable
woman I have ever known."
"She was a scholar in the classics, a piano pupil of Mozart and
Beethoven," he went on, "and a woman who must have been rarely beautiful
in her youth. Only a perfectly pure spirit could give the gentle look in
her large, dark eyes. She spoke with inimitable beauty and clearness,
because she was inwardly so transparent and beautiful, almost like a
He told Fraeulein Tenger the story of an early encounter of Therese and
Beethoven. She was a pupil who felt for him that mingled love and terror
he instilled in women. One bitterly cold and stormy day he came to give
the young countess her lesson; she was especially eager to please him,
but grew so anxious that her playing went all askew. He was under the
obsession of one of his savageries. He grew more and more impatient with
her, and finally struck her hand from the keys, and rushed out
bareheaded into the storm.
Her first horror at his brutality faded before her fear for his health.
"Without hat! Without cloak! Good heavens!" she cried. Seizing them,
she rushed after him--she, the countess, pursued the music-teacher like
a valet! A servant followed her, and took the things from her hand to
give to Beethoven, while she unseen returned; her mother rebuked her and
ordered her to her room. But the lessons continued, and in Therese's
diary Beethoven appeared constantly as "mon maitre," "mon maitre cheri."
She was doomed to a long jealousy. She saw Beethoven fall in love with
her cousin Giulietta Guicciardi. Giulietta came to her for advice,
saying that she longed to throw over Count Gallenberg for "that
beautiful horrible Beethoven--if it were not such a come-down." She did
not condescend, as we have seen, and lived to regret it bitterly.
The idolatry of the pupil finally seized the teacher. Beethoven came to
dote upon the large heart, the pure soul, and the serene mind of
Therese. One night, as he extemporised as only he could, he sang a song
of love to her. One day he said, suddenly:
"I have been like a foolish boy who gathered stones and did not observe
the flower growing by the way."
It was in the spring of 1806 that they became engaged. Only her brother
Franz, who revered Beethoven, was in the secret. They dared not tell
Therese's mother, but Beethoven took up life and art with a new and
thorough zest. Of course, being Beethoven, he waxed wroth often at the
delay and the secrecy. But the sun broke through again. For four years
of his life the engagement endured. Beethoven, it seems, at last grew
furious. He quarrelled with Franz, and in 1810 one day in a frenzy
snapped the bond with Therese. As she herself told Fraeulein Tenger, "The
word that parted us was not spoken by me, but by him. I was terribly
frightened, turned deadly pale, and trembled."
Even after this, the demon in him might have been exorcised, but Therese
had grown afraid of the lightnings of his wrath, and fear outweighed
love in the girl's heart. Sometimes she felt ashamed, in later years, of
her timidity; at other times she was glad that she had not hampered his
art, as any wife must have done. But now she returned him his letters.
He destroyed them all, evidently, except the famous letter to his
"immortal beloved," which he had written in July, 1806, soon after the
betrothal; and with it he kept a portrait she had given him. As for
Therese, she, too, had kept a copy of this letter, and as she told
"I have read it so often that I know it by heart--like a poem--and was
it not a beautiful poem? I can only humbly say to myself, 'That man
loved thee,' and thank God for it."
She also showed a sheet of old paper, with a spray of immortelles, and
on it an inscription from Ludwig:
"L'immortelle a son Immortelle. LUIGI."
These immortelles she sewed into a white silk cushion, with a request
that it be placed under her head in her coffin.
When Fraeulein Tenger had first met the countess as a child she had been
asked to go every year on March 27th and lay a wreath of immortelles on
Beethoven's grave. The acquaintance continued, and they met again at
long intervals till the countess's death in 1861. Fraulein Tenger wrote
her book in her old age when she had lost her diaries, but enough of her
reminiscences remain to prove Thayer's ingenious guesses correct.
Therese von Brunswick was Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved," and the
picture found with the letter was her portrait. It was painted by Lampi,
when Therese was about twenty-eight; and on the frame can be seen still
"To the rare genius, to the great artist, to the good man, from
The picture is in the Beethoven Museum at Bonn, and in the National
Museum at Pesth is a bust of Therese in her later years, erected in her
honour because she organised out of her charity the first infants'
school in the Austrian empire, and did many other good works. It is both
pity and solace that the noble woman did not wed Beethoven. She was his
muse for years. That was, as she said, something to thank God for. She
was also a beautiful spiritual influence on him.
Once the Baron Spaun found Beethoven kissing Therese's portrait and
muttering: "Thou wast too noble--too like an angel." The baron withdrew
silently, and returning later found Beethoven extemporising in heavenly
mood. He explained: "My good angel has appeared to me."
In 1813 he wrote in his diary:
"What a fearful state to be in, not to be able to trample down all my
longings for the joys of a home, to be always revelling in these
longings. O God! O God! look down in mercy upon poor, unhappy Beethoven,
and put an end to this soon; let it not last much longer!"
And so Beethoven never married. The women, indeed, whom he loved, whom
he proposed to, always awoke with a shock to the risk of joining for
life a man of such explosive whims, of such absorption in his own self
and art, of such utter deafness, untidiness, and morose habit of mind.
But Beethoven himself was not always eager to wed. He could write to
"Now you can help me get a wife. If you find a pretty one--one who may
perhaps lend a sigh to my harmonies, do the courting for me. But she
must be beautiful; I cannot love anything that is not beautiful; if I
could, I should fall in love with myself."
One feels here a touch of disdain and frivolity. Yet he could grow
fervid in such an outcry as that of his forty-sixth year:
"Love, and love alone, can give me a happy life. O God! let me find her
who will keep me in the path of virtue, the one I may rightly call my
Again, he could coldly rejoice that he had not sacrificed any of his
individuality, or any of his devotion to music, to Giulietta Guicciardi.
And the diary of Fanny Giannatasio, whose father took care of
Beethoven's nephew, quotes a conversation Beethoven held on the subject
of wedlock. According to this, he said that marriage should not be so
indissoluble, liberty-crushing a bond; that a marriage without love was
best, but that no marriages were happy. He added:
"For himself he was excessively glad that not one of the girls had
become his wife, whom he had passionately loved in former days, and
thought at the time it would be the highest joy on earth to possess."
To this cynic wisdom, the poor Fanny Giannatasio del Rio, whose love for
Beethoven would never have been known had not her diary enambered it for
publication after her death, adds the words: "I will not repeat my
answer, but I think I know a girl who, beloved by him, would not have
made his life unhappy."
Ay, there's the rub! Could any one have woven a happiness about the life
of that ferocious master of art, that pinioned, but struggling, victim
VON WEBER--THE RAKE REFORMED
"Though thou hast now offended like a man.
Do not persever in it like a devil;
Yet, yet, thou hast an amiable soul,
If sin by custom grow not into nature."
Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus"
Few novels are so brilliantly written, or so variously absorbing, as the
life of Von Weber, written by his son, the Baron Max Maria von Weber.
For years the son had resisted the urgence of his mother to undertake
the work, fearing that partiality would warp, and indelicacy stain, any
such memorial of a father who had lived so lively a life. When at last
the work was begun and done, it was a miracle of impartiality, of
frankness which seems complete, of sins confessed and expiated in their
confession, and of trenchant characterisation, which one will hardly
find surpassed outside of Dickens.
The Von Webers are the most numerous musical dynasty after the Bachs. We
have already seen something of the fortunes of the family into which
Mozart married. The father of Mozart's wife was the older brother of
Franz Anton von Weber, father of Carl Maria. This Franz Anton was a
strange mixture of stalwart and shiftless qualities. He gave up his
orchestral position to fight against Frederick the Great, and brought
home a red badge of courage. It is wonderful, by the way, how many
musicians have earned distinction as soldiers--what, indeed, would the
soldiers do without music?
Later Franz Anton entered civil service, and succeeded to the position
of Court Financial-Councillor Fumetti, and married his beautiful
daughter, Maria Anna. But Franz Anton was so rabid a fiddler that he
used to be seen playing his violin in public places, followed by his
large family of children, or even sawing away in the open fields, to the
neglect of his work and finally the loss of his position. Thereupon he
decided that his large family should help in its own support, and
dragged them one and all upon the stage. The proud mother saw her
fortune squandered, and her pride massacred. She died some years later.
Franz Anton's heart was too industrious to remain idle long, and, though
he was now fifty years of age, he somehow won the hand of Genofeva von
Brenner, who was only sixteen years old. It is gratuitous to say that
the young girl was not happy. In 1786 she bore him the child who was to
realise the father's one great and vicarious ambition: to bring a
musical genius into the world.
While Carl Maria von Weber was still a babe, Franz Anton started once
more after the will-o'-the-wisp of theatrical fame, with his "Weber's
Company of Comedians." Genofeva, sickly and melancholy, dragged herself
about with the troupe until Carl Maria was ten years old, when her
health gave way, and the travel was discontinued. Poverty and
consumption ended her days two years later. Within a year Franz Anton
was betrothed to a widow, whom, strange to say, he never married.
Again Franz Anton, the Bedouin that he was, dragged his son back into
the nomad life. The boy seemed astonishingly stupid in learning music,
though the father encouraged him with intemperate zeal. Meanwhile Carl's
character was forming, and he was becoming as brilliant as the mercurial
life he was leading, and at the same time as irresponsible. Like his
relative, Mozart, he was precocious at falling in love. Perhaps his
first flame was Elise Vigitill, in whose autograph album he wrote:
"Dearest Elise, always love your sincere friend, Carl von Weber; in the
sixth year of his age; Nueremberg, the 10th of September, 1792." We
hear of no more sweethearts for eleven long years. When Carl Maria was
seventeen, Franz Anton left him in Vienna, where he plunged into
dissipation at a tempo presto appassionato. As his son writes, "through
carolling, kissing, drinking Vienna, he wandered with a troop of choice
spirits, drinking, kissing, carolling." The intoxicating draught of
pleasure quaffed in the lively capital fevered the lad's blood, and the
ardent imaginative temperament burst forth in that adoration of female
beauty which strewed his life's path with roses, not without thorns. His
teacher, Abbe Vogler, however, secured him a position as conductor at
the Breslau opera, and he was compelled to tear himself away from a
sweetheart of rank, who was somewhat older than he. His father went with
him, and by his bumptiousness brought the boy many enemies, and, through
his speculations, many debts in addition to those he acquired for
himself. Here another entanglement awaited him. His son tells it thus:
"Many a female heart, no doubt, both within the theatre and without its
walls, was allured by the sweet smile and seductive manners of the pale,
slender, languishing, but passionately ardent young conductor; whilst
his own heart seems to have been more seriously involved in an
unfortunate and misplaced attachment for a singer in the theatre. This
woman was married to a rough drunkard who mishandled her. The couple
were daily falling more and more into an abject state of poverty. Young
Carl Maria pitied the woman; and pity was soon transformed in the
feeling next akin."
"That she was an unworthy object of either pity or affection is very
clear: she misused his goodness of heart, gnawed incessantly at his
slender purse, and quickly plunged him into a slough of difficulties
nigh equal to her own."
Various misfortunes and indiscretions brought Von Weber to the loss of
his post. But a woman intervened to save him from disaster. This was a
Fraeulein von Belonda, maid of honour to the Duchess of Wuertemberg, who
took a deep interest in Carl, and persuaded the duke to make him musical
director. The continual successes of the French armies overrunning
Europe forbade the duke to keep up his retinue of artists. But he
secured Weber a post at Stuttgart as private secretary to his brother,
Ludwig, another younger brother of the King of Wuertemberg, a monster of
corpulence, who had to have his dining-table made crescent-wise that he
might get near enough to eat. Into the circle of these two unlovable
figures and their ugly court Weber was thrust.
"Thus then the fiery young artist, his wild oats not yet fully sown,
plunged into a new world, where no true sense of right or wrong was
known; where virtue and morality were laughed to scorn; where, in the
chaotic whirlpool of a reckless court, money and influence at any price
were the sole ends and aims of life; where, in the confusion of the
times, the insecurity of conditions, and the ruthless despotism of the
government, the sole watchword of existence, from high to low, was
'Apres moi, le deluge!'" The Prince Ludwig was a great spendthrift,
and was continually appealing to his brother for funds. It was poor
Weber's pleasant task to be the go-between, and to receive on his head
the rage of Behemoth. Again to quote the vivid language of the Baron
"The stammering, stuttering, shrieking rage of the hideously corpulent
king, who, on account of his unwieldy obesity, was unable to let his
arms hang by his side, and who thus gesticulated wildly, and perspired
incessantly, and had the habit, moreover, of continually addressing his
favourite, generally present on these occasions, with the appeal, 'Pas
vrai, Dillen?' after each broken sentence,--would have been
inexpressibly droll, had not the low-comedy actor of the scene been an
autocrat who might, at a wink, have transformed laughter into tears. But
there was a demoniacal comicality about the performance, which, if it
did not convulse the spectator, made him shudder to his heart's core.
"Weber hated the king, of whose wild caprice and vices he witnessed
daily scenes, before whose palace-gates he was obliged to slink
bareheaded, and who treated him with unmerited ignominy. He was wont, in
thoughtless levity of youth, to forget the dangers he ran, and to answer
the king with a freedom of tone which the autocrat was all unused to
hear. In turn he was detested by the monarch.
"The royal treatment roused young Carl Maria's indignation to the
utmost; and his irritation led him one day to a mad prank, which was
nigh resulting in some years' imprisonment in the fortress of
Hohenasberg, or of Hohenhaufen. Smarting under some foul indignity, he
had just left the private apartment of the king, when an old woman met
him in the passage, and asked him where she could find the room of the
court washerwoman. 'There!' said the reckless youth, pointing to the
door of the royal cabinet. The old woman entered, and was violently
assailed by the king, who had a horror of old women; in her terror, she
stammered out that a young gentleman who had just come out had informed
her that there she would find the 'royal washerwoman,' The infuriated
monarch guessed who was the culprit, and despatched an officer on the
spot to arrest his brother's secretary, and throw him into prison.
"To those who have any idea how foul a den was then a royal prison, it
must appear almost marvellous that Carl Maria should have possessed
sufficient equanimity to have occupied himself with his beloved art
during his arrest. But so it was. He managed to procure a dilapidated
old piano, put it in tune with consummate patience, by means of a common
door-key, and actually, then and there, on the 14th of October, 1808,
composed his well-known beautiful song, 'Ein steter Kampf ist unser
"The storm passed over. Prince Ludwig's influence obtained the young
man's pardon and release. But the insult was never forgotten by the
king: he took care to remember it at his own right time. Nor had prison
cured Carl Maria of his boyish desire to play tricks upon the hated
monarch, when he conceived that he could do so without danger to
Carl proceeded to make himself an appropriate graduate of such a
university of morals, and devoted himself to wine, women, and debts,
with a small proportion of song. He belonged to a society of young men,
who called themselves by the gentle name of "Faust's Ride to Hell." He
now began also the composition of an opera, "Sylvana." This brought him
into acquaintance with operatic people, and he fell under the charm of
that "coquettish little serpent Margarethe Lang."
"To stem such a passion, or even to have given it a legal form, would
have been merely ridiculous and absurd in the eyes of the demoralised
circle by which he was surrounded. Gretchen possessed a little plump
seductive form, was about twenty years of age, and, in addition to her
undoubted musical talent, was endowed with a fund of gay, sprightly
humour, wholly in sympathy with the youth's own joyous nature. She
became the central point of all his life and aspirations."
Thus the biographer describes the new dissipation, which carried Carl
away from his old riots; the new magnet that dragged from him all the
money he could earn, and more than he could borrow. It was a wild and
reckless crew and addicted to such entertainments as the travesty on
Marc Antony, with music by Carl, who played Cleopatra, while Gretchen
The last straw upon Carl's breaking back was the arrival of his father,
who descended upon him with a bass viol, an enormous basket-bed for his
beloved poodles, and a large bundle of debts, as well as an increased
luggage of eccentricities. While Weber was trying to secure loans to pay
off one of his father's debts, he was innocently implicated in a scandal
of bribery, by which it was made to seem that he had offered a post in
the prince's household, in return for an advance of money. The king had
been driven to despair by the disasters of the German army, and the
increase of discontent of the German people, and desired to gain a
reputation for virtue by the comfortable step of reforming his brother's
household. Learning of the proffered bribe, in which Weber seemed to be
concerned, but of which he was perfectly innocent, the king had him
arrested during a rehearsal of his opera "Sylvana," and had him thrown
into prison for sixteen days. When at last he was examined, there was
nothing found to justify the accusation of dishonesty, he was released
from the prison for criminals, and transferred to the prison for debt,
and then a little later he and his father were placed into a carriage
and driven across the border to exile.
This sudden plunge from the froth of dissipation to the dregs of
disgrace was a fall that Weber could never thereafter think or speak of,
and every mention of it was forbidden.
Almost from this moment Weber's life is one of seriousness, with an
occasional relapse into some of his old qualities, but never a complete
laying aside of earnestness. He gained friends elsewhere, and finally
settled in Darmstadt, where he still found women's hearts susceptible,
in spite of his small, weak frame, his great long neck, and his calfless
legs, of which he writes: "And, oh, my calves, they might have done
honour to a poodle!"
Eight months after his banishment, his opera "Sylvana" was produced at
Frankfort, the first soprano being Gretchen Lang, and the part of
Sylvana being taken by Caroline Brandt, of whom much more later. At
Munich the next year, he found himself in high favour with two singers.
They were vying with each other for him, while two society beauties
exerted their rival charms. Weber was kept busy with his quadruple
flirtation. He was driven into cynicism, and his motto became "All women
are good for nothing" ("_Alle Weiber taugen nichts_"), which he used so
often that he abbreviated it to "A.W.T.N." In the columns of his
account-book he was provoked to write: "A. coquettes with me, though she
knows I am making love to her friend. B. abuses N., tells me horrid
stories of her, and says I must not go home with her." He took a journey
to Switzerland, where the beautiful Frau Peyermann occupied his heart
long enough to inspire him to the scene in "Athalie," and to his song,
"The Artist's Declaration of Love." He wandered here and there, for
about three years, and his biographer, Spitta, thus portrays him:
"Roving restlessly from place to place, winning all hearts by his sweet,
insinuating, lively melodies, his eccentricities making him an imposing
figure to the young of both sexes, and an annoyance to the old, exciting
the attention of everybody, and then suddenly disappearing, his person
uniting in the most seductive manner aristocratic bearing and tone with
indolent dissipation, his moods alternating between uproarious spirits
and deep depression,--in all ways he resembled a figure from some
romantic poem, wholly unlike anything seen before in the history of
In 1813 he found himself at Prague, with the post of musical director to
the opera. In the company were two women who took hold of his heart;
one, a spirit of evil, the other an angel of good. The former was
Theresa Brunetti, wife of a ballet-dancer, and mother of several
children, the acquisition of which had robbed her of neither her fine,
plump figure, nor her devotion to the arts of coquetry. There is no
improving upon the description of Max von Weber as given of this
entanglement, so here it is at length, with all its frankness of
exposure and its writhing humiliation:
"He soon conceived for the handsome seductive woman a passion, which
seemed to have deprived his otherwise clear mind of all common sense and
reason, and which neither the flood of administrative affairs nor the
cold breath of duty could extinguish. Vain were all his efforts to
conceal it. In a very short time it became the topic of general remark;
excited the ridicule or grave anxieties of his friends; involved him in
a thousand disagreeable positions; lowered his character, without the
slightest compensating advantage to his artistic career; and nigh
dragged him down into an abyss beyond hope of rescue.
"The new opera-director was soon lodged in the house of the careless
husband of the light woman. She herself may have had some inclination
for the man. But as soon as she felt her true power over him, she held
out her fair hand only to lead him into a life of torment.
"The woman's power over her poor victim was immense. He was dragged in
her train, against his better reason, to country excursions, suppers,
balls, at which, whilst he watched her every look, her every breath, to
discover her slightest wish, although nigh dead with fatigue, she would
be bestowing her attention on other men, wholly regardless of her slave.
Now again he would scour the town, in scorching heat or drenching rain,
frequently sacrificing the only moments he could snatch from business
for his dinner, to procure a ribbon, a ring, or some dainty, which she
desired, and which was difficult to obtain; and on his return she would
receive him perhaps with coldness and toss the prize aside. Sometimes,
when the proof became too evident that she had duped, deceived, betrayed
him, the scenes between the two were fearful; and then she would
cleverly find means of asserting that it was she who had the best right
to be jealous, and thus turn the tables on him. By every thought, in
every action, in every moment of his life, there was but one feeling
ever present--'How will she receive me?'
"Even in his account-book, now so often neglected, are to be found the
lamentations of his despairing heart over her unworthiness; and again,
but a few hours later, expressions of delight that she had smiled on
him. There is something terrible in the bitter slavery to which his
better nature was condemned by this wild passion. One day he writes: 'A
fearful scene.... The sweetest dream of my life is over. Confidence is
lost for ever. The chain is broken,' On the next: 'A painful
explanation. I shed the first tears my grief has wrung from me.... This
reconciliation has cleared the thunder from the air. Both of us felt
better,' And then again: 'My dream is over! I shall never know the
happiness of being loved. I must for ever be alone! ... She can sit near
me, hours long, and never say one word; and when some other man is
mentioned, burst out in ecstasy. I will do all I can to please her; but
I must withdraw within myself, bury all my bitter feelings in my own
heart, and work--work--work!'" It was in the fall of 1813--_prosit
omen!_--that Von Weber met the Brunetti. In the next year he was still
clinging to her whom the biographer calls "the rotten plant," and wrote
in a note-book: "I found Calina with Therese, and I could scarcely
conceal the fearful rage that burned in me." Or an elegy like this: "No
joy without her, and yet with her only sorrow."
Cupid has always been jealous of the cook. On Therese's birthday, Carl
presented her with a double gift, first a gold watch with a cluster of
trinkets, each of them a symbol of love; with this cluster of trinkets,
something very rare and costly in Prague--oysters. Therese
glanced--merely glanced--at the jewelry; she fairly gobbled the oysters.
Carl's love had survived his jealousy of Calina, but he could not endure
a rivalry with mollusks. As his son explains: "On a sudden the scales
fell from his eyes." Ought he not rather have said, the shells?
Lacking even this ogress for an idol, poor Carl was lonely indeed. Even
music turned unresponsive, and success was only ashes on his tongue.
Then faith gave him, unsought, ability to revenge himself on the
Brunetti. She had despised him as a mere genius toddling after the
frou-frou of her skirts, but she began to prize him when she saw him
casting interested looks in another direction. Now it was her turn to
writhe with jealousy, and to writhe in vain. Her storms and tirades had
more effect upon him than his pleas had had upon her. But whereas she
had formerly been _insouciante_ and amused at his pain, her pain hurt
him to distraction, broke down his health, and drove him to ask for a
leave of absence, that he might recover his strength. When he went away,
he carried with him in his heart a new regret, sweetened, or perhaps
embittered, by a tinge of new hope. But he could not know that he had
reached the end of the worthless pages of his life, and that the new
leaf was to be inscribed with a story of happiness, which was by no
means untroubled, but yet was constructive happiness, worth-while
In the year 1810 his opera "Sylvana" had been sung, as I have said, with
Caroline Brandt in the title role. When, in 1813, he was given the
direction of the opera at Prague, though he fell into the clutches of
the Brunetti, he had unconsciously prepared himself a better, cleaner
experience by engaging for the very first member of his new company this
same Caroline Brandt, who happened to write him that she happened to be
"at liberty," as they say.
Like Carl himself, she had known stage-life from childhood, being the
daughter of a tenor, and appearing on the stage at the age of eight.
She is described as "small and plump in figure, with beautiful,
expressive gray eyes and fair wavy hair, and a peculiar liveliness in
her movements." She was a woman of large and tender heart, electrified
with a temper incisive and immediate. She was an actress of genuine
skill, "her sense of grace and beauty in all things infallible." She did
not appear at the theatre in Prague until the first day of January,
1814. She bore a curious resemblance to Therese Brunetti in a fresher
edition, and was not long in giving that lady a sense of uneasiness. The
oysters, as we have seen, had given the Brunetti the _coup de disgrace_.
Caroline won the poor director's gratitude first by being quick to adopt
suggestions, and to rescue him from the embarrassments buzzing about the
head of an operatic manager. She was glad to undertake tasks, and slow
to show professional jealousy. She lived in seclusion with her mother,
and received no visits. Even the young noblemen could not woo her at the
stage door, though the Brunetti advised her to accept the advances of a
certain banker, saying: "He is worth the trouble, for he is rich."
Having failed to drag Caroline into her own game, the Brunetti tried to
keep Von Weber from breathing the better air of her presence. As we
have seen, she drove him almost to distraction, and sent him a wreck to
the baths in Friedland.
Caroline's mother had permitted Von Weber to pay his court to her, and
her father and brother had found his intentions worthy. Caroline had not
hesitated to confess that her affection was growing with Carl's. But
what she had seen of his life with the Brunetti, and what she must have
heard of his magnificent dissipations, gave her pause. Therefore, when
Carl went away for his health, he took with him a riddle, and left
behind "a sweet, beloved being who might--who may--make me happy." "The
absence of three months shall test our love." They wrote each other long
and daily letters; his were all of yearning, while hers were mingled
with fear, lest he be, as she wrote him, "a sweet poison harmful to the
After taking the baths, he went on to Berlin, arriving there August 3d
in the very ferment of rapture over the downfall of Napoleon at Prague.
He was moved to write a number of patriotic songs from Koerner's "Leier
und Schwert." These choruses for men were sung throughout the
Fatherland, as they still are sung.
But from the height of glory to which he was now borne, as the living
voice of the nation, he was dragged back to the depths by the little
hand and the little finger-nails of Caroline, who could be jealous
enough to suspect that not all the adoration Von Weber was receiving
from the women of Berlin was pure and impersonal patriotism.
Von Weber had from the first insisted that no marriage of theirs could
have hope of success, unless she left the stage. This sacrifice of
herself and her career and her large following among the public was a
deal to ask, and a deal to grant. Her combined reluctance to sacrifice
her all, and her jealous fears that he would not find her all in all, at
last led her to write him that they would better give up their dream,
and break their troth.
In his first bitterness at this inopportune humiliation, coming like a
drop of vinegar in the honey of royal favour, he wrote furiously to
Gansbacher, "I see now that her views of high art are not above the
usual pitiful standard--namely, that art is but a means of procuring
soup, meat, and shirts." To another friend, Lichtenstein, he wrote more
"All my fondest hopes are vanishing day by day. I live like a drunken
man who dances on a thin coating of ice, and spite of his better reason
would persuade himself that he is on solid ground. I love with all my
heart and soul; and if there be no truth in her affection, the last
chord of my whole life has been struck. I shall still live on,--marry
perhaps some day,--who knows? But love and trust again, never more."
In September he returned to Prague with an anxious heart, and took up in
person a new battle for Caroline's hand. They were agreed upon the
subject of affection, but wrangled upon the clauses in the treaty of
marriage. While this debate was waging, Weber took care of her money and
her mother's. A benefit being given her, he announced that he himself
would sell the tickets at the box-office, and he spent a whole day
bartering his quick wit and his social influence, for increased prices.
Such public devotion brought scandal buzzing about the ears of the two.
But still Caroline would not give up her career, nor Weber his opinion
of stage marriages.
Even his patriotic songs, "The Lyre and the Sword," were a cause of
disagreement, for Caroline, like so many women, deified Napoleon, and
her lover's lyric assaults upon him were so much sacrilege; while to him
her adoration of that personified prairie-fire, who had devastated the
Fatherland, was treason. The Brunetti, being well out of the running,
Caroline found new cause of jealousy in the newly engaged actress,
Christine Bohler. Indeed, Carl and Caroline did little but fight and
make up for months, until even Caroline was convinced that one of the
two must leave Prague, at least for a period of probation. It was Carl
who left, and in a condition of almost complete spiritual collapse.
How little music has to do with one's state of mind, may be seen from
the fact that in his weak and complaining despair, he composed one of
his sturdiest works, "Kampf und Sieg." He settled in Munich, and
continued to correspond with Caroline, writing her the most minute
descriptions of his life and his lodgings, and begging her to write him
with equal fulness. His loneliness, however, at length told upon his
spirits, and gradually stifled his creativeness.
At length it became time for him to return to Prague again, and on the
eve of his home-going he received a letter from Caroline, which she said
she had been for weeks trying in vain to write. She was now convinced
that they must absolutely give up all thought of love and marriage. This
blow smote him to the ground. He had no strength even for wrath; he
could only write in abject meekness, as if thanking her for delaying the
blow so long:
"Be not angry, my beloved one, that I repeat my words of love and sorrow
again and again. They flow from a pure heart, that knows no other wish
than your happiness. When time shall have gone by, and you can look back
in peace and quiet on the broken tie between us, you will then
acknowledge that never was a truer heart than mine. Thanks, my dearest
life, my never-to-be-forgotten love, for the many sweet flowers you have
woven into the garland of my life, for all your love, for all your care.
Forgive me for my excess of love--forgive the passion that may have torn
many a wound, when it should have soothed and healed--forgive me all
the sorrow I have caused you, though Heaven knows it was through no will
of mine--forgive me for having stolen one whole sweet year of your
precious life, for which I would willingly give ten of my own, could I
but buy it back for you.... Farewell--farewell."
On the 7th of September he arrived in Prague. His first view of Caroline
was as she sang the Cinderella on the stage. The sight of her was too
much; he broke down and ran home. But still, as director, he must
frequently meet her in more or less familiar situations. And as for her,
she later confessed that she was suffering even more than Carl.
Her every strength and resolution melted away one afternoon in the
autumn, at a reception, where the lovers met face to face. Their gaze
blended; their hands blended; the war was over.
Instantly, with the resumption of his love-life, his interest in music
began again. Caroline, apparently alarmed at the condition of his
health, never robust, persuaded her mother to let him board at her
house. New health and old-time gaiety began again. But he was tired of
Prague, and determined to find a larger field elsewhere. While he was
hunting for a place for himself, he secured a starring engagement for
Caroline at the then high salary of ten gold louis, per performance.
Before he left Prague, he announced his engagement publicly. By a
curious coincidence, the engagement was announced at a reception, just
after a total eclipse of the sun. When the daylight came out of the
darkness, Carl rose and proclaimed his conquest.
On Christmas morning he received a costly ring from the King of Hanover,
a splendid snuff-box from the King of Bavaria, and an appointment as
Kapellmeister to the King of Saxony.
At Dresden there were honours enough and jealousies more. But Carl
assailed them with new strength. And now, he took up an opera on a
subject he had thought of but discarded, fortunately for himself and the
world. He wrote Caroline that a friend of his was writing a libretto
based on the old national legend, "Der Freischuetz." Kind, the
librettist, wrote night and day for ten days, and Carl, in great
enthusiasm, forwarded the libretto for Caroline's opinion. She sent it
back with violent criticisms, based upon her long stage experience and
her intuition of stage effects. We can never thank her sufficiently for
cutting out endless pages of songs and recitative by the melancholious
old Hermit who, in the original version, was to commence the opera, and
wander in and out of it incessantly. Caroline wrote, like Horace:
"Away, with all these scenes.... Plunge at once into the popular
element. Begin with the scene before the tavern." This seemed
outrageous mutilation at first to the composer, and the librettist took
it with still more violence; threatening for a time to withdraw his book
completely. But often, thereafter, did Carl express his gratitude to
her, whom he called his "Public with two eyes." Would to heaven, that
there had been some Caroline Brandt to give similar advice to Wagner
concerning his Wotan and his King Mark!
Meanwhile, during the composition of "Der Freischuetz," which was to mean
so much for the happiness of Germany and the betterment of opera
generally, Carl, the genius who struck out the magnificent work, was
spending almost less time upon the details of composition and scoring
than upon the purchase of articles for the home he was making for his
bride-to-be. He wrote her long letters, describing his purchases of
"chairs, crockery, curtains, knives, forks, spoons, pails, brooms, and
She had ceased to be in his mind the brilliant and fascinating
soubrette, and had become in the silly lover's-Latin, his "pug, his
duck, his bird." He answered a letter she wrote him describing her
success in the "Magic Flute:"
"I was amused with your account of the 'Zauberfloete,' but you know I
hope soon to see you lay by all your pretty Papagena feathers. All your
satins and ermines must give place to a coarse apron then. You will be
only applauded by my hungry stomach, called out before the cook-wench,
and saluted with 'da capo' when you kiss your Carl. It is very shocking,
I know. What will my own pearl say to be dissolved in the sour vinegar
of domestic life, and swallowed by a bear of a husband?"
In March, 1817, Weber was called to Prague, on business connected with
his opera company; he was overjoyed at the thought of seeing Caroline,
who was still singing there. Just as he was stepping into the
travelling-carriage, a letter was handed him, saying that the firm in
Prague, with which he had deposited all his savings and those of
Caroline, was about to go into bankruptcy. There was indeed, of his long
and careful hoardings only as much left as Caroline had deposited on his
advice. Her savings were quite swept away.
But, without saying a word to her, he transferred the last penny he had
in the world to her name, and left himself, except for his strength and
fame, a pauper. It was many years after, and then only by chance, that
Caroline learned the beautiful sacrifice he had made from his great love
for her. When he reached Prague, he concealed from her all the distress
he had suffered, and there was nothing but happiness in their reunion.
Returning to Dresden, he took up more seriously the composition of "Der
Freischuetz." The first note of it that he wrote was the second act duet
between Agathe and Aennchen; he took Caroline as his ideal. Indeed,
through the whole composition of the work, he declared that he saw
Caroline always presiding. He seemed to hear her voice singing every
note, and saw her fingers playing it on the piano; now smiling, over
what she liked; now shaking her head over what displeased her. This
spirit he took as the critic and judge of the whole work. There have
rarely been such instances of actual personal inspiration in any work of
art, and certainly none which do more credit to the absorption of the
artist-mind in the worship of its idol. Furthermore, much of the
composition was done at the home preparing for Caroline's actual
presence, and he wrote those suave and optimistic pages of music to an
accompaniment of hammers and saws, the wrangling of carpenters,
painters, upholsterers, and scrub-women; sleeping at nights in the
kitchen, and glad to find a kitchen-table to compose upon. The
longed-for marriage could not take place until a court wedding for which
he was writing music. This was postponed and postponed, until he was
driven to distraction. But at last, when the royal bridegroom was sent
on his way the composer fled toward Prague. Caroline surprised him by
coming part way to meet him. On November 4, 1817, they were married.
Carl gave Caroline's mother a pension of nine hundred thalers, though
her husband and son were living. The honeymoon was paid for by concerts
here and there, in which both took part, and by a benevolent royal
commission to hunt for artists. Caroline, though her matrimonial treaty
forbade her singing on the stage, was allowed to sing at concerts, and
at some of them she sang duets, with Carl at the piano, while she played
Carl had often told Caroline that she must expect a chaos in her new
home in Dresden. When she arrived, and found everything beautiful and in
perfect order, she wept with rapture. Late on the last night of the year
1817, Carl wrote in a diary these words; they show what depths there
were in the soul and what heights in the ambition of one whose youth and
training and early recklessness had promised so little of solidity and
"The great important year has closed. May God still grant me the
blessing He has hitherto so graciously accorded me; that I may have the
power to make the dear one happy; and, as a brave artist, bring honour
and advantage to my Fatherland! Amen!"
As for Caroline, who had been so volatile a soubrette and so happy in
the footlight glitter, she turned out to be even a greater success as a
_Haus-frau._ She began to win a more limited, but an equally profound,
reputation for her perfect dinners and receptions, and for the minute
care with which she kept all her "account-books, housekeeping-books,
cellar-books." Finally, she even learned to cook, and the household
became a dove-cote!
The instinct of jealousy is one that is not easily uprooted, and
Caroline did not permit Carl's life to grow too monotonous. His high
favour at court kept her in subjects for uneasiness. He finally
attempted a violent cure. He began to absent himself from the house with
unusual frequence, but would not explain where he had been, even though
Caroline wept and wailed. At length he wrought her to the pitch of
desperation by his heartless indifference; then, one day, he brought
home a portrait bust which a sculptor friend had made and with it a
signed record of every hour and minute of his absence. This, if not a
permanent cure, was at least a partial remedy.
Weber's home became a proverb of hospitality and good cheer. The two
sang duets, or Caroline recited poems, while Carl improvised
accompaniments; excursions to the fields, and water parties, and
hilarious reunions of the opera-troupe kept life busy. Later, he took a
country home, where he surrounded himself with the dumb animals whose
society he so enjoyed; these included a large hound, a raven, a
starling, an Angora cat, and an ape.
On December 22, 1818, the first child, a girl, was born. Caroline was
dangerously ill; the child was not strong, and Carl's own health,
always at the brink of wreckage, broke down. Caroline, hardly able to be
about, nursed her husband and concealed from him the serious condition
of the child. Just as he was beginning to recover, in April, his
firstborn died. The news could not be kept from him, and he was sent
into delirium. Caroline's health gave way completely, and "the unhappy
couple lay in neighbouring rooms, where they could only cry 'Comfort!'
to each other through the wall; and where, in the still hours of night,
each smothered the sobs of grief in the pillows, that the other might
Caroline was the first to recover. Carl's health and strength were on
the final ebb--the long, slow ebb that made of his last years one dismal
tragedy, which only his superb devotion to his wife and his immitigable
optimism could brighten. In July, 1820, they decided to take a tour.
They met with great success, but he found his weakness almost
unbearable. At Hanover, he and Caroline were both prostrated, and could
not join in the concert planned. On the road to Bremen, the postilion
fell asleep and the coach was overturned into the ditch. The driver was
stunned and the sick Carl had himself to revive the man, untie the
baggage from the roof, unharness the horses, put everything in place
again, and drive the postilion to the next station. At Hamburg,
Caroline was too ill to continue the tour; she was about to become a
mother, and Carl was compelled to go on without her, but he wrote her
daily letters full of devotion. It was the first separation of their
Later she rejoined him, and at Hamburg, the oyster entered once more
into Weber's domestic career. The Brunetti had cured him of his love for
her by her inordinate fondness for bivalves. Caroline, on the other
hand, hated them. But Weber said:
"There can be no true sympathy between us while you detest a food I
relish. For the love of me, swallow this oyster."
The first three were a severe trial, but, as the French might say, "Ce
n'est pas que la premiere huitre qui coute." Afterward Weber would
groan, "Alas, why did I ever teach you the trick?"
In 1821, there rose a famous operatic war between Spontini and Weber at
Berlin. Caroline was prostrated with terror. Spontini's "Olympic" was
given first with enormous success, and "Der Freischuetz," in which
Caroline had had so large a share, and which meant so much to the two,
was forced into a dramatic comparison. In spite of a somewhat dubious
beginning, the first night was one of the greatest ovations a musician
has ever lived to see. In the midst of the tempestuous applause, every
one looked for the composer, who was "sitting in a dark corner of his
wife's box and kissing away her tears of joy."
When they returned to Dresden in July, Caroline's health was undermined
by the emotions of the Berlin triumph, and it was necessary for her to
be taken to Switzerland, where Carl was compelled to leave her. An
accident in crossing the Elbe led him to write his will, leaving
Caroline everything without reserve, and his dying curse upon any one
who should disturb his wishes.
Now consumption began to fasten its claws more deeply on him, and when
his wife returned she found him constantly racked with cough and fever.
One day he saw the first fatal spot of blood upon his handkerchief; he
turned pale and sighed: "God's will be done."
From that moment neither his conviction that he was doomed to an early
death, nor his courage to die pluckily, ever left him. When "Der
Freischuetz" was given in Dresden, Caroline was ill at home. Carl
arranged a courier service by which he received, after every scene, news
of his wife. In February of the next year, he was compelled to leave
Dresden; he placed in his wife's hands a sealed letter only to be opened
in case of his death. This letter gave a complete account of all his
affairs, and a last expression of his immense love for her. On his many
tours, he met almost uninterrupted triumph, but as he wrote to Caroline:
"I would rather be in my still chamber with you, my beloved life.
Without you all pride is shorn of its splendour; my only real joy can be
in that which gives you joy too."
From now on he spent a large part of his time away from her, always
tormented to the last degree by homesickness, always harrowed by the
fear that he might die out of the reach of his adored wife and two
children, and never feeling that he had laid by money enough to leave
them free of the danger of want, after he should have drifted into the
grave that yawned just before his weary feet.
It is hard to find in story or history a more pitiful struggle against
fate and the frustration of every deep desire than the last days of Carl
Maria von Weber, hurrying from triumph to triumph, and dying as he
jolted along his way, or stood bowing with hollow heart before
uproarious multitudes. Homesickness grew to be a positive frenzy with
"They carry me in triumph," he wrote to Caroline: "they watch for every
wink to do me kindnesses. But I feel I can only be happy there, where I
can hear my lambs bleat, and their mother low, and can beat my dog, or
turn away my maids, if they are at all too troublesome."
In 1825, Christmas found him at a distance, and he could not reach home.
"I shall think of you all on Christmas-eve," he wrote, "But that I
never cease to do. All my labours are for you--all my joy is with you."
"Can I but be with you on New Year's eve," he wrote again, with that
tinge of superstition which always more or less pervaded his character,
"I shall be with you all the year."
Now London beckoned to him, as she had to so many German musicians, to
whom she always has stood for the city of gold and of rescue from
pauperdom. Ghastly as Von Weber looked in the clutches of his disease;
hungry as his heart and body were for a long, an eternal rest, he felt
that he must not shrink from this final goal. As his son writes with
aching heart in the biography:
"To Gublitz, who doubted of his ability to undertake the journey to
London, he replied, in a tone of melancholy irony: 'Whether I can or no,
I must. Money must be made for my family--money, man. I am going to
London to die there. Not a word! I know it as well as you.' The bright,
cheery, lively Weber, who revelled in the triumph of his 'Freischuetz,'
was already dead and gone.
"Before his departure, Weber regulated all his affairs in the most
punctilious manner. The presentiment of the fast-approaching end
rendered him doubly careful that all should be in order; and, in his
last conferences with his legal friends, he was always anxious to insure
the presence of his wife, whose strong practical good sense he knew.
During these painful duties his personal appearance became so fearfully
changed, that most of his friends began to fear he would no longer find
strength sufficient for his journey. His form sank together: his voice
was almost totally gone: his cough was incessant.
"In the circle of intimates who still visited him at that tea-table, of
which his wit, and pleasantry, and genial humour had so long made the
charm, he would often murmur, with a faint smile, 'Don't take it ill,
good people, if I drop asleep: indeed I cannot help it.'
"And his head would fall upon his breast. His poor wife suffered cruel
agonies: she could not but feel that he was really spending the small
remaining breath of life for the sake of her and the children. She
manoeuvred in secret to induce friends to persuade him that he ought to
renounce his fearful journey, when all her own affectionate efforts to
this intent had failed. But the response was ever the same sad one.
"'Whether I undertake this journey, or no, it is all one! Within a year
I am a dead man. But if I go, my children will have bread, when their
father is gone: if I do not, want may stare them in the face. What is to
be done?' On one occasion he added, 'I should like to come back once
more and see my dear ones' faces again: and then, in God's name, let
God's will be done! But to die there, it would be hard, very hard!'
"The morning of the 7th of February had not yet dawned, after a night of
bitter tears, when Weber's travelling-carriage drove up to his door. The
time was come for the separation of the husband, who scarcely hoped to
see his home again, from the loving wife, who felt that he was a dying
man. Another tear upon the forehead of his sleeping children--another
long lingering kiss--the suffering man dragged his swollen feet into the
carriage, huddled feverishly in his furs--the door was closed--and he
rolled away from home, on that cold winter's morning, sobbing till the
shattered chest might almost burst at once.
"Caroline rushed back to her room, and sank on her knees, with the cry:
'It is his coffin I have closed upon him!'
"At the first post, Weber parted with his own coachman and his own
horses. It was the last wrench from home and its remembrances. His
voluminous correspondence with his wife was the only tie left to Weber;
and nothing can be more touching than these letters, amounting in all to
fifty-three, in which the sufferer was always trying to conceal, as far
as he could, his sufferings; the anxious woman left behind, always
repressing her own bitter anguish lest it should increase the other's
Carl had been lured to London by reports of the enormous craze of the
whole people over his work. It was his fate to reach there just after
the tide of enthusiasm had turned, and was lapsing into the ebb of
weariness and impatience. After the first rapturous curiosity of
personal greeting, he found that the public would take little of him but
"Der Freischuetz," and of this opera he had grown weary, as composers
always grow of their spoiled children of fortune.
His health, too, was in tragic state. Frightful spasms and hemorrhages
seemed to tear him asunder. At a dinner given him, two of the guests had
to carry him up the stairs. He was hardly strong enough to stand during
the cheers that greeted him when he came before his audience. But the
worst disease of all, the one that would not cease gnawing at his heart,
was his homesickness. To a doctor who offered him a new remedy, he
"Go! go! no doctor's tinkering can help me now. The machine is
shattered. But, ah, would but God in His mercy grant that it might hold
together till I could embrace my Lina and my boys once more!" His
effort to keep Caroline from knowing his illness was kept up. When she
wrote him that the children were begging to know why he remained so long
away, he answered:
"Yes, the father is long, long away; ah, and how long is the time to
him! how every day is counted! Patience! patience! Day crawls after
"God bless you, my deeply beloved ones!" he wrote once more. "I count
days, hours, minutes, until we meet again. We have often been parted
before, and loved each other dearly, God knows. But this terrible
yearning I have never known before."
At last he grew so desperately sad that he broke his rule and wrote his
wife full details of his suffering; he had given up hope of ever seeing
his home again.
At this time, a singer wished to bring out a new song of his, and
furnished him with words. His once alert fancy groped long for a melody,
but, as his son writes:
"At last on the morning of the 18th of May, the great artist's flitting
genius came back to him, and for the last time gave him a farewell kiss
upon that noble forehead now bedewed with the cold sweat of death--for
the last time! But the trembling hands were unable to write down more
than the notes for the voice."
Fate had still reserved a bitter blow for him. He had fastened his hopes
upon a farewell concert, and grew morbid upon the importance of it to
"This day week is my concert," he wrote on the 19th of May. "How my poor
heart beats when I think of it! What will be the result? The last
chances left me are this concert and my benefit. When I think on all
they cost me, should they not turn out so as to meet my modest
expectations, it were hard indeed. But I must not let my courage fail
me. I will rely on Him, who has already been so infinitely merciful to
us. You will think, my beloved life, that I lay far too much stress on
this. But remember that my hope of fortune for us was the only purpose
of this weary journey. Can you not comprehend, then, why I now hold for
so important that which has always played but a subordinate part in my
life? Pray, dearest heart, pray that poor old papa's wishes, which are
all for your dear sakes, may yet be fulfilled."
To complete the mockery of his last days, fashion declined to interest
itself in his concert, and, to keep even the common public away, the
skies poured down floods of rain. The house was almost empty. The
enthusiasm of the few good hearts there were Job's consolation. At the
end of the concert he was led to his room, where he sank down, a
complete wreck in mind and hope, muttering:
"What do you say to that? That, that is 'Weber in London'!"
His hand trembled so that he could hardly write any more to his wife;
still, in a quivering scrawl, he bade her address her answer not to
London, but to a city on the way home, for he is starting
homeward--homeward at last! But he is not coming home through Paris, as
he had planned. He writes:
"What should I do there? I cannot walk--I cannot speak. I will have
nothing more to do with business for years to come. So it is far better
I should take the straight way home by Calais, through Brussels,
Cologne, Coblenz, and thus by the Rhine to Frankfort. What a charming
journey! I must travel very slowly, however, and probably rest for half
a day now and then. I shall gain a good fortnight thus; and by the end
of June I hope to be in your arms.
"How will you receive me? In Heaven's name, alone. Let no one disturb my
joy of looking again upon my wife and my children, my dearest and my
best... Thank God! the end of all is fast approaching."
The end of all was fast approaching. He sent his friends out to purchase
souvenirs of unhappy London, as gifts for his family. He was so
impatient to be off that he would listen to no advice to postpone his
"I must go back to my own, I must!" he sobbed incessantly. "Let me see
them once more--and then God's will be done." The attempt appeared
impossible to all. With great unwillingness he yielded to his friend's
request to have a consultation of physicians. "Be it so," he answered.
"But come of it what may, I go!"
His only thought, his only word, was "Home!" On the 2d of June he wrote
his last letter to his beloved,--the last lines his hand ever traced.
"What a joy, my own dear darling, your letter gave me! What a happiness
to me to know that you are well! ... As this letter requires no answer,
it will be but a short one. What a comfort it is not to have to
answer... God bless you all and keep you well! Oh, were I but amongst
you all again! I kiss you with all my heart and soul, my dearest one!
Preserve all your love for me, and think with pleasure on him who loves
you above all, your Carl."
He was to leave London on the 6th of June; on the night of the 4th he
could talk to his friends only of their kindness and of his eagerness to
be home. To a friend, who stayed to help him through the painful ordeal
of undressing, he murmured his thanks and said, "Now let me sleep."
The next morning, when they came to his room, he had been dead for
hours. London was full of words of regret for the man whose music had
added so much to the beauty and cheerfulness of the world. A great
benefit for his family was arranged, but fate would not cease mocking
him in his grave,--the receipts hardly equalled the expenses!
A committee petitioned the Dean of Westminster to allow the funeral to
be held in the Abbey. The courteous answer of regret reminded the
committee that Von Weber was a Roman Catholic! The musicians
volunteered, however, to give him a splendid funeral, and at least music
was not wanting when his body was lowered into the grave in an alien
land. Von Weber's son, Max, describes how the news was sent to
Caroline by Von Weber's devoted friend, Fuerstenau:
"It was the death-warrant of the purest wedded bliss that had ever made
two mortals happy; it was nigh a fatal cup of poison to one of the
noblest hearts of womankind: it told two little blooming boys that they
were orphaned. No wonder that Fuerstenau had not the courage to address
Caroline von Weber herself: his letter had been sent to her dearest
friend, Fraeulein von Hanmann. The sad messenger of death went down to
Kosterwitz, the letter in hand.
"But she, too, had not the courage to break the fearful news to the
impulsive little woman, unaided and alone. She stopped her carriage at a
little distance from the house, to beg the support of Roth, who lived
close by. But Caroline had heard the carriage-wheels--had looked
out--had seen her friend descend on that unaccustomed spot, and
disappear into Roth's house. A fearful presentiment seized her--she
rushed toward the spot--she saw the two standing in the little garden,
wringing their hands and weeping--she knew all--and she lay senseless at
their feet. Her little boy Max had followed her in childish alarm. Nigh
forty years have gone by since then; but he has never forgotten the
sound of that terrible cry, when his mother, slowly recovering from her
swoon, clasped him convulsively in her arms, and wetted his face with a
flood of tears."
Nearly twenty years later it was before Von Weber's body at last reached
the Fatherland. The agonies of homesickness he had endured seemed to
haunt even the cold clay. In 1841, a writer made an ardent appeal for
the restoration of this glory of German song, to the German soil. The
idea became a crusade. But it was not until 1844, and then chiefly by
the aid of Wagner, then conductor in Dresden, and a close friend of
Caroline and her children, that success was attained. The younger son,
Alexander, had already been buried; on December 14, 1844, the father's
body was placed by his side. It had been carried through the streets of
Dresden behind a black banner, on which were inscribed words which once
would have meant so much: "Weber in Dresden."
"In the richly decorated chapel of the cemetery, all the ladies of the
theatre, with Schroeder-Devrient at their head, awaited the body, and
covered the coffin with their laurels. The ceremony was at an end. The
torches were extinguished; the crowd dispersed. But, by the light of two
candles still burning on the altar, might be seen the form of a small,
now middle-aged woman who had flung herself upon the bier, whilst a pale
young man knelt praying by her side."
This pale young man was the Baron Max Maria von Weber, to whose pen we
owe a wonderful portrait of a wonderful man. It was the son's love,
strangely tempered with wisdom, that showed us all the phases of this
character, which, by revealing its worser side, made the better side
convincing, complete, alive.
Weber had lived hardly more than half of the allotted three score and
ten, but he had lived life in all its phases, from riotous dissipation
amid royal splendour and insolence to a brave and whole-souled battle
for the welfare of his home. It is futile to attempt judging the effect
of music upon life, and of life upon music. Too many sorts of man have
written too many sorts of music and lived too many sorts of life. But,
if you wish to use Von Weber's life as an example of the influence of
music, surely, you would write Von Weber's name on the credit side of
the ledger, for he reached his best music when his life was best
managed. He took a musician for his wife, and her high ideals of art and
life made him a man and a soldier against Fate.
Home they brought his body, a pride to his Fatherland, and the greater
Wagner who owed the great Weber so much, spoke over his grave these
"Here rest thee, then! ... Wherever thy genius bore thee, to whatsoever
distant lands, it stayed for ever linked by a thousand tendrils to the
German people's heart; that heart with which it wept and laughed, a
child believing in the tales and legends of his country. And though the
Briton may yield thee justice; the Frenchman, admiration; yet, the
German alone can love thee. His thou art; a beautiful day in his life, a
warm drop of his own blood, a morsel of his heart--and who shall blame
us that we wished thy ashes, too, to mingle with this earth, to form a
part of our dear German soil."
THE FELICITIES OF MENDELSSOHN
Happy, they say, is the country that hath no history. Happy, too, the
man whose love affairs make tame reading.
It is not often that people live up to their names so thoroughly as
Mendelssohn lived up to his. His parents were prophets when they called
him Felix, for his life was happy, though he enjoyed it only
thirty-eight years, and though it was not without its disappointments
and rebuffs,--being a Christianised Jew, he was acceptable to neither
the Jews nor the Gentiles. None the less, Mendelssohn's life was, as
human lives go, one of complete felicity.
Well begun is half done, and half the struggle for happiness is achieved
if one's childhood years are made pleasant. Mendelssohn's home life was
so brilliantly joyous, and so busy with artistic and domestic comforts,
that it has almost passed into proverb as ideal. Mendelssohn is
described as having been "enthusiastically, almost fanatically, fond of
his father," who, without possessing musical technic, possessed a
remarkable spiritual grasp of it. His mother was something of a pianist,
and a woman of great sweetness and firmness of character, to whom the
children were devoted and with whom they were confidential to the utmost
degree. In this atmosphere the flower of Mendelssohn's genius bore early
fruit, and we find him in 1826, at the age of seventeen, writing his
Overture to "A Midsummer-Night's Dream," a wonderful fabric of harmony
and instrumentation, which sounds like Wagner at his best, though it was
written when Wagner was only thirteen years old, and had never dreamed
of writing music, nor had even turned out that old-fangled and empty
sonata which is beautiful only because it was his first and last offence
of the sort.
Mendelssohn, like Mozart, gave his heart first to his sister; who was
like him a prodigy at the piano, and so thoroughly congenial, that when
she died suddenly the shock shortened his own life. Some of her
compositions were published with his, and he took her advice in many
things. At the age of twenty-four she married the painter Hensel, and at
the age of forty-two she died.
Mendelssohn was a man of many friends among men; he was small and
excitable, but was counted handsome. He was versatile to an unusual
degree, being an adept at painting, as well as billiards, chess,
riding, swimming, and general athletics. He was also something of a
scholar in Greek and Latin, and his correspondence was so
enthusiastically kept up that his published letters take a high place in
such literature, overflowing as they are with comment of all kinds on
the people and things he saw in his wide travels. As an aunt of his once
wrote his mother: "If God spare him, his letters will in long, long
years to come create the deepest interest. Take care of them as of a
holy relic; indeed, they are sacred already as the effusion of so pure
and childlike a mind."
His heart was indeed remarkably clean. Stratton says of him: "He was
always falling in love, as his letters show, but no breath of scandal
bedimmed the shining brightness of his character." "He wore his heart
upon his sleeve," says Stratton. He also wore it on the tip of his pen,
and one who wishes to know how possible it is to be both a good and
joyous man and a great, busy musician can find such an one in
Mendelssohn's published letters, though the most personal family matters
have been omitted from them as printed, and his wife before her death
burned all the letters he had written her.
We, however, are concerned only in his amours. When he was twenty years
old, he went to England and thence to Scotland and Wales, where he
spent a time composing, sketching, and exercising his fascinations; he
wrote home: "Yes, children, I do nothing but flirt, and that in
English." Wherever he went, he saw something beautiful in nature or in
womankind, and at Munich, in 1830, he was, as his sister wrote, "the
darling in every house, the centre of every circle." The
fifteen-year-old Josephine or "Peppi" Lang and Delphine von Schauroth
seem to have touched his heart most deeply; to the latter he dedicated a
piano composition; to the former he taught double counterpoint, a
forbidding subject which the two doubtlessly found gay enough. In Italy,
in 1831, he found his heart captured easily, and, as once in Schumann's
case, it was an English girl who entangled him. She was a beauty whom he
first met at a ball at Torlonia's; he danced with her again at the
Palazzo Albani. But music held him fast through all, though he could on
occasion impatiently vow that he would be more serious and no longer
alter his compositions to suit the whims of pretty girls.
Mendelssohn's life flowed on in smoothness, in thorough contrast with
the violent ups and downs of Beethoven's mind and music, for he was, as
Stratton says, "on the most excellent terms with himself," as with the
world in general. He was extremely sensitive to criticism and to false
friendship, but he was never stung into those virulent humours which
poisoned Beethoven's career. So placid a life his was, indeed, that some
of his admirers have wished that he had met with more tragedy, in order
that he might have written more poignant music. Against this view, Grove
wisely protested, comparing Schubert's words: "My music is the product
of my genius and my misery; and that which I have written in my greatest
distress is that which the world seems to like best." Grove moralises
thus on Mendelssohn with sane philosophy:
"He was never tried by poverty, or disappointment, or ill-health, or a
morbid temper, or neglect, or the perfidy of friends, or any of the
other great ills which crowded so thickly around Beethoven, Schubert, or
Schumann. Who can wish that he had been? that that bright, pure,
aspiring spirit should have been dulled by distress or torn with agony?
It might have lent a deeper undertone to his songs or have enabled his
Adagios to draw tears where now they only give a saddened pleasure. But
let us take the man as we have him. Surely there is enough of conflict
and violence in life and in art. When we want to be made unhappy we can
turn to others. It is well in these agitated modern days to be able to
point to one perfectly balanced nature, in whose life, whose letters,
and whose music alike, all is at once manly and refined, clever and
pure, brilliant and solid. For the enjoyment of such shining heights of
goodness we may well forego for once the depths of misery and sorrow."
In November, 1835, Mendelssohn's father died, among his last wishes
being the wish that his son should marry, as the two sisters already
had. The blow to Mendelssohn was exceedingly severe, and his condition
alarmed his sister, who urged upon him his father's advice. Mendelssohn
told her that he would look about him on the Rhine next summer.
In 1836 he visited Frankfort, and made the acquaintance of the widow of
a French clergyman who had preached at the French Reformed Church. The
widow was Madame Jeanrenaud (_nee_ Souchay); she was so well preserved
and handsome that she was credited with having won Mendelssohn's love.
But it was her second daughter, Cecile Charlotte Sophie, who had stuck
the first pin of permanence through his butterfly heart. She was
seventeen and he twenty-seven; he loved beauty, and she was beautiful.
The hyper-romantic Elise Polko often saw Cecile, and described her:
"To the present hour she has always remained my beau ideal of womanly
fascination and loveliness. Her figure was slight, of middle height, and
rather drooping, like a flower heavy with dew; her luxuriant gold-brown
hair fell in rich curls on her shoulders, her complexion was of
transparent delicacy, her smile charming, and she had the most
bewitching deep blue eyes I ever beheld, with dark eyelashes and
eyebrows.... Her whole aspect had a Madonna air, what Berthold Auerbach
so beautifully calls _Marienhaft_. Her manner was generally thought too
reserved; indeed she was considered cold, and called 'the fair Mimosa,'
In music we have an expressive term, 'calm but impassioned,' and this I
deem an appropriate conception for the portrait of Cecile."
Mendelssohn was so surprised at the depth of the impression the young
girl had made upon him that he was worried. To make sure that he was
really at last in love, he went away for a month to take sea-baths at
Scheveningen, near The Hague. But salt water would not wash away his
emotion, and after a month's absence he returned, proposed, and on the
9th of September, 1836, was betrothed. He wrote his mother at once:
"My head is quite giddy from the events of the day; it is already late
at night and I have nothing else to say; but I must write to you, I feel
so rich and happy."
It is a proof of the fondness the people cherished for Mendelssohn that,
when the engagement became noised abroad, the directors of the
Gewandhaus in Leipzig put on the programme the second finale in
"Fidelio," "He who has gained a charming wife" ("_Wer ein holdes Weib
errungen_"). The audience saw the meaning at once and shouted in its
enthusiasm, until Mendelssohn was forced to seat himself at the piano
and extemporise upon the theme.
Felix and Cecile were married March 28, 1837, at the Walloon French
Reformed Church in Frankfort, and his friend Hiller surprised them with
a new bridal chorus. The wedding tour lasted nearly a month, and the
honeymooners kept a journal, in which they both sketched and wrote
humourous nothings. The home they chose was in Leipzig, where Fanny
Hensel visited them, and found Cecile possessed not only of "the
beautiful eyes" Felix had raved over so much, "but possessed also of a
wonderfully soothing temperament, that calmed her husband's whims and
promised to cure him of his irritability."
The married life of the two was interrupted by the journeys the husband
had to make for his important engagements, till he growled vigorously,
and regretted being a conductor at all.
In February, 1838, the first child was born, and Cecile was dangerously
ill. On other tours of his, even to England, she accompanied him. She
bore him five children, three boys and two girls. Their life together
was almost perfect. He writes, in 1841, to a friend who is to be
"If I have still a wish to form it is that your blissful betrothal-mood
may be continued in marriage, that is, may you be like me, who feel
every day of my life that I cannot be sufficiently thankful to God for
In another letter he thus pictures his private paradise: "Eating and
sleeping, without dress coat, without piano, without visiting-cards,
without carriage and horses, but with donkeys, with wild flowers, with
music-paper and sketch-book, with Cecile and the children." Again, in
1844, he writes of a return home:
"I found all my family well, and we had a joyful meeting. Cecile looks
so well again,--tanned by the sun, but without the least trace of her
former indisposition; my first glance told this when I came into the
room, but to this day I cannot cease rejoicing afresh every time I look
at her. The children are as brown as Moors, and play all day long in the
garden. And so I am myself again now, and I take one of the sheets of
paper that Cecile painted for me, to write to you.
"I am sitting here at the open window, looking into the garden at the
children, who are playing with their 'dear Johann.' The omnibus to
Koenigstein passes here twice every day. We have early strawberries for
breakfast, at two we dine, have supper at half-past eight in the
evening, and by ten we are all asleep. The country is covered with
pear-trees and apple-trees, so heavy with fruit that they are all
propped up; then the blue hills, and the windings of the Main and the
Rhine; the confectioner, from whom you can buy thread and shirt-buttons;
the list of visitors, which comes out every Saturday, as _Punch_ does
with you; the walking-post, who, before going to Frankfort, calls as he
passes to ask what we want, and next day brings me my linen back; the
women who sell cherries, with whom my little four-year-old Paul makes a
bargain, or sends them away, just as he pleases; above all, the pure
Rhenish air,--this is familiar to all, and I call it Germany!"
Grove makes this sketch of the blissful circle:
"The pleasure in his simple home life, which crops out now and then in
these Frankfort letters, is very genuine and delightful. Now, Marie is
learning the scale of C; he has actually forgotten how to play it, and
has taught her to pass her thumb under the wrong finger! Now, Paul
tumbles the others about so as to crack their skulls as well as his
own. Another time he is dragged off from his letter to see a great tower
which the children have built, and on which they have ranged all their
slices of bread and jam--'A good idea for an architect,' At ten Carl
comes to him for reading and sums, and at five for spelling and
geography--and so on. 'And,' to sum up, 'the best part of every pleasure
is gone if Cecile is not there,' His wife is always somewhere in the
Even when Mendelssohn went to England and was cordially received by the
young Queen Victoria, and when she asked him what she could grant him
for his pleasure, he asked to see the royal nursery. Stratton describes
the strange reward of his art as follows:
"Delighted beyond everything, the Queen led the way, and the two were
soon deep in the mysteries of children's clothing, dietary, ailments,
and all that appertains to the duties of the heads of a family.
Perchance he inspected the juvenile wardrobe of the future Empress of
his own Germany."
On one of the home festivals, Cecile and her sister gave and acted a
comic dialogue between two ladies' maids, in Frankfort dialect.
Gradually, however, Mendelssohn's overbusy musical enthusiasm wore down
his health, and at thirty-seven he was nearing the end of his marvellous
vitality and vivacity. In May, 1847, his sister Fanny was conducting a
rehearsal of her choir; she sat at the piano till suddenly her hands
dropped from the keys, and she was dead. The news was told to
Mendelssohn without any preparation; with a scream he dropped senseless;
it was said that a blood-vessel had broken in his brain. From this time
on he was a changed man, weary of everything. He sank gradually until,
the evening of November 4, 1847, he died, painlessly, in the presence of
his wife, his brother, and three friends.
His funeral was a fitting close to his splendid life; six years later
Cecile died at Frankfort of consumption.
Of Mendelssohn's character there is no need to speak further here; it
was strangely summed up in his own words, in a letter he wrote to a man
who had told him that he was spoken of as a veritable saint. How few
saints are canonised in their own time, and how few deserve it ever! But
let us take Mendelssohn's own words for his own epitaph:
"So I am said to be a saint! If this is intended to convey what I
conceive to be the meaning of the word, and what your expressions lead
me to think you also understand by it, then I can only say that, alas! I
am not so, though every day of my life I strive with greater
earnestness, according to my ability, more and more to resemble this
character. I know indeed that I can never hope to be altogether a saint,
but if I ever approach to one, it will be well. If people, however,
understand by the word 'saint' a Pietist, one of those who lay their
hands on their laps and expect that Providence will do their work for
them, and who, instead of striving in their vocation to press on
towards perfection, talk of a heavenly calling being incompatible with
an earthly one, and are incapable of loving with their whole hearts any
human being, or anything on earth,--then God be praised! such a one I am
not, and hope never to become, so long as I live; and though I am
sincerely desirous to live piously, and really to be so, I hope this
does not necessarily entail the other character. It is singular that
people should select precisely _this_ time to say such a thing, when I
am in the enjoyment of so much happiness, both through my inner and
outer life, and my new domestic ties, as well as my busy work, that I
really know not how sufficiently to show my thankfulness. And, as you
wish me to follow the path which leads to rest and peace, believe me, I
never expected to live in the rest and peace which have now fallen to my
THE NOCTURNES OF CHOPIN
He wrote to his parents:
"I have made the acquaintance of an important celebrity, Mme. Dudevant,
well known as George Sand; but I do not like her face; there is
something in it that repels me."
And then, of course, he fell in love with her, for she leaned on his
piano and improvised flatteries across the strings to him and turned
full on him the luminous midnight of her ox-eyed beauty. A punster would
say that he was oxidised, at once. The two lovers were strangely
unlike--of course. She was masculine, self-poised, and self-satisfied;
she had taken excellent care of herself at a time when the independent
woman had less encouragement than now. So more than masculinely coarse
she was in some ways, indeed, that Henry James once insinuated that,
while she may have been to all intents and purposes a man, she was
certainly no gentleman. Heine raved over her beauty, but, judging from
her portrait, she later had a face as homely as that of George Eliot,
who, as Carlyle said, looked like a horse. The poet De Musset, one of
Sand's later lovers, said her dark complexion gave reflections like
bronze; therefore De Musset found her very beautiful. Chopin was--well,
some say he was not effeminate; and he could break chairs when he was
angry at a pupil. But they also speak of his frail, fairylike, ethereal
manner, and those qualities I, for one, have never known in any
non-effeminate man--outside of books.
The first meeting of Chopin and Sand was a curious proof of the value of
presentiments, and should interest those who have such things and
believe them. Chopin, according to Karasovski, went to the salon of the
Countess de Custine. As he climbed the stairs he fancied that he was
followed by a shadow odorous of violets; he wanted to turn back, but
resisted the superstitious thrill. Those violets were the perfumery of
George Sand. She snared him first with violet-water, and thereafter
surrounded him with her multitudinous wreaths of tobacco--though he
neither made nor liked smoke. She, however, puffed voluminously at
cigarettes, and even, according to Von Lenz, at long black cigars--as
did Liszt's princess.
Other accounts are given of the first meeting, and Liszt claims the
credit for arranging it all at her request, in spite of Chopin's desire
not to meet her. But, be that as it may, he came, he saw, and she
conquered. The two were alike chiefly in their versatility as lovers.
Chopin's first loves were his family, on whom he doted with Polish
fervour. George Sand once exclaimed that his mother was his only love.
She was a Polish woman whose name was Krzyzanovska--a good name to
change for the shorter tinkle of "Chopin." It was from her that Chopin
took that deep-burning patriotism which characterised him and gave his
music a national tinge. And at that time Polish patriotism was bound to
be all one elegy. But Chopin's father was a Frenchman, and when finally
the composer reached Paris, he found himself instantly at home, and the
darling of the salons. How different this feeling was from the
loneliness and disgust that Paris filled Mozart's soul withal!
As we found Mozart's first serious wound in the heart coming from a
public singer, so Chopin (unless we except his pupil, the Princess Elisa
Radziwill) seems to have been caught very young by Constantia
Gladkovska. She made a great success at Warsaw in the year which was
Chopin's twentieth. He had previously indulged in a mild flirtation with
a pretty little pianist and composer, Leopoldine Blahetka, but in her
case he seems less to have loved than to have graciously permitted
himself to be loved. When he fell under the witchery of Gladkovska,
however, he was genuinely pierced to the heart, and his letters are as
full of vague morose yearning as his Preludes. He left Warsaw for
Vienna, but the memory of her pursued him. She had sung at his farewell
concert in Warsaw, and made a ravishing success as a picture and as a
singer. In Vienna he longed for her so deeply that he went about wearing
the black velvet mantle of gloom which was so effective on the musicians
and poets of that day.
To-day we will hardly permit an artist an extra half-inch of hair, and
he must be very well groomed, very prosperous, businesslike, and, in
appearance at least, athletic--even if he must ask his tailor to furnish
the look of brawn. Personally, I prefer the mode of to-day, but with
to-day's fashion we should not have had Chopin, such music as he drew
from his familiar and daemon, the piano, and such letters as he wrote
about the Gladkovska to his friend Matuszynski:
"God forbid that she should suffer in any way on my account. Set her
mind at rest, and tell her that as long as my heart beats I shall not
cease to adore her. Tell her that even after my death my ashes shall be
strewn under her feet."
While Chopin was thus mooning over her memory, she seems to have been
finding consolation elsewhere than in her music, even as Mozart's
Aloysia had done. This letter was sent on New Year's Day, 1831. After a
few more references to her, her name vanishes from his letters, and the
incident is closed. It may best be summed up in the words of James
Huneker, who is one of the few writers who has kept his sanity on the
subject of Chopin:
"He never saw his Gladkovska again, for he did not return to Warsaw. The
lady was married in 1832--preferring a solid merchant to nebulous
genius--to Joseph Grabovski, a merchant at Warsaw. Her husband, so saith
a romantic biographer, Count Wodzinski, became blind; perhaps even a
blind country gentleman was preferable to a lachrymose pianist. Chopin
must have heard of the attachment in 1831. Her name almost disappears
from his correspondence. Time as well as other nails drove from his
memory her image. If she was fickle, he was inconstant, and so let us
waste no pity on this episode, over which lakes of tears have been shed
and rivers of ink have been spilt."
This same year, 1831, brought Chopin to Paris, thenceforward his
residence and home. His great elegance of manner, as well as of music,
brought him into the most aristocratic dove-cotes, or salons, as they
called them, and it is small wonder that he found himself unable to
avoid accepting and buttonholing for a while some of the countless
hearts that were flung like roses at his feet. Even George Sand was
amazed at his dexterity in juggling with hearts, and, in this matter,
praise or blame from George Sand was praise from Lady Hubert. It seems
that he could modulate from one love affair to another as fleetly and as
gracefully as from one key to its remotest neighbour. She says he could
manage three flirtations of an evening, and begin a new series the very
next day. Apparently even distance was no barrier, for George Sand
declares that he was at the same moment trying to marry a girl in Poland
and another in Paris. The Parisienne he cancelled from his list because,
says Sand, when he called on her with another man, she offered the other
man a chair before she asked Chopin to be seated. Chopin conducted
himself in Paris very much _en prince_, according to Von Lenz, and such