Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reliving a Summer's Day in 1812

Carl Rohling, "The Incident in Teplitz" (1887)
Going back to Beethoven’s stay at Teplitz, it is safe to say that during the first days he lived alone, solely minding his health. The atmosphere there created by the gathered aristocracy annoyed the composer. On July 14th he wrote to an acquaintance about Teplitz: " There are few people and among these, none of them stands apart. That is why I live alone! Alone! Alone!" Nevertheless, his solitude soon ended. On July 24th Bettina Brettano and her husband came to Teplitz. His greatest joy, however, was around July 15th when Goethe came to visit him. Goethe wrote down in his journal several meetings he had with the composer. On July 19th the poet visited him and wrote to his wife: "I have never met such solemn an artist, so energetic and so profound. I can only imagine how amazing he behaves with those around him." The next day they both took a long walk.

On July 21st, after his second visit to Beethoven, Goethe wrote in his journal: " He played wonderfully." On July 23rd, the poet visited the composer again. But by the end of Beethoven’s stay at Teplitz the relationship between the two deteriorated. Two weeks after his meeting with Goethe, Beethoven wrote in a letter: " The atmosphere at court is much to the liking of Goethe, more than a poet should. Is there any point in talking about the ridiculous infatuation of virtuosos, when poets, who should be regarded as the nation’s first tutors, forget everything for the sake of their own pleasure?"

In his turn, in a letter to a friend, composer Zelter from Berlin, Goethe let him know of his meeting with Beethoven: " I met Beethoven. His talent astonished me; nevertheless, he unfortunately has a tumultuous personality, which is not completely wrong in thinking the world repulsive, but undoubtedly he makes no effort to render it more pleasant to himself or to others. He must be shown forgiveness and compassion, for he is loosing his hearing, thing that affects less his musical side, but more his social one. As laconic as he usually is, he is even more so due to his disability."

The Separation of Two Great Minds

But the event that permanently altered the relationship between the two was the encounter of a group of aristocrats on the streets of Teplitz. Bettina Brettano tells the story of that encounter as such: " As they were walking together, Beethoven and Goethe crossed paths with the empress, the dukes and their cortege. So Beethoven said to Goethe: Keep walking as you did until now, holding my arm, they must make way for us, not the other way around. Goethe thought differently; he drew his hand, took off his hat and stepped aside, while Beethoven, hands in pockets, went right through the dukes and their cortege, barely miming a saluting gesture. They drew aside to make way for him, saluting him friendlily. Waiting for Goethe who had let the dukes pass, Beethoven told him: " I have waited for you because I respect you and I admire your work, but you have shown too great an esteem to those people. "

Clearly, this led to a tacit rupture in their relationship. Subsequently, Goethe never mentioned Beethoven’s name again and after a few years he never returned one of the composer’s letters. Nevertheless, Beethoven held the highest respect for the poet, even trying to rekindle the old friendship, but his efforts were in vain.


  1. Hmmmm.....So, Beethoven had no respect for royalty?

    Good thing that he doesn't work for Obama, huh?

  2. He was a firm believer in an "aristocracy of merit".

  3. ...not reparations in the name of "social justice".