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Toscanini is excessively short-sighted. To see him peering at a score, held so that it nearly touches his nose, is to begin to understand how his memory holds fast its multitude of details. Evidently to read thus laboriously is in a measure to memorize. It is sometimes painful to see him search for a rehearsal letter in a score or for some other point that has eluded him. He rehearses everything from memory, merely referring to the score for rehearsal numbers or for confirmatoin of a detail, over which he is right 99 times in 100. Occasionally he brings his own orchestral parts – not all very good, and some too bad to be used. None meticulously marked as, for instance, are Mengelberg’s.

(Bernard Shore, The Orchestra Speaks)

Click to embiggen (not recommended)

(Taken from Alexander Wheelock Thayer’s monumental Life of Beethoven)

Vienna Pathological Museum, March 27, 1827

The corpse was very emaciated, especially in the limbs, and sown over with black Petechien; the Abdomen, which was unusually dropsied, was distended and stretched.

The external ear was large and irregularly formed, the scaphoid fossa but more especially the concha was very spacious and half as large again as usual: the various angles and sinuosities were strongly marked. The external auditory canal was covered with shining scales, particularly in the vicinity of the tympanum, which was concealed by them. The Eustachian tube was much thickened, its mucous lining swollen and somewhat contracted about the osseous portion of the tube. In front of its orifice and towards the tonsils some dimpled scars were observable. The principal cells of the Mastoid process, which was large and not marked by any notch, were lined with a vascular mucous membrane. The whole substance of the Os petrosum showed a similar degree of vascularity, being traversed by vessels of considerable size, more particularly in the region of the cochlea, the membranous part of its spiral lamina appearing slightly reddened.

The facial nerves were of unusual thickness, the auditory nerves, on the contrary, were shrivelled and destitute of neurina; the accompanying arteries were dilated to more than the size of a crow quill and cartilaginous. The left auditory nerve much the thinnest, arose by three very thin greyish striae, the right one by one strong clearer white stria from the substance of the fourth ventricle, which was at this point much more consistent and vascular than in other parts. The convolutions of the brain were full of water, and remarkably white; they appeared very much deeper, wider, and more numerous than ordinary.

The Calvarium exhibited throughout great density and a thickness amounting to about half an inch.

The cavity of the Chest, together with the organs within it, was in the normal condition.

In the cavity of the Abdomen four quarts of a greyish-brown turbid fluid were effused.

The Liver appeared shrunk up to half its proper volume, of a leathery consistence and greenish-blue colour, and was beset with knots, the size of a bean, on its tuberculated surface, as well as in its substance; all its vessels were very much narrowed, and bloodless.

The Spleen was found to be more than double its proper size, dark-coloured and firm.

The Pancreas was equally hard and firm, its excretory duct being as wide as a goosequill.

The Stomach, together with the Bowels, was greatly distended with air. Both Kidneys were invested by cellular membrane of an inch thick, and infiltrated with a brown turbid fluid; their tissue was pale red and opened out. Every one of their calices was occupied by a calcareous concretion of a wart-like shape and as large as a split pea. The body was much emaciated.

(Taken from Alexander Wheelock Thayer’s monumental Life of Beethoven)

Beethoven’s biographers have devoted more thought, research and writing to [a few days in July 1812] than to any other period … The reason for this is that Beethoven wrote a three-part letter of such intensity to an unknown lady that ever since its discovery among the composer’s possessions after his death, there has been speculation as to when it was written and to whom. While the study of evidence has now established the year of its writing as 1812, no such success can be claimed for the question of the identity of the intended recipient of this letter. There is voluminous material on this subject, but no proof.

It is possible that the letter was never sent. The impassioned mood of the writing forms the last and by far the most vehement expression that Beethoven gave to his life-long idealistic concept of union with one of the other sex. And yet, throughout these three outbursts is revealed already the hopelessness of this ideal from the composer’s point of view. The tone of the last part of the letter particularly is that of one who is making up his mind and is attempting to convince one fully in love with him of the necessity of this decision. It is not surprising to find a sense of tedium in Beethoven’s life as an aftermath to this crisis.

N.B. the German “unsterbliche Geliebte” should be translated as “eternally beloved”. However, since the term “Immortal Beloved” has been used and accepted so frequently in English editions that it has become standard, the present editor has chosen to retain this wording.

July 6, in the morning

My angel, my all, my very self – Only a few words today and at that with pencil (with yours) – Not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon – what a useless waste of time – Why this deep sorrow when necessity speaks – can our love endure except through sacrifices, through not demanding everything of one another; can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine – Oh God, look out into the beauties of nature and comfort yourself with that which must be – Love demands everything and that very justly – thus it is to me with you, and to you with me. If only you do not forget that I must live for me and for you; if we were wholly united you would feel the pain of it as little as I – My journey was a fearful one; I did not reach here until 4 o’clock yesterday morning. Lacking horses the post-coach chose another route, but what an awful one; at the stage before the last I was warned not to travel at night; I was made fearful of a forest, but that only made me the more eager – and I was wrong. The coach must needs break down on the wretched road, a bottomless mud road. Without such positilions as I had with me I should have remained stuck in the road. Esterhazy, travelling the usual road here, had the same fate with eight horses that I had with four – Yet I got some pleasure out of it, as I always do when I overcome difficulties – Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other soon; moreover, today I cannot share with you the thoughts I have had during the last few days touching my own life – If our hearts were always close together, I would have none of these. My heart is full of so many things to say to you – ah – there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all – Cheer up – remain my true, my only love, my all as I am yours. The gods must send us the rest, what for us must and shall be – Your faithful, Ludwig

Evening, Monday, July 6

You are suffering, my dearest creature – Just now I have learned that letters must be posted very early in the morning on Mondays – or on Thursdays – the only days on which the mail-coach goes from here to K[arlsbad]. You are suffering – Ah, wherever I am, there you are also – I will arrange it with you and me that I can live with you. What a life!!!! thus!!!! without you – pursued by the goodness of mankind hither and thither – which I as little want to deserve as I deserve it – Humility of man towards man – it pains me – and when I consider myself in relation to the universe, what I am and what is he – whom we call the greatest – and yet – herein lies the divine in man – I weep when I reflect that you will probably not receive the first report from me until Saturday – Much as you love me – I love you more – But do not ever conceal yourself from me – good night – As I am taking the baths I must go to bed – Oh God – so near! so far! Is not our love truly a heavenly structure, and also as firm as the vault of Heaven?

Good morning, on July 7

Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us – I can live only wholly with you or not at all – Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits – Yes, unhappily it must be so – You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart – never – never – Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in V[ienna] is now a wretched life – Your love makes me at once the happiest and unhappiest of men – At my age I need a steady, quiet life – can that be so in our connection? My angel, I have just been told that the mail-coach goes every day – and I must close at once so that you may receive the letter at once. Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together – Be calm – love me – today – yesterday – what tearful longings for you – you – you – my life – my all – farewell. Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

Ever thine
Ever mine
Ever ours

L.

I get the feeling that before writing the second part of this letter on the Monday evening, Beethoven, tired after his dreadful journey, had probably consumed one or two glasses, if not bottles, of wine. The next morning he finished the letter with a hangover, then stuffed it in his pocket and never sent it. I only say this because I’ve done the same thing with love letters, although not often enough to avoid getting mixed up with some bizarre women.

So, boys and girls, don’t write love letters, or text, or tweet, when you’re drunk.

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When the bodies of Beethoven and Schubert were exhumed in the 1880s, photographs were taken. Why the fuck was this was done? I don’t think they had sufficient equipment or processes to determine much of value by examining the skeletons in that time. I’m sure they could discover a little bit, but I’m not really sure what. Maybe it was one of those phrenology things; all I’ve seen is that it was for “scientists” to examine the bodies.

Beethoven was dinsinterred twice — the first time in 1863, when he was reburied in a more secure casket inside a brick vault, and again on 22 June, 1888, when he was exhumed from the Währinger Cemetery, measured and moved to the Central Cemetery in Vienna, Austria. His skull was photographed at this time, and a cast was made.

Schubert was disinterred and reburied along with him each time.

I hear that Bruckner actually held Beethoven’s skull in 1888. Bruckner was fucking weird, man.

Camille Saint-Saëns, someone said, was “The greatest composer who was not a genius.”

I’m not sure who said it, but I know that (from an early age) Saint-Saëns could do amazing things like play any of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas from memory. That became his party trick. He was a child prodigy, and the great white hope of French music. I am not a huge fan of Saint-Saëns, I saw his Organ Symphony as a teenager and thought it was awesome, but now I think it’s boring. Tastes change (this says more about me than the composer). I think he wrote some pretty enjoyable music (like the fine piano concertos), and even some light and witty (very French) stuff like Carnival of the Animals. Early on, he was associated with progressive tendencies and was a good friend of Liszt, but later he became very conservative, booing at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Edgard Varèse was a student of his, and they had a pretty uneasy relationship.

I’ve also heard that he simply walked out once he heard the opening bassoon line of Le Sacre du Printemps. Who knows what is apocryphal and what isn’t?

Its clear to me that genius is always applied to a particular creative quality (even a counterfeit one, such as the case of Andy Warhol, the charlatan who conned others into believing he was a genius) or personal force rather than a mere superior form of intellect, the latter being the contemporary definition.

Some people are polymaths, or Renaissance people, and do a number of things well. This does not make them geniuses. A genius in art: creates exceptionally beautiful and/or deeply meaningful works; and often changes the history of their art by the sheer power of their work and its making plain ideas which are floating unarticulated in the collective culture of the time. (Some other geniuses like Bach and Rembrandt bring up the rear, summing up the art of their time better than anyone else and may be completely out of fashion by their middle or old age.) Their ability to do arithmetic or trigonometry, negotiate a contract, fly a glider, make love, cook, garden, lead a political movement or whatever else, has nothing whatsoever to with their artistic genius. If a physicist were good at all the things I mentioned but only mildly important in his original work in the field of physics, would that rank him with Einstein as a genius in physics? Would all the other physicists and scientifically aware people who are looking or waiting for ways out of the conundrums that physics now finds itself in, care in the least about this guy’s ability to fly a glider or cook fucking pasta? If Beethoven could have done multiplication, would more orchestras play his symphonies than do now?

Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath, but is considered a genius not because he was a polymath but because he painted great paintings, on the level of genius, and changed art history. Without that quality he might be considered a very prescient inventor and a pioneering anatomist and geologist, but would probably not be considered a genius. The fact that he only completed less than a dozen or so paintings underlines the fact of his genius because it is unmistakable even from these few examples. It may also show that his polymathism – he could never keep his wandering mind on one thing for long, even a paid commission – actually possibly undermined his genius.

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A Mathematician

First of all, on the fundamental relationship between mathematics and music: yes, the chromatic scale is based on simple geometric ratios, but beyond this (and a few other things perhaps), I think saying “Music comes from mathematics” or “Music is founded upon mathematics,” or anything similar, are more subtle statements than one might let on. It’s very philosophically grounded in whether one thinks mathematics can exist to be touched upon without having defined it first, or whether one sees mathematics as a lens through which physical and theoretical phenomena can be analyzed. Certainly mathematics has played an important part in serialism, which utilizes set theory and algebra, but can we say it has played a similar role in either the creation or musical essence of a Beethoven piano sonata? Certainly we can analyze the music in a mathematical fashion, but does this make it fundamentally an object of mathematics?

There are two unsupportable (because nothing is so black and white, right?) positions on this topic:

a) you are a quantophiliac, who looks for deterministic mathematical relationships to aesthetics, forgetting that music is art and therefore cannot be fully defined by the sum of any set of empirical observations.

b) you are a quantophobe, for whom mystical inspiration is all and you simply ignore the fact that mathematics is often a useful tool in achieving and describing aesthetic objectives.

Certainly, composers have taken direct inspiration from mathematics. Bartók used golden mean proportions, Ligeti used strange attractors and other fractal phenomena, etc. Music is not mathematics any more than architecture is mathematics, but as Thelonious Monk said, all musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.

I have also wondered if there is not a musical connection to playing chess via a (subconscious?) mathematical ability: e.g. Prokofiev apparently was a very good player.

Certain mathematicians have remarked upon proofs, etc., with the words “elegant” and “beautiful,” with some openly suspicious of any series of equations that shows too much sweat and not enough grace as being on the wrong path.

I have, however, been bored to tears by articles in scholarly musical journals going through “permutations of sets” blah blah fucking blah! For an elite who might claim they can actually hear such things in a work and follow them, fine.

You can interpret anything mathematically (with probably mixed results) but what is the point? You can interpret things however you want, and call it a world view. But that would be ignoring the world, and the various ways that people experience existence, let alone art.

There are composers who probably use a mathematical-like mindset for composition. But there are plenty of composers who probably couldn’t give a flying fuck about such methods (Birtwistle springs to mind, and man have you seen one of his scores?).

This is the only known photograph of Beethoven in existence.

Most people don’t like to think too much. It’s such a bother.

The other day, I overheard this conversation in a music store (I’m not making this up):

Q: “You’re familiar with Beethoven?”

A: “All I know is someone told me he was black.”

Q: “You know his music?”

A: “I didn’t know who he was, just heard that he was black and important.”

I had a conversation with a German soprano who had something of a reputation for the role of Leonora in Fidelio. She told me that she felt that the most important thing to her in her interpretation of the role came simply from understanding that the name Fidelio came from the word for “happy go lucky”.

I assume she was confusing it with felicity, but disabusing her of her misunderstanding seemed too much like stealing her lucky charm. When I saw her in the opera in the disguise of Fidelio, the realization kept coming to mind that she thinks Fidelio means “happy go lucky”. It may have given her a sense of confidence and conviction that in turn somehow made her convincing (nice coincidence that felicity comes from the Latin for “success”). But knowing this made her seem like Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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