As life broadens with advancing culture, and people are able to appropriate to themselves more of the various forms of art, the artist himself attains to greater power, his abilities increase in direct ratio with the progress in culture made by the people and their ability to comprehend him.
If Bach is the mathematician of music, as has been asserted, Beethoven is its philosopher. In his work the philosophic spirit comes to the fore. To the genius of the musician is added in Beethoven a wide mental grasp, an altruistic spirit that seeks to help humanity on the upward path. He addresses the intellect of mankind.
Up to Beethoven’s time musicians in general (Bach is always an exception) performed their work without the aid of an intellect for the most part; they worked by intuition. Beethoven was the first one having the independence to think for himself – the first to have ideas on subjects unconnected with his art. He established the dignity of the artist over that of the simply well-born. His entire life was a protest against the pretensions of birth over mind. His predecessors, to a great extent subjugated by their social superiors, sought only to please. Nothing further was expected of them and this mental attitude is reflected in their work. The language of the courtier is usually polished, but will never have the virility that characterizes the speech of the free man.
As with all valuable things, however, Beethoven’s music is not to be enjoyed for nothing. Beethoven’s work must be studied in the right spirit, and listened to with a receptive attitude in order to understand his message. Often metaphysical, particularly in the work of his later years, his meaning will be revealed only when one devotes to it in earnest. No other composer demands so much; no other rewards the student so richly for the effort required.
Beethoven came on the world’s stage “”just in the nick of time,”” and almost immediately had to begin hewing out a path for himself. He was born in the workshop, as was Mozart, and learned music simultaneously with speaking. Events were fast coming to a focus, which culminated in the French Revolution. The magic words, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and the ideas for which they stood, were everywhere in the minds of the people. The age called for enlightenment, spiritual growth. On reaching manhood, he found a world in transition; he realized that he was on the threshold of a new order of things, and took advantage of such as could be utilized in his art.
Beethoven’s birthplace, Bonn, no doubt proved a favorable soil for the propagation of the new ideas. The unrest pervading all classes, an outcome of the Revolution, showed itself among the more serious-minded in increased intellectuality, and a reaching after higher things. The beautiful in music had been sufficiently exploited by Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven demonstrated that music has a higher function than that of mere beauty, or the simple act of giving pleasure. The beautiful in literature is not its best part. To the earnest thinker, the seeker after truth, the student who looks for illumination on life’s problem, beauty in itself is insufficient. It is the best office of art, of Beethoven’s art in particular, that it leads ever onward and upward; that it acts not only on the aesthetic and moral sense, but develops the mental faculties as well, enabling the individual to find a purpose and meaning in life.
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