Miscellanea

Article excerpt

Herewith we reinstate our popular Miscellanea column, which was set aside temporarily for no other reasons than the facts that (1) we have had too much material to publish in recent years to leave any room for matters miscellaneous and (2) your editor has been swamped. The result of the temporary hold, however, is an unsteady stack of material suitable for Miscellanea that is nearly four feet tall and collapses as often as the Tower of Babel. We reduce it by two inches here.

As part of our work on the Beethoven Bibliography Database, we often stumble across humorous items. The following "memory" appeared when we indexed the book Erinnerungen an Beethoven (Recollections of Beethoven), edited by Friedrich Kerst (Stuttgart: J. Huffman, 1913). This particular recollection, which appears on page 179, concerns Beethoven's obsessive composing. We indexed it under "Composing habits," a subject heading that unfortunately gives not the slightest hint of its humor.

The anecdote proceeds: "a woman who lived on the same floor of a house that Beethoven lived on wanted to go to the toilet, but found that it was locked. She waited a quarter-hour, and, finding that the door could still not be opened, asked the housewife if the lock was broken. The housewife then knocked loudly on the door and from inside came the answer: "Just a minute! Just a minute! I'm coming already!" Beethoven finally stepped out. On the door one could see music lines drawn with pencil which were filled up with music notes!"

We wonder if the housewife was as savvy as one of Beethoven's landlords in Baden, who only rented him a summer apartment on the unusual condition that he must have shutters put on the windows as he had the year before. Puzzled, Beethoven agreed, and only found out later that the landlord had sold the shutters at the end of the season to guests of the baths as "souvenirs" of the great composer.

Beethoven's secretary Schindler explained their souvenir value: "Beethoven would stand at one or another of the unpainted window shutters and, as was his custom, make long calculations - for example, how many florins were 50, 100, or 200 ducats? Then there were some musical ideas, and in short a whole stream of consciousness written out in pencil so that these thin boards formed a kind of diary" (Beethoven as I Knew Him, p. 264).

Diary or sketch "page" or not, knowing the obsessiveness of the average German housewife when it comes to cleaning, we can only imagine that she "cleaned the slate" with soap and water before Beethoven's next session.

Another type of clean-up occurred last year when W.W. Norton reissued one of the classic studies of music of the Classical Period, Charles Rosen's The Classical Style/Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. The reprint is now available in paperback for $17.95 and is actually an expanded and revised edition. We cannot recommend it too highly for its perceptive insights into the music of the three giants.

A particularly rich bit of lagniappe is Mr. Rosen's fourteen-page "New Preface," which systematically recounts the most significant criticism of the original edition of 1971 and then rebuts it: "... Alan Tyson complained that I began my discussion of Haydn's quartets essentially with Opus 33, instead of Opuses 17 and 20 ... Eric Werner criticized my neglect of the role played by opera seria ... [James Webster] accuses me, with the greatest possible courtesy, of a prejudice against the earlier works of Haydn ... Robbins Landon has genially reproached me for the chapter on Haydn's church music ... Mark Evans Bonds, in an interesting and excellent book on rhetorical structure, similarly accuses me of disregarding stereotype. The example he gives to show the invalidity of my choice is unfortunately chosen ... In a recent assault on the concept of tonal unity in Mozart's operas .. I am named along with Joseph Kerman as one of those principally responsible for propagating this wicked orthodoxy . …