Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

What Did Beethoven Really Say about the Mozart Requiem?

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

What Did Beethoven Really Say about the Mozart Requiem?

Article excerpt

Mozart's and Cherubini's Requiems; Beethoven's, Holz's, and Seyfried s Views

In the liner notes to Nikolaas Harnoncourts 2004 recording of the Mozart Requiem, he makes the following statement, which is of particular interest to Mozart and Beethoven enthusiasts: "Even Beethoven, who was himself nothing if not a radical musical spirit, found it 'too wild and terrible.' He was going to write one himself, but more conciliatory' in manner."1 This information, given pardy in quotes that suggest the words came straight out of Beethovens mouth, is transmitted without attribution. The history of what Beethoven may, or may not, have said about Mozarts Requiem is much more complex than this single quote suggests and warrants sorting out.

Harnoncourt probably encountered the quote in the entry on "Requiem" in the second volume of Theodor Frimmel s Beethoven Handbuch of 1926.2 The quote was published in a set of reminiscences of Beethoven's friend Karl Holz that originally appeared in an obscure book from 1906 by Eduard Casde tided Lenau und die Familie Löwenthal: Briefe und Gespräche, Gedichte und Entwürfe. The quotation marks in Frimmel's Handbuch, which is on the whole carefully documented, indicate direct citations from Casde's book, not actual words as Beethoven spoke them.

Casde's monograph, divided into two "books," contains letters from the German poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-50) to Count Max and Countess Sophie von Löwenthal, as well as accounts of Max's reminiscences, conversations, Lenau's poetry dedicated to Sophie, and drafts of his poems. Lenau's full name was Nikolaus Franz Niembsch von Stehlenau, and he is referred to as "Niembsch" in Max's notes.

The entry in Casde's book containing the quote is dated March 8,1839, and occurs as no. 53 in the first book in a section tided "Aus Maxens Notizen."3 (See the facsimile.) The information contained in no. 53 came from a meeting on the previous day: "A local competent musician and quartet player named Holz was a close friend of Beethoven and is probably the closest expert and keenest admirer of the master and his work in Vienna. Holz naturally found himself also in possession of extensive materials about Beethoven's biography, of which yesterday he gave our Niembsch some of the best."4 (The materials concern the projected biography. Beethoven had given Holz a letter on August 30,1826, authorizing him to write his biography; Holz never completed the task and transferred the authorization to Ferdinand Simon Gassner on November 4,1843. Gassner as well failed to complete the project.3)

Before I turn to Lenau's version of Holz's 1839 reminiscence-which was the first of three times that he discussed Beethoven's opinion of Mozart's Requiem with others-I should add some information on "Niembsch's" views on Beethoven and Mozart. According to R.H. Thomas, "Beethoven's music became to Lenau a spiritual necessity and was one of the few rocks in a storm-tossed life."6 After hearing Fidelio for the first time, Lenau wrote to his biographer Anton Schurz, "Friend, you know Beethoven's music. Beethoven's spirit drove you too like a storm on the rising waves of song, past wild and sublime cliffs, past nocturnal forests and gruesome dungeons; it drove you ever more quickly and more tempestuously until a stream entered a smiling sea of love and joy. God Almighty, what a mind is Beethoven's!" Lenau's profound love of Beethoven's music led him, however, to disdain most other composers; Thomas concluded that Lenau "had nothing but contempt for Mozart, who, he said, was to Beethoven as a hill to a mountain. He accused the Requiem of hypocrisy and said that serious music was not Mozart's métier [specialty] ."7 Lenaus harsh critique of Mozart s Requiem may indeed have been ignited by what he had heard from Holz on March 7,1839.

The original German of the Lenau-Max Löwenthal version of Holz's statement is:

Das Requiem war ihm zu wild und furchtbar, und er hatte in seinem letzten Lebensjahren selbst noch vor, eines im milden, versöhnenden Geiste zu schreiben; wie er denn überhaupt in dieser letzten Zeit, wo er das Klavier haßte, nicht anderes mehr zu komponieren gedachte als jedes Jahr ein Oratorium. …

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