BIOGRAPHIES, whether strictly factual or semi-fictitious, can never be wholly objective; for already by arranging and presenting his facts, the biographer is bound to emphasize those aspects of his subject which he considers more important than others, to evaluate and to interpret. The purpose of the present collection of documents is to provide the reader with a basis upon which he may construct his own biography of Beethoven.
Most of this material will be familiar to English readers of Beethoven's collected letters and of the more comprehensive biographies; but while the letters of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner (to mention only a few celebrated composers) have sufficient literary merit to appeal to the general reader, only specialists and rare enthusiasts are likely to undertake the labour of reading all of Beethoven's carelessly written letters. The reader of the present collection will be spared this labour, just as he is spared the theories, conjectures and polemics of biographers. Even accounts by contemporaries are not always reliable, especially as many of them are reminiscences of meetings already distant; but (except in the case of Bettina Brentano, whose inventions were elaborately and ingeniously disguised) it is quite easy to distinguish those passages in which memory has been supplanted by imagination. There are several such passages in the account by Stumpff. Significantly, it was one of the most truly imaginative of Beethoven's visitors, the dramatist and poet Grillparzer, who had the honesty to admit that his memory had failed him here and there; for even faithful reportage is an art that requires practice and discipline.
It is usual to preface a selection from Beethoven's letters with a regret that these letters tell us so little about their author; yet, brief as it is, even the present selection should prove the absurdity of such a regret. Unlike those artists whose letters