Goethe and Beethoven

Thinking about extraordinary figures such as Goethe and Beethoven, one gets the feeling of observing in the distance two inconceivably tall towers. Their height seems impossible to calculate. What do they have in common? Where do they differ from each other? How harmonious is their architecture? Are there areas of dilapidation? Getting nearer, you can count the number of stories and windows, but the highest features are hidden in the clouds.  Let me start by establishing what Goethe and Beethoven are not. Beethoven’s music is not, as the legend has it, harsh and heroic, in the sense that this would indicate the core of his personality. To be sure, he composed grand works such as the Eroica Symphony and the Fifth Symphony, and he had to endure the latter part of his life heroically with his hearing gravely diminished. But where does the harsh-and-heroic picture leave the profundity of his incomparable slow movements, his dolce and his pianissimo, his personal variety of grace, the dancing character of some of his finales, the humor that is discernible up to his final works? Without recognizing the full range of his expressivity and his innovative urge, we would fail to do justice to Beethoven’s greatness. Goethe, similarly, is not captured by his legend. He was not just the Olympian spirit or the privy councillor, the stormy poet or the distanced classicist of Iphigenia; he was all these things at once and so much more. The singularity of both are steeped in their personal diversity.  Both lived in a period of upheaval. Goethe as well as Beethoven, who was a generation younger, admired Napoleon, and Goethe, in awe, considered him demonic. Napoleon told Goethe that he had read The Sorrows of Young Werther for the seventh time. Beethoven tore up his dedication to Napoleon

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