Page of Beethoven’s “Sketchbook”
In our culture, where we’ve been trained to expect things to come to us with very little effort, and very little wait; where blogs make us all feel like writers, and Instagram makes us all feel like photographers and artists; it’s very refreshing and challenging to read about Beethoven’s hard work and singular commitment to art that his music required. Beethoven had to labor over his compositions, and they needed many, many revisions to be what they are. This was encouraging for me, and hopefully it can be to other aspiring writers, songwriters, and artists. Good (or great) art doesn’t just happen; it doesn’t just spring spontaneously from our brains and our iPhones. Creativity takes work.
“Beethoven’s life in its devotion to the attainment of a single end, the perfection of his art, affords an object lesson, which cannot fail to encourage and stimulate every one engaged in creative work of any kind. His earnestness and industry is the key-note to his achievement. He worked harder than any composer we have any record of, with the possible exception of Wagner. If we consider how the compositions improved in his hands, while being worked over, as is shown by the sketch-books, a simple process of reasoning will convince the reader that any man’s work, in any line, can be improved by adopting the same methods … The more he worked over his compositions the better they became.”
(From Beethoven, by George Alexander Fischer)
I’m reading a biography on Beethoven at the moment (free on Kindle, by the way!). And it’s really good.
The interesting thing about Beethoven is that, whether or not he was a Christian (and I don’t think he was), he had quite a few very Christian attributes in his character. The man was unique, and saw the world, and interacted with the world like a Christian should in many ways.
Here’s what Fischer says about Beethoven, about the joy Beethoven had in the midst of sorrows, heartbreak, and failing health. You find loud echoes of this in Chesterton and Lewis too, if you’re familiar with their perspectives on God-given, Christian joy.
“[Beethoven’s] journal entries tell the story. One day, exulting in life and its possibilities he writes, ‘Oh, it would be glorious to live life over a thousand times.’ At another time he calls upon his God in abject despair to help him through the passing hour…Like all highly organized people he sounded the gamut of joy and sorrow. ‘He has among other qualities that of great joyousness,’ says Carlyle, in speaking of Richter. ‘Goethe has it to some extent and Schiller too. It is a deep laughter, a wild laughter, and connected with it, there is the deepest seriousness.'”
Compare this with the Psalms, where David and the other psalmists write from both the mountain tops, and the deep, dark valleys of human experience. I really think this is a very Christian honesty with what it means to live in this fallen world. A Christian should be characterized by a “great joyousness” that’s deeply serious and grounded in an honest, humble view of living in a not-completely-redeemed reality. But our joy can have the “deepest seriousness” because we know redemption and restoration are coming with our King when He returns.