James Agate on Emil Ludwig’s Beethoven: The Life of a Conqueror

January 4, Thursday (1945)

Dipping into Emil Ludwig’s Beethoven: the Life of a Conqueror, I find this on the G major Piano Concerto:

At the beginning the piano emerges gently from dreams; this is truly Beethoven improvising. Two romantic themes, renunciation and hope, are gradually developed. When, after an orchestral interlude, the piano is heard again solo, it is as if a butterfly rose ecstatically from its cocoon. There are no fortissimos here, and when the call to new adventures sounds, the butterfly sinks back, dreaming. The whole thing is wrapped in dark-red velvet. . . .

And about the C minor Concerto, that it begins with

stormy scale passages three octaves long, like a roaring lion appearing suddenly with threatening mien in the midst of the orchestra.

I have nothing with all this stuff about cocoons, red velvet, and roaring lions. Presently I read, “Beethoven dedicated his adagios to women.” And I say that the man who can read sex into the slow movements of the Hammerklavier Sonata and the Ninth Symphony would believe that Wagner’s Venusberg music is a Hymn to Chastity! Next I read that in the F major Rasoumowsky Quartet, “the cello continues to exude platonic wisdom.” Feeling that this amateur has exuded enough nonsense, I open the window and neatly drop his book on to a passing lorry’s tarpaulin’d top.

From The Later Ego, by James Agate

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