“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison
Beethoven was a lot of things, but he was certainly not a quitter. In life, in love, or in his work, he often kept on in the face of defeat, heartbreak, and in the case of his only opera Fidelio, lukewarm reception.
It was a complicated process that started with another opera he was commissioned to write, which was eventually abandoned. He then found another libretto he liked better and switched over to that. The first production was first performed to an audience consisting mostly of French soldiers that had recently occupied Vienna. Tepid reviews and the French occupation shuttered the opera soon after.
Beethoven was then moved to shorten the opera from three acts to two, and saw more success for several performances before a dispute with the theatre. Many years went by, and after finding a new librettist, Georg Friedrich Treitschke, the opera was finally finished to Beethoven’s liking.
During the process of the last rewrite he recounted his difficulty with the process in a letter to Treitschke saying, “I assure you, dear Treitschke, that this opera will win me a martyr’s crown. You have by your co-operation saved what is best from the shipwreck. For all this I shall be eternally grateful to you.”
So, why did Beethoven work so hard to get his only opera just right? Why did he agree to come back to the work two more times? Beethoven was known as a composer who left copious drafts behind of much of his work. So first, second, and third drafts weren’t unusual for him. Maybe he got in and couldn’t let it go until it was up to snuff with the other operas of the day. He didn’t write any other works of this kind, and perhaps he felt it important to make sure his opera would be remembered as a great work.
Whatever the reason, Beethoven would not rest for ten years, four overtures, three librettists, and some very tepid reviews, until the opera was a hit and eventually a staple in the opera world.
Why This Matters
We all have those projects, those goals, and those jobs we are given to do in our musical life that are like a mountain we continue to climb. We fall, we get back up, and sometimes it takes a whole career to get where we are going. But with every try, even if it’s a failure, or not exactly as we pictured it, we get closer to the success we always wanted.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
Whether it’s that symphony you keep toiling on, never knowing if it will be realized or even performed. Or the album project that seems to be in production forever. Or the music program that you’ve been trying to build that seems like pushing a boulder up a mountain with a stick.
All our goals take trying and retrying to make them a success. It’s the most important lesson I teach people who want to make music their career – just do not quit. Find the next gig, the next teaching post, the next music project, or the next great work.
I think even in my own success story, the only way I succeeded was because I refused to give up. I kept trying and retrying ideas. When something wasn’t working I retooled it until it did work, and to some extent that has been secret to my success.
“Try, try, try, and keep on trying is the rule that must be followed to become an expert in anything.” – W. Clement Stone
Have a good week, and keep up the good work!
John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, but he keeps trying. Hope you will too!
Beethoven – Fidelio (Leonore), Op. 72 – COMPLETE OPERA – 432 Hz.
Related Quotes from Beethoven
“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.” – Ludwig van Beethoven
“Nothing is more intolerable than to have to admit to yourself your own errors.” – Ludwig van Beethoven
“A true artist is expected to be all that is noble-minded, and this is not altogether a mistake; on the other hand, however, in what a mean way are critics allowed to pounce upon us.” – Ludwig van Beethoven