At the end of his career Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers to have ever lived, was completely deaf. Around this same time, Gioachino Rossini had also become quite popular with his comic operas including the huge hit, The Barber of Seville. With the public’s mixed reception of Beethoven’s vast Ninth Symphony, Rossini perhaps outshone Beethoven as Europe’s most popular composer at the time.
Since hearing Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica, Rossini had been moved to meet Beethoven and had tried several times through a few people to meet the composer. It seems most likely that Antonio Salieri was the culprit (so to speak 😉 of setting up the meeting, since he had played violin at the 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and was a friend and former teacher of Beethoven.
There are various accounts of this supposed meeting.
“The most popular composer in Beethoven’s final years, even in Vienna where he lived, was not Beethoven himself but the Italian Gioachino Rossini, whose light-as-a-feather smash-hit comic operas, such as The Barber of Seville (1816) – all laughs, saucy farce and hummable tunes – were arguably closer to the general public’s idea of an ‘Ode to Joy’. The two composers did meet once, an encounter brokered by the kindly Antonio Salieri, and we have it word for word since Beethoven, being deaf, had to have the conversation written down. The rules of engagement between the two types of composer were even evident in their short back-and-forth in 1822, with Beethoven congratulating Rossini on his success but warning him not to write anything other than comic opera as ‘his character wouldn’t suit it’. It is a conversation that continues to be played out between self-styled ‘serious’ composers and ‘crossover’ composers to this day.” – Howard Goodall, The Story of Music
Other sources tell different, but similar accounts.
“30-year-old Rossini succeeded in meeting Ludwig van Beethoven, who was then aged 51, deaf, cantankerous and in failing health. Communicating in writing, Beethoven noted: “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.” – Wikipedia on Rossini
Why This Matters
To be honest, there are so many different takes on how this meeting really took place, or if it is just an anecdotal tale (although I like the thought that it had to be written down due to Beethoven’s deafness and therefore could be somewhat preserved.)
But the point is that we may have many meetings with those who either feel our commercial music is not as “important” as their art music, and vice versa. Rossini just wanted to meet his idol, but Beethoven saw the real truth: it was probably easier for Rossini to gain a larger following, because his Barber of Seville and other light comic operas were easily digestible, easy on the ears kinds of works. The public could “get” them in one setting, hum them on the way home, and then easily forget them as they went upon their daily lives – much like pop music.
Beethoven’s work, like his Ninth Symphony, was so large, so groundbreaking in some ways, it was hard for crowds looking for pure “entertainment” to always get it. While he was certainly revered as a genius, there were mixed reviews.
“Beethoven’s musical revolution received mixed reactions. A critic who attended the (Ninth Symphony) premiere effused praise: “the effect was indescribably great and magnificent, jubilant applause from full hearts was enthusiastically given the master.” A London critic who heard the work in 1825 called the hour-plus length “a fearful period indeed, which puts the muscles and lungs of the band and the patience of the audience to a severe trial.” – Oxford University Press
This account, true or not, just shows how the debate of art over commercialism in music has raged for centuries. Where do you fall in the debate?
Have a great week!
John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist but plays one on the Internet. He actually is a busy music producer and is currently preparing to work on his masters in music with a focus in Musicology. For more on Eric, go to http://www.EricCopelandMusic.com
(Excerpt From: Goodall, Howard. “The Story of Music.” Open Road Integrated Media, 2013-12-04T16:43-06:00. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright. Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/WI8YU.l)
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premieres