Category: Opera

Beethoven, Fidelio, and Refusing to Give Up

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison

fidelio posterBeethoven 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!

JEC

John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, but he keeps trying. Hope you will too!

Links:

YouTube

Beethoven – Fidelio (Leonore), Op. 72 – COMPLETE OPERA – 432 Hz.
https://youtu.be/Zzo2TTlm55U

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

Art vs. Commercial (Rossini meets Beethoven)

artvscommAt 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!

EC

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

Bibliography

(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)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gioachino_Rossini

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premieres