A lesson with Beethoven

One fearful winter’s day in Vienna, in 1794, the snow standing deep and still falling fast, the traffic almost entirely suspended in the streets, Countess Teresa Brunswick, then a girl of fifteen, was waiting for Beethoven’s arrival, to give her her pianoforte lesson. Weather never stopped him; but when he appeared it was obvious that as great a storm was raging in his mind as in the streets. He entered with hardly a motion of his head, and she saw at once that all was wrong.

“Practised the sonata?” said he, without looking. His hair stood more upright than ever; his splendid eyes were half closed, and his mouth—oh, how wicked it looked! In reply to his question, she stammered out “Yes, I have practised a great deal, but—”

“Let’s see.” She sat down to the piano and he took his stand behind her. The thought passed through her mind, “If I am only fortunate enough to play well!” But the notes swam before her eyes, and her hands were all of a tremble. She began in a hurry: once or twice he said, “Tempo,” but it made no difference, and she could not help feeling that he was getting more impatient as she became more helpless. At last she struck a wrong note. She knew it at once, and could have cried. But then the teacher himself struck a wrong note too, which hurt his pupil in both body and mind. He struck—not the keys, but her hand, and that angrily and hard; strode like mad to the door of the room, and from thence to the street-door, through which he went, banging it after him.

“Good God,” she cried, “he’s gone without his coat and hat,” and rushed after him with them into the street. Her voice brought in the mother from her boudoir, curious to see the reason of the noise. But the room was empty, and both its door and the street-door stood open; and the servants, which were they? Everything now had to give way to the shocking certainty that her daughter, Countess Theresa von Brunswick, had actually run out into the street after the musician, with his coat, hat, and stick! Fortunately she was not more than a few steps from the door when the frightened servant overtook her, Beethoven meanwhile standing at a distance waiting for his things, which he took from the man and went off without a sign of recognition to his pupil.

G. Grove, Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies, New York, Dover, 1962, pp.154-155





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