Beethoven the Creator

by Remain Holland. translated by Ernest Newman. New York: Harper & Bros. 1929. 8vo. 432 pp. Illus.
ROMAIN ROLLAND, now sixty years of age, says in his introduction, ‘I will refresh my eyes a last time at the sun of Beethoven. I will say what he was for us — for the peoples of a century. . . . To-day, when we see a new generation detaching itself from this music that was the voice of our inner world, we perceive that that world was only one of the continents of the spirit.’ What that continent is like, no one has stated more eloquently than Rolland in his second book on Beethoven, which is itself the first of a promised series of three on what he has selected as ‘the great creative epochs,’The popular legend of the Promethean Beethoven is here revived in greater glory than ever.
If the ’new generation is detaching itself from this music,’ it must be largely because of a natural recoil from excessive Beethoven worship in the past; though Holland attributes this detachment to a new view of life resulting from the Great War. It seems to many altogether likely that much of Beethoven’s work is bound to survive whatever changes of musical fashion may come and go, while the story of Beethoven the man will become dimmer and dimmer. Future music lovers will know that he suffered, loved, and composed with joy and painful struggle, but they will not try to solve the problem of which particular dated experience led to which particular composition. Rolland is deeply concerned with such problems and is persuasively confident of his own solutions. His conclusions are supported by careful and intrinsically interesting documentation, which, however, is now and again abruptly abandoned if inconvenient or contradictory to a desired dramatic effect. Holland accepts all of Beethoven’s own statements, without allowing for his love of hyperbole. Consequently the book just misses becoming an authoritative source of historical fact. But it is a wonderful and unique accomplishment in the inspired picture that it gives of Beethoven living, feeling, and in the very act of composing.
One other unique feature of this book consists in a new theory in regard to the origin and effect of Beethoven’s deafness, based on the recent investigations of Dr. Marage, an eminent authority on the ear. In a letter t o M. Holland, Dr. Marage says, ‘The cause of Beethoven’s deafness seems to me to have been the congestion of the inner ear and the auditory centres, a congestion due to the overworking of the organ by his furious concentration, his terrible fixity of idea, as you so Well express it.’ Rolland asks, ‘Did not the deafness, in its turn, make the genius, or at all events aid it?’ Dr. Marage says, ‘His deafness . . . had this peculiarity, that if it cut him off from the outer world it had the advantage of maintaining his auditory centres in a state of constant excitement. . . . Subjects attacked by labyrinthitis frequently hear lovely melodies that fill them with delight, but which, try as they will to fix them, they cannot retain.’ A new Beethoven problem!
Ernest Newman has translated Rolland’s book with such lucidity and naturalness as to make it an act of atonement for his own The Unconscious Beethoven.
EDWARD BALLANTINE.