Critical Assaults on Beethoven

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As Beethoven Awareness Month wraps up, we’ve given a lot of praise to this composer, who changed music forever. But we want to provide coverage of the composer that's, as they say, fair and balanced. And sometimes mean.

Apparently, not everyone is a fan of Beethoven.  

In 1953, Nicolas Slonimsky filled an entire book, the Lexicon of Musical Invective, with criticisms against composers who had earned their way into the classical canon. It seems there was a long line of these critics waiting to take a swipe and Beethoven, of course, gets his fair share. We just had to pass along these holiday bonbons:

"Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect." 
          (Zeitung fur die Elegente Welt, Vienna, May 1804)

Ed. note: Sometimes we long for the days when bad music sounded like dragons. And we also wish Slonimsky’s book was illustrated.


"Beethoven, this extraordinary genius, was completely deaf for nearly the last ten years of his life, during which his compositions have partaken of the most incomprehensible wildness. His imagination seems to have fed upon the ruins of his sensitive organs."
          (William Gardiner, The Music of Nature, London 1837)

"The Heroic Symphony contains much to admire, but it is difficult to keep up admiration of this kind during three long quarters of an hour. It is infinitely too lengthy…  If this symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse."
          (The Harmonicon, London, April 1829)

"We heard lately in Boston the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven. The performance was technically most admirable… But is not worship paid this Symphony mere fetishism? Is not the famous Scherzo insufferably long-winded? The Finale… is to me for the most part dull and ugly… I admit the grander of the passage ‘und der Cherub steht vor Gott’ and the effect of ‘Seid umschlungen Millionen!’ But oh, the pages of stupid and hopelessly vulgar music! The unspeakable cheapness of the chief tune, ‘Freude, Freude!’  
          (Philip Hale, Musical Record, Boston, June 1, 1899)


"Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsettings of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer."
          (From John Ruskin’s letter to John Brown, dated February 6, 1881)

"Beethoven was not a man of the fugue, and he was never less so in this nightmare -- a raw and undigested mass!"
          (W. de Lenz on the Finale of the Sonata Op. 106 in Beethoven et ses trios syles, Paris, 1855)


"Beethoven's Eighth Symphony depends wholly on its last movement for what applause it obtains; the rest is eccentric without being amusing; and laborious without effect."
          (The Harmonicon, London, June 4, 1827)


Weigh in: Is there a piece by Beethoven that you feel merits criticism? Any dying dragons or bags of nails? Leave your comments below.