WHAT PRICE SUCCESS?
November 5, 1944
About a century and a half ago Beethoven brought into existence a long series of remarkable musical compositions. The conditions under which he worked were very difficult. The world in which he lived had quite a different outlook from ours today as to what constituted enduring values. It is interesting that these compositions are still at the top of musical excellence and what is equally remarkable is that while they were written for a very special group of people, they are appreciated today by millions of listeners who now hear them by radio.
I have always been interested in the lives, trials and tribulations of composers, authors and artists because they are parallel in many respects to those of scientists and inventors. Beethoven, as music students know, was regarded by many as an infant prodigy. Early in his life his father chose his son’s career and forced him to play before the public when only eight years old.
When the boy was sixteen, misfortune visited the Beethoven household -- his mother died. This was a very great misfortune for two years later his father could no longer earn a living. This threw the responsibility of caring for his two younger brothers on young Beethoven’s shoulders. Like hundreds of artists and scientists, before and since, his life at that time consisted principally of misfortune and poverty. But he managed, with great difficulty, to continue his work, and in 1792, at the age of 22, left Bonn to study in Vienna under the great Haydn.
In the years that followed, Beethoven began to compose, and in 1795 published his first music -- the Trios. Later, his first symphony was performed in Leipzig, Paris and Vienna. The critics’ reaction was typical -- some labeled it as “confused explosions of the outrageous effrontery of a young man” -- others called it a collection of “barbaric dissonances.” The critics usually work from established continuity. It was therefore natural that when Beethoven’s musical personality began to develop along a new line, the critics at once questioned its value. In the world of invention, our critics have the same point of view -- but it is obvious that if an invention is any good it must depart from the conventional, and one of the most serious times for an inventor is while he is breaking through criticism.
Like many great artists and scientists, Beethoven lived in a very turbulent time in the history of the world -- the day of Napoleon in Europe and the Revolution in America. War, then as now, affected the thinking of the nations involved. The American Revolution changed life in the colonies, and produced such men as Whitney, Revere and Oliver Evans; Napoleon’s Wars had their effect on Beethoven and other creative people throughout Europe -- in fact, the “Eroica” was originally planned by Beethoven to honor Napoleon.
But it was during this period that he first realized that his hearing was very seriously affected -- a realization that to most men, and particularly to a musician, would have meant the end of a lifetime plan. Just as a scientist becomes discouraged when he fails in his most important experiment, Beethoven felt his work had failed. But like a truly great man, he took a fresh grip on himself and completed the “Eroica.” So rather than a monument to Napoleon’s greatness, many people regard this important symphony as a symbol of Beethoven’s own spiritual resurrection and rebirth of his determination.
It is so often said of the works of many great men that they occurred as an inspiration or flash of genius. This does not seem to apply to the works of Beethoven -- here is what a commentator says about his work: “Beethoven’s compositions did not spontaneously and suddenly ‘occur’ to him -- his sketch books show he struggled hard and long before he had shaped and developed them from their first form, which indeed shows little sign of genius.” Or, as one man puts it, “Success is nine-tenths determination and one-tenth inspiration.”
From these interesting highlights, I have tried to show that, to do anything new or original, whether it is composing a symphony, painting a masterpiece, uncovering a scientific fact or making an invention -- we must be prepared to pay a price. That price is made up of long hours of hard work, disappointments, criticism and often physical as well as mental discomforts.
The reward is seldom material or financial. It sometimes may be public acclaim or acceptance or it may be just the feeling on the part of the composer or inventor that he had made a fundamental contribution to the progress of the world. The work, however, regardless of its method or origin, remains as a lasting heritage to the generations that follow.