"In some societies, such as the Basongye of Zaire, social deviants may devote themselves to music, which thus becomes an approved venue for individuals who cannot follow society's rules."
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Ah, yes...then as now people wanted to be able to see their idols. And what they apparently wanted to see, more than anything else, were the ideals he seemed to represent. Not a mere man.
A mere man is how the astonished music critic Ludwig Rellstab described him upon meeting him in 1825. Though surprised that Beethoven appeared to him so ordinary, he had to ask himself "why should Beethoven's features look like his scores?"
Beethoven was born only six years before the American Revolution and nineteen years before the French. All of Europe was in ferment, shedding a system of aristocratic government, replacing the authority of the nobility with the powerful economic clout of a rising middle class. Democratic ideals were in the air. Beethoven himself wholeheartedly subscribed to that, believing that Napoleon had come to liberate Europe. On arriving in Vienna, Napoleon's forces bombed the city heavily, and a shaken Beethoven changed his mind.
Beethoven moved easily in aristocratic circles and was often patronized by its members. He dedicated his works to them in return. But Beethoven did not consider himself subservient to any of them. One of his famous diatribes is a rebuke to a prince in which he shouts that there are hundred of princes (there were) "but only one Beethoven!" It is also said that Beethoven refused to pay any respect to a party of aristocrats near Teplitz (see the above painting), while his walking companion, the famous poet Goethe, stood at the side of the road with his hat off. The source for this tale is Beethoven himself, in a letter dated August 14th 1812 to Bettina von Arnim. The problem is that the letter may not be authentic. Ms. von Arnim became quite famous for her publications of letters from both Goethe and Beethoven but does not seem to have been above making history more interesting than it originally was. Still, many take the incident for historical fact (and some date the incident from July rather than August so that it actually occurred during Beethoven's visit to Goethe and not a monthly later when none of the parties involved were in town!), and it does seem to illustrate something fundamental about the character of each (particularly the character we think we know). So, did it happen? It might have--or at least, we want to have happened. Enough then. It did!
If Beethoven's uncompromising behavior was what most drew the attention of the Viennese, it would be no surprise if the Beethoven they saw in pictures began somehow to resemble a defiant revolutionary. But Beethoven's appearance, at least at first, remained stubbornly unremarkable.
To begin with, his face apparently had a few scars and deformities, the results of a possible struggle with smallpox or some other infectious disease which left a lingering signature. Though testimony to this facial misfortune is given repeatedly in print, it is consistently "edited out" when his portrait is painted.
The nose, apparently, was revised as well, being a bit larger than is commonly represented. The biggest problem, however, seems to have been with the eyes, which are often depicted as gazing heavenward, steely, fiery. More often in his portrait sittings he was probably distracted. He hated to sit for them very long, and, as there came a steady stream of persons wanting him to sit for them, adopted a regimen of inviting them into his study and then ignoring them, improvising at the piano for hours and forgetting that they were there. One of his favorite painters was a man named Klober who came in unannounced, left unannounced, said not a word, and simply went on with his work while Beethoven worked. Like a good naturalist observing Beethoven in the wild he must have had to imagine something of the character Beethoven's features would assume had he been paying attention to the proceedings.
Because so many portraits of Beethoven were copies of other portraits it was no great difficulty at the time of his death for one or two official versions to gain preeminence. Helping this cause were Beethoven's close allies, particularly a man named Schindler who was so proud of his association with Beethoven that he had the words "Friend of Beethoven" engraved on his business card. Schindler went to great lengths in writing to praise certain portraits and condemn others, testifying as an authority since, after all, he was an eyewitness.