Beethoven, the Salon (& George Costanza?)

I happened to catch a Seinfeld episode the other night, and something George said reminded me of Beethoven antics I keep reading about.

George:  I don't like when a woman says, 'Make love to me', it's intimidating. The last time a woman said that to me, I wound up apologizing to her.

Jerry:  Really?

George:  That's a lot of pressure.  Make love to me.  What am I, in the circus? What if I can't deliver?

Jerry:  Oh, come on.

George:  I can't perform under pressure.  That's why I never play anything for money, I choke.  I could choke tonight. And she works in my office, can you imagine?  She goes around telling everyone what happened?  Maybe I should cancel, I have a very bad feeling about this. (Seinfeld, Season 3 ep. 10)

George here is commenting on how a pleasurable activity can quickly become arduous once demanded of somebody. During Beethoven’s early years in Vienna, he was in constant demand as a pianist at aristocratic salons. He performed enough of these events to quickly become established as the most important pianist in the city, but he soon got tired of this scene. He felt he was more valued as a kind of circus act than as a human being. His friend Franz G. Wegeler relates:

His aversion to playing for an audience had become so strong that every time he was urged to play he would fly into a rage. He often came to me then (1794-6), gloomy and out of sorts, complaining that they had made him play, even though his fingers ached…

Or this memory of Frau von Bernhard:

He [Beethoven] was very haughty. I myself saw the mother of Princess Lichnowsky, Countess Thun, go down on her knees to him as he lolled on the sofa, begging him to play something. But Beethoven did not…

This scene reminds me of my arrogant teenage self. I remember my grandmother asking me to play for her at my own birthday party. I detested playing for family at such gatherings for the same reasons (“What am I, your circus monkey?!”) And I remember a friend mocking me on the occasion, “Won’t even play for his own grandmother. What a bastard.”

JH, 10.10.13


Nova Chamber Music Series
Nova Chamber Music Series

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