Ludwig van Beethoven: “all that was within me”

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Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770, died 26 March 1827) is a favorite German composer who remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis and an opera, Fidelio.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. At the age of 21 he moved to Vienna, where he began studying composition with Joseph Haydn, and gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death. By his 30s his hearing began to deteriorate, and by the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. In 1811 he gave up conducting and performing in public but continued to compose; many of his most admired works come from these last 15 years of his life.   (From Wikipedia)Beethoven music 3

I love classical music and the intricacies and patterns and melodies that come off pages of written notes.  Years ago I happened across a letter Ludwig wrote to his two brothers, dated 6 October 1802:

        You men who think or say I am hostile, peevish, or misanthropic, how greatly you wrong me. You do not know the secret which makes me seem so to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul were full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was always inclined to accomplish great deeds. But just think, for six years now I have had an incurable condition. . . . Though born with a firey, lively temperament, susceptible to the diversions of society, I soon had to withdraw myself, to spend my life alone. And yet if I wished at times to ignore all this, oh how harshly was I pushed back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing; and yet it was impossible for me to say to people, “Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.” Ah, how could I possibly admit weakness of the one sense which would be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the greatest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession have or ever have had?
        What humiliation for me when someone standing near me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents brought me almost to despair; a little more and I would have ended my life.
        Only my art held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt was within me; and so I spared this wretched life. . . .
        You, my brothers, Carl and [Johann], as soon as I am dead, if Dr. Schmidt is still alive, ask him in my name to describe my disease, and attach this written document to his account of my illness, so that at least as much as possible the world may be reconciled to me after my death. . . .
        Farewell, and do not completely forget me when I am dead. I have deserved this from you, since I often thought of you during my life, and of ways to make you happy; do be so.

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He describes here his process for writing some of the most exquisite music ever composed:

        “I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time. . . before writing them down. . . once I have grasped a theme. I shall not forget it even years later. I change many things, discard others, and try again and again until I am satisfied; then, in my head. . . [the work] rises, it grows, I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle. . . and only the labor of writing it down remains. . . I turn my ideas into tones that resound, roar, and rage until at last they stand before me in the form of notes.”

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I have thought about this often.  Today is the day Ludwig’s name appeared in a christening record in Bonn in 1770.  He came to this world with gifts and talents unique to him, and he overcame great trials and challenges to use those gifts in producing all that he felt was in his soul.

I suppose we all wonder, at times, why we are here, and what we are to add to this human experience before we return to heaven, our Home.  I hope we will not leave here with our music still in us.

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About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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