Happy Birthday, Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven, born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany, was a child prodigy who would rise to become a celebrated master of symphony. From 1800 onwards, in a cruel twist of fate, he found himself battling hearing loss which would eventually lead to almost complete deafness. As a result of his condition, Beethoven retired from public life during his later years. In spite of his reclusive nature, we know a lot about the great composer through his personal writings and correspondence. Several books have been published on the subject, including; Beethoven. The man and the artist, as revealed in his own words, by Friedrich Kerst (1905, B.W. Huebsch, NY), which condenses many of Beethoven’s reflections and musings into quotable quips. In April 1927 The Musical Quarterly published 26 pages of excerpts taken from Beethoven’s writing under the title “Sayings of Beethoven,” which charts the years of his deteriorating health, and the effect this had on his psychological frame of mind. He wrote to a friend in 1801, around a year into his condition, cursing his misfortune:

Your Beethoven leads an unhappy life, in conflict with Nature and Creator. More than once I have cursed Him that He exposes His creatures to the meanest accident, so that often the most beautiful flower is destroyed and crushed. Know that my noblest organ, my hearing, has very much deteriorated.

A year later, his mood had darkened considerably. In correspondence with a sibling, he refers to his growing reputation as an embittered and angry man.

O ye men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do ye wrong me! You do not know the secret causes of appearances. I must live like an exile; if I draw near to people, a hot terror seizes me, a fear that I may be subjected to the danger of letting my condition be noticed.

Beethoven laments his seclusion, citing his servants (“minions”) as his primary source of contact with the world. He writes of his search for a suitable romantic partner, his reluctance to engage in any public discussion concerning himself, and his delight in making concise notes. Beethoven’s personal writings provide insight into the mind of a “genius.” Read, enjoy, but linger not, for in the words of the man himself; “Much is to be done on earth; do it soon!”


JSTOR Citations

Sayings of Beethoven

By: Ludwig van Beethoven

The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr., 1927), pp. 183-207

Oxford University Press

Colin J McCracken

Colin J McCracken is an Irish freelance writer and journalist. He regularly writes about a range of topics, primarily arts and culture, for a number of international magazines, websites and journals. He has an academic background in art, literature and language, and can be found on Twitter @ColinJMcCracken.

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