In today’s VERITAS we shall meet one of the greatest musicians of all time. His story is the story of a constant struggle to create the deepest music known to man. He searched for beauty in his life. He could not find beauty in the real world.
He found it in music.
Beethoven was born in Bonn on 17 Dec 1770. His father was a singer. His father pushed Ludwig into music from the very early age of 5 years. Sometimes the father used to come drunk at night, would wake Ludwig and ask him to play. Ludwig was sometimes forced to play in front of his father’s drunken friends. Inspite of his father’s brutal teaching methods Ludwig developed a love for music. He went to study music in Vienna in 1787. There he met the great Mozart. But his stay in Vienna did not last long. The same year his mother died and he had to return home to earn for his two younger brothers and a sister. Ludwig’s father spent all his money in getting drunk and Ludwig had to support the family.
He went back to Vienna in 1792. He tried to study music under several famous musicians but did not like any of them much. He decided to find his music himself. He earned money not by composing but by playing piano in front of audiences. In 1800 he composed his first symphony and in 1801 the moonlight sonata.
In 1801 Beethoven realized that his hearing was not as good as what it used to be. He was going deaf! That caused a great turmoil in his life. A musician who could not hear!!! He started avoiding friends and retreated to himself. He did not want other people to find out his condition. He started mistrusting people around him and got involved in several arguments which he later felt guilty about. His career as a pianist was over.
A doctor friend sent him to Heiligenstadt, a village outside vienna with the hope that the calm countryside would improve his hearing. Beethoven was hopeful again. The calm countryside cheered him and he produced the joyous Symphony no 2. But soon he realized that his hearing was getting worse and that it had no cure. Beethoven decided to commit suicide. He wrote a long suicide note to his brothers. His note is now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. In this document he explains his point of view about life, he explains his tragedy of deafness, he also says that only his music could inspire him to live. Perhaps his music did inspire him to live and he dropped the idea of killing himself.
After this his music became deeper. In 1803 he wrote the 3rd Symphony(“Eroica”). The years from 1804 to 1808 were pretty bad for his personal life. He fell in love with several women one after another but his dream of love remained fulfilled. He never married. But his music became more intense. He wrote the 5th and 6th symphonies in 1808.
He cut off the legs of his piano so that he could place it on the floor and feel its vibrations. He would sometimes place his ear on the piano to feel its notes. After deafness Beethoven imagined music and his music became more free.
In 1812 he wrote a long letter to an unidentified lady whom he addressed as the “Immortal Beloved”. This letter was as long and as emotional as the Heiligenstadt Testament and shows how depressed and lonely he was during that time. This letter was discovered in Beethoven’s secret drawer after his death.
In 1815 his brother Casper Carl died. This was a great tragedy for Ludwig. He almost stopped composing. He was supposed to take care of Carl’s son Karl. But Karl’s mother wanted custody of the boy. This resulted in a long and abusive legal battle which took a serious toll of Beethoven’s health.
He composed his 9th symphony in 1823. He was completely deaf at this time. He died in 1826. His funeral was attended by more than 20,000 people.
Beethoven’s life reminds me of the following lines from a poem by George Eliot:
O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence:
live In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man’s search
To vaster issues.
Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;