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miserable that any sudden change is capable of throwing me out of the
happiest condition of mind into the worst. Patience! I must now choose her
for my guide! This I have done. I hope to remain firm in my resolve, until
it shall please the relentless Fates to cut the thread of life. Perhaps I
shall get better; perhaps not. I am prepared. To have to turn philosopher
in my twenty-eighth year! It is no easy task - harder for the artist than
for any one else. O God, Thou lookest down upon my inward soul; Thou
knowest, Thou seest that love for my fellow-men, and all kindly feelings
have their abode there!

"O ye who may one day read this, remember that you did me an injustice;
and let the unhappy take heart when he finds one like himself who, in
spite of all natural impediments, has done all that was in his power to
secure for himself a place in the ranks of worthy artists and men. My
brothers, Carl and ––––, as soon as I am dead request Dr. Schmidt in my
name, if he be still alive, to describe my disease, and to add to these
pages the history of my ailments, in order that the world, so far at least
as is possible, may be reconciled to me after my death.

"Hereby I declare you both to be heirs of my little fortune (if it may
so be called). Divide it honestly; bear with and help one another. The
injuries you have done me I have, as you know, long since forgiven. You,
brother Carl, I thank specially for the attachment you have shown towards
me in these latter days. My wish is that your life may be more free from
care than mine has been. Recommend Virtue to your children. She alone, not
money, can give happiness. I speak from experience. It was she alone who
raised me in the time of trouble; and I thank her, as well as my art, that
I did not seek to end my life by suicide. Farewell, and love one another.
I thank all friends, especially Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmidt.
The instruments from Prince L–––– I should like to be kept by one of you;
but let there be no quarreling between you in regard to this. As soon as
you can turn them to more useful purpose, sell them. How happy shall I be
if even when in my grave I can be useful to you!

"And thus it has happened. Joyfully I hasten to meet death. Should he come
before I have had the opportunity of developing the whole of my artistic
capacity, he will have come too soon in spite of my hard fate, and I shall
wish he had come a little later. But even in that case I shall be content.
Will he not release me from a state of endless misery? Come when thou
will'st! I go to meet thee with a brave heart. Farewell, and do not quite
forget me even in death! I have deserved this, since during my lifetime I
have often thought of you, and tried to make you happy. So be it.


"_Heiligenstadt, 6th October_, 1802."

"_Heiligenstadt, 10th October, 1802._ - So I take leave of thee sorrowfully
enough. Even the cherished hope, which I brought here with me of being
cured, at least to a certain extent, has now utterly forsaken me. It
has faded like the fallen leaves of autumn. Almost as I came here so
do I depart. Even the lofty hope that upheld me during the beautiful
summer days has vanished. O Providence! let one more day of pure joy be
vouchsafed to me. The echo of true happiness has so long been a stranger
to my heart! - When, when, O God! shall I again be able to feel it in the
temple of nature and of man? Never? - no! - O that were too hard!"


Executed by Zumbusch. From a photograph. (See page 339.)]



One of the most painful of human spectacles is an intellect dominated by
a physical ailment, a mind capable of the wise and useful exercise, of
its powers enthralled or checked in its peripheral expression by some
imperfection in the machinery in the midst of which it has its temporary

The mental effects of bodily disease, in which the organs of special sense
are concerned, have been nowhere more carefully noted than in the cases
of those whose aptitude for some particular line of intellectual process
has raised them above the average of their fellows, and the biographies of
celebrated men seldom fail to record some instance of those ills to which
flesh is heir and to make deductions therefrom as to its influence upon
the life-work of the individual.

There is no more pathetic picture than that of Beethoven in his later
years, at an age when he should have been in the perfection of his
physical manhood, deaf to overwhelming applause or striking in tumultuous
discord the piano which to him was dumb.

References to this deafness, which was to Beethoven such a calamity, have
been carefully studied and recorded by his various biographers, and occur
nowhere more graphically than in those remarkable letters which give,
without the need even of reading between the lines, so clear an exposition
of the man as he was, as he aspired, and as he suffered. There has been as
yet however no attempt to collate this evidence with a view to making a
precise diagnosis of his case or with reference to the possible influence
which the infirmity may have had upon his disposition, his habit of
thought or possibly even upon the character of his compositions.

"It is hard to arrive," says Grove, "at any certain conclusion on the
nature and progress of Beethoven's deafness owing to the vagueness of the
information; difficulty of hearing appears to have shown itself about 1798
in singing and buzzing in his ears, loss of power to distinguish words
though he could hear the tones of voice, and great dislike to sudden loud
noise; it was even then a subject of the greatest pain to his sensitive
nature; like Byron with his club-foot he lived in morbid dread of his
infirmity being observed, a temper which often kept him silent, and when
a few years later he found himself unable to hear the pipe of a peasant
playing at a short distance in the open air, it threw him into the deepest
melancholy, and he wrote the well-known letter to his brother in 1802,
which goes by the name of his Will." The above passage is really an
epitomization of Beethoven's case, and, in connection with the collateral
evidence and viewed in the light of our present knowledge of aural
disease, plainly sets forth the progress as well as the character of his
disorder, the exciting cause of which must ever remain a question, though
the inference from the course of his disease, from the report of the
post-mortem examination and from the evidence afforded by Dr. Bartolini,
is at least permissible, that Beethoven's deafness originated, in part
at least, in a constitutional disorder which may have been one of his
inheritances from his father. Be that as it may, it is shown that he first
became definitely aware of his infirmity when he was twenty-eight years of
age, that his attention was first drawn to it and his appreciation of it
subsequently heightened by the concomitant symptom of subjective noises
in the ears, rushing and roaring sounds which he designates as "sausen"
and "brausen"; this symptom, common to many forms of aural disease,
occurs in such cases as that of Beethoven's only after the changes in
the ear have already become well established, it marks a definite stage
in the progress of the malady and is explainable as follows: the normal
circulation of blood through the blood-vessels is productive of sound,
precisely as is the flow of water or other fluid through pipes; these
sounds vary in pitch and in intensity in proportion to the size of the
blood vessels and the rapidity of flow of the circulating fluid; in the
smaller blood-vessels such as are found in the immediate vicinity of the
perceptive portion of the human ear the flow of the blood is continuous
and not rhythmic in response to the impulse from the heart as is the case
in the larger arteries; the sound resulting from the circulation in the
smaller blood vessels of the ear is a high pitched singing ranging from
a tone of about 15000 v.s. to one of 45000 v.s. while the sounds produced
by the larger vessels are very much lower in pitch; these sounds are
present in normal conditions, but are not noticed because the adjustment
of the sound-transmitting portion of the human ear, the drum head, the
chain of small bones and the adjacent parts is such that sounds of this
class, within certain limits of intensity, may be transmitted directly
outward and pass unnoticed; in the event, however, of structural changes
which interfere with the mobility of this sound-transmitting apparatus,
the circulation sounds are retained within the ear and become appreciable.
This does not occur however in chronic progressive cases such as was
Beethoven's until the disease, insidious in its onset, is already well
advanced, so that while the first mention of the impairment of hearing and
of the subjective noises is made in 1798, it is more than probable that
the disease had been at that time several years in progress.

Taking these facts in connection with the other symptoms already
mentioned, difficulty of distinguishing words and the dread of sudden
loud noises, a definite clinical picture is presented which taken in its
entirety permits the diagnosis of a chronic progressive thickening of the
mucous membrane lining the cavity of the middle ear and of the passages
leading therefrom to the throat.

For a better understanding of the case it is necessary to recall briefly
the structure of that portion of the ear affected, namely, the drum
membrane placed at the bottom of the outer canal of the ear to receive the
sound waves transmitted through that passage and in turn to transmit them
through the three small bones which form a chain of communication with the
internal or perceptive portion of the ear; the drum membrane forming the
boundary between the outer passages and the middle ear, the latter cavity
communicating by means of the Eustachian tube with the upper part of the
throat and being lined throughout with mucous membrane continuous with
that in the latter cavity; in the middle ear this mucous membrane, very
delicate and rich in blood vessels, not only lines the middle ear cavity
but forms the inner coat of the drum-membrane and also covers the small
bones, their articulations and attachments, one of these latter being a
muscle, the tensor tympani, which by its contraction renders all the
sound-transmitting apparatus more tense. It is easily appreciable that a
gradual thickening of this mucous membrane would result in a progressive
impairment of the sound-transmitting apparatus, with a corresponding
decrease in its power of transmitting sound waves not only from without
inward but from within outward. This interference would be first noticed
in the transmission of such short sound waves of slight impulse as occur
in instruments of high pitch or such as make up the qualitative overtones
of the human voice and it was therefore at a comparatively early period in
his disease that Beethoven failed to hear the distant sound of the flute,
and of the shepherd singing, and to distinguish the difference in the more
delicate modulations of the voices of his friends.

The distress induced by exposure to loud noises is also accounted for by
the fact that the comparative rigidity of the sound transmitting apparatus
deprived the deeper sensitive portion of the ear of the protection
normally afforded it by the elastic structure capable of taking up
and dispersing the excessive impulse and by the further fact that the
contraction of the tensor tympani muscle, which contraction is an almost
invariable accompaniment of certain chronic diseases of the middle ear,
served to still further impair the mobility of the drum-head and ossicles.

Later and numerous references to his deafness scattered throughout his
letters and recorded by his friends and associates all point, with one
exception, to the steady, pitiless progress of a disease, at that time
unamenable to treatment, which finally totally deprived him of the sense
most important to the musician; the one exception in question is that
recorded by Charles Neate as heard from Beethoven's own lips in 1815,
and is to the effect that in a fit of anger Beethoven threw himself upon
the floor, and on arising found himself practically deaf in his right
ear. There was no explanation of this occurrence offered, but, taken
in connection with the report of the autopsy, it is apparent that the
sudden loss of hearing in the right ear was the result either of a form
of apoplexy of the labyrinth such as occurs in connection with the more
advanced stages of chronic catarrh of the middle ear, or was due to a
peculiar affection of that portion of the internal ear devoted to sound
perception and consequent upon constitutional disease.

Setting aside this incident, it may be noted that, while himself aware of
the gradual increase of his deafness, it was not until eight years later,
in 1806, that it became especially appreciable to others, after which
time its increase was so rapid that it could no longer be kept secret;
the degree of the disability varying with his general condition, but
its progress being always downward, in 1815 it had so increased that he
abandoned his proposed visit to England, and before his death the hearing
had become so much affected that his playing ceased to charm, he would
play so loudly at times as to break the strings or drown soft passages of
the right hand by striking the keys accidentally with the left, while the
hearing for his own voice even had become so imperfect that he spoke with
unnatural loudness and deficient modulation.

The influence of this almost life-long malady upon his disposition
cannot be estimated without taking into consideration the nervous strain
which the impairment of so important a sense would induce in a person
of Beethoven's temperament; to the mental effects of apprehension of
future evil and the disappointments due to the futility of his efforts at
obtaining relief must be added the purely physical consequences of the
natural attempt at compensation which results in what may be denominated
the fatigue of deafness. Normally we possess double the amount of hearing
ordinarily required for the uses of life, and it is possible therefore to
lose one half of the fullest amount of hearing without being appreciably
affected by the loss. Ordinarily, therefore, our hearing-power is
exercised without conscious exertion, but when this sense becomes impaired
to a certain degree, an effort at hearing is necessary because of the
loss of the sound of the more delicate qualitative overtones, such for
instance as those which make the difference between the parts of speech
most nearly resembling each other; to help out this deficiency the sight
is called upon to watch the motion of the lips, and still later by a
conscious effort those parts of a sentence which have been lost to hearing
and have failed of detection by sight are mentally filled in from the
context, three distinct brain processes being thus required to afford the
information which came before unconsciously of effort.

That such a nervous strain was part of the infliction which Beethoven
suffered, is shown by his increasing disinclination for social intercourse
and a tendency to lead as he says a life of isolation from all men.
"You cannot believe," writes his friend Stephan von Breuning, "what an
indescribable impression the loss of hearing has made upon Beethoven;
imagine the effect on his excitable temperament of feeling that he is
unhappy, then comes reserve, mistrust often of his best friends, and
general irresolution. Intercourse with him is a real exertion, as one can
never throw off restraint."

Undoubtedly his deafness, with the consequent isolation from his fellows,
had the effect of increasing the morbid peculiarities which were his
inheritance, and of all his portraits extant there is none which so
distinctly shows the face of the deaf man as that painted by his friend
Maler, Vienna, 1812.

"Beethoven's deafness," says Goethe, "has not hurt so much his musical as
his social nature."

Indeed it may be questioned if his musical nature were affected at all
other than favorably by his infirmity. His art was greater than the man,
or rather the man in his art was greater than himself; his deafness,
even by shutting him within, seems to have increased his individuality,
for, from the time of its absolute establishment onward his compositions
grew in musical and intellectual value, and each generation finds in
them something new to study and to appreciate. He wrote not for his time
alone but for all time, and from what we can learn of his life and of the
influence of his infirmity upon his character, we are glad to believe that
through all the clouds which overcast his career Beethoven's transcendent
genius shone supreme, superior to circumstance, and that the world is left
none the poorer, possibly the richer, because of the misfortunes which,
while they developed the peculiarities and intensified the faults of the
individual, served but to enclose and protect the intellect too great to
be bounded or controlled by the limitations of a saddened life.

[Illustration: Clarence J. Blake]

[Music: Fac-simile autograph musical manuscript written by Beethoven.
Opening measures of Pianoforte Sonata in A flat, Op. 26.]



The greatest of all instrumental composers began his career as a
pianoforte virtuoso, and his earlier compositions are chiefly for that
instrument. During the first years of Beethoven in Vienna, he was more
conspicuous as a virtuoso than as a composer, and it is said that Haydn
prophesied greater things of him as a performer than a creator of music.
The older master could not foresee that Beethoven's influence was destined
to live in his epoch-making concertos, trios and sonatas, rather than
in his wonderful piano playing. His superiority at Bonn as at Vienna
was not so much in display of technical proficiency as in the power and
originality of improvisation. When he was only eleven years of age Carl
Ludwig Junker heard the boy play, and wrote in most enthusiastic terms of
the inexhaustible wealth of his ideas; he also compared him with older
players of distinction and preferred Beethoven on account of his more
expressive, passionate performance, that spoke directly to the heart. And
so Czerny described his improvisation as "most brilliant and striking; in
whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to produce such an
effect upon every hearer, that frequently not an eye remained dry, and
listeners would break out into loud sobs; for in addition to the beauty
and the originality of his ideas, and his spirited style of rendering
them, there was something in his expression wonderfully impressive." Ries
and many others bear similar testimony. There were other pianists of great
parts who lived in Vienna or were heard there: Steibelt, Wölffl, and
especially Hummel. But whenever Beethoven met them in friendly or fierce
rivalry, he conquered by richness of ideas, by variety of treatment and by
intense musical individuality, although he extemporized in regular "form."
Hummel excelled him undoubtedly in purity and elegance, and Wölffl had
extraordinary mechanism. They excited lively admiration, but Beethoven
moved the hearts of his hearers. This power was greater than even his
feats of transposing, his skill in reading scores, or such tricks as
turning the 'cello part of a quintet upside down and then extemporizing
from the curious theme formed thereby. We are told that he was very
particular as to the mode of holding the hands and placing the fingers,
in which he followed Emanuel Bach; his attitude at the pianoforte was
quiet and dignified, but as his deafness increased he bent more and
more toward the keys. He was, when he played, first of all a composer,
and in his maturity, the "composer's touch," distinguished his playing.
Czerny said that he produced wonderful effects by the use of the _legato
cantabile_. He was, as a rule, persuaded easily to improvise - at least in
his younger days - but he did not like to play his own compositions, and
only yielded to an expressed wish when they were unpublished. It is also
said that he interpreted his own compositions with freedom, although he
observed rigorously the beat. And he made often a profound impression in a
_crescendo_ by retarding the movement and not accelerating it.

The compositions of Beethoven have been divided by many writers into
three periods, and this division has been followed with absurd precision
and has been as unjustly ridiculed. There were three periods, however,
but they are not to be sharply defined; they correspond in general to
the life-periods of youth, maturity, and old age. In his earlier works,
he followed in some degree the path laid out by Haydn and Mozart; in
his middle period, he appeared in the full strength and maturity of his
wonderful originality; finally, in his last period, he revealed himself as
a prophet and dreamer of unearthly things. But it is not strange that the
style of a man of genius is modified by his age and his experience; that
he thinks otherwise at forty than he thought at twenty; that his ideas are
not rigid, immovable from youth to old age. In his earlier period, and in
the first of his symphonies, he shows the influence of his predecessors,
and yet in his sixteenth work, three trios, known as Op. 1, striking
originality and independence are asserted on every page.

It was his independence of character as much as his great musical gift
that impelled him on the path of progress. He was five years old when at

... "the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world."

He was the child of his time, and he lived to witness the great movement
for freedom and humanity in America and Europe. Although he had warm
friends and admirers among the nobility he would not bow down to rank and
wealth. The prince held no higher position in his estimation than the
private citizen. "It is good to be with the aristocracy," he said; "but
one must be able to impress them." "A trace of heroic freedom pervades
all his creations," says Ferdinand Hiller. The expression "Im Freien,"
which in German means both the open air and liberty, might serve as an
inscription of a temple devoted to his genius. It was this lofty spirit
that impelled him to find new methods of musical expression in the older
forms of the symphony, sonata, string quartet, etc., which have the same
general outlines of formal construction. These classical forms consist
of a cycle or group of three or four movements related to each other by
contrast in tempo, rhythm, key, and æsthetic character. These movements
are combined so as to constitute an organic whole; complex and highly
developed, like a great architectural building. Madame de Stael called
architecture "frozen music." This fanciful idea, so often quoted, suggests
a different conception, perhaps as near the truth, that music may be
considered as a kind of rhythmical architecture. Such architectural music
appeals to the æsthetic sense of form and proportion through the ear by
the stream of melody and harmony that flows in a rhythmical mass, whereas
the "frozen music" appeals to us through the eye, which is able to take in
the great outlines of proportion and form at once; so that the element of
time is not considered. So far as form and construction are concerned, a
Beethoven symphony might well be compared with a Gothic cathedral in its
grand outlines of beauty and strength, complexity, relation of the parts
to the whole, sense of proportion, and unity in variety. But in music, as
in all true art, form is but the means to an end: which is to move the
soul through the æsthetic sense of beauty. This ideal structure of tones
was not the invention of one musician; it was built up gradually, in the
course of a century and a half, by various composers until it reached its
culmination in the works of Beethoven. There are two distinct sources
from which cyclical instrumental music is derived. First, the sonatas
for violins and bass which sprang up in the 17th century under Corelli,
Biber, Purcell and others. Subsequently the sonata was applied to the
solo clavichord by Kuhnau, Sebastian and Emanuel Bach. Second, the Italian
opera overture, which came into vogue as separate instrumental music early
in the 18th century under the names of symphony and concerto. The Italian
overture consisted of three short, related movements - _allegro_, _adagio_,

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 12 of 32)