In 1801, writing to his physician-friend, Franz Wegeler, Beethoven expresses the five stages in one long letter: "For the last three years, my hearing has become weaker and weaker, and for almost two years, I have ceased to attend any social function just because I find it impossible to say to people, 'I am deaf.' I beg you not to say anything about my condition to anyone: I am only telling you this as a secret. Heaven alone knows what is to become of me. Already I have cursed my Creator and my existence. . . . I will bid defiance to my fate . . . . We must wait and see whether my hearing can be restored. O how happy should I be now if I had perfect hearing. Sad resignation to which I am forced to have recourse! I will seize fate by the throat!"
To his pupil, Countess Josephine Deym: A private grief has robbed me of my usual intense energy. . . . For a long period, a certain event made me despair of ever achieving any happiness during my life on this earth, but now things are no longer so bad. I have won your heart. (Isolation, depression and bargaining, joy through suffering).
To a personal friend, Countess Anna Marie Erdödy: "We finite beings who are the embodiment of an infinite spirit, are born to suffer both pain and joy; and one might almost say that the best of us obtain joy through suffering."
To the Archduke Rudolph of Austria, Beethoven is more candid: "Notwithstanding my healthy appearance, I have, all this time, been really ill and suffering from a nervous breakdown. (Depression)
On March 14th, 1827, Beethoven wrote his last letter to Ignaz Moscheles, pianist, conductor, and composer. In it, Beethoven's struggle to cope with his deafness is integrated with resignation and acceptance: "On the 27th of February, I underwent the 4th operation and there are visible symptoms that I shall have to suffer a fifth. What does it tend to, and what will become of me if it continues for some time longer? A hard lot, indeed, has fallen on me! However, I submit to the will of fate and only pray to God so to ordain it in His will that I may be protected from want as long as I have to endure death in life. This will give me strength to bear my lot, however terrible it may be, with humble submission to the will of the Most High. . . . I remain with greatest respect ever,
L. van Beethoven."
Beethoven died from a liver disease on March 26th, 1827. His burial took place at St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna where his "Miserere," written in 1812 for All Souls' Day, was performed. Thousands attended his funeral.
If men of genius delight in warm and lasting friendships with women of superior minds and culture, Beethoven was no exception to this rule. Yet he never married. His deafness, his unattractive, pock-pitted face, his uncouthness, careless attire, and the rigid class distinction, dashed his hopes of ever marrying. The fascinating narrative of Beethoven's "immortal Beloved" is a story for another time.
Beethoven's Spiritual Development through Suffering
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Beethoven spared no human effort to restore his hearing. Though cursing his fate, he relied on Providence for inner strength to cope with his cruel hardship. His creative process was the result of intense inner conflict and of great powers of concentration. It was his personality and indomitable will that drove him to speak, and with his great gift of music, forever changed the course of music history.
The Beethoven of the Fifth Symphony (1807-08) achieves meaning in life despite suffering. Suffering is an enemy to be defied. The famous first movement in C Minor pounds out 'I will overcome,' but the final C Major movement, the key of victory, proclaims 'I have overcome!' The worst was yet to come.
The Mature Beethoven: the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, String Quartet, Op. 135
Beethoven's last period (1815-27) is marked not only by isolation but by intense creativity as well. Some scholars refer to this last period as mystical. If the Fifth Symphony (Op 67) finds meaning in life despite suffering, the Ninth Symphony (Op 125) discovers meaning through suffering. Suffering becomes enlightenment.
In the final movement, "To Joy," Beethoven unites himself with the universal human family, children of a heavenly Father. The refrain of the text, written by Frederick Schiller reads: Alle menschen werden Bruder wo dein sanfter Flügel weit, (All men shall be brothers under your protective wing). Shouts of freu/Freude/Freunde, joy and friendship convey his inner joy. The phrase, mit Gott (with God), climbs to the heights in a vision of God.
At the conclusion of the premier, the audience stood to give Beethoven a rousing ovation. Though he had kept the rhythm going throughout with an assistant at his side, his back was to the audience. He couldn't hear the thunderous applause. The leading soprano stepped down, led him to the edge of the stage where he could see for himself. The tears in his eyes said it all!