Ludwig van Beethoven’s late years. About the duty of being „ME“ – Part 1

The year 2020 is the year of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. He died on 26 March 1827. What the Holy Scripture is for a religious person, Beethoven’s music may be for a humanistic and ethical person.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s late years. About the duty of being „ME“ – Part 1

Around 30,000 people attended his funeral, which took place in the Augustiner Church, in Vienna. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem was performed there. Eight well-known conductors held the ends of his shroud. 36 torch carriers accompanied the coffin. A wreath of rose buds was wound around Beethoven’s head, and a lily lay in his hand.

“Beethoven is no more; he died on March 26, 1827 between 5 and 6 pm. He had awful death throes and suffered.” This is what Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s friend, wrote about the master’s death.

A few days before, Beethoven lay on his sickbed, doomed to death, and thought: I love you, people. It is hard, of course, to leave you so early. I feel as if I was at the very beginning. There is still so much to do. Who is going to be my successor? I fear I do not have one!

According to the legend, Anton Schindler awoke him with a music booklet of notes in his hand: “My grand master, am I disturbing you? I’m bringing you something beautiful today – songs by Franz Schubert! Do you feel like scrolling through them?” “Let’s see!” He read the first song. “Schindler, you can leave me alone, if you have something else to do! I’m quite allright now.” And so, now on his own, Beethoven read the song once more: “Schubert! Who are you? You belong to me! You are my brother! And I didn’t know. Now I’m getting to know you, now, when it is too late!” He sobbed uncontrollably. “Schubert, you rich, great artist. You are overflowing with music. How true and real everything within you is, how it all streams from your heart.”

“My great master”, Schindler wrote into the conversation book when he comes back. “did you like the songs?” Beethoven: “There is a divine spark in Schubert! Bring him here, it is urgent. I want to meet my successor!”

Schubert visited him with trembling knees – their goodbye was heartbreaking. A year later Franz Schubert died as well. It was his last wish to hear Beethoven’s string quartet op. 131 once more…

Missa Solemnis op. 123

On the first page of this manuscript, Ludwig van Beethoven made the following note: “May it go from heart to heart.”

A letter documented that it was his main intention to awaken religious feelings in the singers as well as in the listeners, and to make these last. Beethoven wrote to the Archduke Rudolf: “God knows my innermost being, and He knows how I, as a human being, fulfil all my duties, which mankind, God and nature ask of me, in the holiest way.”

How could this mass be written in such an unheard-of way? To do so, Beethoven must have known all the important compositions of the original catholic text. It took him years to give each word, each statement a new value, a new sound. The text and the notes were forged on an anvil again and again, they were worked on with hammers until the one minimal substance was left.

If you want to experience a shiver that runs down your spine, listen to the “Agnus Dei”: “Lamb of God, you who carries the sins of the world, give us peace!” And there is probably nobody who cannot perceive the soft drums at the end of the mass, after a rise of the double bass above all the instruments of the orchestra up to the highest regions which the human ear is able to hear.

For Johann Sebastian Bach the human being was still protected in an objective order connected to God. In the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, they could already sense individual impulses of peace and freedom in an innocent and perfect harmony.

Ludwig van Beethoven, however, was an inwardly haunted one. He was seeking for peace, freedom, greatness and love in a direct way, although he was plunged into an incredible loneliness through his deafness. He extracted high humane and ethical values from this dreadful misery, and was able to re-forge that which he was feeling as a burning, into musical forms of indescribably elated sensations on the anvil of his wonderful creativity. Wars, fights, consolation, life, ecstasy and thankfulness hit the listener directly, and there is hope in abundance against the background of his 9th symphony:

Überm Sternenzelt muss ein lieber Vater wohnen!“ (A dear father must be living above the tent of stars).

However, the ego must take its own existence upon itself actively.  Then the human being will become a human with an untouchable dignity.  The prayer for peace is as unfulfilled nowadays as it was then. Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” became a “Missa Spiritualis” through his profound soul penetration.

Recommendation: Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Singverein, Janowitz, Ludwig, Wunderlich, Berry (Deutsche Grammophon)

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Arnold Schoenberg Chor (Teldec)


What the Holy Scripture is for a religious person, Beethoven’s music may be for a humanistic and ethical person.

‘’Did Ludwig van Beethoven write his Fidelio, his only opera, only last year?’’ we might ask. The cries of the political prisoners for freedom out of their dark dungeons, from torture, starvation, Guantanamo, concentration camps … And then there is love, there are the lovers and the loved ones who fight against suppression and tyranny with courage and a willingness to make sacrifices.

 „O welche Lust, in freier Luft, den Atem leicht zu heben, nur hier ist Leben, o welche Lust!“ (Oh, what a pleasure once again, freely to breathe the fresh air! In Heaven’s light we live again.)

Florestan (prisoner):

„Gott, welch ein Dunkel hier: O grauenvolle Stille! Öd ist es um mich her. Nichts lebet außer mir. In des Lebens Frühlingstagen ist das Glück von mir geflohn! Wahrheit wagt ich kühn zu sagen, und die Ketten sind mein Lohn.“

(Alas! what darkness dense! What horrid stillness! Here in this dark tomb, is nothing known, but my deep anguish! Oh, most cruel torture! […] In the bright morning of life my liberty, alas! was lost: these chains are the reward of true and open speaking.)

Leonore to Florestan:

„Du sollst gerettet sein!

Die Liebe wird im Bunde mit Mute dich befrein.

O namenlose Freude!

O Gott, welch ein Augenblick!

O unaussprechlich süßes Glück!“

(You shall be saved! Love and courage will liberate you. O incredible joy! O God, what a moment! O inexpressibly sweet happiness!)

Those who hear this music, will inevitably be touched. The indescribable value of freedom: to be liberated from our mental and physical chains, liberated from Auschwitz, Gulags, prisons of any kind. And how quickly is this freedom trampled underfoot! Beethoven fathoms the abysmal depths with his music, the shadow side of humanity. With love and responsibility, and a willingness to make sacrifices, soul-filled ways to liberation are sought and found for the I-self.

The beauty of the music also calls for a spiritual interpretation: through his will to experience the good and the bad, through courage and a quest for truth, the human being reaches the deepest fetters of matter where death threatens him. At the end there is, however, the ascent into bliss and the highest love spheres. Selfhood, a will to survive and determination are a part of this way. Beethoven’s opera is a manifestation of the future, a new and gleaming dawn. The splendor of the new day is held aloft before humanity. The old ego world is transformed into a world of “us” amid great joy and elevated animation.

Recommendation: Ferenc Fricsay, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Leonie Rysanek, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau u. A. (DG)

(will be continued in part 2)

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Date: April 29, 2020
Author: Hermann Achenbach (Germany)
Photo: katermikesch auf Pixabay CCO

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