van Beethoven wrote
"...my misfortune pains me doubly, in as much as it leads to
my being misjudged. For me there can be no relaxation in human
society; no refined conversations, no mutual confidences. I must
live quite alone and may creep into society only as often as sheer
necessity demands; I must live like an outcast. If I appear in
company I am overcome by a burning anxiety, a fear that I am
running the risk of letting people notice my condition...such
experiences almost made me despair, and I was on the point of
putting an end to my life - the only thing that held me back was
my art. For indeed it seemed to me impossible to leave this world
before I had produced all the works that I felt the urge to
compose, and thus I have dragged on this miserable
Emily Anderson, The Letters of Beethoven, Vol. 3
Beethoven, one of the greatest composers of all times suffered
from manic depression. He once wrote "As for me, "I am
in despair so often and would like to end my life."
Times of Ludwig Van Beethoven
His early life: Beethoven
was born in Bonn on December 16, 1770, the son of Johann van Beethoven,
tenor in the choir of the archbishop-elector of Cologne, and his wife,
Maria Magdalena Ludwig's father drilled him thoroughly with the
ambition of showcasing him as a child prodigy. Ludwig gave his first
performance as a pianist when he was eight years old. At the age of
eleven he received the necessary systematic training in piano
performance and composition from Christian Gottlob Neefe, organist
and court musician in Bonn. Employed as a musician in Bonn court
orchestra since 1787, Beethoven was granted a paid leave of absence in
the early part of 1787 to study in Vienna under Mozart. he was soon
compelled to return to Bonn, however, and after his mother's death had
to look after the family.
His ascent to
1789 he started to play the viola in the Opera Orchestra, while also
composing and teaching. In 1790 he met Haydn, who agreed to
teach him in Vienna, and Beethoven moved to Vienna permanently. There he
also studied with Albrechtsberger and, possibly, Salieri. He was
befriended by Prince Karl Lichnowsky(to whom he dedicated his Piano
Sonata in C Minor, the Path¨¦tique ). Lichnowsky was the first of many
friends to give him financial support throughout his working life. In
1795 he performed in public in Vienna for the first time, and published
his Op.1 trios and Op.2 piano sonatas. Subsequent appearances in Prague,
Dresden, and Berlin brought him growing fame as a pianist, and
especially as an improviser.
Beethoven's creative life is
traditionally divided into three periods. In the first (1792--1802), the
individuality of his style gradually developed, and he composed mainly
for the piano. Among these works were his Symphony no.1 in C (1800) and
Symphony no.2 in D (1802), his first six quartets, and the Path¨¦tique
(1799). The Moonlight Sonata in C Sharp Minor (1801) heralded the
beginning of the second period.
Onset of deafness and the 'Heliegenstadt
career as a virtuoso pianist was brought to an end when he began to
experience his first symptoms of deafness. Deafness
did not effect his ability to compose, but it curtailed his ability to
perform and teach (as all communication with him had to be through
written notes). In his despair he wrote a will-like document to his two
brothers, known as the "Heliegenstadt Testament", in which he
confessed his misery and indicated that he felt close to death. He
recovered, however, and the works of this middle period, known as his
"heroic period', show him determined to strive creatively in the
face of despair - in his own words "seizing fate by the throat'.
at the zenith of his career:
third symphony (twice the then normal length for a symphony) was
originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he saw as a
revolutionary hero and liberator. But when Beethoven heard Napoleon had
proclaimed himself emperor, he defaced the title page in disillusionment
and called the work Eroica (1803). Other works during this period
include the Kreuzer Sonata (1803), symphonies 3--7, the Violin Concerto
in D Major (1806), the Razumovsky Quartets (1806), the Emperor Concerto
(1809), and the Archduke Trio Op.97 (1811).
his only opera, Fidelio (written 1805, revised 1806 and 1814), the
dominating themes were fidelity, personal liberation, and a symbolic
passage from darkness into light. That married infidelity was central to
the opera probably reflected Beethoven's desire to marry. At the time of
the composition he was deeply in love with a socially unattainable
Josephine von Brunsvik.
In 1801 he had wanted to marry Countess
Giulietta Guicciardi, also a pupil, to whom he had dedicated the
Moonlight Sonata, but she eventually married someone else in 1803.
Beethoven always regretted not marrying, but even his love for Therese
Malfatti in 1810 ended without marriage. On his death a letter, written
in 1812, was found among his belongings. It was addressed to his
"Immortal Beloved", and various suppositions have been made
about the identity of the recipient (if, indeed, it had ever been sent).
It seems, however, that despite his yearning for marriage Beethoven was
probably too absorbed in his music and too emotionally high-charged to
sustain such a relationship.
Final days: From
1813 (the beginning of his third period, also known as the "silent
period') he composed less, and his domestic life became increasingly
chaotic. Beethoven gave his last public performance on the piano in
1814, but continued to be respected as an important composer by Viennese
society, despite his unkemptness and arrogance. His achievements in the
last decade of his life include the Diabelli Variations (1820--3), the
last piano sonatas, the last six string quartets,
the Mass in D Major, Missa solemnis (1823), and the Choral Symphony, no.
9 (1824) - in which he set An die Freude (Ode to Joy) by Friedrich von
Schiller in the final movement. (Beethoven greatly admired the work of
Schiller and Goethe; the emotion of Sturm und Drang.) In
early December Beethoven returned to Vienna with Karl and the journey
brought the composer down with pneumonia. He recovered, only to be laid
low again with cirrhosis of the liver, which in turn gave way to dropsy.
His condition had deteriorated dramatically by the beginning of March
and, sensing the worst, his friends rallied round: faithful Stephan
brought his family and Schubert paid his respects.
Beethoven's final moments, if a report by Schubert's friend
Huttenbrenner are to believed, were dramatic in the extreme. At about
5:45 in the afternoon of 26 March, 1827, as a storm raged, Beethoven's
room was suddenly filled with light and shaken with thunder:
eyes opened and he lifted his right fist for
several seconds, a serious, threatening expression on
his face. When his had fell back, he half closed his eyes
... Not another word, not another heartbeat.
Hummel were among the 20,000 - 30,000 people who mourned the composer at
his funeral three days later. He was buried in Wahring Cemetery; in 1888
his remains were removed to Zentral-friedhof in Vienna - a great resting
place for musicians - where he lies side-by-side with Schubert.