There's always room for Beethoven
When the world is too much with us, laying waste our powers, there's always Beethoven to turn to. A consolation and balm to soothe the savage beast in all our hearts -- in all weathers. A man for all seasons and for eternity. Herewith some excerpts from the book: "Beethoven: The man and the artist as revealed in his own words" -- Beethoven's thoughts on God -- and it is through the window of his genius that we glimpse the eternal.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
"It was not a fortuitous meeting of chordal atoms that made the world. If order and beauty are reflected in the constitution of the universe, then there is a God."
Ludwig van Beethoven is considered by many to be the world's greatest composer. From the time he was born in 1770, Beethoven faced overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. The defining tragedy of his life, and the one which diminished his performing career, was his growing deafness. It was this miserable affliction that intensified the tumultuous eruption of emotion which is found throughout Beethoven's life and music. As Beethoven's deafness increased, he withdrew more and more into the work of composing and into his intimate and unorthodox relationship with God.
Discerning Beethoven's belief is no easy task. All his biographers agree that he was intensely spiritual. But his untraditional faith makes it difficult to categorize the composer. Beethoven, like many geniuses, was a very complex man with eclectic interests and influences. Beethoven was born and baptized into a Roman Catholic family. His mother was very pious. In his youth, he attended a variety of churches and his principle teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe, was a Protestant believer. Beethoven's letters and diaries contain dozens of devout references to God, giving evidence of strong conviction. His relationship to God was deeply personal, and he turned to God to make sense out of life's unfairness.
To a close friend in 1810, he confessed an almost childlike faith: "I have no friend. I must live by myself. I know, however, that God is nearer to me than others. I go without fear to Him, I have constantly recognized and understood Him."
Beethoven owned both a French and a Latin Bible and late in life he prayed with his young nephew almost every morning. His library included such Christian devotionals as Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ and a very heavily marked copy of Christian Sturm's Reflections on the Works of God in Nature. And of course Beethoven composed some of the most profound Christian masterpieces of history.
Beethoven's complex personality traits leave the world's greatest musicologists at odds on the subject of the composer's faith. Perhaps the best clues to his personal beliefs can be found in Beethoven's music - music which reveals the man himself. The portrait of
Beethoven's life which emerges from historical accounts, his own written reflections and his music is one of tremendous achievement in the face of unimaginable difficulty and tragedy.
Hearing loss would present a severe trial to anyone, but for a musician - indeed, a master musician - deafness was devastating.
Nevertheless, Beethoven was determined to prevail and to continue in his art, which he considered a sacred trust placed upon him by his Creator. It is astonishing to study the complexities and beauty of his late works and to realize that, except in his imagination, he never heard them performed. Beethoven's principle virtue was his sheer determination to overcome. The judgement of a man's greatness is not only to be measured in the mission he accomplishes, but in the obstacles he has overcome in the process.
Some of Beethoven's writings:
"... From my childhood onward my heart and soul have been filled with tender feelings of goodwill, and I have always been willing to perform great and magnanimous deeds. But reflect, for the past 6 years I have been in an incurable condition made worse by unreasonable doctors. From year to year I have hoped to be cured, but in vain, and at last I have been forced to accept the prospect of a permanent infirmity... Ah, how could I possibly have referred to the weakening of a sense which ought to be more perfectly developed in me than in other people, a sense which I once possessed in the greatest perfection, to a degree which certainly few of my profession possess or have ever possessed... Such experiences have brought me close to despair, and I came near to ending own life - only my art held me back, as it seemed to me impossible to leave this world until I have produced everything I feel it has been granted to me to achieve. So I continue this miserable existence - truly miserable, as my body is so sensitive that my condition can change rapidly from very good to very bad.
Patience - that must be my guide, as I am determined, and I hope will always remain so, to endure until it pleases the inexorable Parcae to break the thread. Perhaps my lot will improve, perhaps not... It has not been easy, and more difficult for an artist than for anyone else. Oh God, you look down on my inner soul, and know that it is filled with love of humanity and the desire to do good... You my brothers...
I hereby nominate you both as heirs to my little property (if it can be so called); share it honestly, live in harmony, and help each other. You know that the harm you did me has long since been forgiven... My wish is that your lives will be better and less careladen than mine. Urge your children to follow the path of virtue, as that alone can bring happiness - money cannot. I speak from experience, as virtue alone has sustained me in my misery, and it was thanks to virtue, together with my art, that I did not end my life by committing suicide... So be it, I go joyfully towards death. If it comes before I have had the chance to develop all my artistic abilities, that will be too soon for me, despite my hard fate, and I would wish it to be postponed - yet should I not be satisfied, would it not release me from a condition of endless suffering? Come when you will, death, I will meet you resolutely. Farewell, and do not entirely forget me when I am dead; I have deserved to be remembered by you, as I have often thought of you during my lifetime. May you be happy. Ludwig van Beethoven." - Heiligenstadt Testament, 6th October 1802
"You must not be a human being, not for yourself, but only for others; for you there is no longer any happiness except within yourself, in your art" - Beethoven, 1812
"Would that it were possible without offending the widow, but it could not be. Only You, Almighty, see within my heart, and know that for my dear Karl's sake I have given up what is best for me: bless my work, bless the widow! Why can I not follow my heart completely and help her, the widow?" - Beethoven, 1812, during custody battle with his nephew's mother
"I have no friend. I must live by myself. I know, however, that God is nearer to me than others. I go without fear to Him, I have constantly recognized and understood Him." - Beethoven, 1818 letter to close friend
"God above everything! For an eternal, all-knowing Providence guides the fortune and misfortune of mortal men." - Beethoven, 1818
"[God] sees into my innermost heart and knows that as a man I perform most conscientiously and on all occasions the duties which Humanity, God, and Nature enjoin upon me." - Beethoven, July 1821 letter to Archduke Rudolph
"To my God, who has never abandoned me." - Beethoven, 1823, dedication of "Missa Solemnis" which he considered his greatest work "My chief aim was to awaken and permanently instill religious feelings not only into the singers but also into the listeners." - Beethoven, 1823 letter on "Missa Solemnis"
"Only in my divine art do I find the support which enables me to sacrifice the best part of my life to the heavenly Muses." - Beethoven, 1824
"... Indeed, a hard lot has fallen upon me! But I resign myself to the will of destiny, and only ask God constantly to grant through His divine will that, so long as I must still suffer death in life here, I am protected from penury. This will give me the strength to bear my lot, however hard and grievous, with resignation to the will of the Almighty." - Beethoven, 14th March 1827 letter to Ignaz Moscheles in London (Beethoven died on the 26th)
"Brothers, beyond yon starry canopy there must dwell a living Father."
- Beethoven, Ninth ("Choral") Symphony
"Regard Karl as your own child, disregard all idle talk, all pettiness for the sake of this holy cause... Your present condition is hard for you, but He who is above, - O, He is, and without Him there is nothing. In any event the sign has been accepted."
"In praise of Thy goodness I must confess that Thou didst try with all Thy means to draw me to Thee. Sometimes it pleased Thee to let me feel the heavy hand of Thy displeasure and to humiliate my proud heart by manifold castigations. Sickness and misfortune didst Thou send upon me to turn my thoughts to my errantries. - One thing, only, O Father, do I ask: cease not to labor for my betterment. In whatsoever manner it be, let me turn to Thee and become fruitful in good works."
"God is immaterial, and for this reason transcends every conception. Since He is invisible He can have no form. But from what we observe in His work we may conclude that He is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent."
"It seems as if in the country, every tree said to me, 'Holy, Holy, Holy.'"
"Before my departure for the Elysian fields I must leave behind me what the Eternal Spirit has infused into my soul and bids me complete. Why, I feel as if I had hardly composed more than a few notes. To men are allotted but a few days."
A copyist of his, Rampel obsequiously addressed Beethoven as "gracious Sir," to this Beethoven replied "Go to the devil with your 'gracious Sir!' There is only one who can be called gracious, and that is God."