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After Heiligenstadt


After his return from Heiligenstadt, Beethoven's music deepened. He began creating a new musical world. In the summer of 1803 he began work on his Third Symphony - the 'Eroica'. It was to be the paean of glory to Napoleon Bonaparte and like its subject, it was revolutionary. It was half as long as any previous symphony and its musical language was so uncompromising that it set up resistance in its first audiences. It broke the symphonic mold, yet established new, logical and cogent forms. This was the miracle Beethoven was to work many times.

Stephan von Breuning, with whom Beethoven shared rooms, reports a thunderous episode in connection with the 'Eroica' Symphony. In December, 1804, the news arrived that Napoleon, that toiler for the rights of the common people, had proclaimed himself Emperor. In a fury, Beethoven strode over to his copy of the Symphony, which bore a dedication to Napoleon, and crossed out the "Bonaparte" name in such violence that the pen tore in the paper. "Is he, too, nothing more than human?" he raged. "Now he will crush the rights of man. He will become a tyrant!"

For the next few years in Vienna, from 1804 to 1808, Beethoven lived in what might be described as a state of monotonous uproar. His relationships suffered elemental rifts, his music grew ever greater, and all the time he was in love with one women or another, usually high-born, sometimes unattainable, always unattained. he never married.

His Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were completed by the summer of 1808. The Fifth indeed takes fate by the throat; the Sixth (Pastoral) is a portrait of the countryside around Heilingenstadt. These and other works spread his name and fame.

In July 1812 Beethoven wrote a letter to an unidentified lady whom he addressed as The Immortal Beloved. It was as eloquent of love as his 'Heiligenstadt Testament' had been of despair. The following is a summary of the letter (follow the above link for more):

My angel, my all, my very self - a few words only today, and
in pencil (thine). Why such profound sorrow when necessity
speaks? Can our love endure but through sacrifice - but through
not demanding all - canst thou alter it that thou art not wholly
mine, I not wholly thine?

So moving an outpouring may well have resulted, at last, in some permanent arrangement - if the lady in question had been free, and if the letter had been sent. It was discovered in a secret drawer in Beethoven's desk after his death.

His brother Casper Carl died in November 1815. The consequences brought about something that neither the tragedy of deafness nor Napoleon's guns could achieve: they almost stopped Beethoven composing. Beethoven was appointed guardian of his brother's nine-year-old son, Karl - a guardianship he shared with the boy's mother Johanna. Beethoven took the appointment most seriously and was certain that Johanna did not. He believed her to be immoral, and immediately began legal proceedings to get sole guardianship of his nephew. The lawsuit was painful and protracted and frequently abusive, with Johanna asserting "How can a deaf, madman bachelor guard the boy's welfare?" - Beethoven repeatedly fell ill because of the strain. He did not finally secure custody of Karl until 1820, when the boy was 20.

The Ninth Symphony (Choral) was completed in 1823, by which time Beethoven was completely deaf. There was a poignant scene at the first performance. Despite his deafness, Beethoven insisted on conducting, but unknown to him the real conductor sat out of his sight beating time. As the last movement ended, Beethoven, unaware even that the music had ceased, was also unaware of the tremendous burst of applause that greeted it. One of the singers took him by the arm and turned him around so that he might actually see the ovation.
 
 
 
  Copyright (C) 2005 William Lane