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Ludwig van Beethoven

German Composer


A selection from

Narrated by Michael Prichard

Download mp3 file: Beethoven's Letters

This file is 6.8 MB; running time is 27 minutes
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June 29, 1801

My Dear and Valued Wegeler,

You desire to know something of my position; well! it is by no means bad.

That malicious demon, however, bad health, has been a stumbling-block in my path; my hearing during the last three years has become gradually worse. The chief cause of this infirmity proceeds from the state of my digestive organs, which, as you know, were formerly bad enough, but have latterly become much worse, and being constantly afflicted with diarrhoea, has brought on extreme weakness.

My ears are buzzing and ringing perpetually, day and night. I can with truth say that my life is very wretched; for nearly two years past I have avoided all society, because I find it impossible to say to people, I am deaf! In any other profession this might be more tolerable, but in mine such a condition is truly frightful. Besides, what would my enemies say to this?—and they are not few in number.

To give you some idea of my extraordinary deafness, I must tell you that in the theatre I am obliged to lean close up against the orchestra in order to understand the actors, and when a little way off I hear none of the high notes of instruments or singers. It is most astonishing that in conversation some people never seem to observe this; being subject to fits of absence, they attribute it to that cause. I often can scarcely hear a person if speaking low; I can distinguish the tones, but not the words, and yet I feel it intolerable if any one shouts to me. Heaven alone knows how it is to end! How often have I cursed my existence! If I continue in the same state, I shall come to you in the ensuing spring, when you must engage a house for me somewhere in the country, amid beautiful scenery, and I shall then become a rustic for a year, which may perhaps effect a change. Resignation!—what a miserable refuge! and yet it is my sole remaining one.

Ludwig van Beethoven

To my brothers Carl and Johann Beethoven:

Oct. 6, 1802

Oh! ye who think or declare me to be hostile, morose, and misanthropical, how unjust you are, and how little you know the secret cause of what appears thus to you! My heart and mind were ever from childhood prone to the most tender feelings of affection, and I was always disposed to accomplish something great. But you must remember that six years ago I was attacked by an incurable malady, aggravated by unskilful physicians, deluded from year to year, too, by the hope of relief, and at length forced to the conviction of a lasting affliction (the cure of which may go on for years, and perhaps after all prove impracticable).

Born with a passionate and excitable temperament, keenly susceptible to the pleasures of society, I was yet obliged early in life to isolate myself, and to pass my existence in solitude. If I at any time resolved to surmount all this, oh! how cruelly was I again repelled by the experience, sadder than ever, of my defective hearing!—and yet I found it impossible to say to others: Speak louder; shout! for I am deaf! Alas! how could I proclaim the deficiency of a sense which ought to have been more perfect with me than with other men,—a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, to an extent, indeed, that few of my profession ever enjoyed! Alas, I cannot do this! Forgive me therefore when you see me withdraw from you with whom I would so gladly mingle. My misfortune is doubly severe from causing me to be misunderstood. No longer can I enjoy recreation in social intercourse, refined conversation, or mutual outpourings of thought. Completely isolated, I only enter society when compelled to do so. I must live like an exile. In company I am assailed by the most painful apprehensions, from the dread of being exposed to the risk of my condition being observed. It was the same during the last six months I spent in the country. My intelligent physician recommended me to spare my hearing as much as possible, which was quite in accordance with my present disposition, though sometimes, tempted by my natural inclination for society, I allowed myself to be beguiled into it. But what humiliation when any one beside me heard a flute in the far distance, while I heard nothing, or when others heard a shepherd singing, and I still heard nothing! Such things brought me to the verge of desperation, and wellnigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone, deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce?And thus I spared this miserable life—so utterly miserable that any sudden change may reduce me at any moment from my best condition into the worst. It is decreed that I must now choose Patience for my guide! This I have done. I hope the resolve will not fail me, steadfastly to persevere till it may please the inexorable Fates to cut the thread of my life. Perhaps I may get better, perhaps not. I am prepared for either. Constrained to become a philosopher in my twenty-eighth year! This is no slight trial, and more severe on an artist than on any one else. God looks into my heart, He searches it, and knows that love for man and feelings of benevolence have their abode there! Oh! ye who may one day read this, think that you have done me injustice, and let any one similarly afflicted be consoled, by finding one like himself, who, in defiance of all the obstacles of Nature, has done all in his power to be included in the ranks of estimable artists and men. My wish is that you may enjoy a happier life, and one more free from care, than mine has been. I joyfully hasten to meet Death. If he comes before I have had the opportunity of developing all my artistic powers, then, notwithstanding my cruel fate, he will come too early for me, and I should wish for him at a more distant period; but even then I shall be content, for his advent will release me from a state of endless suffering. Come when he may, I shall meet him with courage. Farewell! Do not quite forget me, even in death; I deserve this from you, because during my life I so often thought of you, and wished to make you happy. Amen!

Ludwig van Beethoven

July 6, 1806 in the morning (To his "Immortal Beloved," Beethoven's unknown lover)

My angel, my all, my very self - Only a few words today and at that with pencil (with yours) - Not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon - what a useless waste of time - Why this deep sorrow when necessity speaks - can our love endure except through sacrifices, through not demanding everything from one another; can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine - Oh God, look out into the beauties of nature and comfort your heart with that which must be - Love demands everything and that very justly - thus it is to me with you, and you with me. But you forget so easily that I must live for me and for you; if we were wholly united you would feel the pain of it as little as I - My journey was a fearful one: I did not reach here until 4 o'clock yesterday morning. Lacking horses the postcoach chose another route, but what an awful one; at the stage before the last I was warned not to travel at night; I was made fearful of the forest, but that only made me the more eager - and I was wrong. The coach must needs break down on the wretched road, a bottomless mud road. Without such postilions as I had with me I should have remained stuck in the road. Esterhazy, traveling the usual road here, had the same fate with eight horses that I had with four - yet I got some pleasure out of it, as I always do when I successfully overcome difficulties - Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other soon; moreover, today I cannot share with you the thoughts I have had during these last few days touching my own life - If our hearts were always close together, I would have none of these. My heart is full of so many things to say to you - ah - there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all - Cheer up - remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours. The gods must send us the rest, what for us must and shall be-

Your faithful Ludwig

Monday Evening, July 6

You grieve! dearest of all beings! I have just heard that the letters must be sent off very early. Mondays and Thursdays are the only days when the post goes to K. from here. You grieve! Ah! where I am, there you are ever with me; how earnestly shall I strive to pass my life with you, and what a life will it be!!! Whereas now!! without you!! and persecuted by the kindness of others, which I neither deserve nor try to deserve! The servility of man towards his fellow-man pains me, and when I regard myself as a component part of the universe, what am I, what is he who is called the greatest?—and yet herein are displayed the godlike feelings of humanity!—I weep in thinking that you will receive no intelligence from me till probably Saturday. However dearly you may love me, I love you more fondly still. Never conceal your feelings from me. Good-night! As a patient at these baths, I must now go to rest ‘a few words are here effaced by Beethoven himself’. Oh, heavens! so near, and yet so far! Is not our love a truly celestial mansion, but firm as the vault of heaven itself?

July 7

Good Morning!

Even before I rise, my thoughts throng to you, my immortal beloved!—sometimes full of joy, and yet again sad, waiting to see whether Fate will hear us. I must live either wholly with you, or not at all. Indeed I have resolved to wander far from you till the moment arrives when I can fly into your arms, and feel that they are my home, and send forth my soul in unison with yours into the realm of spirits. Alas! it must be so! You will take courage, for you know my fidelity. Never can another possess my heart—never, never! Oh, heavens! Why must I fly from her I so fondly love? and yet my existence in W. was as miserable as here. Your love made me the most happy and yet the most unhappy of men. At my age, life requires a uniform equality; can this be found in our mutual relations? My angel! I have this moment heard that the post goes every day, so I must conclude, that you may get this letter the sooner. Be calm! for we can only attain our object of living together by the calm contemplation of our existence. Continue to love me. Yesterday, to-day, what longings for you, what tears for you! for you! for you! my life! my all! Farewell! Oh! love me forever, and never doubt the faithful heart of your lover, L.

Ever thine.

Ever mine.

Ever each other's.

To Bettina von Arnim:

August 15, 1812

My most dear kind friend,—

Kings and princes can indeed create professors and privy-councillors, and confer titles and decorations, but they cannot make great men,—spirits that soar above the base turmoil of this world. There their powers fail, and this it is that forces them to respect us.When two persons like Goethe and myself meet, these grandees cannot fail to perceive what such as we consider great. Yesterday, on our way home, we met the whole Imperial family; we saw them coming some way off, when Goethe withdrew his arm from mine, in order to stand aside; and, say what I would, I could not prevail on him to make another step in advance. I pressed down my hat more firmly on my head, buttoned up my great-coat, and, crossing my arms behind me, I made my way through the thickest portion of the crowd. Princes and courtiers formed a lane for me; Archduke Rudolph took off his hat, and the Empress bowed to me first. These great ones of the earth know me. To my infinite amusement, I saw the procession defile past Goethe, who stood aside with his hat off, bowing profoundly. I afterwards took him sharply to task for this; I gave him no quarter, and upbraided him with all his sins, especially towards you, my dear friend, as we had just been speaking of you. Heavens! if I could have lived with you as he did, believe me I should have produced far greater things. A musician is also a poet, he too can feel himself transported into a brighter world by a pair of fine eyes, where loftier spirits sport with him and impose heavy tasks on him. What thoughts rushed into my mind when I first saw you in the Observatory during a refreshing May shower, so fertilizing to me also!The most beautiful themes stole from your eyes into my heart, which shall yet enchant the world when Beethoven no longer directs. If God vouchsafes to grant me a few more years of life, I must then see you once more, my dear, most dear friend, for the voice within, to which I always listen, demands this. Spirits may love one another, and I shall ever woo yours. Your approval is dearer to me than all else in the world. I told Goethe my sentiments as to the influence praise has over men like us, and that we desire our equals to listen to us with their understanding. Emotion suits women only; (forgive me” music ought to strike fire from the soul of a man. Ah! my dear girl, how long have our feelings been identical on all points!!! The sole real good is some bright kindly spirit to sympathize with us, whom we thoroughly comprehend, and from whom we need not hide our thoughts. He who wishes to appear something, must in reality be something. The world must acknowledge us, it is not always unjust; but for this I care not, having a higher purpose in view. I hope to get a letter from you in Vienna; write to me soon and fully, for a week hence I shall be there. The Court leaves this to-morrow, and to-day they have another performance. The Empress has studied her part thoroughly. The Emperor and the Duke wished me to play some of my own music, but I refused, for they are both infatuated with Chinese porcelain. A little indulgence is required, for reason seems to have lost its empire; but I do not choose to minister to such perverse folly—I will not be a party to such absurd doings to please those princes who are constantly guilty of eccentricities of this sort. Adieu! adieu! dear one; your letter lay all night next my heart, and cheered me. Musicians permit themselves great license. Heavens! how I love you!

Your most faithful friend and deaf brother,


More information about Ludwig van Beethoven from Wikipedia

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