Part 4: The Last Years. 1812 - 1827
Review Part 3: The Heroic Years. 1803 - 1811
Establish the second movement of the 7th Symphony and then take under.
The Life and Music of Ludwig van Beethoven by Shaun MacLoughlin . Part 4. The Last Years.
was completed in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz, in 1812, and was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries. Beethoven considered it one of his best works.
Bring up the 7th Symphony for a moment and then weave under.
On the 6th July of that year, he composed a famous letter. Here is an excerpt.
Beethoven in 1815
My Angel, My All, My Very Self,
My soul is so full of things to tell you - Oh - There are times when words are simply no use - remain my only true darling, my all, as I am yours . . . If only we could live together, what a life it is ! ! ! Without you . . . As much as you love me - I love you even more deeply . . . Oh, God - so near! So far! is our love not sent from Heaven? And is it not as firm as the firmament of Heaven?
Swell the 7th Symphony and take under again
Even lying in bed thoughts of you force themselves into my head, my Immortal Beloved . . . I can only live with you wholly or not at all, yes, I have even decided to wander helplessly, until I can fly into your arms, and say that I have found my haven there, embraced by you to be transported to the kingdom of spirits . . . Never can another woman possess my heart - never, never . . . Love me today - yesterday - what fearful longing for you - you - you - my life - my all - Farewell - Love me still never misjudge the most faithful love of your beloved .
Love ever mine, ever thine, ever ours.
Swell the 7th Symphony and fade.
This letter was found among his belongings on the day after his death. It is possible that it was never sent. There has been much speculation about who the unnamed woman was. In the ten page letter he mentions his journey from Prague and the town of "K" where she was staying. It is known that she was in Prague in July 1812 and that she went afterwards to Karlsbad. It seems therefore that Antonie Brentano is the main contender.
In Prague she was a married woman staying with her husband and three children. John Suchet, who has written the Classic FM guide to Beethoven and three novels based on Beethoven's life, has questioned both men and women as to whether it is possible she might have slipped out, unbeknown to her husband, for an affaire. All the men said "no" and all the women said "yes".
In 1813 Beethoven was approached by Johann Maelzel to write a piece to celebrate Wellington's victory at Vitoria in Spain. Maelzel had invented the panharmonicon, an automaton able to play the musical instruments of a military band, powered by bellows and directed by revolving cylinders storing the notes. He wanted Beethoven to write for his invention.
Bring up Wellington's Victory at Vitoria and take under.
Instead he wrote for a full orchestra including muskets and other artillery sound effects.
It uses older themes, such as
God Save the King, Rule Britannia
For He's a Jolly Good
The Duke of Wellington
It is not considered among Beethoven's greater works, but it enjoyed a popular and patriotic reception at Vienna. He replied to critics:
What I shit is better than what you could think up.
The concert included two marches by Maelzel's Mechanical trumpeter and the first performance of Beethoven's
for the benefit of sick and wounded Austrian and Bavarian soldiers. It was conducted by Beethoven, who was described by Spohr, one of the violinists.
He gave dynamic indications to the orchestra by all manner of peculiar bodily movements. As a sforzando occurred, he tore his arms asunder. At piano he crouched lower and lower. At the entrance of the forte he jumped into the air. Occasionally he would shout with the music in order to make the forte stronger. It was obvious the poor man could no longer hear the piano of his music.
Bring up Wellington's Victory at Vitoria and play out as appropriate.
In spite of this Beethoven was writing some of his greatest work. He had been re-writing his opera
since 1804 and it was finally performed in 1814. It was his only opera and John Suchet has described it as the greatest German opera ever composed.
Introduce the Chorus of Prisoners from Fidelio and weave under:
The original libretto by Nicolas Bouilly, who was a French administrator during the reign of terror, tells the story of how a woman disguised as a young man, enters her husband's prison and frees him from unjust captivity. It went through many versions and in the final libretto by Friedrich Treitschke, Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio", rescues her husband Florestan from death..
A French Poster of Fidelio
Its scenario fitted Beethoven's aesthetic and political outlook: a story of personal sacrifice, heroism and eventual triumph with its underlying struggle for liberty and justice mirroring contemporary political movements in Europe.
It was first produced as a three-act opera called Leonore, but its success was greatly hindered by the fact that Vienna was under French military occupation, and most of the audience were French military officers.
After this premiere, Beethoven was pressured by friends to revise and shorten the opera into just two acts. Treitschke describes the process:
Pencil drawing by Louis Letronne 1814
He suggested my humble self for this work. My twofold office of opera poet and stage manager made his wish a precious duty. One evening Beethoven came to see me. I had just finished the aria. He read it, ran up and down the room mumbling and humming, and then opened the piano. The hours passed, but Beethoven went on improvising. My wife served supper, but he would not be disturbed. Much later he embraced me, and forgoing the meal, hurried home. The next day the wonderful composition was ready.
In this new version the opera had a great success and enjoyed a run of very well attended performances. On the first evening the composer was called before the curtain a number of times and was once again the object of general attention.
Bring up the Chorus of Prisoners and play out..
Earlier the same year Beethoven's
had also been premiered.
Introduce and establish the second movement of the 8th Symphony. Then weave under:
John Suchet says: "there is no question that this is the brightest and most fun of all his symphonies". Beethoven fondly referred to it as:
My little symphony in F..
When asked by his pupil Carl Czerny why the Eighth was less popular than the Seventh, Beethoven is said to have replied
Because the Eighth is so much better.
Anton Schindler described the premiere.
Anyone capable of imagining an assembly of 5000 listeners, their spirits heightened as a result of recent world-shaking events on the battlefields of Leipzig and Hanau....
Napoleon was shortly to be exiled to the island of Elba.
..... But also in the assembly's awareness of the great worth of the art offered for their enjoyment, will have an idea of the enthusiasm shown by that large company of art lovers.!
Bring up and play out the 8th Symphony as appropriate
But as often in life, a great sadness followed. In 1815 Beethoven's brother, Carl Casper died of consumption. His last will and testament contained these stipulations:
I commend my soul to the mercy of God, but that my body be buried in the simplest manner in accordance with the rites of Christian Catholicism.
I appoint my brother, Ludwig, guardian. I ask that he shall bestow the love and friendship, which he often showed me, upon my son Karl.
The wagon, horse, goat, peacocks and plants growing in vessels in the garden are the property of my wife, since these objects were purchased with money left by the legacy from her grandfather.
There was some ambiguity in the will, as to whether Ludwig had sole guardianship of his eight year old nephew. However he won a legal case against his sister-in-law, whom he referred to as "Queen of the Night". From now on Ludwig had sole responsibility for the young boy's welfare.
Introduce Piano Sonata 29, Opus 106.
Beethoven had often dreamed of visiting London, where his predecessors Handel and Mozart had enjoyed great success. So he was delighted to hear from his former pupil and friend, Ries, who was living there.
June 9th, 1817
The gratitude which I owe you, I hope to prove in more than words. The London Philharmonic Society, at whose concerts your compositions are preferred to all others, would like to have you with us next winter. I have been commissioned to offer you 300 guineas, for which you are to write two symphonies for the Society, which are to be its sole property. I remain always
Your thankful sincere friend
After some negotiation he accepted the terms. But he never fulfilled this contract to write his ninth or tenth symphonies, nor did he visit London. He was too taken up by responsibilities for his nephew and by the composition of his famous
, which in its technical demands, its scale and its breadth of expressive content is a turning point in the history of the piano sonata.
Bring up the Sonata and play out as appropriate.
Although he did not go to England, John Broadwood of London shipped him via Trieste a present of a pianoforte. He wrote to thank them in French.
Drawing by August Klober 1818
I consider it as an altar, on which I offer the fruits of my spirit to Apollo.
He used this piano until the end of his life.
However the years 1818 to 23 were among Beethoven's least productive. He was distracted by incessant legal wrangles over Karl's guardianship. Karl to'd and fro'd between various boarding schools, staying with a disorganised musical genius of an uncle and on at least one occasion running away to be with his mother.
Yet out of this fallow period were to emerge two of the greatest musical compositions in the history of the world. Beethoven made a start on the 9th Symphony and on the
, which was intended for the enthronement of Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmütz in 1820. Beethoven wrote to him:
Rudolph, Archbishop of Olmuetz
The day, on which a High Mass composed by me will be performed during the ceremonies solemnized for Your Imperial Highness, will be the most glorious day of my life; and God will enlighten me so that my poor talents may contribute to the glorification of that day.
Sadly the Mass wasn't ready in time. It had to wait until 1824 for its first public performance.
Establish and weave under the Kyrie from the Missa Solemnis.
When Beethoven wrote the Kyrie, he was deaf, ill, and worried about his nephew, yet he wrote on the score:
To my God, who has never deserted me. My chief aim is to awaken and permanently instil religious feelings, not only into the singers, but also into the listeners.
Bring up the Kyrie and play out as appropriate.
In 1822 he met two other composers: Schubert and Rossini. The young Franz Schubert was a great admirer of his and dedicated to him his
Variations on a French Song
. He was delighted to hear that Beethoven played these frequently and gladly with his nephew Karl. Schubert described Beethoven holding forth in his local inn.
Those about him contributed little, merely laughing or nodding. He spoke of the English and of how they were associated in his thoughts with a splendour incomparable. For the French he had no kind words. His remarks were made with the greatest unconcern and without the least reserve, and whatever he said was spiced with highly original, naive judgements or comical fantasies.
He impressed me as being a man with a rich, aggressive intellect, an unlimited never resting imagination.
The other composer, Rossini was popular in the drawing rooms of Vienna for his elegant manners and brilliant conversation. Beethoven said of him:
What is Rossini? A good scene painter.
If Dame Fortune had not given him a pretty talent and pretty melodies by the bushel, what he learned at school would have brought him nothing but potatoes for his big belly.
His music suits the frivolous and sensuous spirit of the times, and his productivity is so great that he needs only as many weeks as a German needs years to write an opera.
On November 9th Wilhelmine Schroder-Devrient, whom Wagner later admired for her intensity, performed her debut as Leonore in Fidelio.
Establish duet from Fidelio then weave under
Under the guidance of my talented mother many of the traits in Leonore's character became clear to me; however, I was still too young, too little developed within to have a full understanding of what took place in Leonore's soul, emotions for which Beethoven had conceived his immortal harmonies.
Even then they used to call me a little genius; and indeed on that evening a more mature spirit seemed to have come over me. The next day he came himself, the great master, to bring me his thanks and congratulations. With hot ears I moistened the hand that he offered me, and in my joy, I would not have exchanged anything in the world for this praise from Beethoven's lips!
Bring up duet from Fidelio and play out as appropriate.
Beethoven began to have trouble with his eyesight as well as his hearing. He was also upset by the ill health of his brother, Johann, and by his wife, who took advantage of his illness to commit adultery. Schindler, who lived next door, reported:
It is more than barbarous if that woman, while her husband is lying ill, introduces her lover into his room, prinks herself like a sleigh horse in his presence, and then goes driving with him, leaving the sick husband languishing at home.
I shall never forget that you are my brother, and a good angel will yet come to rid you of these two canailles, this strumpet who slept with her fellow no less than three times, while you were ill and, who, in addition, to everything else, has your money wholly in her hands. O infamous disgrace, isn't there a spark of manhood in you?!!!
Meanwhile Beethoven laboured at what he called his
Symphony for England
for the London Philharmonic Society. We now call it his
Establish the first movement from the 9th Symphony and then weave under:
Completely preoccupied, he roamed through fields, sketchbook in hand, without giving a thought to the arranged hours for meals. When he returned he was repeatedly without his hat, which never happened formerly even in the moments of highest inspiration..
He had had the idea for the
for more than eighteen years, when he had first talked of setting Schiller's
An die Freude (Ode to Joy)
to music. Word spread in Vienna that he was doing something revolutionary.
Never before had voices been included in a symphony.
It was known that he had approached the Berlin Theatre, inquiring whether the first performance of this work, as well as his Missa Solemnis might receive its first performance there. Thirty of Vienna's prominent citizens, including his patron, Prince Lichnowsky, wrote to him:.
Friedrich von Schiller
Austria, which encouraged the immortal works of Haydn and Mozart, is best entitled to claim Beethoven as her own. Withhold no longer a performance of the latest masterwork of your hands. We know that a new flower glows in the garland of your glorious, still unequalled symphonies. For years we have hoped to see you distribute new gifts from the fullness of your riches to your circle of friends. Do not any longer disappoint everybody's expectations! Do not allow these, your latest offspring, some day to appear as foreigners in their place of birth, introduced to persons, to whom you and your mind are strange! Appear soon among your friends, your admirers, your venerators!
Bring up the first movement from the 9th Symphony and play out.
Referring to Schiller's
Ode to Joy
, they continued:
Worthy material from the hand of a poet waits to be charmed into life by your fancy.
Beethoven agreed; and after much negotiation it was finally agreed that the play would be produced at the Karnthnertor Theatre.
Bring up the Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony, possibly just before the singers enter. Establish a little. Then:
Beethoven himself rehearsed the singers, in spite of his deafness. They were used to the simpler melodies of Rossini and particularly of Haydn. He left them little opportunity to draw breath. The Hungarian contralto, Karoline Unger, threw a tantrum.
You are a tyrant over the vocal chords.
John Suchet in his Friendly Guide to Beethoven describes the unexpected success of the performance.
Beethoven had insisted on standing alongside the conductor to help him with the beat.
Bring the symphony to an end. Then bring in sound effects as described
When the final fortissimo sounded the audience erupted, applauding wildly, waving hats and handkerchiefs in the air, calling Beethoven's name.
He himself oblivious to all around him, continued to wave his arms, hearing the sound of his work only in his head, conducting his imaginary orchestra. Karoline Unger stepped forward and tugged on his knee. He looked at her in alarm.
Drawing by Johann Stephan Decker 1824
What? What is it? Has it . . . ? Am I . . . ?
Smiling she gestured to the audience, and gently turned him round.
He saw hundreds of cheering faces, mouths open, hats and handkerchiefs in the air, lips silently mouthing his name, the noise and vibration registering in his head like a thousand tiny explosions.
Beethoven had given the world his greatest work.
Reprise the Ode to Joy under the following:
It is now the anthem for the European Union. Incidentally there is an entertaining, if not entirely accurate, rendering of this event in the film
Almost fifty years later Karoline Unger wrote to a friend:
I remember my insolent remark that he did not know how to write for the voice, because one note in my part lay too high. He answered:
Just learn it! The note will come.
extract from the Movie
His words spurred me to work from that day on.
You do me too much honour in believing that Beethoven had a weakness for me. His great goodness to me was the legacy of his friendship for my father. As far back as I can remember, I see the greatest master of all time meeting us on solitary walks. He generously encouraged me to continue with my progress with my music, until the moment when I was so fortunate as to be permitted to participate in that great work, which was not so completely recognised as it is now.
Play out the Ode to Joy as appropriate
Between the performance of the 9th Symphony and the end of his life three years later, while completely deaf he composed some of his profoundest works. These were the late string quartets.
Bring up the String Quartet opus 127
Thirty years after his death, the violinist, Karl Holz remembered:
A wealth of new quartet ideas streamed forth from his inexhaustible imagination. "My dear friend, I have just had a new idea", he used to say in a joking manner and with shining eyes, when we would go out for a walk. He added:
Art demands that we don't stand still. You will find here a new kind of voice-leading, and as to imagination, it will, God willing, be less lacking than ever before.
Particularly during his final period, it seemed as John Suchet says, that he needed tension, stress and pressure to enable him to write. Infused with the Holy Spirit, he had at the same time an enormous ego.
His most turbulent relationship was with his nephew Karl, who was now studying philology at the University of Vienna. Beethoven had perforce given up his ambition that Karl should become a musician, but was devastated to discover that he now wished to become a soldier. Beethoven's treatment of Karl was highly erratic. He was furious that Karl should borrow money from servants, and on the other hand he entrusted Karl to carry out important negotiations and correspondence for him. Having berated him for disobeying him and visiting the 'Queen of the night', his mother, he later wrote to him:
The ruins of Rauhenstein Castle
Do but obey me and love and happiness of the soul paired with human happiness will be at our side. I embrace you and kiss you a thousand times, not as my prodigal, but as my new born son.
Bring up the String Quartet and play out as appropriate.
But they continued to quarrel. In July 1826 Karl pawned his watch and bought two pistols. The next day he climbed to the ruins of Rauhenstein Castle in the countryside that Beethoven loved so much, and discharged both pistols toward his left temple.
He bungled it. The first bullet flew past harmlessly. The second ripped the flesh and grazed the bone, but did not penetrate the skull.
A workman came upon him lying among the ruins and, probably at Karl's request, carried him to his mother's house. At that time attempted suicide was a crime. Karl later said to the police.
Karl van Beethoven. His hair is combed forward to hide the gunshot wound
I was tired of life. I was weary of imprisonment. I grew worse because my uncle wanted me to be better.
Karl still wanted to become a soldier and the opinion of Stephan van Breuning, a councillor in the war department, carried some weight.
A military life will be the best discipline for one who cannot endure freedom; and it will teach him to live on little.
Reluctantly Beethoven agreed. Karl left Vienna for the army in December and never saw his uncle again. Meanwhile Beethoven had returned from the country with pneumonia and now developed dropsy, which over the next three months was 'tapped' four times. During this time he was visited by the young singers Ludwig Cramolini and Nanette Schechner, who were recently betrothed.
He asked us to sing for him. Schindler sat down at one of the two pianos that stood side by side in the middle of the room, and we stood facing Beethoven. I took courage and sang with true fervour, the song of songs, Beethoven's divine
Afterwards he motioned me over to him, pressed my hand cordially and said:
Unfortunately I can hear nothing, but from your breathing I can see that you sing correctly, and in your eyes I have read that you feel what you sing. It has been a great pleasure for me.
Bring up Adelaide. and play out as appropriate.
Apart from such delightful intervals, he was too weak to work and spent much of his energy worrying about money. Word got out about these anxieties and the London Philharmonic society sent him £100, which arrived three days before his death on 24th March. Schindler reported:
His delight on receiving this noble gift resembled that of a child.
When the business of his will had been settled, there remained with us only one ardent wish - to reconcile him with heaven.
Gently introduce the Agnus Dei from the Missa Solemnis and weave under.
He agreed and after receiving the last rites of the Catholic Church, he said to the priest.
I thank you ghostly sir! You have brought me comfort!
Shortly afterwards a shipment of wine mixed with herbs arrived from a well wisher. Beethoven's last words were:
Pity, pity - too late!
Anselm Huttenbrenner, a friend of his for eleven years, was present at his death bed on March 26th.
In the death chamber during the last moments of of Beethoven's life there came a flash of lightning accompanied by a violent clap of thunder. Beethoven opened his eyes, lifted his right hand and looked up for several seconds with his fist clenched and a very serious, threatening expression as if he wanted to said: "Inimical powers, I defy you! Away with you! God is with me!"
He let the raised hand sink to the bed. Not another breath, nor a heartbeat more! The genius of the great master fled from this world of delusion into the realm of truth!
Beethoven on his deathbed by Joseph Teltscher
Bring up the Agnus Dei from the Missa Solemnis and play out under the credits.
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