Did you know that in 1802, Beethoven confessed that he was ready to end his life?
Today is the 245th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). My big Beethoven memory was playing Moonlight Sonata in front of the school during a choral concert during my 10th grade year. If you know this piece, you know that it’s in C# minor with a very somber mood. Yet, with my nerves, I played that piece a bit too fast, making it sound like the music that accompanies a carousel at an amusement park.
But I digress.
While Leonard Bernstein comments in his book The Joy of Music that Beethoven was low on melody, he certainly was high on passion! From his minimalistic Für Elise to the uber-popular first movement of his Fifth Symphony, passion abounds! But there was a time in 1801 when Beethoven confided to friends that he thought his hearing was leaving him. So, in 1802, resting in Heiligenstadt, Germany, he penned this letter to his brother Carl and the family. It’s known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. He penned this tragic sentence:
What a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life.
Such despair! As you read through this letter, you see that, as a musician losing his hearing left him wondering if life were worth living. He could not hear conversation, mingle in society–what use was a deaf musician?
Yet, this was written in 1802, but he lived another 25 years! What made him decide to keep living life?
Only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence –
This tragic letter, almost a last testament, has this one glimmer. One remains suspect regarding the depth of Beethoven’s religious life, but this aspect of a felling of what was “called upon me to produce” gave him a sense of purpose and meaning. Art! Music! So in the midst of his ‘wretched existence,’ he left behind music that changed the trajectory of music to come.
What do you feel called upon to produce? If you are a follower of Christ, you are called to produce a life that is glorifying to God in all things. May God give us a motor and a purpose to accomplish His will as we walk in His way (Proverbs 3:5-6).
And I pray that Beethoven surrendered to the Author or all art and music, and is eternally singing that sweet song of salvation.