REVELATIONS OF SILENCE
The Heiligenstadt Will
"For my brothers Carl and _______ Beethoven
O you men who consider or declare me hostile, obstinate or misanthropic, how wrong you do me. You do not know the secret cause of that which appears thus to you. My heart and my mind have been inclined towards the tender feeling(s) of affection from childhood on; to accomplish great deeds myself, I have always been disposed towards. But just consider that for six years, I have been inflicted with an incurable condition, aggravated by incapable physicians, deluded year after year by the hope of improvement, finally forced to the realization of a lasting infliction (the cure of which may take years or even prove impossible); born with a fiery, lively temperament, even susceptible to the distractions of society, I had to isolate myself early and spend my life in loneliness; and when I, on occasion, wanted to surmount everything, o, how cruelly have I been repelled by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing; and, yet, I was still not able to say to people: speak louder, shout, for I am deaf. O, how could I possibly admit to the (my) weakness of a sense which should be present in me to a more perfect degree than in others, a sense which I once possessed to the greatest (degree of) perfection, to a degree of perfection which surely few in my profession have or had had--O I cannot do it; therefore, forgive me, when you see me retreating there where I used to enjoy to mingle with you; doubly hurt am I by my misfortune as I will be misjudged because of it; for me, relaxation in human company, refined conversation, mutual exchange of thought, cannot take place; almost completely isolated, I may only venture into society when dire necessity requires it, I have to live like an exile; when I approach company, I am assailed by a terrible fear, for I am afraid to run into the danger of letting my condition be noticed--thus it was during the half year which I spent in the countryside; urged on by my sensible physician to spare my hearing as much as possible, he almost anticipated my present disposition, although, sometimes, compelled by the urge for company, I let myself be drawn into it; but what a humiliation when someone stood next to me and heard a flute from afar and I heard nothing, or when someone heard a shepherd sing and I heard nothing, again; such events drove me to the brink of despair and I was not far from ending my own life--only it, my art, kept me back. O, I felt that it was impossible to leave the world before I had brought forth all that I felt that I had to, and thus I continued this miserable life, truly miserable, such an irritable body, that a somewhat quick change can transport me from the best condition into the worst--patience--that is, what I have to choose as my guide, steadfast, I hope, will be my resolve to persevere until it pleases the inexorable parcae to break the thread. Maybe, it (my condition) will improve, maybe not, I am resolved.--Already in my 28th year forced to become a philosopher! It is not easy, harder for the artist than for anyone.--Godhead, thou lookest (down) into my innermost, thou knowest that love of man and inclination towards good deeds dwell in it;--O men, when you read this some day then consider that you have done me wrong, and the unfortunate console himself to have found a kindred being who, in spite of all obstacles of nature still did everything in is power to be accepted among the ranks of worthy artists and men.--You my brothers Carl and __________ , as soon as I am dead and, if Professor Schmidt is still alive, ask him in my name to describe my affliction and add these sheets of writing to the history of my affliction, so that, as far as is possible, the world may become reconciled with me after my death--at the same time I declare you both as the heirs of my small fortune (if one can call it that). Divide it honestly and get along and help one another; that what you have done to me has, as you know, been forgiven a long time ago; you, brother Carl, I thank particularly for your affection which you have shown me lately. It is my wish that you may have a better life, free of sorrows, than I had; recommend virtue to your children. It alone can make (one) happy, not money, I speak from experience; it was that which lifted me up even in my misery. I have to thank it and my art that I did not end my life by suicide.--Farewell and love one another--all friends I thank, particularly Prince Lichnowski and Professor Schmidt--The instruments from Prince L. I wish that they will be kept by one of you, but do not let an argument develop among you; as soon as they, however, may be of better use to you, just sell them, how glad am I to still be of use to you in my grave. Thus it is done;--Joyfully I rush towards death--if it comes sooner than I will have had the opportunity to develop all of my skills in my art, it will even then come too soon, in spite of my hard fate--but even then I shall be content, will it not free me from an endless state of suffering?--and do not entirely forget me after my death. I deserve this much from you, as I have often thought of you my in my life and how to make you happy. Be thus--
The 6th of October Ludwig van Beethoven
1802 [Black Seal}
[on the fourth page of the testament]
Heilgnstadt on the 10th of October, 1802. Thus I take leave of thee--and that sadly;--yes, the cherished hope which I took here with me, to at least be cured to a certain degree, it must leave me now entirely; as the leaves are falling in autumn and are withering, thus it has withered for me, too; almost as I have arrived here, I am leaving--even the high courage which dwelt in my soul during the beautiful summer days--it has vanished--O providence, let once appear a pure day of joy for me-- for so long, the resounding of pure joy has been alien tome!--O when, o when, o Godhead--can I feel it again in the temple of nature and of men--never-no-that would be too cruel--"
This is Beethoven's outcry in the fall of 1802. It speaks louder and clearer than any second-hand description of the despair into which his worsening condition had thrown him. What we can do, however, is to trace the history of this development which culminated in the years 1801 - 1803. In order to do so, we should again take a brief look at Beethoven's own correspondence in which he, in 1801, poured out his heart to two of his closest friends with respect to his growing loss of hearing, Franz Gerhard Wegeler and Carl Amenda. He initially wrote letters to each of them in the summer of 1801, and both friends he asked to keep this news a secret. His letter to his Courland friend Amenda is, of course, of a more general nature, while in that to Wegeler he not only speaks to a friend but also to a physician whom he trusts.
While we need not repeat the content of these letters in every detail, we should extract from them some particulars that provide a framework for us in which we can perceive this development.
In his June 1st, 1801, letter to Carl Friedrich Amenda, Beethoven refers to his deafness most expressively in these passages:
-- "Your Beethoven is living very unhappily in battle with nature and its creator";
-- "My noblest part, my hearing, has deteriorated very much"; he continues by mentioning that already back in 1798-1799, he could feel the first traces of it, kept silent about it while it has become worse and worse in the meantime;
--He leads the cause for his deafness back to the wretched condition of his abdomen and expresses his fear that his loss of hearing can not be healed;
-- He explains that he is leading a sad life, avoiding all company;
-- As already mentioned, he asks Amenda to keep the news a secret.
-- In his June 29th, 1801, letter to Dr. med. Franz Gerhard Wegeler, Beethoven
-- First shares memories of his youth with him, talks of their homeland, of his successes, of Lichnowsky's 600 florin annuity which he has begun to set out for him in 1800, his joy of being able to share his earnings with friends in need, his living more economically than before, while he
-- ventures on to talk of the "jealous demon, my wretched health, has put a spoke in my wheel, namely my hearing has been growing worse for the last three years" and that it goes back to his abdomen which had already "back then" (this could refer to two points in time: Wegeler helped Beethoven with simple remedies in a colic attack during his stay in Vienna from 1794 to 1796, but it could also refer to Beethoven's youth in Bonn) been "wretched", complains of terrible diarrhea, weakness;
-- He describes the treatment he had received which stopped his diarrhea, but did not help his loss of hearing, and that his ears are "ringing day and night";
-- He explains that he is terrified of what this will do to him as a musician, and that he fears the reaction of his enemies;
-- He describes how the loss of hearing affects him in particular:
-- He has to move very close to the stage to understand actors in plays;
-- He can not hear the high notes of instruments and singing voices from farther away;
-- He wonders why people have not noticed his condition, yet, in conversation and gives as possible reason for this his well-known absentmindedness;
-- He can not hear someone who speaks softly--he can hear the vowels but not make out the words. However, when someone yells, he cannot bear it, either.
-- He talks of resignation, of his knowledge of Plutarch as his teacher in it; he wants to defy his fate though he fears there will be moments when he will be "the most unhappy of God's creatures";
-- He asks Wegeler not to tell anyone of this, not even "Lorchen" (Eleonore von Breuning);
-- He asks him to correspond with his friend in Vienna, the Rhenish physician, Dr. Vering;
-- He reports that Stephan von Breuning has arrived and how they interact, asks Wegeler for the portrait of his grandfather Ludwig van Beethoven and sends greetings to Madame von Breuning, telling her that he still has a Raptus now and again, and finally discusses Ferdinand Ries' pending arrival in Vienna and that he wants to see what he can do for him.
Beethoven's second letter to Wegeler of this year, namely that of November 15th, 1801, contains the following particulars:
-- A description of the treatment Dr. Vering is giving him, which consists of bark leaves being put on his arm to keep on for days and how annoying and painful this is to him;
-- That the "ringing" in his ears is a bit less prevalent, especially in his left ear where it had started;
-- That his hearing, however, has not improved, but that it might rather have grown worse;
-- That his abdomen was better now, but that he was not happy with Dr. Vering and that he does not have confidence in him, any more; he asks Wegeler about Dr. Schmidt, also mentioning galvanism and asks Wegeler's opinion about that kind of treatment;
-- The letter continues by describing his improved social life, his mentioning of a "dear, enchanting girl who loves me and whom I love; after two years there are again moments of bliss, and it is for the first time that I feel that marriage could make one happy", but that the girl is not of his class. (This might refer to Giulietta Guicciardi);
-- Beethoven explains that he does not want to visit his homeland as he does not want to be subjected to his friends' pity;
-- Beethoven expresses that his youth is just beginning, that he feels his strength returning, as well as his mental powers, and that his goal is ahead of him but that he can not describe it;
-- Beethoven also writes of wanting to "take fate by the throat, it shall surely not crush me entirely."
If we compare the references to his deafness in these letters to the particulars mentioned in the Heiligenstadt Will, we may note the following:
In the "Will", the start of his loss of hearing is dated back to "six years ago", which would mean that it might have begun in 1796, while in the letters in 1801, Beethoven dates the onset of his troubles to about 1798/1799;
The person who "heard the shepherd sing" was his new pupil, Ferdinand Ries, who came to Vienna in late 1801. In the Biographische Notizen, Ries reports that
"Beethoven's hearing began to suffer as early as 1802, but the trouble disappeared for a time. He was so sensitive to the onset of his deafness that one had to be very careful not to make him feel the disability by talking loudly. If he had not understood something, he usually blamed it on his absent-mindedness which was indeed a strongly developed trait. Much of the time he lived in the country, where I often went to take a lesson from him. Occasionally, he would say at eight in the morning after breakfast, 'Let us go for a little walk first.' So we would go for a walk, often not returning until three or four o'clock, after we had eaten something in one of the villages. On one of these outings Beethoven gave me the first startling proof of his loss of hearing, which Stephan von Breuning had already mentioned to me. I called his attention to a shepherd in the forest who was playing most pleasantly on a flute from lilac wood. For half an hour Beethoven could not hear anything at all and became extremely quiet and gloomy, even though I repeatedly assured him that I did not hear anything any longer either (which was, however, not the case) . . . " (Wegeler/Ries: 86-87).
During these years, Beethoven, nevertheless, composed the works you can trace in the complete listing of Beethoven works which is now also included in our site.
When we look ahead to what impact the onset of his loss of hearing might have had on Beethoven, we might ask ourselves how Beethoven would "take fate by the throat". We will begin to explore this in the next section.