Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beethoven at Heiligenstadt

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

Music is mediator between spiritual and sensual life.

Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.

Recommend to your children virtue; that alone can make them happy, not gold.

The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, "Thus far and no farther."

Capability and Capacity
Beethoven at Heiligenstadt

In May, 1802, Ludwig van Beethoven went to Heiligenstadt to rest and recuperate from a depression brought on by the knowledge that he was going deaf. His friend, the German surgeon and ophthalmologist, Johann Adam Schmidt, advised the ailing man to go there, hoping the peaceful atmosphere would improve his condition.

Whilst there, Beethoven wrote what has come to be known as ‘the Heiligenstadt Testament’; it expresses his fear and disgust at his ensuing deafness. He never showed it to anyone, it only being discovered after his death and published in 1828, though it was addressed to his brothers, Carl and his second brother, Johann, whose name he never penned on the document.

Here he talks to Johann Adam Schmidt about his slowly worsening condition and his despair; his hopes and his fears of not having long enough to complete his ouvre .

Ludwig van Beethoven: I have ever been disposed to the gentle feelings of goodwill to my fellow, even as my childhood was tainted by the unhappiness of my dear, beloved mother suffering at the hands of my father – an inebriate, not willing even to allow that his son had a modicum of talent, bragging and boasting in public, apparently, though never within my hearing. How irony comes to taunt me now. I say those words, ‘within my hearing‘, and where he to trumpet my claims to ability, I would not hear him.

Now, the flute, that loveliest of all instruments, goes unheard, even as it is played not afar, in some garden through which we walked. Do you recall, my old friend?

Johann Adam Schmidt: Indeed I do, but you must put such thoughts out of your head, my good friend. Here, in this sylvan spot, you may yet recover from your ailment. Sit awhile and view the natural beauty of the scene, the better to recall the sights you can still enjoy, even as they are tainted with this silence.

B: It is not a silence. I could perhaps bear that, for one often craves the quiet of the grave, especially in the midst of all I hold dear, my beloved Berlin, so dear as she is to me. Even that quiet is denied me.

In its place I have a sound akin to the creaking wheels of the tumbrel carrying the doomed nobles of Paris, the perfumed and powdered gentry found out at last, usurping what power the people bequeathed them. That sound that must have tormented them through the cobbled thoroughfares of that mighty city torments me, who even undeserving, as they were not, nevertheless must bear the sound that keeps your own good words from my hearing.

JAS: If you could but have admitted this infirmity to those around you, it would have made it easier to bear – people are forgiving in such cases, are they not?

B: But this infirmity in someone of my calling, of my one occupation I was sent to perform, if you so believe in a deity that gives benevolence to one’s heart and mind to create in His Honour, and to glorify His Creation. How could I once admit I had this impediment that is death to my trade. How could I?

JAS: Others less fortunate than you, my dear friend, have borne the loss of that one talent that is death to hide, dwelling in this dark world and wide. Could you not have persevered, knowing that you have already great things performed, composed and played?

B: But I know my kind; I know the misunderstandings and misgivings that we are all heir to. Since there can be no recreations in society for me, no refined discourse with me, no mutual exchange of thought, only just as little as the greatest of my needs command may I mix with society, that and no more. How could I admit to an infirmity that renders me incapacitated in social intercourse?

JAS: Well then, you must live like an exile. Else you must disdain the hot terrors you say grip you upon the approach of your peers. Cannot you wait and effect the cure here in this bucolic serenity, then return to your best days? You must have patience, for naught is gained without it.

B: But you forget my time is spare and waning as I sit in this silence with only the shards of sound to accompany my solitude. I cannot hear the shepherd singing to his flock; the rural ditties mute, tempered to the oaten flute. Where comes my inspiration but from the sounds and songs of this Earth?

JAS: You can be charmed by those words you read, can you not? Your light is not denied. Who best bear his mild yoke, it is said, serve Him best.

B: But you know I am not built as one who can only stand and wait, even in the light that fills my eyes from morn to dusk.

JAS: Then can you not be inspired by what you see, and neglect that which you are habitually come to use to pen your work. Others have done it, and will do with more joy than you, my friend. Can you not have joy to create? Is that not enough?

B: You would have me forced in my 28th year into becoming a philosopher, would you?

JAS: I would have you become more philosophical, yes.

B: And can I ask the Divine to look into my inmost soul, to know above all that love of man and desire to do good live therein, and still deny my best work to come.

Well, I must choose Patience for my guide, and have my determination remain firm. Perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, and yet I must strive to make capability and capacity come together in all I do to move towards my destiny as a maker of music, which, is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

JAS: Remembering that he you strive to emulate, could awake with whole symphonies stored in his lobes, leaving us all wondering how this could be achieved.

B: Since no words are necessary in musical notation, as with the science of mathematics, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to learn that Mozart had this extraordinary mind.

JAS: As you have too, my friend, for your work pronounces it to the world’s ears, even as yours are denied its sound.

Above all, my friend, above all, produce work, create sound, use that medium to which you are most suited, be it the written word, be it shades and hues on canvas, or the shapes uncovered in marble blocks. It is there to discover. It is yours to unearth, and post o’er land and ocean without rest. They also serve who only stand and wait.

B: Well, I am contented. Your words have convinced me to go on, even as men decry me.

JAS: There will always be such. It is not given to every man to create as you can create. Your capabilities match your capacities, be persuaded of that my friend.
Robert L. Fielding

Ludwig van Beethoven

Robert L. Fielding

1 comment: