Challenges of a Genius. My Letter to Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven, One Of The Greatest Composers The World Has Ever Known
" There is no real intelligence without kindness.
I don't recognize another greatness other than kindness." Ludwig Van Beethoven
My Letter To Ludwig Van Beethoven Master Of Music
Dear Ludwig Van Beethoven,
I must have been about 10 years old when I first heard your Symphony No.9. This is also when I first discovered that you, one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, lived through endless, exhausting challenges. These are not musical challenges I'm referring to, but personal and devastating physical challenges.
Even at a young age, my adoration for you gave birth, and I knew that I would be connected to you forever. The musical sounds that encased my very being were created by you, dear Ludwig Van Beethoven, my master of music. My heart became yours at that very moment.
Yearning to learn more about you, I wore out my piano teacher during my lessons, asking one question after the other. She tried to fill my hungry, prying, need as best she could. The small spurts of facts that she shared with me only made me that much more determined to seek out all that I possibly could about you, the man, and the composer.
Each day, after school, I hurried to the small, musty, library. Excitement arose within me at the thought of losing myself in one book, followed by another.
Each one described your life experiences and the challenges you were expected to live with and ultimately conquer. Like an arrow piercing my heart, drops of blood came in the form of tiny tears.
My heart ached with pain as my eyes scanned page after page:
- The physical and emotional abuse from your father.
- The high price you paid for your musical genius.
- The tormenting love for your nephew.
- How you impressed the great Mozart without the joy of hearing his praise.
- Going deaf, the struggles and great embarrassment this caused you.
- Letters to your "Immortal Beloved."
- Your anger and great disappointment in General Napoleon Bonaparte.
- The death of your mother.
- The poor health plaguing you all your life.
How I wish this could all have been avoided; but these experiences, no matter how painful, made you the person you are. Not were - but are, for you are still present and alive in every magnificent piano Sonata as well as your brilliant and timeless Symphonies.
Beethoven at age 13
Author Edmond Morris, Pulitzer Prize Winner
Numerous books have been written about you, dear Beethoven. I have read "Thayer's" enormous biography about you as well as the book "Beethoven" by Edmund Morris. It may interest you to know that Morris spent a half-century studying your life and musical works. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for writing "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt."
Morris, the author of three bestselling presidential biographies and a lifetime devotee of yourself, Beethoven, illuminates your life with sensitivity and insight.
"A True Artist Has No Pride" - Ludwig Van Beethoven
Dearest Ludwig, your music envelopes my soul as it transcends me to another sphere. How can anyone not love you, the man, the composer of such glorious sounds of noble and expansive emotions? Even the angels bow to your magnificence.
Do you realize that the world is a better place because of you? Your music has brought hope to the masses and inspired many to become better people, including me. On July 17, 1812, you wrote to Emilie M., a fellow musician, " A true artist has no pride." These words have had an impact on me throughout my life.
Oh, how I marvel at your accomplishments in spite of your suffering with deafness and bipolar disorder. It breaks my heart that as you became older, the bipolar disease increased leaving you depressed and considering suicide.
If only I could have been by your side to comfort you during those times.
Composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven - Birthplace. Born on or about December 16, 1770 and baptized on December 17, 1770.
Deafness Could Not Deter Beethoven From Composing Music
Composing the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies On The Other Side Of Silence.
Oh, dear Ludwig ( forgive me for being too personal,) your deafness became so severe that people found conversing with you exhausting. One had to shout so loudly that it could be heard three rooms away. This is when you began to avoid the stares of strangers. They did not see what I see in you. Your clamped lips and wrenched chin, your terrible frown and your eyes looking downcast are all they saw. But I know the pain and frustration that encompassed you.
Your struggle against this progressive, incurable deafness included how much you wanted to keep this a secret. How can a composer create music when he cannot hear? Yet you produced such towering masterpieces such as the Fifth and Ninth symphonies. (As author Edmond Morris described, "on the other side of silence.")
I love the story of how you sawed the legs off of your piano and placed the piano on the floor, and then pressed your ear to the floor to hear the vibrations.
Brilliant! A lesson in persistence. Even your deafness and depression could not stop you from composing.
Beethoven's Abuse From The Hands Of His Father
Your childhood was tragic. You suffered abuse from your father Johann Van Beethoven. He made it a habit to slam the piano keys cover on your little knuckles whenever you made a mistake. And he would wake you up in the middle of the night by hitting you in the head in order to get you to play the piano.
Not only were you beaten almost daily, you were also locked up in the cellar. Your father would see to it that you rarely slept.
You loved your mother, Maria Magdelene van Beethoven, and when she died during your teen years, you were devastated. This, coming from a boy who was neglected by his mother, never washing him or dressing him properly. But I suppose when comparing your mother's treatment to your fathers, your mothers would indeed seem like love.
Bach's Well Tempered Clavier
Johann Sebastian Bach became a revelation to you as you perfected his difficult preludes and fugues. What a lesson in counterpoint these challenging masterpieces offer. I have only been able to play three of the 24 preludes and fugues well. My attempt to master even one of Bach's Inventions has taken me many months of practice.
From the beginning of your childhood, your amazing gift for improvisation surprised others. Your father, however, did not approve of this and he regularly punished you for your ability to improvise on any musical piece placed before you. How sad this is. Shame on your father!
Developing Musical Skills Through Beethoven's Works
Your immortal Moonlight Sonata is unlike any music ever written. Your insistent theme emerges from silence, almost inaudibly in the beginning, as if you were testing the limits of your once-phenomenal hearing. You even made note that both pedals of the piano should be held down nonstop which exaggerates the sonority and reverberation of sound.
As empty octaves move with extreme slowness, the quiet undulations of C-sharp minor succeed one another while their overtones are mixing and dissolving. Please listen to the young lady featured in the video, doing her best to pay attention to your notes for interpretation.
I wonder if you know to what degree you've influenced the lives of pianists both the young and the old. These are some of my thoughts on this:
- Practice skills are elevated as pianists strive for excellence
- The passion of those determined to overcome difficult passages in your music empowers pianists to make their mark.
- Personal development and growth elevates confidence and aligns the mind and spirit.
- Humility is instilled within the student. Just when one begins to pride himself on mastering great leaps and difficult passages, there are more to come.
- We learn to develop an extended appreciation for all arts and for other artists.
- We develop personal skills such as patience, discipline, and even integrity.
- Your works have been a learning library for other composers riding high on your genius.
- A remarkable capacity to bring inspiration is activated through classical music.
There is more to be added to this list. Bringing unlimited joy to all ages through your symphonies, sonatas, chamber compositions and choral cantatas may give you some idea of your unlimited contribution to mankind.
Moonlight Sonata - Piano
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op 27 No. 2 - The Moonlight Sonata
Your Moonlight Sonata, known as Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia,” was completed in 1801 and is one of the most popular sonatas in all of your compositions. But could you not have chosen another key for this magical composition? I have never liked the key of C# minor which causes me to practice this scale until my fingers hurt. (Or perhaps it is my pride that hurts.)
You would be upset to learn that your most famous piano piece has been transposed into easier keys such as A minor, and D minor for beginning pianists. Ah, however, the original key of C# minor blending the rich overtones within this scale cannot be duplicated.
It was the sound of Chopin-specifically his Nocturne in the same key, right down to the minor ninths. The astounding thing is, you composed the Moonlight Sonata ten years before Chopin was born!
Generations to come would be indebted to the Brunswick family for allowing you to compose this beautiful sonata. It was in the year 1802 that this masterpiece was dedicated to your student and love, 17-year-old Countess Giulietta Gucciardi in Hungary.
You had no intention of connecting this musical theme to moonlight or romance. In fact, you were sitting with a friend, as he was dying prematurely when this motif found its way to your mind and heart.
The idea of moonlight came from the remarks of the German poet and music critic, Rellstab. It was in the year 1832, five years after your death, that Rellstab thought the first movement sounded like moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. During the nineteenth century, it became known as the Moonlight Sonata and still goes by that name today. I do hope you are not offended by this turn of events.
What I wouldn't give to be sitting next to your piano and observing your own interpretation of the Moonlight Sonata. Perhaps one day we will meet, somewhere in another life. Do you think this is might be a possibility?
Oh, how I pray it is.
Mozart's Prediction For Beethoven
Do you remember the following event? You were taken to Mozart and at that musician's request, played something for him which he, taking it for granted that it was a showpiece prepared for the occasion, praised in somewhat a cool manner. You knew you had abilities beyond the praise you received from the great Mozart. Filled with excitement at the prospect of showing what you can really do when left to play with total freedom, you begged Mozart to give you a theme to improvise on.
You were brilliant beyond any pianist this famous and well-respected genius had ever heard. The musical master became more impressed as your capable hands flew over the piano keys, giving birth to one note after the other. With this, Mozart went into an adjoining room where a few friends were sitting. "Keep your eyes on him; someday he (Beethoven) will give the world something to talk about."
Beethoven's Sonatas Reveal Passion
Premier of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony And His Deafness
I am brought to tears when I read the story of your attendance to the premiere of your 9th Symphony on May 7, 1824. You couldn't hear a note of this stunning masterpiece that you alone created because of your deafness. It was the first time in twelve years you sat on a stage and your back was to the audience. You gazed at the orchestra, choir, and soloists.
As you sat in your chair, beating time to the conductor's movements, you didn't know how your massive audience responded to your 9th Symphony. Then a soloist, Caroline Unger, took your arm and faced you toward the crowd. You couldn't hear the roaring approval, however, you saw the clapping hands and smiling faces of an exuberant crowd. As you bowed deeply to the crowd, it was then that you began to cry.
Although you didn't make much money from this concert, the reviews were spectacular. I hope you embraced full joy because you deserved it.
My Birthday Gift - Thank You My Son
On February 22, 2011, my son, Randy, surprised me with an unforgettable birthday gift. The Nashville Tennessee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus were presenting your Ninth Symphony to a sold-out house. As Randy approached the ticket window he asked for two of the best seats in the house which I'm sure must have cost him 2 weeks salary. As you remember, even professional musicians are dreadfully underpaid.
The only tickets left were two seats on the third balcony in the very back row and these seats weren't together. Randy accepted them and told me not to be disappointed because he had a plan. Yep - this is my son. He always finds a way to achieve his dream.
We were led to our seats, sat down, and I longingly looked at the empty seats in the orchestra section located on the main floor. As the 'late-comers' were seated in their reserved section, which is the best in the house, Randy stood up, grabbed my hand and said, "follow me, mom."
We literally ran down three flights of stairs to the main floor. In just minutes the concert would be starting and the first violinist would be tuning the orchestra to the musical sound of "A." Without knowing what my son had in mind I obediently followed him to the third-row-center where he gallantly seated first myself, then himself in the best section and seats-in-the-house.
So you see dear Ludwig, your music even influences the younger generation in such a way that those like my son become heroes to their mothers.
Location - Schermerhorn Symphony Center
My Favorite Sculpture of Beethoven Sits on my Piano
A Little Bit of the 'Testament of Heiligenstadt' (1802)
"Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was ever inclined to
accomplish great things. [...] With joy I hasten to meet death. -If it comes before I have had the chance to develop all my artistic capacities, it will still be coming too soon despite my harsh fate, and I should probably wish it later - yet even so I should be happy, for would it not free me from a state of
endless suffering? - Come when thou wilt, I shall meet thee bravely. - Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead [...]"
We thank this noble endeavor which was called Ludwig van Beethoven, which continues to rejoice us more and more ...
I am a servant of humanity.
Ludwig van Beethoven
In Closing - Immortal Beloved
I can think of no better way to close my letter to you, dearest Ludwig Van Beethoven, than by using your own precious words found in a letter you wrote to your immortal beloved, Countess Josephine Von Brunswick, known as Josephine Deym :
"... I hope that wherever I happen to be, your image will always follow me - as it is the whole course of my life ..."
Audrey Kerr Hunt
The Universal Composer Beethoven by Edmund Morris - Harper Collins Publisher
Interesting facts about the Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Thank You My Readers
Thank you for being here to share my letter to Ludwig Van Beethoven. So much more can be written about this genius and the challenges he endured. I welcome your thoughts and comments and look forward to each one.
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Audrey Hunt