It can be said of Ludwig van Beethoven, especially from the time of his arrival in Vienna, that he was a young man of strong personality and at times quite difficult to get on with. Both his teachers and his patrons attest to this. He was also a person of noble ideas. He was very well respected in the circles in which he moved though his treatment of moralists and critics could never termed as being of a polite nature.
In Prince Lichnowski's house in Vienna, where he lived, he was said to be stubborn. He would deliberately arrive late at meal times and he paid little attention to the way he dressed. But Beethoven was right; time for a creative artist in not marked out by the hands of a clock. Today any one of Beethoven's works is worth more than all the clocks in the world.
The young genius had always had a brusque, arrogant personality. In 1800 his hearing had began to deteriorate and with the onset of deafness to contend with, he began to shy away from social events for fear it might be noticed. By 1801 he had given up all hope of being cured. The distress and frustration this caused him can hardly be imagined, but he accepted this situation with stoicism.
Beethoven was much taken by the ideals of the Enlightenment. He initially dedicated his third symphony, the Eroica, to Napoleon in the belief that the general would sustain the democratic and republican ideals of the French Revolution, but later crossed out the dedication as Napoleon's imperial ambitions became clear, replacing it with "to the memory of a great man". The fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony is a setting of Schiller's ode An die Freude ("To Joy"), an optimistic hymn championing the brotherhood of humanity.
Beethoven's intense faith in God as experienced through art is an important theme in his conversation books, his belief that art is a force unto itself, and that "God is closer to me than others of my art", infuse his search for redemption through and in music.
If Beethoven had many troubles to face there was one greater than all the others, which made his life a misery. He had never really got on well with his brothers, especially Johann, an apothecary who had become rich by supplying medicine to the army. In 1812, after his meeting with Goethe, Ludwig went to Linz to visit Johann. Beethoven discovered that Johann's private life wasn't as respectable as he would have likedit to have been. Johann was living with one of his employees Therese Obermayer. An angry Beethoven threatened that he would report them to the authorities if they didn't get married. The couple took these threats seriously and did indeed get married.
Beethoven got on slightly better with his other brother, Karl. When the latter died in 1815, Ludwig became his son's guardian. This boy was also called Karl.
Beethoven didn't take his brother's dying wish lightly. He felt this to be the most important responsibility in his life. he got involved in a costly legal battle to gain custody of the child from his mother, Johanna Reiss. In 1820 he won the court case but Karl's mother never ceased in her efforts to regain custody of her son. Beethoven had a grand plan for the child's education but the boy never lived up to the expectations of his uncle and guardian.
Karl had a difficult personality and after taking him away from his mother, all Beethoven's plans for him came to nothing. On the night of 29th July 1826, Karl, who was twenty-two at the time, tried to shoot himself. This attempted suicide was a result of despair, brought on by gambling debts. On 2nd January 1827, fully recovered from his wounds, Karl joined the Austrian army. Beethoven would never see him again. This succession of tragic events embittered Beethoven and perhaps hastened his own death a few months later.
A Genius at the Piano
Once, when Beethoven was at the church of the Elector he had to provide piano accompaniment to certain sections of "The Lamentations of Iremiah" in a given key. This was during Holy Week 1785. He sought permission to change key and the singer agreed. The youngster then gave the new keynote with one finger and with the other hand played a series of complicated improvisations. The singer lost the keynote in the cadence. The other musicians were astonished by Beethoven's brilliance, but the singer got extremely angry and complained to the Elector. As a result, the young Ludwig was given a serious telling off for being cheeky.
When Beethoven first moved to Vienna he began to take part in competitions with other pianists. They used to say of him: "He is not a man but a demon. He plays in such a way that he will drive us all to the grave."
The Recognition of a Master
In 1808, in what would be a historic moment in the history of music, Haydn and Beethoven met for the last time. Haydn had been invited by the university to attend a full-scale production of his oratorio, "The Creation". During the interval, Haydn, overcome by emotion at the ovation given to his work was taken outside in his wheelchair. All the nobility and upper echelons of society, among them Beethoven, were there to congratulate him. Going down on one knee kissed him on the hand and forehead. The Great Beethoven felt himself humble in the presence of the Master. This was the same Beethoven who years before had called himself "careless" and had refused to consider himself Haydn's "pupil"...
At the end of the summer in 1826, Beethoven, worn out and embittered after what happened to his nephew and adopted son, Karl, decided to spend some time in the country. He was to be a paying guest in a house, which his brother Johann had in Gnaixendorf. He went there accompanied by his nephew. A few days later Karl finally joined the army.
His relationship with his brother Johann hadn't improved and after a heated argument, he left the house. This was on 1st December 1826. He hastily set out for Vienna in a rickety, uncovered cart, which belonged to a local milkman.
The bad weather, which he encountered on this trip, would have fatal consequences for Beethoven. By the time he got home he was seriously ill. Pneumonia was diagnosed which was further complicated by hydropsy and surgery was carried out.
Conscious that the end was near Beethoven made out his will, leaving his nephew Karl as sole beneficiary. His financial position at that time was quite delicate, being just about able to survive thanks to a donation of a thousand florins from the London Philharmonic Society.
By 24th March 1827 the situation was hopeless and two days later in the presence of his secretary Anton Schindler and the Breuning family, he died. On the day of his death, at about five in the evening, a violent storm broke out over the city, flashes of lightning illuminating the bedroom. Beethoven had his last breath. Outside it began to snow.
The funeral took place two days later in the Währing cemetery in Vienna. More than twenty thousand people turned out to pay their respects. The funeral oration was from a poem by Franz Grillparzer, the final part of which was in many ways prophetic: "He who comes after him will not follow in his footsteps, he must begin anew, for this innovator has finished his life's work at the limits of art.