In the years following Ludwig van Beethoven
's permanent move to Vienna
in 1792, his hearing began to steadily decay toward deafness
. As early as 1796 he had begun to seek the advise of physician
s on the matter, but no firm diagnosis
, let alone a cure, was found. As a performing pianist
, this on-going loss of hearing was a dreadful business, causing problems not only in performance
but in social speech and conversation
as well. In 1802 a physician recommended he get out of town, and leave the stress of composition
back in Vienna for a while. He did so, spending the summer of 1802 in the village of Heiligenstadt
, Northeast of Vienna
While there he did some work on his second and third symphonies, but mostly left the composer's pencil still. Toward the end of his stay he twice picked up instead the writer's quill and penned the two short testaments below on two sheets of vellum. They were sealed with his signet in wax, but never sent or discussed, instead filed away with his papers and left undiscovered until his death in 1827. The papers, which also included the Immortal Beloved letters, were discovered then, shedding light on Beethoven's humanity and the strain put upon it.
This translation (from Beethoven's native German) is old enough to be out of copyright, and is uncredited. The paragraph breaks are my own, to hopefully aid in reading the will.
For my brothers Carl and Johann Beethoven
O ye men who think or say that I am hostile, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me! You do not know the secret reason why I seem to you to be so. From childhood onward my heart and soul were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was even ever eager to accomplish great deeds. But reflect, for the past six years I have been in an incurable condition, aggravated by incomptetent physicians. From year to year I have hoped to be cured, but in vain and at last finally compelled to face the prospect of a permament infirmity (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be quite impossible). Born with a fiery and lively temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was compelled early to isolate myself, to live in solitude. When at times I tried to forget all this, O how harshly was I repulsed by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing; yet it was impossible for me to say "speak louder, shout, for I am deaf!" Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed - O I cannot do it, so forgive me if you see me draw back from your company which I would so gladly share.
My misfortune is doubly painful because it must lead to my being misunderstood, for me there can be no recreation in the society of others, no intelligent conversation, no mutual exchange of ideas; only just as little as the greatest needs command may I mix with society. I must live like an exile, if I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, a fear that I may be subjected to the danger of letting my condition be observed - thus it has been during the past year which I spent in the country, commanded by my intelligent physician to spare my hearing as much as possible, in this almost meeting my natural disposition, although I sometimes ran counter to it yielding to my inclination for society, but 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 - 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 - truly wretched, an excitable body which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state - Patience - it is said that I must now choose for my guide, I have done so, I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it please the inexorable parcae to break the thread, perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, I am prepared.
Forced already in my 28th year to become a philosopher, O it is not easy, less easy for the artist than for anyone else - Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein. O men, when some day you read these words, reflect that ye did me wrong and let the unfortunate one comfort himself and find one of his kind who despite all obstacles of nature yet did all that was in his power to be accepted among worthy artists and men.
You my brothers Carl and Johann as soon as I am dead if Dr. Schmid is still alive ask him in my name to describe my malady and attach this document to the history of my illness so that so far as possible at least the world may become reconciled with me after my death. At the same time I declare you two to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called), divide it fairly, bear with and help each other, what injury you have done me you know was long ago forgiven. to you brother Carl I give special thanks for the attachment you have displayed towards me of late. It is my wish that your lives be better and freer from care than I have had, recommend virtue to your children, it alone can give happiness, not money, I speak from experience, it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it next to my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life with suicide. - Farewell and love each other - I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid - I desire that the instruments from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from this, so soon as they can serve you better purpose sell them, how glad will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave - with joy I hasten towards death - if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early for me despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later - but even then I am satisfied, will it not free me from my state of endless suffering? Come when thou will I shall meet thee bravely. - Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead, I deserve this of you in having often in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so -
Ludwig van Beethoven
Heiligenstadt, October 6, 1802.
For my brothers Carl and Johann to be read and executed after my death.
Heiligenstadt, October 10, 1802, thus do I take my leave of you- and indeed sadly - yes that beloved hope - which I brought with me when I came here to be cured at least in a degree - I must wholly abandon, as the leaves of autumn fall and are withered so hope has been blighted, almost as I came - I go away - even the high courage - which often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer - has disappeared - O Providence - grant me at least but one day of pure joy - it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart - O when - O when, O Divine God - shall I find it again in the temple of nature and of men - Never? - No, that would be too hard.