Nietzsche and Beethoven
Tracing Beethoven's Relationship to  Literature and Philosophy


Beethoven's "Heiligenstadt Will"

"Geduld, so heißt es, sie muß ich nun zur Führerin wählen: ich habe es. Dauernd, hoffe ich, soll mein Entschluß sein, auszuharren, bis es den unerbittlichen Parzen gefällt, den Faden zu brechen. Vielleicht gehts besser, vielleicht nicht: ich bin gefaßt. Schon in meinem 28. Jahre gezwungen, Philosoph zu werden, es ist nicht leicht, für den Künstler schwerer als für irgend jemand. . . . " (Patience it is that I must choose as my guide: I have done so.  Permanent, as I hope, will be my resolution to persevere until it pleases the inexorable parcae to cut the thread.  Perhaps, it will get better, perhaps not:  I am resolved.  Already in my 28th year I was forced to become a philosopher: it is not easy, more difficult for the artist than for anyone.  . . .)

Beethoven wrote these words in his "Heiligenstadt Will" in October, 1802. According to them and obviously due to his hearing loss, he tried, at least, to "become a philosopher", when he had actually already lived half of his life span--if we consider that he only reached the age of 56 years and that he actually wrote these words in his thirtieth year.

Here, we might wish to ask ourselves what help he had in this attempt.  We find an answer to this question in his letter of June, 1801, to his friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler, "Ich habe schon oft den Schöpfer und mein Dasein verflucht; Plutarch hat mich zu der Resignation geführt" (Schmidt, Beethoven=Briefe: 20; "Often, I have cursed the Creator and my existence; Plutarch has taught me resignation.).

Beethoven's statement hints at the fact that, at the beginning of the 19th century, he was already familiar with texts of ancient Greek literature to such an extent that this, in turn, appeared to have allowed him to make such a statement with respect to his source of comfort in his distress. Since we, on the other hand, also have to assume that such a degree of familiarity with ancient texts does not develop "over night", we will also realize that, when we consider the time in his life at which he made this statement, we also find ourselves "right in the middle" of Beethoven's development of his relationship to literature and philosophy

However, if we want to gain a better understanding of this relationship, we should, "at least try" to trace this development chronologically, thus from its very beginnings and follow it beyond the period of his "mid-life" struggle of the early 19th century with his hearing loss to the end of his life, and in this process, we should also not forget to consider the effect of this development on Beethoven's work.

In our web site, we have already become familiar with the first traces of this development in the section of Beethoven's Youth in our Biographical Pages, but also in the extensive creation history of the Ode to Joy.  There, we discussed that the self-taught musician and free thinker Christian Gottlob Neefe, Beethoven's apprenticeship master and teacher at the Bonn Court, exercised the first important intellectual influence on Beethoven.


Christian Gottlob Neefe

In order for us to gain a basic understanding of the effect of this influence on the ten- to fourteen-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven, we should try to imagine ourselves in his position, as far as this is possible.  As Wegeler reports in his Biographische Notizen, his father Johann, on the one hand, was very strict with his son, while he, in general, only 'excelled' in moral weakness, and on the other hand, at home, Ludwig's pious and serious mother was waiting for him, while his school attendance ad the Bonn Tirocinium might not have left a lasting impression on him.  This picture was "completed" by the short stretches of musical training the lad Ludwig van Beethoven received from each of his his various instructors such as Pfeiffer, van den Eeden and Franz Rovantini

At this point, Into this young life entered the first teacher who was really ethically motivated, Neefe, and left his indelible impression un Beethoven, and that certainly not only as a musician and apprenticeship master, but also, merely by virtue of their intercourse, as a thinker and as a man.  This impression was certainly quite different from anything Beethoven had experienced, thus far.  On the one hand, Neefe was not a Catholic, but a Calvinist; on the other hand, he was also a free thinker of enlightenment who, up to the voluntary dissolution in 1784 of the Bavaria-based "Illuminati", was the local head of this organization in Bonn, and who was afterwards equally active in the tamer Bonn Reading Society.

Here, we can certainly ask ourselves as to whether Neefe's influence on the young, talented musician who, due to his prior daily organ practice in Bonn churches from his ninth year on, could already have seen himself more in a practical position during Catholic Mass, might not have helped to distance him from a real inner need with respect to the strict adherence of dogmatic and ritual Catholicism in the meaning of regular mass attendance and the strict observation of all rituals, although Beethoven's everyday routine might still have connected him to it outwardly.  Moreover, one might also ask the question as to whether Beethoven, due to his intercourse with Neefe, had already been stimulated to develop a personal relationship to religion and to the need of finding his own answers to his religious and spiritual questions.

Thus Beethoven, from his interaction with his apprenticeship master Neefe, not only gained a more in-depth musical training and mentorship, but also an awareness of the fact that not only the young court musician Ludwig van Beethoven, but also the young man by the same name was in need of cultivation of his intellect, since his mind could not simply be put to rest the moment in which he stepped away from the organ or the piano or from his desk and his first compositions, but rather was also in need of other intellectual nourishment than only music

With the beginning in 1784 of his friendship with Wegeler and the von Breuning family, new opportunities opened themselves up to Beethoven of access to such much-needed intellectual nourishment and for which his interaction with Neefe had already prepared him.


Silhouette of the von Breuning family

In his contact with this family, Beethoven gave as much of himself as he received from them; he gave of himself as piano teacher to the family's children, as a musician who would contribute to the family entertainment, and as a friend, while he, on the one hand, gained a completely new impression of what "family life" could be like and what his own family could not give him in the same way, but also due to his participation in the family's lively involvement in the cultural life of its native city and of its times.  It was here that Beethoven became acquainted with works of world literature and works of the newly-developing German literature, such as that of Klopstock, Goethe and Schiller.  While we do not know what works were read and discussed in detail, we can assume that the just-mentioned authors were known to and read by this family.  It might be just as important that Beethoven had an opportunity to discuss with adult members of the family what he had read and thereby was able to increase his understanding of them.

Thus Beethoven underwent a learning process that enabled him to develop further his intellectual independence that he had first gained under the influence of Neefe, by reading and discussing of literature, and that at two levels, at a personal and at a social level.   Whatever Beethoven took along with him to Vienna in terms of social skills he learned in his interaction with this family, and whatever capability he later displayed of being able to share his understanding of literature with his friends, was slowly formed in his interaction with the von Breunings.

While Beethoven, after his brief stay in Vienna in the spring of 1787 where, according to Schindler, two men left a lasting impression on him, namely Mozart (with respect to the details of their interaction of which we, due to a lack of direct sources, remain in the dark) and Emperor Franz Joseph II., whom he, as Schindler's editor Donald McArdle points out, must have seen at a public function and not, as Schindler assumed, in a "private audience", and after the death of his mother in July of that year and during and after his nearly two-year care for his family as its new head, during which--as it is traditional biographical assumption--he did not compose but only fulfill his obligations as court musician--an assumption that Barry Cooper can at least question on the basis of solid arguments as to ink and paper origin of some scores that might prove the contrary--, he found, as we already discussed in the section  "Beethoven's later Bonn Years (1787 - 1792)", an understanding, motherly friend in Helene von Breuning who was able to "keep the insects off the plants", as Beethoven said, and with which he might have meant that she encouraged him to hold on to his modesty and not to fall pray to idle praise.

In our Biography Pages, we also refer to the further traditional assumption that the solution in the fall of 1789 of his family problems set Beethoven's creative energies free, again (against which Barry Cooper also counter-argues not unconvincingly as discussed in our biography section Beethoven's Later Bonn Years), and also encouraged him to once again participate in the intellectual and cultural life of his native city, which resulted in his active participation as a guest in the life of the "Reading Society" and in his enrolling in courses for lay readers at the University (along with his colleague and friend Romberg and the Kügelgen brothers), during the 1789/1790 semester.  As also discussed already, we do not know what lectures he attended.  What we do know, however, is that he frequented the Bonn restaurant "Zehrgarten" with his friends and that to this restaurant there was attached a book store.  What we do not know again is what books he might have purchased there.

What becomes clear from the course of these events is that Beethoven, due to the support and friendship he received from the von Breuning family and its circle, and due to the settlement of his family's financial affairs, he was able to relax and gain enough self-confidence in order to broaden his horizon and to actively participate in the intellectual life of his native city.

We also know what the "artistic fruits" of his family experiences and of the broadening of his horizon were:  The "Imperial Cantatas" of 1790, for the renewed study of its creation history of which and of this part of Beethoven's life of which we invite you to a brief visit of their Creation History.


Emperor Joseph II. and his brother Leopold

From Beethoven's intellectual growth during this period we can discern that Beethoven had learned what there was to learn for him in Bonn, be it in his own field of music or in that of  his intellectual and social improvement.  The Beethoven who wanted to set music to every strophe of the "Ode to Joy" (as Professor Fischenich wrote to Charlotte v. Schiller in January, 1793), had already been formed in Bonn.  As to whether Beethoven was able to take many books along in his certainly none too extensive luggage on his journey to Vienna, is not known to us.  It is now up to us to explore in what way Beethoven did not only further his musical training in Vienna, but also his literary and intellectual interests.

With respect to his musical training we know from our  Biographical Pages and its section Beethoven's Vienna Study Years  that he concentrated on his counterpoint studies with Haydn  and that after Haydn's departure for his second stay in England, Beethoven turned to  Johann Georg Albrechtsberger as his counterpoint teacher.

From this section of our biography we also know that both Beethoven's brother Caspar Karl but also his Bonn friend Franz Gerhard Wegler arrived in Vienna in 1794.   Wegeler, who had studied medicine in Vienna in the 1780s, took up studies of public health in Vienna and returned to his Rhenish homeland in 1796.

Due to Beethoven's concentration on his counterpoint studies and due to his initial success as a piano virtuoso it might be understandable that the thus-occupied young musician declined Wegeler's invitation of 1794/1795 to join him in attending lectures for lay readers on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Franz Gerhard Wegeler

Immanuel Kant

In his Biographische Notizen, Wegeler contends that Beethoven's genius was not that of intellect but that of creation.  Although this can not be denied, it can not be concluded from this that Beethoven did not develop a lively interest in literature and in the intellectual life of his times.

However, in spite of Beethoven's "proof" that he delivered in his letter to Wegeler of June 1801 and in the Heiligenstadt Will of his having been forced to become a philosopher, it is too early to look for actual evidence with respect to his reading material, since we do not have enough direct sources at our disposal with respect to this time in Beethoven's life.

However, precisely due to these "philosophical" statements of the years 1801 and 1802 we can strongly assume that Beethoven must have, at least after his return to Vienna from his 1796 journeys, turned to the reading of those works that sparked his interest, such as the writings of Plutarch.

Moreover, his mentioning in 1801 and 1802 of his "quiet life" during these years of the onset of his loss of hearing, would point towards such "quieter" activities.

In the next section of our overview, we can turn to considering the artistic impact of that process.

Although Beethoven wrote to  Wegeler that he had found it necessary to come to terms with his fate and to resign himself to it, as he had, in his own words, learned it from Plutarch, there can be seen in Beethoven's letters to Wegeler of June and November 1801 also a spirit of defiance against his fate, and also another insight of the artists -- in spite of all of his resolve of resigning himself to his fate and in spite of all of his uncertainty as to whether his state of health would ever improve --, namely his resolve as an artist to carry on, as he expresses it in his second letter to Wegeler of November 1801:

" - without this affliction!  O, the entire world I would want to embrace, were I free from it!  My youth, yes, I can feel it, it is just beginning; have I not always been an infirm man?  My physical strength--it has been increasing more than ever, lately, and also my intellectual strength; each day, I come closer to that goal that I feel but can not describe.  Only in this can your B. live; nothing of rest--I know of none other than sleep, and I am sad enough that I have to spent more time at it than before.  Only half-delivered from my affliction, and then--as a complete, mature man shall I come to you and renew the old feelings of friendship; you shall see me as happy as destiny allows me to be here not unhappy--no, I could not bear that,--I want to take fate by the throat, it shall certainly not bend me, entirely.--O, it is so beautiful to live life a thousand times;--for a quiet--life, no, I can feel it, that I am no longer made for it.--"  (Translated from:  Schmidt, Beethoven=Briefe: 23-24).


Beethoven around 1800

(Here, I should add a word with respect to my further choice of pictorial material in this section, which will, from here on, consist of Beethoven images from the various stages throughout his life:  I made this choice, contrary to any selection of pictorial material pertaining to those who might still had an influence on Beethoven, deliberatly in view of the fact that the artistic expression in the various Beethoven images featured here varies as much as the impression that he might have made on those artists varies, just as much as all of our impressions of Beethoven's interest in literature and philosophy might vary due to our different pre-dispositions.  These images might also serve as hints to the human and intellectual changes Beethoven underwent during his life, albeit only to the degree to which these found expression in those images.)

That Beethoven, not in the least due to the beginning of his loss of hearing, was "offered" a kind of artistic fermentation process that even artists are not "offered" every day, even we lay readers can discern by now.

From Beethoven's history as a creative artist we already know what works became symbols of this process during the following years of 1803 - 1806.

The work that will come to mind here first and foremost would be his Third Symphony, Op. 55,  that has become known as "Eroica" Symphony.  With respect to it, I want to present to you here, at first, and without any further comment, Anton Schindler's notions from his book Beethoven as I Knew Him:

". . . It therefore seems necessary for us to review some parts of Plato's Republic before proceeding with the Eroica symphony in order to clear up some confused issues. The Republic, an interesting enough work in itself, becomes even more worthy of our attention when we realize that it corresponds well with Beethoven's political beliefs. I have before me the translation by F. Schleiermacher, the version that Beethoven also used. (77)" (Schindler: 112 - 113).

Here, it is very important to also quote the footnote of the editor, Donald W. McArdle:

"(77) Schindler's too frequent disregard of chronology, and the undependability of his factual statements except as regards events in which he was as participant, are illustrated here: Schleiermacher's translation of the Rebublic was first published only in 1828 (Brit 24-311). No works of Plate were included in the inventory of Beethoven's library that was prepared after his death (Leitzmann, Ludwig van Beethoven [1921] II 379-83), and except for these statements by Schindler, there seems to be no evidence that at any period of his life Plato was one of the classical writers with whose works Beethoven was familiar. . . . " (Schindler: 190).

This annotation by McArdle led me to two further trains of thought, namely on the one hand to the notion that Schindler's Beethoven biography is indispensable for this brief overview for two reasons:  On the one hand, the carefully researched annotations of the editors show us how careful we should be when being confronted by any writings of the Beethoven amanuensis Schindler on his "favorite topic", on the other hand, however, such a "contrast study" can be very helpful in comparing this questionable writer's biographical comments on Beethoven, in comparison to other 19th-century biographical Beethoven material, such as Wegeler/Ries' Biographische Notizen, Gerhard von Breunings Erinnerungen aus dem Schwarzspanierhause and Thayer's standard biography.  Moreover, Schindler's work is also indispensable as an information source with respect to events in Beethoven's life that he was a personal witness to.


Beethoven around 1803

The second relevant thought here is that, whatever might have been Beethoven's artistic and intellectual motivations in his creation of the Eroica Symphony, in all likelihood, Plato's works were not their source.  We can rightfully raise the question as to what other sources of inspiration Beethoven might have followed in its creation.  However, such deliberations should be placed in a thorough and separate discussion of the creation of the Eroica.

However, that works such as this symphony might have emerged out of Beethoven's above-mentioned fermentation process between the extremes of the resignation he strived for in the meaning that he felt to have been taught by Plutarch and his restless forging ahead within the meaning of his own expression of taking fate by the throat, can already be rightfully discussed on the basis of Beethoven's own statements with respect to his state during this process.

That Beethoven's intensive creative pace did not even abate after his fall 1806 falling-out with Prince Lichnowsky and the possibility of his having forfeited his eligibility for Lichnowsky's annual pension paid to him of 600 florins, is proven by the output of works during the years of 1807 and 1808.  This might lead us to consider that Beethoven, in the midst of such a rigorous creative pace and striving for artistic survival, might not have found less time for reflection and reading.

Therefore, it might not come as a surprise that Thayer only returns to discussing Beethoven's progress with respect to his literary self-education in the chapter of the year 1810 in his biography, thus after Beethoven's final decline of the Kassel offer of a position as Kapellmeister, after the completion of the negotiation for his annual pension of 4,000 florins granted to him by Prince Lobkowitz, Prince Kinsky and Archduke Rudolph, in the spring of 1809, and after the end of the French occupation of Vienna of the year 1809.  With respect to this, we should take a closer look at  Thayer's comments:

"Beethoven, during the fifteen years since Wegeler's vain effort to induce him to attend lectures on Kant (recorded in the Appendix, p. 9 of the Notizen) had become to some considerable degree a self-taught man; he had read and studied much, and had acquired a knowledge of the ordinary literary topics of the time, which justified that fine passage in the letter to Breitkopf and Härtel of November 2, 1809: "There is scarcely a treatise which would be too learned for me. Without making the least claim concerning my own learnedness, I have tried since childhood to grasp the meaning of the better and the wise of each age. Shame to any artist who does not hold it to be his duty to have at least that amount of proficiency--" (Thayer: 480).


Beethoven around 1809

If we compare our notions of the beginning of this section, namely that Beethoven had might have found less time for reflection and reading during his active years of 1806 - 1809/9 with Thayer's comments that, during the course of the years, Beethoven had acquired an extensive knowledge of the literature of his time, we might quite naturally arrive at Beethoven's own statement in his letter to Breitkopf und Härtel, "Shame to any artist who does not hold it to be his duty to have at least that amount of proficiency."  From all of this we might at least arrive at the conclusion that Beethoven, from the fall of 1809 on, had enough time and leisure to give his relationship to his own self-education some thought and to even comment on it in writing.

Although we might also be tempted here by to raise the question as to Beethoven's private library and its contents, we should reserve a discussion of this entire issue for the conclusion of this brief overview, since at that point, we might be in a better position of knowing what sources we will have at our disposal or not.

Chronologically correct and relevant,  Thayer continues as follows:

"Strikingly in point is the interest which he exhibits during these and following years in the oriental researches of Hammer and his associates. His notes and excerpts prove a very extensive knowledge of their translations, both published and in manuscript; and, moreover, that this strange literature was perhaps even more attractive to him in its religious, than in its lyric and dramatic aspects. In these excerpts,--indeed, generally in extracts from books and in his underscoring of favorite passages in them--Beethoven exhibits a keen perception and taste for the lofty and sublime, far beyond the grasp of any common or uncultivated mind. . . . The following, given here from his manuscript, is perhaps the finest transcription from Hindu literature:
God is immaterial; since he is invisible he can have no form, but from what we observe in his works we may conclude that he is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent--The mighty one is he who is free from all desire; he alone; there is no greater than he.
Brahma: his spirit is enwrapped in himself. He, the mighty one, is present in every part of space--his omniscience is in spirit by himself and the conception of him comprehends every other one; of all comprehensive attributes that of omniscience is the greatest, for it there is no threefold existence. It is independent of everything. O God, thou art the true, eternal, blessed, immutable light of all times and all spaces. Thy wisdom embraces thousands of always, and yet thou dost always act freely and for thy honor. Thou wert before all that we revere. To thee be praise and adoration. Thou alone art the truly blessed one (Bhagwan); thou, the essence of all laws, the image of all wisdom, present throughout the universe, thou upholdest all things. . . ." (Thayer: 480 - 481).

At least superficially "fitting to the topic", Thayer points out Beethoven's simultaneous interest in Goethe's  West-Östlichem Diwan, his "collection of exquisite imitations of (then) fresh notices of the manners, customs, books and authors of Persia" (Thayer: 481).

In this context, Thayer also mentions Goethe's not very well-fitting essay in it of Israel in der Wüste, which leads Thayer to Beethoven's interest in the ancient Egyptian tempe inscriptions that he, according to his opinion, might most easily have gained access to by reading Schiller's Essay "Die Sendung Moses", which he wrote down and kept under glass at his writing desk.  Let us therefore quote directly from Schiller's essay:

"Die Epopten erkannten eine einzige höchste Ursache aller Dinge, eine Urkraft der Natur, das Wesen aller Wesen, welches einerlei nur mit dem Demiurgos der griechischen Weisen.   Nichts ist erhabener als die einfache Größe, mit der sie von dem Weltschöpfer sprachen.   Um ihn auf eine recht entscheidende Art auszuzeichnen, geben sie ihm gar keinen Namen.   Ein Name, sagten sie, ist bloss ein Bedürfnis der Unterscheidung; wer allein ist, hat keinen Namen nötig, denn es ist keiner da, mit dem er verwechselt werden könnte.    Unter einer alten Bildsäule der Isis las man die Worte: 'Ich bin, was da ist,' und auf einer Pyramide zu Sais fand man die uralte merkwürdige Inschrift: 'Ich bin alles, was ist, was war und was sein wird: kein sterblicher Mensch hat meinen Schleier aufgehoben.'  Keiner durfte den Tempel des Serapis betreten, der nicht den Namen Iao oder I-ha-ho--ein Name, der mit dem hebräischen Jeovah fast gleichlautend, auch vermutlich von dem nämlichen Inhalt ist--an der Brust oder Stirn trug; und kein Name wurde in Ägypten mit mehr Ehrfurcht ausgesprochen, als der Name Iao.   In dem Hymnus, den der Hierophant oder Vorsteher des Heiligtums dem Einzuweihenden vorsang, war dies der erste Aufschluss, der über die Natur der Gottheit gegeben wurde.  'Er ist einzig und von ihm selbst, und diesem einzigen sind alle Dinge ihr Dasein schuldig'" (Schiller, Gesamtausgabe, Band 6/2: 270-271; let us take the English translation of these writings from Solomon's Beethoven biography:  "I AM THAT WHICH IS.  I AM EVERYTHING THAT IS, THAT WAS, AND THAT WILL BE.  NO MORTAL MAN HAS LIFTED MY VEIL.  HE IS OF HIMSELF ALONE, AND IT IS TO THIS ALONENESS THAT ALL THINGS OWE THEIR BEING" (Solomon:  156-157).

Modern biographic Beethoven literature strives to come to terms with Beethoven's selection of these inscriptions not only on the basis of Beethoven's reasons for it that he might have been consciously aware of but also on the basis of psychological considerations.  Out of a personal lack of any knowledge in this field, no comment will be made here with respect to these attempts.

Already at this point, Thayer discusses Beethoven's in his opinion by that time already firmly-set religious and philosophical views.  As to whether and to what extent Beethoven's views could really be considered as "finalized" at this point, can, however, not be thoroughly discussed without having at our disposal clear comments of the composer to that effect.  In order for anyone to entertain such a discussion, he or she would have to base it on a thorough chronological study of Beethoven's notes.  This writer will only return to such a discussion after she will have had time for such a thorough investigation.

Beethoven's personal and creative life of the years 1811 to 1815 was, as is known to us from our Biographical Pages, formed by such events as the dissolution of his heroic style of composition, with such works as the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies being this period's last creations, along with the revision of his opera Fidelio in 1814, but also his bread work of Wellington's Victory at Victoria, but also by his struggle for the stabilization of his annuity, by his relationship with his Immortal Beloved, her loss and his mourning for her, and his compositional activity and increased popularity during the Congress of Vienna of 1814/15.


Beethoven's Life Mask, 1812

From this we can at least conclude that during this period, many influences were at work in Beethoven's life, from his further anxieties with respect to his financial security to his final loss of a chance at actual or imagined life happiness at the side of his Immortal Beloved, his mourning process, followed by periods of personal neglect, being shaken up into renewed activities of various kinds, to the height of his popularity during the course of events of the Congress of Vienna.

With respect to this overview, from this period, his contact with Bettina Brentano and her efforts to introduce him to Goethe as well as his actual account with him at Teplitz during the summer of 1812 might be of particular interest, although we are only dealing with outer effects of his actual interest, so that we are not really gaining additional, relevant information out of this, as we can not consider Beethoven's meeting with Goethe as a 'congenial meeting of two great minds'.

We know that during the following difficult years of 1815 - 1820, Beethoven fought for the guardianship of his nephew Karl, which cost him an enormous amount of time that was taken up by correspondence, legal battles and an altogether perhaps not wise fight with everyday forces for the sake of 'possession' of some resemblance of 'family ties', all of which did not leave him with much time for composition, let alone reflection.  Moreover, his hearing deteriorated to such a point that at least by 1818, visitors had to use the famous Conversation Books in order to direct questions to Beethoven.

However, we also know that in the summer of 1818, Beethoven, very likely due to the occasion of Archduke Rudolph's pending nomination as Cardinal of Olmütz, perhaps, however, also driven to it from within, seriously directed his efforts towards the composition of his Missa Solemnis.


Beethoven around 1818

Although his 1820 "victory" in his guardianship fight for his nephew set Beethoven's energies free again for increased artistic activity, during the ensuing creative period, Beethoven left us many traces of his reflections of this period but also of his "quieter" years of 1815 - 1820.

Thayer describes Beethoven's loneliness of these years in his chapter of the year 1820:

"Beethoven was become a lonely man--an enforced seeker of solitude. No doubt many who would have been glad to give him their friendship were deterred by the widespread reports of his suspicious, unapproachable, almost repellent nature. But a miracle happened. Driven in upon himself by the forces which seem to have been arrayed against him, introspection opened wider and wider to him the doors of that imagination which in its creative function, as Ruskin tells us, is "an eminent beholder of things and where they are not; a seer, that is, in the prophetic sense, calling the things that are not as though they were, and forever delighting to dwell on that which is not tangibly present." Now, he proclaimed a new evangel, illustrated a higher union of beauty and truthfulness of expression, exalted art till it entered the realm of religion.

In a Conversation Book of February, 1820, there stands a bold inscription in Beethoven's hand: 'The moral law in us, and the starry sky above us--Kant!!!'" (Thayer: 747)

You might remember Wegeler's report of Beethoven's decline of his invitation to take part in lectures for lay readers on Kant's philosophy...

With respect to the year 1822, Thayer reports that Rochlitz:

" . . . in his letters from Vienna reports Beethoven's humorous account of his enthusiasm for Klopstock in his early life: 'Since that summer in Karlsbad I read Goethe every day, that is, when I read at all. He (Goethe) has killed Klopstock for me. You are surprised? And now you laugh? Ah ha! It is because I have read Klopstock. I carried him about with me for years while walking and also at other times. Well, I did not always understand him, of course. He leaps about so much and he begins at too lofty an elevation. Always Maestoso, D-flat major! Isn't it so? But he is great and uplifts the soul nevertheless. When I could not understand him I could sort of guess. If only he did not always want to die! That will come quickly enough. Well, at any rate, what he writes always sounds well. But Goethe--he is alive, and he wants us all to live with him. That is why he can be set to music. There is no one who lends himself to musical setting as well as he. . . . " (Thayer: 802).

Of the year 1823, Thayer reports that the Englishman Edward Schulz wrote of his visit to Beethoven that he had found in him a friend of ancient Greek literature such as of the works of Homer, particularly his Odyssee, that he preferred Plutarch above all classical writers and that, of the writers of German literature, he particularly revered Schiller and Goethe.


Beethoven in 1823

By that time, Anton Felix Schindler already held his 'position' as Beethoven's private secretary, and we will encounter him again in our conclusion of this overview.

With respect to the effect of Beethoven's increased introspection, we are best advised to repeatedly listen to his late works in order to hear in them what we are capable of hearing with respect to it.

These works can be divided into two main groups, namely his last two public works, the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony, for the premiere of which Beethoven came in contact with the public for the last time, and his chamber music works and works for piano, such as his late piano sonatas, Op. 109, 110 and 111 as well as his five last string quartets, to name only the most important ones.

His final illness and his being tied to bed because of it provided Beethoven with many hours in which he tried to alleviate his boredom by reading.  With respect to this, Stefan Ley reports in his Beethoven biography that Beetoven, according to certain entries in his conversation books, also borrowed books from the library during these days.  Perhaps we should look at some of these conversation book entries:

"Schindler: 'Plutarch can not be had even for the greatest deposit, since all volumes are in circulation.  Of all volumes, only 2 were available yesterday.  Therefore, I took Epiktet.'

Gerhard [von Breuning]: 'Do you like to read about the antiquities of the ancient Romans and Greeks?  If you do, I will bring you pictures of those with explanations to them tomorrow, but also another book that deals with them.  I needed these books during the last four years in school.'

. . .

Gerhard [von Breuning]: ' . . . You have already read Walter Scott?  Perhaps you want to read Schiller?
Do you want to read the World History by Schröckh?
Perhaps you want to read the travel reports by Sommer? I will show them to you tomorrow'" (Translated from Ley: 367, 372 - 373).

After Beethoven's death on March 27, 1827, his private library became part of his estate.  What books might it have contained?  


Beethoven's Study
at the Schwarzspanierhaus
with his book shelf
in the center

We will try to shed some light on this in our next section.

My attempt at answering this question brings me back to Schindler's Beethoven biography, Beethoven as I Knew Him, which was carefully edited by Donald McArdle.   In presenting the content of this book with respect to its remarks on Beethoven's private library, I want to proceed as follows:

Schindler's Description

McArdle's Comment

"Beethoven's Private Library" (305)

In footnote 305, McArdle comments that Beethoven's private library had consisted of about 200 to 300 books, mainly works of world literature and of German literature and that out of it, Schindler donated 17 volumes to the Berlin State Library, that about 175 volumes of it were auctioned off as part of Beethoven's estate on November 5, 1827, and that last, but not least, an unknown number of volumes, mainly translations of classical texts he liked to read,  were pilfered during the months in which Beethoven's estate was not very carefully guarded .  A list of known titles from Beethoven's library is contained in   Leitzmann, Ludwig van Beethoven (II, 379), but also in Kerst II 332.  McArdle also point out many conversation book entries that reflect Beethoven's eclectic taste in books and literature.

"We have already mentioned in passing our master's modest private library.  It is, however, worth our trouble to examine it more closely.  Towards the end of his life we noted which of the principal Greek writers occupied places of honour there.  We should also say that Homer was represented by both his immortal epics" (Schindler: 378).  (306) Schindler also notes that Beethoven was less interested in Homer's Iliad than in hisOdyssee.

In foot note 306, McArdle explains that of all classical writers that were mentioned by Schindler and others as Beethoven's favorite writers, of Homer, Plato, Plutarch, Aristotle, Euripides, Plinius, Ovid and perhaps Horace, Quintilian, Tacitus, Lucian and Xenophon, Homer's Odyssey is the only volume that has been preserved from his private library, and that Nohl, in his work  Beethovens Brevier in the Sokolowski edition of 1901, mentions on page 78 that it is a translation of Voss from the year 1781, that the leather volume showed signs of wear such as coffee stains and candle drippings.  In this volume, Nohl is reported as having found more than 50 of Beethoven's underlinings of certain passages.  McArdle also reports that on February 18, 1813, the poet Theodor wrote to his father that he was supposed to write a text to Ulysses Wiederkehr by Beethoven, which he could not follow through with due to the fact that he died in battle.

"He had the complete works of Shakespeare in the Eschenburg translation. (307) Most of the volumes showed unmistakable marks of careful reading..." (Schindler: 378).

In foot note 307, McArdle points out that at the State Library in Berlin there can be found among Beethoven's private books also two double volumes of Eschenburg's prose translation of Shakespeares' Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Much ado about Nothing, End's Well, All's Well, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter's TaleAs You Like It and  Love's Labors Lost, and that all of these works, with the exception of the last two, showed traces of being read and used, that Nohl's  Beethovens Brevier contained 51 passages from these works, of which 20 were from The Merchant of Venice. In the Berlin Collection there can be also found, so McArdle, a new 1825 edition of Schlegel's metric translation of The Tempest, and that the list of books that were auctioned off also contained works of Shakespeare, that these, however, were not identified. 

". . . as did the Odyssey, the West- Östliche Divan, and Sturm's Betrachtungen der Werke Gottes" (308) (Schindler: 378)

In foot note 308, McArdle points out that Beethovens Brevier contained 43 passages from the  West-Östlichen Divan, and 41 from  Sturms Betrachtungen .

"He refused to have anything to do with Schlegel's translation of the great Briton: he pronounced it stiff, formal, and at times too far from the original, which he could deduce only by comparing it with Eschenburg's version." (309) (Schindler: 378). In foot note 309, McArdle points out that this comment of Schindler is contradicted by Beethoven's letter of May 1810 to Therese Malfatti, , "Haben Sie Goethes Wilhelm Meister und Shakespeare in Schlegels Übersetzung gelesen? . . . Vielleicht soll ich Ihnen diese Werke schicken." (Have you read Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and Shakespear in Schlegel's translation? . . .  Perhaps I can send you these works.)

"As for Goethe, he had, besides the Divan, only Wilhelm Meister, Faust, and the poems; of Schiller's works he had only the poems and some of the plays. (310) (Schindler: 378).

In foot note 310, McArdle points out that under no. 25 of the auction list of Beethoven's books were listed Goethe's Complete works, namely 24 volumes, of which some were double, that no. 26 of the auction list contained Schiller's Complete works, 21 volumes of different appearance and 3 better volumes.  However, McArdle also concedes Schindler's point made on page 504 of his biography that some of these books may have been smuggled in during the months in which his estate was not closely guarded, in order to achieve a better price for them due to the fact of its famous 'owner'.  
In conclusion, Schindler mentions that Beethoven also owned Tiedge's Urania, poems by Seume, Mathisson and other poets, before he goes on to discussing the content of Beethovens music library. With respect to this, no comment has been made by  McArdle.

From the above comparison of Schindler's notions and McArdle's comments it becomes clear that Beethoven's private library was mainly disposed of at the auction in the fall of 1827, as far as these volumes were not either pilfered due to the unguarded state of Beethoven's estate, that other volumes might have been smuggled into it and that Schindler donated 17 volumes of books Beethoven had owned to the Berlin State Library.  Those who are interested in the auction list of 1827 can either look it up in Leitzmann or Kerst II.  With respect to books that Beethoven actually owned, let me quote a reliable source here, namely Joyce Maier's online Beethoven biography in Dutch :

"Enkele voorbeelden van wat er zoal in die kast stond: de bijbel in het Frans, Kant, Naturgeschichte; Seiler, Kleine Bibel für Kranke; Sailer, Goldkörner; Lafontaine, Fables choisies; Hufeland, Übersicht der Heilquellen; Sturm, Beobachtungen über die Werke Gottes; Weissenbach, Meine Reise zum Congress; Thomas a Kempis, De imitatione Christi; Goethe, Sämmtliche Schriften; Schiller, Sämmtliche Werke; Klopstock, Werke; Plutarchus' biografieën; Shakespeares toneelstukken en, last but not least, Burney, A general history of music en Mattheson, Der volkommene Kapellmeister."

As already pointed out in our overview, I was not able to confirm Thayer's notion expressed in his chapter on the year 1810, namely that Beethoven's religious views were completely formed by that time, by means of careful research of this issue in consulting Beethoven's own comments on this issue.  However, from Beethoven's further development of his spirituality in the artistic expression of his works that would still follow, one might be able to leave room for the possibility that this question can not be answered that simply and clearly.  Since both Thayer and Schindler mention Beethoven's frequent reading of Pastor Christian Sturm's works, let us conclude this overview with a presentation of the range of Beethoven's interest in literature, relgion and philosophy with the following quotes that begin with a Sturm text:

"To the praise of thy goodness I must confess that Thou hast tried all means to draw me to Thee. Now it hath pleased The to let me feel the heavy hand of Thy wrath, and to humiliate my proud heart by manifold chastisements. Sickness and misfortune hast Thou sent to bring me to a contemplation of my digressions. But one thing only do I ask, O God, case not to labor for my improvement. Only let me, in whatsoever manner pleases Thee, turn to Thee and be fruitful of good works" (Thayer: 391-392; From Sturm's Betrachtungen .

'Ich bin, was da ist,' . . . 'Ich bin alles, was ist, was war und was sein wird: kein sterblicher Mensch hat meinen Schleier aufgehoben' . . . 'Er ist einzig und von ihm selbst, und diesem einzigen sind alle Dinge ihr Dasein schuldig'" (Schiller, Gesamtausgabe, Band 6/2: 270-271) "I AM THAT WHICH IS.  I AM EVERYTHING THAT IS, THAT WAS, AND THAT WILL BE.  NO MORTAL MAN HAS LIFTED MY VEIL.  HE IS OF HIMSELF ALONE, AND IT IS TO THIS ALONENESS THAT ALL THINGS OWE THEIR BEING" (Solomon:  156-157.

'Das moralische Gesetz in uns, der Sternenhimmel über uns--Kant!!!' (Beethovens Konversationsbucheintrag von 1820, "The moral law in us, the starry sky above us--Kant!!!).

However, it might be best to study Beethoven's spiritual development continually in listening to its artistic expression in his works of all creative periods.  

As a little 'after-thought' here some quotes from Beethoven's letters that show, on the one hand, his interest in literature, on the other hand, also his "practical application" of it:

"To Breitkopf & Härtel

Vienna, the 8th of August 1809

. . . - Perhaps you can send me a complete edition of Goethe's and Schiller's works,- ... Those two are my favorite poets, as well as Ossian, Homer, the latter of which I can, unfortunately, only read in translations. . . ." (Translated from:  Schmidt, Beethoven=Briefe: 64).

"To Therese Malfatti [1810]

' . . . Have you read Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, the Shakespeare as translated by Schlegel?  In the countryside, one has so much leisure, perhaps it might be pleasant for you, if I sent you thse works ... '" (Translated from:  Beethoven In Briefen und Lebensdokumentsn. Reclam: 164).

From about the same time to Franz von Brunswick:

"--O you unhappy decree, as beguiling as a siren, from which I should have stuffed my ears with wax in order not to sign it, and have myself tied, as  Ulysses" (Translated from:  Schmidt, Beethoven=Briefe: 63).

To Bettina Brentano:

"Vienna, the 10th of February, 1811

 . . . --As you find yourself in Berlin in the face of the world's trash, I can imagine even if I had not read it in your lines:  Talking, prattling about art, without any deeds!!!!!  The best description of it is found in Schiller's poem, "Die Fluesse" (The Rivers), in which the Spree (river) prattles on- . . . " (Translated from:  Schmidt, Beethoven= Briefe: 67- 68).

To Goethe:

"Vienna, the 12th of April 1811.

Your Excellency!

The urgent matter in which one of my friends, who is (as I am) one of your great admirers, has to leave here very shortly, only allows me a few moments to thank you for the long time that I have known you (since I have known you from my childhood on)--that is so little for so much.--Bettina Brentano has reassured me that you would receive me kindly, even in a spirit of friendship; however, how could I think of such a reception, since I am only able to approach you with the greatest reverence, with an unspeakable deep feeling with respect to your wonderful creations.--In the near future, you will receive my music to Egmont from Leipzig through Breitkopf and Härtel, this wonderful Egmont that, when I read it, re-considered with your thoughts in mind, have felt thus and set to music in this spirit.--I would very much like to learn your opinion of it, even your criticism would be beneficial to me and to my art and received as gladly as the greatest praise.--

Your Excellency's great admirer Ludwig van Beethoven" (Translated from:  Schmidt, Beethoven=Briefe: 69/70).

"Baden, the 24th of August 1825

Bestes Mahaoni-Holz (Wood)!

...Impervious against which hell-hound might lick my forehead or gnaw at it, since it must be, after all, if only the answer will not have to be waited for, for so long, the hell-hound at L[eipzig] can wait and converse with Mephistopheles at Auerbach's Keller, in the mantime, the latter of whom will be taken by his ears by Belzebub, the superior devil, in the near future... 

Yours with Love and Friendship

Beethoven" (Translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven In Briefen und Lebensdokumenten.  Reclam: 71).

Now that we have explored the extent to which "our" master composer took an interest in literature and philosophy, we might wish to explore yet another facet of this interesting topic, namely what these men might have had in common at the all-too-human level of trying to find happiness in their lives.  For this, we offer you  the link to the left in the menu bar as well as the link below. Enjoy!

Human, all too Human