Beethoven wrote some of the most profound music of any composer. Most people only know the top hits: The Ode to Joy from the 9th symphony, Symphony #5, the Moonlight and Appasionata piano sonatas. Beethoven lost his hearing while in his peak composing years….he then started writing more bass parts and expanding the bottom end of the orchestra so he could at least feel the pulse of his energetic music. Beethoven also suffered from severe stomach ailments. He was almost always beset by inescapable physical pain. In a famous letter called “The Heiligenstadter” discovered after his death, Beethoven confesses his anguish at the loss of his hearing, made even worse by his not wanting others to know he was deaf and trying to conceal it. It is a powerful and heartrending letter:
According to Wikipedia:
The Heiligenstadt Testament is a letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven to his brothers Carl and Johann at Heiligenstadt (today part of Vienna) on 6 October 1802.
It reflects his despair over his increasing deafness and his desire to overcome his physical and emotional ailments in order to complete his artistic destiny. Beethoven kept the document hidden among his private papers for the rest of his life, and probably never showed it to anyone. It was discovered in March 1827, after Beethoven’s death, by Anton Schindler and Stephan von Breuning, who had it published the following October.
How Beethoven created such sweeping and beautiful music while in constant physical torment and anguish is beyond me. But you get no clue when listening to his music, just the energy and passion of his work. Personally speaking, I love the 6th and 7th symphonies. The 7th is captivating and upbeat. But I have a most special place in my heart for the 6th, called the Pastorale, on a recording done in postwar Vienna, 1953, with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Wilhelm Furtwängler. I discovered this sublime music around 1971, while in graduate school. My friend Mark Squires and Kip Pencheff and I spent many hours listening to it and enjoying the lyricism of this particular recording.
I listened again recently and the magic was still there. If you like classical music and have a fondness for Beethoven, check out this divine andante from Symphony #6, with Furtwängler.
I could find no youtube with Furtwängler doing the 6th, but did find Herbert von Karajan’s version. Karajan offers a faster version but you’ll get the feeling. Furtwängler’s dreamy version is slower, more languorous, and dripping with beauty. And it is still available on a good EMI recording, pictured below.