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Arts Desk

Beethoven's Despair Spelled Out In A Famous Letter To His Brothers

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Ludwig van Beethoven, overwhelmed with his loss of hearing, wrote a letter to his brothers in 1802 while resting in Heiligenstadt, Austria.

The Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter and directive written by Beethoven to his brothers in October, 1802, is an important missive, opened after the composer's death in 1827. It depicts his pain and struggle: the diminishing hope that his hearing will improve, a feeling of growing isolation, and his commitment to his art, that ultimately saves his life. By the time he wrote The Heiligenstadt Testament, the already-acclaimed composer had spent six years, starting at age 26 or 27, searching in vain for a “cure.”

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The Heiligenstadt Testament

The letter was opened 25 years after it was written, following Beethoven’s death at age 56.

Musicologist William Kinderman, a Beethoven scholar whose work includes a biography on the incomparable composer, has spent time in Vienna and periods in Munich, Berlin and Bonn.

Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament coincides with the beginning of his middle period (1802-1812), a departure from his creative past, and a turning point in his life marked by his monumental Symphony No. 3,  “Eroica.” 

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Excerpts of Meridee Duddleston’s conversation with William Kinderman about this emotional and creative turning point in Beethoven’s life.