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

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.”

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.” 

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