This image depicts an 1816 manuscript sketch, in Beethoven's handwriting, for his Piano Sonata in A Major, op. 101, Allegro. Online, courtesy Library of Congress.
I have never thought of writing
for reputation and honor.
What I have in my heart must out;
that is the reason why I compose.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Remark to Carl Czerny
A vicious, early-spring storm darkened Vienna's late-afternoon sky. Suddenly, an enormous thunder-clap reverberated throughout the Schwarzspanierhaus ("House of the Black-Robed Spaniards"). Inside, a man was dying.
Although deaf and comatose, Ludwig van Beethoven seemed startled by the enormous thunder peal. Lifting his right arm - as though he were a general, commanding an army - the 56-year-old composer momentarily clenched his raised fist.
Seconds later, his arm fell back onto his bed, and Beethoven died. It was the 26th of March, 1827.
Some people thought Beethoven strange - or even hostile. Except for his servants, the maestro lived alone, like someone who had been banished.
In a way, he was banished. Separated from the hearing world - in which people listened to his music - Beethoven heard nothing as the sound of his compositions echoed throughout Europe.
1820 Beethoven Portrait, by Joseph Karl Stieler, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons
How could someone who penned great musical works - like the second movement of his 7th Symphony, or the 9th, or the 5th - create when he was profoundly deaf? How did he view his genius, coupled with his deafness?
Two centuries later, Beethoven's music is still popular. His influence remains extraordinary. But ... who was Ludwig - as a boy, as a man and as a musician?