Perseverance: Lessons from the life of Beethoven

September 7, 2017

Beethoven’s life was one of many challenges.

He achieved much, despite his many struggles, so it is interesting to see what we can learn from this great composer.

Perseverance and clarity of purpose are just some of the attributes that are relevant for us today, both in our businesses and in our family life.

 

Lack of support from family

From a young age Beethoven was dedicated to music but his father was determined that this would be on his terms. “I’ll box your ears for composing!” his father threatened, dragging the boy out of bed to practise the piano. His first composition was published when he was 12. He rose daily at 5am to play the church organ. Beethoven was 16 when his mother died. He became head of the family to his two younger brothers as his in his grief his father succumbed to drink. Despite taking on responsibilities at such a young age he

continued to play and compose.

 

Coping with Disability

In 1802 (when he was 32) he wrote to his two brothers, admitting his deafness for the first time. That he could no longer hear the shepherd’s flute in the distance, audible to his companion, was devastating to a man whose livelihood was composition and playing the piano. By 1813 he had ear-trumpets. Before he was 50, people conversed with him on a slate or in books. But he kept focused and persevered.

 

Heartbreak and creativity

Beethoven fell passionately in love several times. For example, in 1804, with Josephine Deym, a young widow with children. She responded at first but then pulled back, perhaps under the influence of her family, hard-up aristocrats who were hoping she would find a husband with money.

In this period he composed some of the world’s favourite music: his violin concerto, his fiery 5th Symphony. The Pastoral, his 6th, expressing delight at being out in the country. Still hoping to marry Josephine, he kept seeing her. He composed Fidelio, his only opera, based on a true story in which a young woman rescues her husband from wrongful imprisonment by disguising herself as a man and getting a job in the gaol where he is being held.

His passion inspired him to achieve his best.

Wrong place/wrong time

By the first performance of Fidelio in 1806, Napoleon’s troops had invaded Vienna. Most of Beethoven’s patrons had fled the city. The hall was half-full, and he didn’t get the rapturous support he was hoping for. However, he went on to write another great work the following year for his patron Prince Esterházy. His Mass in C.

Again he did not get the hoped for response. Beethoven was met with an annoyed patron, jeering at him in front of the entire orchestra, choir and 4 soloists: “O Beethoven, what is this that you have done again!” Someone in the orchestra laughed. Beethoven was hugely upset and stormed back to Vienna. He calmed down and kept going.

 

Public rejection

In 1809, in a financial position to marry, he proposed to Therese Malfatti, his doctor’s niece. Too young for him and too flighty, she too rejected him. But all his friends knew about this – it was a very public rejection. Again he allowed his emotions to help him compose and he created his powerful and heartfelt Serioso Quartet.

 

Loss/grief

He fell passionately in love with a woman he called his “Immortal Beloved”, Antonie Brentano. A wealthy noblewoman, she had been married off at 18 to Franz Brentano, a merchant from Frankfurt. In love with Beethoven they had an affair and Antonie fell pregnant.

Franz took his wife back to Frankfurt. Beethoven’s son, Karl Josef, was born on 8 March, 1813. That year Beethoven was suicidal. In addition to losing his son, his brother, Caspar Carl, was dying of TB. Nephew Karl became Beethoven’s ward when his brother died in 1815. His love was channelled to his pseudo son, since he could not acknowledge or enjoy a family life with his real child.

In 1817 Beethoven’s natural son, Karl Josef, suffered a devastating illness that left him partially paralysed, with the mental age of a 4 year old. Beethoven’s diary of the time records many letters to Frankfurt, sometimes several in one day. He did not compose for a year.

 

Overcoming illness

In 1824 Beethoven nearly died from inflammation of the bowel. “Doctor, close the door on death,” he wrote. “Notes will help us in our needs.” No coffee, no booze, simple food. He listened to his doctor and survived. Again he used his life experiences to fuel is his creativity. He finished writing his Opus 132 string quartet, with its “Hymn of thanksgiving to the Deity from an invalid on recovery from illness”.

Beethoven’s perseverance is a lesson for everyone. Through infirmity, illness, war, financial hardship, setbacks in his personal and love life, Beethoven strove on to compose the world’s greatest music, which continues to inspire and delight today.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Lund

Susan Lund is author of many books on Beethoven, including Beethoven: Life of an Artist’.

 

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