March 29, 2017

Dear Liberty,

     Ludwig cowered in the corner, not because of the incessant bombing, but because of what the noise was doing to his ears.  For a decade now his hearing had been slowly deteriorating.  Napoleon Bonaparte’s never-ending shelling was more than Ludwig could take.  He covered his ears with pillows, praying the attack would just stop.

     Ludwig, along with his brother Carl, sister-in-law, Johanna, and their son Karl, sought shelter from the battle in Carl’s basement.  Following the French Revolution, Ludwig cheered Napoleon’s rise to power.  (see Reign Of Terror)  However, when Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France, Ludwig lost all respect for him.  (see Victory Or Death!)  Now, with this second attack on Vienna, Ludwig held pure contempt for his one-time hero.

     Ludwig van Beethoven was born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany.  His grandfather, and namesake, moved there at a young age to pursue a music career.  Part of the Holy Roman Empire, Bonn was the capital of the Electorate of Cologne, where the Elector employed elder Beethoven as part of the Electoral Chorus.  Beginning as a singer, he eventually became kapellmeister, or conductor.  His only son, Johann van Beethoven, was also a singer in the choir, yet not as successful as his father.  So when young Ludwig came along, he was naturally groomed in the family business.

     Johann began instructing his eldest son at age 5, though he was not a compassionate teacher.  He often deprived Beethoven of sleep to practice and beat his son for mistakes.  Neighbors recalled seeing the young boy reduced to tears at his father's hand.  It was well known that Johann was an alcoholic, a likely contributor to his behavior.

     Despite the brutal methods, Beethoven was an obvious prodigy.  He learned the clavier, a keyboard instrument, along with the violin, viola and organ, from his father and other instructors.

     At age seven, Johann arranged Beethoven’s first public concert.  Trying to brand him as the next Mozart, Johann promoted his son as six years old, the same as Mozart’s first concert.  On March 26, 1778, Beethoven played for the citizens of Bonn yet it did not make the impact of Mozart.  Nevertheless, his talent began showing in his first published work in March of 1783.

     Born, baptized, and raised Catholic, Beethoven started playing organ for church masses at age 10.  As Johann’s drinking grew, so did Beethoven's responsibility in the Beethoven family.  At age 18, he became employed by the Elector as the Assistant Court Organist to support his parents and two younger brothers, Carl and Johann.  The court sent him to the culture and music capital of the world, Vienna, in 1787 to further his musical education.  Beethoven met Mozart, whom he hoped to study with, however he was called home due to his mother’s failing health.  She died and Beethoven did not return to Vienna until after Mozart’s death.

     By 1792, the French Revolution was making its way towards the Electorate of Cologne.  (see Storming The Bastille)  Beethoven headed to Vienna, never to return home.  With Mozart gone, Joseph Haydn assumed the role of greatest living composer, taking on Beethoven as a student.  Similar to his first trip to Vienna, this time Beethoven’s father became ill and died.  Unlike the first trip, he did not go back to Bonn.

     At the time, musicians were supported by benefactors who commissioned pieces from the composer.  Patrons in Vienna were so impressed with Beethoven, they provided him the adequate lodging and funds he needed to be able to sever his ties with the Electorate of Cologne in 1794.  News of his talent and brilliance spread, building the excitement for his long-awaited Vienna debut on March 29, 1795.  

     Not long after, Beethoven published his  piano trios “Opus 1” collection, beginning a frenzy of work that only grew his amazing reputation and pocketbook.  However, in the summer of 1796, Beethoven contracted typhus, which many contribute to his eventual hearing loss.  Within a few years, he noticed trouble understanding people’s words, which only got worse over the next decade.

     While America, under President Thomas Jefferson, fought the Islamic terroristic Barbary Pirates and doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase, Beethoven was quickly becoming the musical icon of the all time.  (see To The Shores of Tripoli and Deal Of A Lifetime)  In fact, his improvisational piano skills outperformed all others to the point he was not allowed to compete anymore.

     In 1804, Beethoven was composing his Third Symphony, which he planned to dedicate to Napoleon.  However, after seeing Emperor Napoleon as a tyrant, Beethoven so vehemently scratched Napoleon’s name off the cover of the score, he ripped a hole in the paper.  Beethoven renamed it “Eroica” or “Heroic Symphony”.  By the time Napoleon conducted his second siege on Vienna on May 10, 1809, Beethoven was almost completely deaf.  The bombs exploding outside terrified Beethoven of losing what little hearing he had left.

     Napoleon's younger brother, Jerome, king of Westphalia, tried to entice Beethoven at the end of 1808 to leave Vienna for a well-paying court kapellmeister position in Cassel.  The Viennese were so distraught about losing their prize composer that Archduke Rudolph, Prince Kinsey and Prince Lobkowitz organized a pension for Beethoven.  With this arrangement, Beethoven was released from singular benefactor restrictions, giving him the freedom to compose whatever moved him.  It was a liberty not experienced by musicians and artists at the time.  Along with this pension, Beethoven collected royalties for published work along with funds for personal dedications of selected pieces.  

     Beethoven's life changed in 1815 with the death of his brother Carl.  According to Carl's wishes, his widow, Johanna, and Beethoven would have joint custody of his then 9-year-old son, Karl.  Beethoven spent the next three years fighting for full guardianship, citing Johanna's rather promiscuous evening activities as those unfit for Karl's mother.  He was granted custody, yet his fatherly skills were lacking despite his love for his young nephew.  Though it is believed Beethoven did not attend mass regularly as an adult, he ensured Karl regularly participated in the sacraments.  Karl’s rebellious behavior finally subsided after being sent to military school.  

     Beethoven never married though he pursued several women over the years.  Angry outbursts along with poor social skills and limited social interaction usually terminated the relationships.  Several of his pieces, including my favorite, “Moonlight Sonata”, were inspired and dedicated to his various love interests.  

     Many question Beethoven’s religious beliefs, characterizing him an atheist, deist, and a pantheist.  However, his notes and letters indicate he held a strong belief in a personal God.  His favorite book, Reflections on the Works of God and His Providence Throughout All Nature, by Lutheran pastor Christoph Christian Sturm, greatly influenced his work.  Actually, the book’s expression of love for the natural world is often misinterpreted as “pantheism”.  Nevertheless, its impact can be seen in such works as the “Pastoral Symphony”.  He completed “Christ on the Mount of Olives” in 1803 but never produced his promised “The Triumph of the Cross.”

     Officially deaf, Beethoven finished his final symphony in 1823.  That same year he completed what he considered the “crown of my life’s work.”  “Missa Solemnis", or “Solemn Mass,” was written to celebrate the installation of Beethoven’s friend, Archduke Rudolph, as archbishop.  To prepare for the piece, he studied the rich religious musical history of the church along with Latin texts and liturgy.  In his words, “In the old church modes the devotion is divine … and [may] God let me express it someday.”  God must have heard Beethoven as he produced a masterpiece steeped in religious history and tradition that represented the Holy Spirit with the flute and Christ with the violin.

     He completed other pieces, such as string quartets, yet he was not producing like when first going to Vienna.  He wrote several independent sketches for a tenth symphony, but he never compiled it.

     Beethoven spent the summer of 1826 with his brother, Johann.  Upon returning to Vienna, a cold he caught developed into pneumonia.  Never fully recovering, he spent the remainder of his life basically bedridden.  He died from cirrhosis of the liver on March 26, 1827, exactly 49 years after his first public appearance in Bonn.  On March 29th, the 32nd anniversary of his Vienna debut, citizens again gathered to attend Beethoven's funeral.  An estimated 20,000 people congregated at Holy Trinity church for Ludwig van Beethoven's final bow.

     Liberty, the Bible tells us that God blesses everyone with gifts.  Unfortunately, most of us never live up to our potential.  Then there are those like Beethoven, whose gifts are hindered, yet they continue to bless the world with their talents.  Beethoven not only composed some of the most fascinating music ever produced, most of it was written while he was almost or completely deaf.  He never heard the amazing sounds his mind's ear was able to create.

     As I have told you many times, we were never promised a life without pain and hardship.   In fact, often it is our response to those challenges that God uses to reach others with his love and compassion.  (see Walking The Walk, Their Deaths Were Not In Vain, A Tale Of Two Women, The Angel Of Marye's Heights, It Is Well, and Just One More)

     The Apostle Paul tells us he prayed to God three times to remove the "thorn in my flesh.”  Though God didn’t, his answer is comforting to us all. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul did not respond by cursing God or refusing to spread the Gospel. Instead, Paul accepted his condition as part of his life and pushed forward.  “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

     Liberty, in those times when life seems to throw roadblocks in your path, remember Paul and Beethoven.  If a man in constant pain can still praise the Lord, no ailment should ever keep you down.  If a deaf man can write some of the most celebrated music in history, with God's help you can accomplish anything.

     That’s my 2 cents.