Beethoven was through and through a religious man, though not in
the confessional sense. Reared in the Catholic faith he early
attained to an independent opinion on religious things. It must
be borne in mind that his youth fell in the period of
enlightenment and rationalism. When at a later date he composed
the grand Mass in honor of his esteemed pupil Archduke Rudolph,--
he hoped to obtain from him a chapelmastership when the Archduke
became Archbishop of Olmutz, but in vain,--he gave it forms and
dimensions which deviated from the ritual.
In all things liberty was the fundamental principle of
Beethoven's life. His favorite book was Sturm's "Observations
Concerning God's Works in Nature" (Betrachtungen uber die Werke
Gottes in der Natur), which he recommended to the priests for
wide distribution among the people. He saw the hand of God in
even the most insignificant natural phenomenon. God was to him
the Supreme Being whom he had jubilantly hymned in the choral
portion of the Ninth Symphony in the words of Schiller:
"Brothers, beyond you starry canopy there must dwell a loving
Father!" Beethoven's relationship to God was that of a child
toward his loving father to whom he confides all his joys as well
It is said that once he narrowly escaped excommunication for
having said that Jesus was only a poor human being and a Jew.
Haydn, ingenuously pious, is reported to have called Beethoven
He consented to the calling in of a priest on his death-bed. Eye-
witnesses testify that the customary function was performed most
impressively and edifyingly and that Beethoven expressed his
thanks to the officiating priest with heartiness. After he had
left the room Beethoven said to his friends: "Plaudite, amici,
comoedia finita est," the phrase with which antique dramas were
concluded. From this fact the statement has been made that
Beethoven wished to characterize the sacrament of extreme unction
as a comedy. This is contradicted, however, by his conduct during
its administration. It is more probable that he wished to
designate his life as a drama; in this sense, at any rate, the
words were accepted by his friends. Schindler says emphatically:
"The last days were in all respects remarkable, and he looked
forward to death with truly Socratic wisdom and peace of mind."
[I append a description of the death scene as I found it in the
notebooks of A. W. Thayer which were placed in my hands for
examination after the death of Beethoven's greatest biographer in
"June 5, 1860, I was in Graz and saw Huttenbrenner (Anselm) who
gave me the following particulars:...In the winter of 1826-27
his friends wrote him from Vienna, that if he wished to see
Beethoven again alive he must hurry thither from Graz. He hastened
to Vienna, arriving a few days before Beethoven's death. Early in
the afternoon of March 26, Huttenbrenner went into the dying
man's room. He mentioned as persons whom he saw there, Stephen v.
Breuning and Gerhard, Schindler, Telscher and Carl's mother (this
seems to be a mistake, i.e. if Mrs. v. Beethoven is right).
Beethoven had then long been senseless. Telscher began drawing the
dying face of Beethoven. This grated on Breuning's feelings, and
he remonstrated with him, and he put up his papers and left (?).
Then Breuning and Schindler left to go out to Wohring to select a
grave. (Just after the five--I got this from Breuning himself--
when it grew dark with the sudden storm Gerhard, who had been
standing at the window, ran home to his teacher.)
Afterward Gerhard v. B. went home, and there remained in the room
only Huttenbrenner and Mrs. van Beethoven. The storm passed over,
covering the Glacis with snow and sleet. As it passed away a flash
of lightning lighted up everything. This was followed by an awful
clap of thunder. Huttenbrenner had been sitting on the side of the
bed sustaining Beethoven's head--holding it up with his right arm
His breathing was already very much impeded, and he had been for
hours dying. At this startling, awful peal of thunder, the dying
man suddenly raised his head from Huttenbrenner's arm, stretched
out his own right arm majestically--like a general giving orders
to an army. This was but for an instant; the arm sunk back; he
fell back. Beethoven was dead.
"Another talk with Huttenbrenner. It seems that Beethoven was at
his last gasp, one eye already closed. At the stroke of lightning
and the thunder peal he raised his arm with a doubled-up fist; the
expression of his eyes and face was that of one defying death,--a
look of defiance and power of resistance.
"He must have had his arm under the pillow. I must ask him.
"I did ask him; he had his arm around B.'s neck." H. E. K.]
311. "I am that which is. I am all that was, that is, and that
shall be. No mortal man has ever lifted the veil of me. He is
solely of himself, and to this Only One all things owe their
(Beethoven's creed. He had found it in Champollion's "The
Paintings of Egypt," where it is set down as an inscription on a
temple to the goddess Neith. Beethoven had his copy framed and
kept it constantly before him on his writing desk. "The relic was
a great treasure in his eyes"--Schindler.)
312. "Wrapped in the shadows of eternal solitude, in the
impenetrable darkness of the thicket, impenetrable, immeasurable,
unapproachable, formlessly extended. Before spirit was breathed
(into things) his spirit was, and his only. As mortal eyes (to
compare finite and infinite things) look into a shining mirror."
(Copied, evidently, from an unidentified work, by Beethoven;
though possibly original with him.)
313. "It was not the fortuitous meeting of the chordal atoms that
made the world; if order and beauty are reflected in the
constitution of the universe, then there is a God."
314. "He who is above,--O, He is, and without Him there is
315. "Go to the devil with your 'gracious Sir!' There is only one
who can be called gracious, and that is God."
(About 1824 or 1825, to Rampel, a copyist, who, apparently, had
been a little too obsequious in his address to Beethoven. [As is
customary among the Viennese to this day. H. E. K.])
316. "What is all this compared with the great Tonemaster above!
above! above! and righteously the Most High, whereas here below
all is mockery,--dwarfs,--and yet Most High!!"
(To Schott, publisher in Mayence, in 1822--the same year in which
Beethoven copied the Egyptian inscription.)
317. "There is no loftier mission than to approach the Divinity
nearer than other men, and to disseminate the divine rays among
(August, 1823, to Archduke Rudolph.)
318. "Heaven rules over the destiny of men and monsters
(literally, human and inhuman beings), and so it will guide me,
too, to the better things of life."
(September 11, 1811, to the poet Elsie von der Recke.)
319. "It's the same with humanity; here, too (in suffering), he
must show his strength, i.e. endure without knowing or feeling his
nullity, and reach his perfection again for which the Most High
wishes to make us worthy."
(May 13, 1816, to Countess Erdody, who was suffering from
320. "Religion and thorough-bass are settled things concerning
which there should be no disputing."
(Reported by Schindler.)
331. "All things flowed clear and pure out of God. Though often
darkly led to evil by passion, I returned, through penance and
purification to the pure fountain,--to God,--and to your art. In
this I was never impelled by selfishness; may it always be so.
The trees bend low under the weight of fruit, the clouds descend
when they are filled with salutary rains, and the benefactors of
humanity are not puffed up by their wealth."
(Diary, 1815. The first portion seems to be a quotation, but
Beethoven continues after the dash most characteristically in
his own words and a change of person.)
322. "God is immaterial, and for this reason transcends every
conception. Since He is invisible He can have no form. But from
what we observe in His work we may conclude that He is eternal,
omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent."
(Copied, with the remark: "From Indian literature" from an
unidentified work, into the Diary of 1816.)
323. "In praise of Thy goodness I must confess that Thou didst try
with all Thy means to draw me to Thee. Sometimes it pleased Thee
to let me feel the heavy hand of Thy displeasure and to humiliate
my proud heart by manifold castigations. Sickness and misfortune
didst Thou send upon me to turn my thoughts to my errantries.--One
thing, only, O Father, do I ask: cease not to labor for my
betterment. In whatsoever manner it be, let me turn to Thee and
become fruitful in good works."
(Copied into the Diary from Sturm's book, "Observations Concerning
the Works of God in Nature.")
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- Jan 6, 2016
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