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Last Moments
Of Beethoven
As Told By
J. Wilbur Chapman
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TOPIC: Beethoven

TITLE: Last Moments Of Beethoven

The little sketch of Beethovens last moments given in The Evangelist of November 11th, so interested me that I desire to give you a little different account of the same incident. It gives the same facts, with the different view of another writer. It is from Harpers Monthly, July, 1854, by an unknown author. The story is full of deepest pathos connected with one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known. I hope you will give it a place in your Music Department. J. H. Vance, Erie, Pa.

He had but one happy moment in his life, and that killed him! He lived in poverty, driven into solitude by the contempt of the world and by the natural bent of a disposition rendered almost savage, by the injustice of his contemporaries. But he wrought the most sublime music of which man or angel ever dreamed!

Beethoven had but one friend and that was Hummel. But he had quarreled with him, and for a long time they had ceased to meet. To crown his misfortunes he became completely deaf. Then Beethoven retired to Baden, where he lived isolated and sad, in a small house that hardly sufficed for his necessities.

In the midst of his solitude a letter arrived, which brought him back, despite himself, to the affairs of the world, where new griefs awaited him. A nephew whom he had brought up and to whom he was attached by the good offices he had performed for the youth, wrote to implore his uncles presence in Vienna. He had become implicated in some disastrous business from which his elder relative alone could release him.

Beethoven set off upon the journey and, compelled by the economy of necessity, accomplished a part of the journey on foot. One evening he stopped before the gate of a small mean-looking house and solicited shelter. He had yet several leagues to traverse before reaching Vienna, and his strength would not allow him to continue any longer on the road. They received him with hospitality, and after partaking of their simple supper he was installed in the masters chair by the fire-place.

When the table was cleared, the father of the family arose and opened an old claverin (the primitive piano mentioned in The Evangelist). The three sons each took a violin and the mother and daughter each occupied themselves with some domestic work. The father gave the key note, and all four began playing with that unity and precision, that innate genius which is peculiar only to the German people. It seemed that they were deeply interested in what they played, for their whole souls were in their instruments. The two women desisted from their occupation to listen, and their gentle countenances expressed the emotions of their hearts.

To observe all this was the only share that Beethoven could take in all that was passing, for he could not hear a single note. He could only judge of their performance by the movements of the executants, and the fire that animated their features. When they had finished they shook each others hands, as if to congratulate each other on a community of happiness, and the young girl threw herself weeping into her mothers arms! Then they appeared to consult together, and resumed their instruments. This time their enthusiasm reached its height, their eyes were filled with tears, and the color mounted to their cheeks!

"My friends," said Beethoven, "I am very unhappy that I can take no part in the delight which you experience, for I also love music. But as you see, I am so deaf I cannot hear any sound. Let me read this music which produces in you such sweet and lively emotions.

He took the music in his hand; his eyes grew dim, his breath came short and fast, then he dropped the music and burst into tears! Those peasants had been playing the Allegretto of Beethovens Symphony in A!

The whole family surrounded him with signs of curiosity and surprise. For some moments his convulsive sobs impeded his utterance. Then he raised his hand and said: I am Beethoven; and they uncovered their heads and bowed before him in respectful silence! Beethoven extended his hands to them, and they clasped them, kissed, wept over them! (Imagine that scene!) For they knew that they had among them a man who was greater than a king! Beethoven held out his arms and embraced them all, father, mother, young girl and her three brothers!

All at once he arose, and sitting down to the claverin signed to the young men to take up their violins and himself performed the piano part of this chef dauvre. The performers were alike inspired! Never was music more divine or better executed! Half the night passed away thus and the peasants listened. Those were the last notes of the man!

The father compelled him to accept his own bed, but during the night Beethoven was restless and fevered. He arose; he needed air, he went forth with naked feet into the country. All nature was inhaling a majestic harmony, the winds sighed through the branches of the trees, and moaned along the avenues, and glades of the wood. He remained some time wandering in the cool dews of the morning, but when he returned to the house he was seized with an icy-chill.

They sent to Vienna for a physician. Dropsy of the chest was found to have declared itself, and in two days despite every care and skill, the doctor said Beethoven must die. And in truth life was every instant fast ebbing away.

As he lay upon his bed pale and suffering, a man entered. It was Hummel, his old and only friend. He had heard of the illness of Beethoven, and came to him with money and succor. But it was too late. Beethoven was speechless and a grateful smile was all he had to bestow upon his friend.

Hummel, by means of an acoustic instrument, enabled Beethoven to hear a few words of his compassion and regret. Beethoven seemed reanimated, his eyes shone, he struggled for utterance and gasped: "Is it not true, Hummel, that I have some talent after all?"

Those were his last words. His eyes grew fixed, his mouth fell open and his spirit passed away. They buried him in the little cemetery of Doblin. -- From Present Day Parables by J. Wilbur Chapman.

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