BCP#10 Facing Fear
Beethoven wrote his Concerto for Violin in 1806, toward the beginning of his incredibly productive middle period (1803-14).
In 1802, he was experiencing his dark night of the soul. Still a young man, his encroaching deafness was threatening his stability on a deep level. Until then, he had been every bit as famous for being a pianist (if not more so) than for his composing, and what would the public think of a deaf musician? He feared scandal and the end of his livelihood. That spring he rented a place in the countryside town of Heiligenstadt to convalesce, on the recommendation of his doctor. By the end of the summer it was clear that he was not improving, and in autumn (about this time of year), he wrote a letter that was a cross between a suicide note and a last will and testament. The Heiligenstadt Testament was found among his things upon his death decades later.
"Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should
have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in
highest perfection ... I must live like an exile, if I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, a fear that I may be subjected to the danger of letting my condition be observed ... what a humiliation when someone stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I
heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life - only art it was that withheld me."
How did he move from this low point to the most creative and productive years of his life almost immediately?
"Only art it was that withheld me."
In Heiligenstadt, he gave himself an extremely rare moment of directly expressing his vulnerability, and rose from that tender and painful place with determination to wring everything he could out of his disappointment and his isolated life. If he had either given up the fight then, or passively continued to exist without battling it out with his pain and dashed hopes, he would not have been the man to create such a bountiful legacy of art. In facing and acknowledging the worst that could possibly happen, he was freed from the fear of it happening. All that energy was then able to pour forth into creating music, and in the years that followed he created some of his most successful masterpieces (the Eroica Symphony, The Moonlight, Waldstein and Appassionata Piano Sonatas, his only opera Fidelio, a batch of string quartets, and much more).
I feel incredibly thankful not only for the wonderful music he went on to compose, but for the example he set of having the courage to face our inner demons and rise from the experience stronger and clearer.
Statue of Beethoven in Heiligenstadt park