Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Beethoven's Markings in Christoph Christian Sturm's Reflections on the Works of God in the Realm of Nature and Providence for Every Day of the Year

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Beethoven's Markings in Christoph Christian Sturm's Reflections on the Works of God in the Realm of Nature and Providence for Every Day of the Year

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

THE CLASSIC MYTH SURROUNDING BEETHOVEN EMBODIES TRIUMPH. Recognized early in his life for his musical genius, mentored by some of the leading composers in Vienna (the musical capital of the world), by all appearances here was a man destined for greatness. But then tragedy struck The one handicap capable of destroying a musical career befell him: Beethoven began to grow deaf. Resolving not to let calamity defeat him, Beethoven turned tragedy into triumph. He would overcome his handicap by himself. He, the individual, the artist, would revolutionize the music world and compose some of the greatest and most influential music the world had ever heard. And so the myth goes.

But like all myths-which are often grounded in truth-we also must recognize that the true story of any individual is much more complex and multiraceted than tradition suggests. While Beethoven's popular image remains that of a superhuman individual overcoming difficult if not impossible circumstances, in reality he relied on a network of support that included well-placed and influential patrons; two significant love relationships; familial relationships with two brothers; and even his religious beliefs.

In fact, Beethoven's reliance on faith and religion is an often untold and neglected aspect of his biography. Beethoven's faith in God comforted and supported him throughout his entire life. The Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802 is perhaps the most well known expression of Beethoven seeking God's comfort. In this letter to "my brodiers," Beethoven related that he had contemplated committing suicide because of his increasing deafness. In his lamentations in the Testament, Beethoven appealed to God directly: "Divine One, thou seest my inmost soul, thou knowest that therein dwells the love of mankind and the desire to do good." The letter ends, "O Providence-grant me at last but one day of pure joy-it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart-Oh when-Oh when, O Divine One-shall I feel it again in the temple of nature and of mankind?"1 Beethoven did not, however, seek God only in moments of emotional crisis. Letters written throughout his life are sprinkled with references to God. Similarly, God is frequendy addressed in the diary he kept from 1812-1818.2 Furthermore, God is even the subject of some of Beethoven's most influential or significant compositions, such as the Missa solemnis; Christ on the Mount of Olives; the Gellert songs, Opus 48; the Ninth Symphony, and some of the late pianoforte sonatas and string quartets.

Because Beethoven's faith played such a vital role in his life, it is surprising that more than a century has passed since scholars have studied his notations and marginalia in Christoph Christian Sturm's two-volume religious yearbook, Betrachtungen über die Werke Gottes im Reiche der Nafur und der Vorsehung auf Alle Tageaesjahres (Reflections on the Works of God in the Realm of Nature and Providence for Every Day of the Year).3 These markings remain a little known and undervalued testament to Beethoven's views on God and religion.

The importance of Betrachtungen to Beethoven cannot be doubted. In his copy Beethoven marked a total of 117 different passages.4 While some scholars have mentioned Betrachtungen's importance to Beethoven, most have ignored his marginalia.5 Our understanding of Beethoven's spiritual life remains woefully incomplete without a detailed examination of the contents of these devotional volumes and Beethoven's annotations. An awareness of Beethoven's spirituality helps us understand which of his musical compositions were affected by his particular beliefs in God.

II. Background Information on Christoph Christian Sturm and Betrachtungen

Sturm's Betrachtungen would probably have disappeared into the tapestry of history and been altogether forgotten had it not been a favorite of Beethoven's. Nevertheless, despite its present neglected status, the book was highly popular during its time. …

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