BEETHOVEN’S LETTER TO HIS BROTHERS KASPAR KARL AND JOHANN VAN BEETHOVEN, HEILIGENSTADT, 6 AND 10 OCTOBER 1802 (‘HEILIGENSTADT TESTAMENT’)
The so-called Heiligenstadt Testament is Beethoven’s letter of farewell to his brothers Karl and Johann. It is also aimed at everyone in his surroundings. His first concern is to stress that he has been misunderstood: he considers himself a gregarious man who loves the company of other people and is open-minded toward everyone. But for several years his impaired hearing, which he has till now kept secret, has prevented him from joining other people, making him lonely and unhappy. As a result, the world considers him moody and misanthropic. Expecting that the ailment will soon lead to his death, he seeks to order his personal affairs. His money and his musical instruments are to be divided between his brothers. He gratefully takes leave of his friends. His physician should perform an autopsy on his body and describe his illness. He urges his brothers to be virtuous, arguing that only virtue, not money, can ensure their happiness. He also recounts his feelings of despair and admits that he has contemplated suicide. But he believes in his art and is certain that he is far from reaching his peak. Although he is doing poorly and sometimes longs for death, he does not want to die, but to continue living for his art. In a postscript added a few days later, he again describes his deep despair. He has come to Heiligenstadt in the hope of recovering his health, but at the end of his stay he realises that it is impossible. He rails against Fate and God and feels he can never again be happy and carefree.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Beethoven-Haus Bonn from a facsimile (original in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Carl von Ossietzky, Hamburg)