Beethoven's Last Days

Beethoven wrote a series of quartets, known as the "Late Quartets," the last quartets amidst failing health. In April 1825 he was bedridden, and remained ill for about a month. The illness—or more precisely, his recovery from it—is remembered for having given rise to the deeply felt slow movement of the Fifteenth Quartet, which Beethoven called "Holy song of thanks ('Heiliger Dankgesang') to the divinity, from one made well." He went on to complete the quartets now numbered Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth. The last work completed by Beethoven was the substitute final movement of the Thirteenth Quartet.

Of the late quartets, Beethoven's favorite was the Fourteenth Quartet, op. 131 in C♯ minor, which he rated as his most perfect single work. The last musical wish of Schubert was to hear the Op. 131 quartet, which he did on 14 November 1828, five days before his death.

Beethoven was bedridden for most of his remaining months, and many friends came to visit. He died on 26 March 1827 at the age of 56 during a thunderstorm. His friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who was present at the time, said that there was a peal of thunder at the moment of death.

The following art works and objects describe Beethoven's final days and the accounts of eye witnesses, including the young man who clipped Beethoven's  lock of hair, Ferdinand Hiller.

Beethoven on his deathbed

Beethoven on his deathbed (Beethoven auf dem Sterbelager)

Reproduction of an engraving by J. Adé, based on a drawing by Wilhelm von Lindenschmit (date unknown)

This original drawing was probably by Lindenschmit the Younger (1829-1895), whose father was also a well-known historical painter. His paintings on musical subjects include Hall of Fame of German Music (1740-1867) [Ruhmeshalle der deutschen Musik (1740-1867)], which depicted the most famous German musicians surrounding a platform on which sat Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, among others. In Beethoven On His Deathbed, the man holding Beethoven's hand appears to be J.N. Hummel, but the young man in the back of the room is likely meant to be Gerhard von Breuning, the son of Beethoven's childhood friend Stephan.

Hummel portrait

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

Hummel was one of the greatest composers and fortepianists of his time, both friend and rival of Beethoven. A child prodigy, he studied with Mozart and like Beethoven learned composition from Albrechtsberger, Salieri, and Haydn.

In 1804 he left Vienna to serve as Kapellmeister of Prince Esterhazy's court orchestra, but returned in 1811 to focus on composition and performance in Vienna's theaters.

In 1813 he married the singer Elisabeth Röckel (1793-1883), who Beethoven knew and was very fond of. Elisabeth was the sister of Josef August Röckel, the tenor who sang the role of Florestan in the 1806 revival of Beethoven's opera Fidelio. Hummel's relationship with Beethoven was occasionally strained; Beethoven was said to have taken offense to Hummel's criticism of his Mass in C. However, the friendship persevered, and in 1814 Beethoven enlisted Hummel as the percussionist for a performance of hisWellington's Victory, with this delightful letter:

"Most charming Hummel! Please conduct this time too the drum-rolls and cannonades with your excellent Kapellmeister's and Master of the Ordnance's baton-Please do so. If you would like me to cannonade you sometime, I am at your service, both body and soul. Your friend, Beethoven."

Hummel left Vienna in 1816, and became court conductor in Weimar two years later. His sense of loss at Beethoven's death was strongly felt. When hearing of Beethoven's grave illness, he and his wife rushed to Vienna from Weimar with Ferdinand Hiller in tow to pay their last respects. They kept some mementos of that final meeting, including the last quill Beethoven used and a lock of his hair (now in the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn). Hummel served as a pallbearer at the funeral and he performed at the memorial concert, improvising themes from Beethoven's works on the fortepiano.

Photo of Ferdinand Hiller

Ferdinand Hiller from ca. 1855

Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885) was a German conductor, composer, teacher and a close friend of Felix Mendelssohn. At the age of thirteen he began musical studies with J.N. Hummel in Weimar, and in 1827 he traveled with Hummel to Vienna to visit Beethoven on his deathbed.

An excerpt from his reminiscences of this visit follows:

"On March 13th, Hummel took me to see Beethoven for the second time. We found that his condition had deteriorated considerably. He lay in his bed, seemed to be suffering great pain and at times uttered a deep groan; nevertheless, he spoke freely and vigorously. He seemed to be deeply concerned with his failure to enter the married state. Already during our first visit he joked about this with Hummel, whose wife he had known as a young and beautiful girl. This time he said to him, smiling: 'You are a lucky fellow: you have a wife, she looks after you, she is in love with you-- but I'm a poor bachelor!' -- and he sighed deeply. Also, he begged Hummel to bring his wife, who had been unwilling to face in his present state a man whom she had known at the height of his powers ..."

"When we stood beside his bed once more on the 20th, it was certainly clear from his remarks how greatly this attention had pleased him; but he was extremely weak and spoke only softly, in clipped sentences. 'I rather think I shall soon be setting out on the upward journey,' he whispered after our greeting. Similar exclamations occurred frequently; but, in between, he spoke of his plans and hopes, neither of which, unfortunately, were to be realized. Speaking of the noble conduct of the Philharmonic Society and praising the English, he said that it was his intention to leave for England as soon as his condition had improved. 'I wish to compose a grand overture and a grand symphony for them.' And then, too, he wished to visit Frau Hummel (who had come with her husband) and go to Heaven knows how many different places. It did not occur to us to write down anything for him. His eyes, which during our last visit had still been quite lively, were now drooping and only with difficulty could he sit up from time to time. We could no longer deceive ourselves: the worst was to be feared."

Ferdinand Hiller was not the only visitor who wanted a lock of hair as a remembrance of the composer. Beethoven's young friend Gerhard von Breuning reported that

"On March 29 I went with my father to Beethoven's dwelling and wanted to cut off a lock of his hair. Father had not allowed me to do this before the lying-in-state ended, in order not to spoil his appearance; but now we found that strangers [sic] had already cut off all his hair." (Memories of Beethoven, ed. Maynard Solomon, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992).

Reproduction of Beethoven's death mask

Death mask by Joseph Danhauser (1827)

Reproduction in plaster
The painter Joseph Danhauser (1805-1845) made a plaster mask of Beethoven's face shortly after Beethoven's death.

Danhauser's brother Carl recorded the story:

"On March 26 [1827] early in the morning while we were still asleep, Ranftl knocked on our door and brought in the news that Beethoven had died in the night."

"Since we had a plaster in our firm, my brother Joseph, who in the course of his studies of heads had been prompted to try that sort of work, immediately struck on the idea of taking a death mask of the departed great man. We dressed quickly, had the horses harnessed and since the stucco worker Hofmann had arrived in the meanwhile, we took him along with us in the carriage."

"It was still early in the morning as we arrived at the dead man's house, and we could find no one who could tell us anything. Finally, a woman let us go upstairs, and as we arrived at the landing we found an open entrance hall; the door leading to the next room was ajar, so we lifted the latch and went in. A bed stood against the main wall of this room, and in this bed lay Beethoven's body."

"Since during the dead man's illness his beard had grown very thick, we sent the plasterer to fetch a barber, who shaved him clean. The barber's apprentice said that he could never use the razor again after he had shaved a dead man with it. I bought it from him."

"In the meanwhile we had cut off two locks from the temple where it grew thickly, as a memento of the celebrated head, and then we went to work. My brother, who knew less about this kind of work than the plasterer, was glad to have him help, and so we soon obtained a good cast which we brought home with great care; for my brother, a painter, had conceived the idea of trying his hand at modeling and at producing a bust of Beethoven. He went right away to work and actually succeeded in making a bust of the master ..." [From H.C. Robbins Landon, Beethoven: a documentary study]

The earliest known extant cast of the death mask was given by Danhauser to Franz Liszt in 1840 and is now in Vienna at the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien. Another cast is at the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.

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How Classical Music Advanced the Civil Rights Movement

Remembering Marian Anderson's landmark Met performance, 60 years later

Marian Anderson Acting On Stage
Marian Anderson acting on stage during the Metropolitan Opera production of Un Ballo in Maschera, New York City, January 8, 1955. Afro Newspaper—Gado/Getty Images

Anderson, fittingly, had a habit of rhetorically erasing her own significance by referring to herself as “one” — and she didn’t behave like the typical prima donna in her debut at the Met:
“I’m not quite sure it’s happening,” Contralto Anderson told friends and reporters [after the performance]. Apologizing for her jitters, she added: “A serious person, when beginning anything, is usually a little overanxious.” … As for the possibility of other roles at the Met, she said in her modest, impersonal way: “One is so involved in this one, no other has been thought about.”
Meanwhile, out in the packed house, it was the crowd that lifted the singer to hero status: “There were eight curtain calls. ‘Anderson! Anderson!’ chanted the standees,” TIME reported, “and men and women in the audience wept.”

Reposted from 

THE MUSIC MAN Turning children on to classical music

The Dr. Fuddle Music Scholarship has been officially established! This is the first step in moving forward with the goal of establishing tuition-free conservatories of music worldwide and The Dr. Fuddle Foundation for the Arts.

Pianist, musicologist and author Dr. Warren Woodruff of Buckhead is a man on a mission: to instill a new generation with a love of classical music. A teacher for the last 30 years, he spreads his message wherever he goes and volunteers to help students with extraordinary talent.

In 2016, Woodruff endowed The Dr. Fuddle Music Scholarship to the Atlanta Music Club. The award was named after the hero of his children’s novels. Woodruff was instrumental in raising funds to develop a music therapy program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), as well as helping the hospital’s Tower of Talent event raise more than $1 million.

“I’ve seen firsthand how transformative and healing classical music can be,” Woodruff says. “It gives children joy and carries them through tough times. The power of music is the most untapped resource on the planet.”

The Magic Piano, a play written by Woodruff, debuted in Atlanta in 1999 and was so well received that he expanded it into a fantasy novel and screenplay titled Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton. A sequel to the book, a feature film and toys will debut this year.

“In the story, children go to a magical land where the great composers live and learn how to solve real world problems through music and nonviolence,” Woodruff says. 

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BY: Mickey Goodman
Photo: Tim Wilkerson Photography

Classical Music as Medicine

Instrumental healing: Tustin violinist turns lifelong hobby into music therapy for hospital patients – Orange County Register

One recent study uses classical music as a treatment for high blood pressure. Researchers took 90 men and women aged 40-74, and divided them into three groups. One group listened to music on a regular basis; another group took part in something called laughter yoga (where you force yourself to laugh until it starts to feel natural) while the third group served as a control, receiving neither music nor laughter.

At the end of the study, both the classical music group and the laughing group had lower blood pressure. And here’s the really good news: the difference was about the same as it would be if you lost 10 pounds or cut salt out of your diet (and I know what I’d rather do!)

Dr. Joanne Loewy uses live music during general anesthesia to sedate a patient before surgery

Another study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Music and Medicine, looked at recovery times for procedures such as hip or knee surgery. People in the study listened to music for at least 4 hours a day, with a control group who didn’t listen to any music.

The result? People who got the dose of music along with their other post-op medications recovered more quickly. Specifically, the music group tested significantly higher in the area of confusion and mental cognition than the control group. Given that reduced confusion and more cognition can equal less time in hospital, this musical study could have very real implications for health care.

Meanwhile, a doctor in Boston is investigating the connections between classical music and surgery.

Dr Claudius Conrad grew up studying music; he became quite an accomplished pianist before he turned to medicine. Now that he’s a surgeon, he sometimes listens to recordings of himself playing Mozart during operations. Conrad says there’s a clear connection: “In surgery, you do something that is comparable to a concert,” he says,” and like a concert situation, in surgery you want to do the most beautiful work you can under the most stress.”

Dr. Claudius Conrad has studied how the mechanisms of Mozart’s music seemed to ease the pain of some patients. Credit C.J. Gunther for The New York Times

Finally, here’s an inspiring story from an orchestra in England. The Royal Liverpool Orchestra has won a very special award; not a Grammy or a Gramophone Award, but a special commendation for “Innovative and Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Arts and Health Practice” from the Royal Society for Public Health. The commendation celebrates the orchestra’s  Musician in Residence Program.

Members of the Royal Liverpool Orchestra bring their instruments into mental health wards to play for people with problems like depression, dementia, or brain injuries. From what the patients and staff say, there’s a very real benefit. Just having a symphony musician come and play for them makes people feel special. If there’s a chance to play, or sing along, that’s even better, helping make patients feel less isolated, more relaxed and confident, taking them outside their world of mental illness.

As the judging panel put it, “The Musician in Residence program is great value for money and it works. It aids recovery… (and) it would not be possible without the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and some very talented musicians.”

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The Composer and his Muse: Johannes Brahms and Soprano Agathe von Siebol

A couple of years before he had started composing the 1st String Sextet, Brahms was still living in his hometown of Hamburg in 1858 when a friend invited him to come check out Göttingen, a college town about 170 miles south. This friend, Julius Otto Grimm, composer, teacher and music director of the local choral society, the Cäcilienverein (Cecelia Club), wrote to him, “If it would please you to have a few good voices lodged in very lovely girls, sing for you, they will take pleasure in being at your disposal. Come quickly!” Odd that Brahms had hesitated, at first.

So, in the midst of working on a serenade originally for a small group of strings and winds, he did so reluctantly, even if it was part of a holiday with Clara Schumann, her five youngest children, her half-brother, composer Woldemar Bargiel and violinist Joseph Joachim. It didn’t, however, take Brahms long to succumb to the charms of the town and especially some of the young ladies in town – one soprano named Agathe von Siebold, in particular.

In addition to having long dark hair, a lush figure, a fondness for practical jokes and a voice that Joachim likened to an Amati violin, Agathe (left) was also studying composition with Julius Grimm who once berated her for some sloppy counterpoint exercises. When Brahms agreed to play a trick on his friend, he wrote out her assignment himself which she duly handed in as her own. Grimm exploded over this “swinish mess” and when Agathe asked “well, what if Johannes had written it,” he said it would be even worse. Here, Brahms had actually screwed it up on purpose, playing a joke on both of them.

At the end of this extended vacation, Brahms returned to Detmold, about 30 miles to the northwest as the crow flies, where he was employed part of the year as a “court musician,” performing with the orchestra there and teaching music to the family of Prince Leopold III. In addition to organizing chamber music concerts, he also conducted a women’s choir for whom he wrote numerous short choral works.

Visiting Göttingen again in 1859, he and Agathe continued their friendship and apparently became secretly engaged. According to his friends, they seemed perfectly happy with each other.

This quote from a memoir Agathe von Siebold

I think I may say that from that time until the present, a golden light has been cast on my life, and that even now, in my late old age, something of the radiance of that unforgettable time has remained.  I loved Johannes Brahms very much, and for a short time, he loved me.

Then he left for two performances of his finally completed D Minor Piano Concerto which was neither a success nor a failure in Hannover but which was frostily received in Leipzig five days later. After a long silence, perhaps three pairs of hands bothered to applaud before the hissing began. Critics called it “banal and horrid.”

By then, returning to see Agathe, Brahms suffered what today would be called “a fear of commitment.” When he wrote to her, "I love you! I must see you again! But I cannot wear fetters! Write me whether I may come back to fold you in my arms, to kiss you, to tell you that I love you!" she responded by breaking off the engagement.

To his friends, Brahms would admit to “playing the scoundrel” to Agathe. Over a decade later, he recalled those days, how he would like to have married but when his music was hissed in the concert hall and so icily received, he realized while this was something he himself could tolerate, returning alone to his room,

“...if, in such moments, I had had to meet the anxious, questioning eyes of a wife with the words ‘another failure’ – I could not have borne that! For a woman may love an artist… ever so much… and if she had wanted to comfort me – a wife to pity her husband for his lack of success – ach! I can’t stand to think what a hell that would have been.”

During the first months in Göttingen , he wrote several songs for Agathe to sing, many of them using a musical motif based on her name spelled out in certain available notes.

In the months following his break-up with Agathe, Brahms composed more songs, still occasionally employing the “Agathe Motive” but setting it to words about parting and lost love.

Brahms would use this “Agathe Motive” again in the 2nd String Sextet which he completed a few years after he and Agathe von Siebold parted ways.

Moving ahead a few years, Brahms had completed two new piano quartets and three versions of his Piano Quintet, before writing to his Göttingen friend Julius Grimm once again, asking how things were “in all the houses where one used to go so happily… of that house and gate – ” which he didn’t need to explain was the house where Agathe von Siebold lived with her father.

Grimm told him “the old Professor had died three years ago” and Agathe had taken a job the past year as a governess in Ireland where she teaches music and German to the daughters of a rich young English family. She had to get away, he said, from “the shadowed pages of her life… what a gloomy lot is that of a girl alone.”

Brahms returned to Göttingen and stood by that ruined gate, looking at the empty house (such images typical of the lovelorn poetry of the Romantic Age). In September, he composed the devastated and exalted songs of Op. 32 which included the lines “I would like to stop living, to perish instantly, and yet I would like to live for you, with you, and never die.”

That same month, he began the first movement of the 2nd String Sextet. The second movement was based on a Baroque-like gavotte he’d written (part of a collection of tongue-in-cheek dances in the early-1850s) contrasting with a jocose middle section. The original sketch of the slow movement’s variations was written in 1855 and the overall sound is basically “wandering, empty, tragic.” The finale sounds like it might be a proper scherzo with a warm contrasting section with a bit of a dance to it: perhaps a “last dance, at the end of an affair,” as Swafford describes it.

The opening is a gem of a motive – This is Agathe’s Motive - and at its most obvious, climactic point, it is repeated five times. Yet this time, there is another note inserted within the motive – a D (see above) – which helps spell out the word “adé” or “Adieux, Farewell” in the inner voices. One could even sing "Agathe, adé" to this fragment of a melody.

Brahms is certainly saying farewell to Agathe, taking his leave, musically if not emotionally. Yet in the very first song he wrote for her – Op.14 No. 1 of 1858 – this “adé” motive appears when the night-watchman sounds his horn as the lovers part.

We may think of this as purely abstract music with no literary allusions or suggestions of telling a story, the sort of thing Liszt and the New German School espoused. But even Brahms must have had something on his mind, here, when he was writing this – a young girl who used to sing his songs for him and with whom he once contemplated marriage.

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Johannes Brahms: 15 facts about the great composer

Johannes Brahms is one of the Romantic period's most revered and popular composers - but how much do you really know? Here are 15 essential facts about the great man. 

1. Brahms is born!

Johannes Brahms was born on May 7th 1833 in Hamburg, Germany.
jakob brahms, Brahms' father

2. Son to a musical spare man

Brahms' father, Jokob (pictured), found employment as a jobbing musician, mostly getting work from playing the double bass and the French horn.

3. Earning a crust

The young Brahms was forced to play the piano in dance halls to contribute to the family's income as they were so poor.

4. Embarrassing early compositions?

An early starter, Brahms began composing when he was just 11. However, when he was older, he found them a bit embarrassing and destroyed the majority of them.

5. Sleeping on the job

Brahms apparently upset his host when he saw Liszt perform his own Sonata in B Minor at the Court of Weimar. Claiming that he was exhausted from traveling, Brahms fell asleep while the work was being played.

6. New Paths

Robert Schumann was so impressed with Brahms' talent when they met that he was inspired to write an essay entitled 'Neue Bahnen' ('New Paths') which gave Brahms a lot of publicity.

7. Gypsy influence

Brahms met a Hungarian refugee and violinist by the name of Eduard Remenyi (left) in 1850, and was introduced to a whole range of folk and gypsy music that massively influenced his composing style.

8. An epic first symphony

Although Brahms began composing his first symphony in 1854, it wasn't premiered until November 1876, 22 years later. The whole piece underwent severe edits until he was completely happy with it.


9. A shoulder to cry on

When Schumann died in 1856, Brahms immediately went to Düsseldorf to be with Schumann's wife, Clara. It's unclear exactly what kind of relationship the two had, but they destroyed a large amount of their letters to each other, possibly suggesting that they had something to hide…

10. The War of the Romantics

The so-called War of the Romantics was basically a musical argument between composers like Wagner and Liszt, who represented a more radical approach to music, and more conservative artists like Brahms and Clara Schumann. As a result, Brahms has always been seen as something of an old-fashioned composer, despite still being extremely popular today.

11. An outdoor type

Brahms was very much an outdoors-y sort. When he wasn't traveling around Europe for concert tours, he was fond of traveling to the hills of Italy for walking holidays and to retreat for solitary composing.

12. Inspired by grief

When his mother died in 1865, Brahms was overcome with grief. It is speculated that this led him to compose his German Requiem, one of the most celebrated works from his career. However, the premiere of the piece was a disaster - the timpanist misread the dynamics as 'ff' (very loud) instead of 'pf' (quiet) and drowned the other musicians out.

13. Wagner - not a fan

Perhaps due to their musical opposition to one another, Wagner (pictured) and Brahms weren't exactly best friends when they met in Vienna in 1864, after Brahms moved there to direct the Vienna Singakademie. Wagner later attacked Brahms in the press.

14. Early retirement?

When he was 57, Brahms announced that he was finished with composing. However, he was clearly unable to stop his creativity - he produced some incredible late-period works, especially for the clarinet, like his Clarinet Sonatas, Trio and Quintet.


15. Death

Brahms died of either pancreatic or liver cancer (evidence is unclear) on April 3rd 1897. The British composer Hubert Parry (pictured) composed a musical tribute to him, his Elegy for Brahms, in the same year.

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