Heiligenstadt Testament (Ludwig Van Beethoven)

For my brothers Carl and [Johann] Beethoven
O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me, you do
not know the secret
causes of my seeming, from childhood my heart and mind were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was
even ever eager to
accomplish great deeds, but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless
physicians, cheated
year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure
will take years
or, perhaps, be impossible), born with an ardent and lively temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of
society, I was
compelled early to isolate myself, to live in loneliness, when I at times tried to forget all this, O how harshly was I
repulsed by
the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing, and yet it was impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout, for
I am deaf. 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, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed
– O I cannot
do it, therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would gladly mingle with you, my misfortune is
doubly painful because
it must lead to my being misunderstood, for me there can be no recreations in society of my fellows, refined
intercourse, mutual
exchange of thought, only just as little as the greatest needs command disposition, although I sometimes ran counter
to it yielding
to my inclination for society, but what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I
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, ah it seemed impossible to leave
the world
until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence – truly
wretched, an
excitable body which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state – Patience – it is said that I must
now choose
for my guide, I have done so, I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it please the inexorable
parcae to break the
thread, perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, I am prepared. Forced already in my 28th year to become a
philosopher, O it is not
easy, less easy for the artist than for anyone else – Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it,
thou knowest
that love of man and desire to do good live therein. O men, when some day you read these words, reflect that you did
me wrong and
let the unfortunate one comfort himself and find one of his kind who despite all obstacles of nature yet did all that
was in his
power to be accepted among worthy artists and men. You my brothers Carl and [Johann] as soon as I am dead if Dr.
Schmid is still
alive ask him in my name to describe my malady and attach this document to the history of my illness so that so far
as possible at
least the world may become reconciled with me after my death. At the same time I declare you two to be the heirs to
my small
fortune (if so it can be called), divide it fairly, bear with and help each other, what injury you have done me you
know was long
ago forgiven. To you brother Carl I give special thanks for the attachment you have displayed towards me of late. It
is my wish
that your lives be better and freer from care than I have had, recommend virtue to your children, it alone can give
happiness, not
money, I speak from experience, it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it next to my art I owe the fact that I did
not end my
life with suicide. – Farewell and love each other – I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and
Professor Schmid – I
desire that the instruments from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from this, so soon as
they can
serve you better purpose sell them, how glad will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave – with joy I hasten
death – if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early
for me
despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later – but even then I am satisfied, will it not free me
from my state
of endless suffering? Come when thou will I shall meet thee bravely. – Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I
am dead, I
deserve this of you in having often in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so –
October 6,1802 Ludwig van Beethoven

For my brothers Carl and [Johann]
to be read and executed after my death.

Discussion Questions
1. How does Beethoven grapple with the loss of a sense so deeply entwined with his identity as musician? What coping mechanisms are at work here?
2. Beethoven writes, “my misfortune is/doubly painful because/it must lead to my being misunderstood.” In what ways does illness bring about “misunderstanding” between a patient and their loved ones? Is such misunderstanding inevitable? How does illness cause social isolation and how can it be overcome?
3. Beethoven kept this letter hidden throughout his lifetime and indeed, it was only discovered after his death. If you could speculate, what do you think his motivations might have been for this?
4. What sense do you get of his relationship to his brothers? How has his illness transformed their relationship?


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