I promised to tell you something about my own impressions of Beethoven. Here goes:
Ludwig van Beethoven, I think, is one of the few excuses for the existence of our whole sorry species. Beethoven, deeply flawed, wondrously transcendent.
Sometime in the late 1990s I was playing a lot of Beethoven on the piano, which was a major stretch at the time, and still is not at all easy or natural for me. I didn’t feel equal to the task, and I decided I would like to contact the composer and ask his advice. I had been introduced to the Rosemary Brown project*, and I thought that since Beethoven had made himself so available on the Earth plane, he might be willing to accept my overtures.
The first time I attempted to contact him, I ran into something totally unexpected. I felt my head bowing down under a great weight of shame. There wasn’t much more to it, just the sense of shame and inadequacy, perhaps self-hatred. I didn’t know what to make of it. I did not have a sense of being in touch with him as a conscious person; it was more like I had encountered a recording of this aspect of his life.
When I went to my next piano lesson, I mentioned this to Jane. With an odd expression on her face, she got up and rummaged through some papers. She came back with a copy of Beethoven’s “Heiligenstadt Testament,” the letter he wrote to his brothers when he became certain he was going deaf. (This was in October 1802, when he was just short of 32 years of age.) Jane had just been teaching her music appreciation class about it. I had only a sketchy outline of the composer’s life in my own head, and hadn’t taken notice of this famous letter myself. Here is part of what we read:
“From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was ever inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible). Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to withdraw myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh how harshly I was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing. Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, “Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.” Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed. —Oh I cannot do it; therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you.” [From www.all-about-beethoven.com]
I was shocked to find that this great man could be so burdened with feelings of inadequacy. But if even he could feel that way, I thought, it was certainly understandable that I should sometimes (well, often) suffer with those feelings myself. I felt all the more compassion toward struggling human beings everywhere.
The second time I contacted Beethoven, it felt like I was communicating with a real person in real time. I asked him if he could suggest how I might play his music more effectively and be truer to his vision. In reply, he lit up my heart chakra like a small sun and blasted energy out from it through my arms! I felt wonderful for hours afterward. When I played next, I tried centering myself in my heart, and it truly did feel different. Try it for yourself.
Beethoven, to me, is a being of tremendous warmth, like a huge bear hug that could wrap the whole world. He once told Rosemary Brown that he “longs to pour forth great torrents of music which would really stir us into greater understanding; he wants to pour out his music for us in fountains of compassion.” (Unfinished Symphonies p. 161)
*Rosemary Brown is the British lady who channeled music from a number of major composers during the 1960s and ‘70s. While one may find some aspects of her work not entirely convincing, there is some absolutely wonderful philosophical material as well as plenty of worthwhile pieces of music. I haven’t yet gotten around to including my article on Mrs. Brown here, but I’ll do it soon.