From Challenge to Triumph

Fritz Hanlein and Robert Weigle, Beethoven, Heiligenstadt, 1802

Fritz Hanlein and Robert Weigle, Beethoven, Heiligenstadt, 1802

Growing up playing classical piano, I have always had a tremendous respect for the musical genius, Beethoven. Learning his “Pathetique” Sonata was my biggest challenge; it embodies such power.  So, it’s no surprise that I am drawn to the very human-like marble statue of Beethoven in the town, Heiligenstadt (today part of Vienna). Beethoven traveled to Heiligenstadt from 1802-1824 as he lost his hearing, feeling more and more socially isolated and unable to communicate.  Ultimately, his deafness ended his career as a pianist, but thankfully not as a composer! Here he would take in the fresh air and take walks for inspiration, choosing isolation and country life over the city. He walked along what is now known as the Beethovenweg (Beethoven Walkway). The stream by the path in Heiligenstadt Park inspired his “Scene by the Brook” in his Sixth Symphony. “One goes here and music history really comes alive.” (In Mozart’s Footsteps). And to think that all along walking by the “babbling” stream he heard nothing but the music in his head.

The statue was sculpted posthumously by Fritz Hanlein following a model by Robert Weigl at the end of the 19th century/early 20th century. It was erected by the Association of Male Choirs of Vienna, and was inaugurated Nov. 28, 1910.Though there are numerous statues of Beethoven, in my opinion, this one best represents his genius as a composer, physically, and spiritually.

The statue captures his intense, faraway gaze, his wild hair, his deliberate stride, and his hands locked behind his back as he visualizes his music. I can almost feel him composing exquisite music in his head while walking along the path. And I imagine that I can hear his music in my head. I am overcome by its sheer power, from elation to depression. Music was his entire life, and when he became deaf, he was filled with anguish. He turned to alcohol and he was depressed and desperate and even contemplated suicide.

I can relate to Beethoven. I, too, turned to alcohol more than twenty years ago during a difficult time in my life. The emotions that Beethoven struggled with, depression and anxiety, have also played a prominent role with me and are obstacles that I constantly try to navigate.  All of us can overcome these roadblocks. Personally, I have been sober since 1997.

Beethoven discarded the thought of suicide because, ultimately, he felt compelled to create music. His strong character and determination and persistence allowed him to compose mentally since he could hear nothing. His tone became darker but he produced some of his best music when he was deaf. We often are faced with insurmountable obstacles and Beethoven provides a good example of how to deal with frustration and despair.