Fan Noli and “The Franc Recolution III. BEETHOVEN THE MAN



          Alas! However brilliant his fame may appear, an artist does not enjoy the privilege of being the daily guest of Jupiter In Olympus.

Unfortunately. commonplace humanity only too often unpleasantly drags him down from these pure ethereal heights. -Beethoven[1]

It is easy for the historian to prove that all great men were quite human; it is absolutely impossible for the hero worshipper to believe it. This is the reason why legends about a great man persist even after they have been killed and buried by the historian. They are seven-headed Hydras. When one head has been cut off, two new ones emerge immediately. The historian’s task is like that of Hercules: He must not only chop off those Hydra heads but also prevent the new ones from taking the place of the old ones.


The first stubborn legend to destroy is that all heroes look like Charming Princes. As a rule, they do not. But the hero worshipper, like Desdemona, sees the beauty of the hero’s soul and corrects his looks accordingly. And so we have the heroic statues of Beethoven which are pure products of the hero-worshipping imagination of the artists. The real Beethoven was of simian ugliness. Undersized, stocky, with a swarthy and

pock-marked face, a thick and flat nose, small and weak eyes, protruding teeth[2], black and bristly ~ air, short hands and thick fingers, he looked like an unlicked  bear, a Gorgon-headed totem, a fantastic gargoyle, or a reincarnation of the original cave man. Beethoven himself was conscious of his own ugliness and tells us so in his letters[3] Even the pious Schindler has to admit it and makes hardly any attempt to beatify the master. On the contrary, after describing him more or less realistically, he adds that, when Beethoven laughed, his small brown eyes sank in their sockets, his head grew larger, his face became broader and he looked like a grinning ape[4].

As a rule, to those who did not suspect his identity, Beethoven looked like a perfect idiot.[5]


The next legend to destroy is that, physically, 11 heroes are varieties of the Herculean type. As a rule, they are not. For instance, Beethoven was physical wreck, a mere cripple. He himself tells us that he was sickly all his life.[6] In his childhood e had smallpox which affected his eye-sight and disfigured his face. In his letters he complains. continually of bad ears, sore eyes, asthma, gout, rheumatism, jaundice, bad stomach, colics and wretched intestines. In his last years, he was paralyzed by deafness and chronic diarrhea. Finally, he died from cirrhosis of the liver[7].

Furthermore, there is evidence that, in his early manhood he had contracted some kind of a venereal disease, probably syphilis, which accompanied him to the grave. Dr. Bertolini of Vienna  gave Thayer confidential information about it and showed him his own prescriptions in the case – the prescriptions referred to by Grove.[8] Thayer suppressed the evidence and dismissed the question with a veiled hint, quite clear in this case, that Beethoven paid «the common penalties of transgressing the laws of strict purity.»[9] A entry in the Conversation Books of 1819 in Beethoven’s handwriting proves that the master was interested in the diagnosis and cure of all venereal diseases and wanted to get a book dealing with that subject, which sounds rather suspicious.[10]

The question is more or less controversial. Newman[11] and Grove believe that Beethoven suffered from syphilis, Schauffler considers it «quite probable, though not certain»[12], while Dr. Schweisheimer declines to place any reliance on the alleged evidence until it is published[13] But even if we agree with the latter, which is not so easy, the diseases from which Beethoven suffered were numerous enough to make his life a torture. His heroism consisted in overcoming them and composing the masterpieces we all admire in spite of the physical disabilities by which he was literally crippled.


[1] Letter to Peters, June 5, 1822; Nohl, II, p. 64; Kastner-Kapp, p. 609.

[2] Ausserdem zeigte sich die Gaumenfliiche Beethovens ausnahmsweise eben und die obere Zahnreihe in iiberraschender Weise nach vorne zu fast in gerader (h orizontaler) Richtung aus ihr hervortretend. …. _ Breuning. Aus dem Schwarzspanterhause, p, 128.

[3] Letter to Gleichenstein, March 18, 1809, KastnerKapp, p, 134 and letter to Zmeskall, 1819, P. 544, In the latter Beethoven writes, «0 Gott, was ist man geplagt, wenn man ein so fatales Gesicht hat wte ich…

[4] Schindler-Moscheles, II, p, 192-3.

[5] «Trottel», Thayer, German Ed., V, p. 389, Eng, Ed., III, p. 241.

[6] «War ich nlcht immer ein siecher Mann ?» Letter to Wegeler, Nov. 16, 1801, Kastner-Kapp, p. 54.

[7] To Dr. Theodor von Frimmel belongs the credit of having made rt clear that Beethoven’s fatal malady was cirrhosis of the liver of which dropsy was a symptom, -Thayer, English Edition, III, p. 308.

[8] Grove’s Dictionary, I, p, 271. 31

[9] Thayer, English Edition I, p, 253.

[10] L. von Lagunan, Die Kunst alle Arten del’ Lustseuche zu erkennen, zu heil en und sich dafUr zu sichern etc. etc., vierte verbesserte Ausgabe, Erfurt, 5 fl. 54 kr., bey Wimmer, dem Jagerhorn gegenuber-Conversation Books of 1819, p, 115, Blatt 41a.

[11] Ernest Newman, The Unconscious Beethoven, pp. 37-44.

[12] «Strong circumstantial evidence, coupled with frequent outbursts of a despair unwarranted by circumtances known to us, make it extremely probable, though not certain. that he suffered from some venereal disease, acquired or inherited.» -Schauffler, Beethoven, p. 97.

[13] Newman, The Unconscious Beethoven, p. 41.








[1] Letter to Peters, June 5, 1822; Nohl, II, p. 64; Kastner-Kapp, p. 609.

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