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Beethoven and Indian Philosophy

August 21, 2008

This is a version of a document written by Beethoven. It is quoted in Beethoven’s Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer (trans. J.S. Shedlock), 1926.

It is not clear why Beethoven wrote this document, which must be an extract from a German translation of a work of Indian philosophy. Shedlock has a few ideas. Beethoven may have copied a work based on the Upanishads or from a work in German on Indian philosophy published at Jena in 1816, or the source may be an essay or a newspaper article. Another theory is that Beethoven had his attention drawn to the subject by Baron Hammer-Purgstall, who wanted Beethoven to set to music a poem representing Hindu religious beliefs.

This is my own version of Shedlock’s translation, which is written in an archaic style.

God is immaterial; as he is invisible he can therefore have no form. But from what we are able to see in His Works we conclude that he is eternal, almighty, omniscient and omnipresent. The mighty one alone is free from all desire and passion. There is no greater than He, Brahm: his mind is self-existent. He, the Almighty, is present in every part of space. His omniscience is self-inspired, and His conception includes every other. Omniscience is the greatest of his all-embracing attributes. O God! – you have no threefold being and are independent of everything, you are the true, eternal, blessed, unchangeable light of all time and space. Your wisdom apprehends thousands of laws, but you always act of your own free will and to your honour. You were before everything that we worship. We owe you praise and adoration. You alone are the true Blessed, the best of all laws, the image of all wisdom. You are present throughout the whole world and sustain all things. Sun, Ether, Brahma.

[Shedlock notes that Beethoven drew a line through the last three words.]

HYMN

Spirit of spirits
Spreading through all space and time
Raised high above the limits of thought
You created order from chaos
Before the world was, you were
Before the heavens above and the earth below
You alone existed
Through love you created those who worship you
Why did you manifest your power
And boundless goodness?
What brilliant light directed your power?
How was your infinite wisdom first shown?
Direct my mind and raise it from the depths

[Shedlock's translation is in prose.]

References

Beethoven’s Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London & Toronto, 1926, pp.393-394.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2010 8:49 am

    I was bored and thought it would be interesting to see if Beethoven’s music had been re-interpreted by some of India’s own classical tradition. Didn’t expect this, but my thanks for this essay, Mr Mitchell. Makes for fine reading.

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