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The death of Beethoven

June 1, 2008

This account of the death of Beethoven is by Anton Schindler. The text of Beethoven’s last letter is also included.

To B. SCHOTT & SONS, Mayence
April 12, 1827

In place of a formal necrology, we give the following letter to the music publishers Schott of Mayence, which, on account of the news contained therein concerning the last hours of Beethoven’s earthly existence, will certainly be of great interest to the admirers of this most remarkable and distinguished composer.

Vienna, April 12, 1827

I would already have liked to take the liberty of forwarding to you the enclosed document in the name of our Beethoven as his dying request; but after the passing away of our friend, there was so much business to attend to that I found it impossible. Unfortunately it was not possible to get the document legalised; for that Beethoven would have had to sign it at the law court, which was utterly impossible. Beethoven, however, requested Court Councillor v. Breuning and myself to add our names as witnesses, as we were both present. We therefore believe that it will serve the purpose for which it was drawn up. I must further mention that in this document you possess the last signature of this immortal man; for this was the last stroke of his pen.

I cannot now refrain from telling you something about the last hours when he was still conscious (namely, on the 24th of March from early morning until about one o clock in the afternoon), for to you, sirs, this will surely be of great interest. When I came to him on the morning of the 24th March I found his face quite drawn; moreover he was so weak, that with the greatest effort he could only utter two or three intelligible words. The Ordinarius soon arrived, and, after watching him for a few moments, said to me: Beethoven’s end is rapidly approaching. As the business of the will had been settled, so far as was possible, the previous day, there remained for us only one ardent wish, to get him reconciled with heaven, in order that the world might also be shown that he ended his life as a true Christian. The Professor Ordinarius wrote it down, and begged him in the name of all his friends, to partake of the sacrament for the dying, whereupon he answered calmly and steadily: I will. The doctor went away, leaving me to see to this. Beethoven then said to me: My only request is that you write to Schott and send him the document; he will need it. And write to him in my name, for I am too weak, and say that I much desire him to send the wine. Also, if you still have time today write to England. The clergyman came about 12 o clock, and the religious ceremony took place in the most edifying manner. And now for the first time he seemed to feel that his end was approaching, for the clergyman had scarcely gone when he said to me and to young v.Breuning: Plaudite amici, comoedia finita est! Have I not always said that it would be thus? He then, once again, begged me not to forget Schott, also again to write in his name to the Philharmonic Society to thank them for their great gift, and to add that the Society had comforted his last days, and that even on the brink of the grave he thanked the Society and the whole English nation for the great gift. God bless them.

At this moment the chancellery servant of v. Breuning entered the room with the case of wine and the decoction about ¼ to one o clock. I put the two bottles of Rüdesheimer and the other two bottles of the decoction on the table at his bedside. He looked at them saying: Tis a pity, a pity, too late! These were his last words. Immediately after commenced the death throes, so that he could not utter a sound. Towards evening he lost consciousness and became delirious, which lasted up to the evening of the 25th when visible signs of approaching death appeared. Nevertheless he did not actually die until the 26th at a quarter to six o clock in the evening.

This death struggle was terrible to behold, for his physique, especially his chest, was like that of a giant. Of your Rüdesheimer he kept taking a few spoonfuls until he passed away.

Thus I have the pleasure of acquainting you with the last three days of our unforgettable friend.
In conclusion accept the assurance, etc.

Together with the above there is the following declaration:
According to which I hand over to the publishing firm B.Schott, the sole copyright of my last quartet in C sharp minor, as well as the sole right of performance. And, further, they are free to print and publish, as their own property in Paris as well as in Mayence and also at all places, the above mentioned firm may think proper.
(His very last signature)

Anton Schindler,
Music Director
As invited witness.

Vienna, March 20, 1827
Stephan v.Breuning
Imperial Court Councillor
As invited witness.

Beethoven’s Letters with explanatory notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London & Toronto, 1926, pp. 390-392.

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