It’s all about death and choices, isn’t it? September is Suicide Prevention Month. Beethoven knew all about that choice. The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes will perform Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony on Saturday, October 8, 2022 in Corning. The Orchestra’s new 22-23 season tagline ‘TOGETHER WE ARE SOUND’ is part of the focus this year on mental health and healing from the last few years and impossible choices.
In October of 1802 Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to his brothers in a letter now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament about the terrible ailment to befall him as a composer/pianist. He was losing his hearing. His growing deafness and despair had prompted thoughts of suicide. In the letter to his brothers Carl and Johann he told them of his wretchedness and his decision NOT to end his life. Probably written between the creation of his 2nd and 3rd symphonies, had Beethoven succeeded in suicide, we would not have his best (arguably) and most well loved, glorious works – symphonies four through nine.
Ironically, someone who cared for the young Ludwig may have been responsible for the start of his hearing loss and dark thoughts of despair. New medical research shows a strong link between head injury and depression. This research stems from vets returning from Iraq. If one is blown up in an armored vehicle, the head takes a beating – think car accidents, boxers and others with head trauma as well as returning soldiers.
Preschool aged Beethoven was yanked from his bed to practice the keyboard by his drunken father returning from the pubs. The boy was slapped awake as he slept at the instrument. Herr Beethoven wanted a boy genius like Mozart. At the age of five, Mozart and his sister Fanny played for the crown heads of Europe, making a good living for the Mozart family and their kind and loving father – in stark contrast to young Ludwig.
Beethoven’s generation would have to wait over two hundred and fifty years to know of research between head trauma and the inevitable depression. Head and brain injuries are not always visible. They are likely to be overlooked with the prominence of body trauma. In a car accident of 2011 with eleven broken bones (left leg, five ribs, etc.) the concussion had passed before I was conscious. Ten months later, fifty pounds heavier, in physical and emotional pain after an avalanche of losses, I told my sister of my dark, lethal depression. My way out was a hip-replacement, counseling, purposeful work, exercise, diet change, social connection, and belief in a Higher Power. Unlike Beethoven, I had modern medicine to walk again, without pain. We believe Beethoven’s deafness was profound by the time he composed his Ninth Symphony. I try not to weep in public at the words of the Ninth “Surely all men are brothers… and there is a loving (heavenly) Father.” These lyrics from a man who had been a survivor of abuse at the hands of his father. Compassion and forgiveness are also important choices. I like to believe Beethoven found a way through because he made a different choice.
When the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes performs Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony on Saturday, October 8, 2022 in Corning, know that no one is alone. If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 24/7 at (800) 273-8255. For tickets to hear Beethoven’s choices, info@OSFL.org or (607) 936-2873.
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