Heiligenstadt Testament


In May 1802, on the advice of Johann Adam Schmidt, Beethoven went to Heiligenstadt to rest. This residence was separate from the one at Vienna: it took about an hour to get there by carriage.

Depressed and unable to hide his increasing infirmity, Beethoven wrote, on October 6th 1802 a document which he guarded carefully afterwards, entitled “The Heiligenstadt Testament”. In it he revealed his deafness and expressed his disgust. A second part of the testament was written a few days later, on October 10th 1802.

It is noted that three times the composer has omitted to write the christian name of his second brother, Johann.

Beethoven later wrote two more wills: in 1824, and, just before his death, in 1827.

Heiligenstadt Testament – The Letter

For my brothers Carl and Beethoven

O ye men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do ye wrong me, you do not know the secret causes of my seeming, from childhood my heart and mind were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was even ever eager to accomplish great deeds, but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible), born with an ardent and lively temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was compelled early to isolate myself, to live in loneliness, when I at times tried to forget all this, O how harshly was I repulsed by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing, and yet it was impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout, for I am deaf. Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed.

O I cannot do it, therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would gladly mingle with you, my misfortune is doubly painful because it must lead to my being misunderstood, for me there can be no recreations in society of my fellows, refined intercourse, mutual exchange of thought, only just as little as the greatest needs command may I mix with society. I must live like an exile, if I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, a fear that I may be subjected to the danger of letting my condition be observed.

Thus it has been during the past year which I spent in the country, commanded by my intelligent physician to spare my hearing as much as possible, in this almost meeting my natural disposition, although I sometimes ran counter to it yielding to my inclination for society, but what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life.

Only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence.

Truly wretched, an excitable body which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state.

Patience – it is said that I must now choose for my guide, I have done so, I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it please the inexorable parcae to bread the thread, perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, I am prepared. Forced already in my 28th year to become a philosopher, O it is not easy, less easy for the artist than for anyone else – Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein. O men, when some day you read these words, reflect that ye did me wrong and let the unfortunate one comfort himself and find one of his kind who despite all obstacles of nature yet did all that was in his power to be accepted among worthy artists and men. You my brothers Carl and [Johann] as soon as I am dead if Dr. Schmid is still alive ask him in my name to describe my malady and attach this document to the history of my illness so that so far as possible at least the world may become reconciled with me after my death.

At the same time I declare you two to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called), divide it fairly, bear with and help each other, what injury you have done me you know was long ago forgiven. to you brother Carl I give special thanks for the attachment you have displayed towards me of late. It is my wish that your lives be better and freer from care than I have had, recommend virtue to your children, it alone can give happiness, not money, I speak from experience, it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it next to my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life with suicide.

Farewell and love each other – I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid – I desire that the instruments from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from this, so soon as they can serve you better purpose sell them, how glad will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave – with joy I hasten towards death – if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early for me despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later – but even then I am satisfied, will it not free me from my state of endless suffering?

Come when thou will I shall meet thee bravely. – Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead, I deserve this of you in having often in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so.


For my brothers Carl and to be read and executed after my death. Heiligenstadt, October 10, 1802, thus do I take my farewell of thee – and indeed sadly – yes that beloved hope – which I brought with me when I came here to be cured at least in a degree – I must wholly abandon, as the leaves of autumn fall and are withered so hope has been blighted, almost as I came – I go away – even the high courage – which often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer – has disappeared – O Providence – grant me at least but on e day of pure joy – it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart – O when – O when, O Divine One – shall I find it again in the temple of nature and of men – Never? no – O that would be too hard.

Heiglnstadt october 6,1802

Ludwig van Beethowen

The Significance of the Heiligenstadt Testament: A Glimpse into Beethoven’s Soul

The year is 1802. Ludwig van Beethoven, a rising star in the Viennese music scene, finds himself in a desolate state. His hearing, the very essence of his artistic life, is slowly fading away. In response, he pours his despair and determination onto four pages of a document known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. This intimate letter, never intended for public eyes, holds immense significance, offering a profound look into the man behind the music.

A Confession of Pain and Isolation:

The Testament is a raw and emotional confession. Beethoven describes the agony of his worsening deafness, lamenting how it isolates him from social interaction and artistic expression. He considers suicide, contemplating a desperate escape from his suffering. These stark admissions unveil a side of Beethoven rarely seen, showcasing his vulnerability and human struggles.

A Testament to Resilience:

Despite his despair, the Testament does not end on a note of defeat. Beethoven, fueled by an unwavering love for music, declares his intent to overcome his adversity. He writes, “I feel the glow of life more than ever,” demonstrating a remarkable resilience in the face of immense hardship. This determination became a hallmark of his artistic journey, leading him to compose some of his most powerful and innovative works.

A Window into the Creative Process:

The Testament offers valuable insights into Beethoven’s creative process. He speaks of a “new path” in his music, hinting at the revolutionary compositions that would follow. We see the birth of his heroic style, fueled by his struggle and determination. This glimpse into his artistic mind allows us to appreciate his music on a deeper level, understanding the emotions and experiences that shaped its creation.

Beyond Beethoven:

The Testament transcends its personal context, offering a universal message about overcoming adversity. It resonates with anyone who has faced challenges and setbacks. Beethoven’s story of struggle and triumph serves as an inspiration, demonstrating the power of the human spirit to persevere even in the darkest of times.


The Heiligenstadt Testament is more than just a historical document; it is a window into the soul of a genius. It reveals his pain, his strength, and his unwavering dedication to his art. By understanding its significance, we gain a deeper appreciation for Beethoven, his music, and the enduring power of human resilience.