Beethoven’s first biographer, Anton Schindler, claimed that Beethoven’s fifth symphony’s open has the words “It is thus that Fate knocks at the door.” however that statement hasn’t been confirmed nor contradicted. Schindler made up the idea of fate knocking by stating that Beethoven himself had told him that when discussing his works. Beethoven was a fan of “fate” therefore the story is believable, “fate” was in his music, the Heiligenstadt Testament, Tagebuch, and many other writings. However because this story was created by Schindler, we can now infer that his Beethoven biography surely includes made up, exaggerated, and forgery aspects.

Extending on the idea of fate in Beethoven’s writings, his journal, the Tagebuch, probably started just after his dark affair with his “immortal beloved”, contained many references to fate. The journal was written by the “less defiant” Beethoven, containing more submissive writings. For example, “Submission, deepest submission to your fate, only this can give you the sacrifices–for this matter of service. O hard struggle!” Showing his defiant side had fated, he wrote of accepting fate. He wrote several quotes, including from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Homer’s Iliad, and probably many, all speaking of fate.

Beethoven was also interested in Eastern thought. Many of his writings, just like fate, reference elements of Eastern thought. The very opening of his Heiligenstadt Testament reads, “O ye mankind…” which as Guerrieri says, is quite biblical sounding. However, in the German translated bible, there was no such line, but in the Koran was “O men…”. This gives the notion that Beethoven was interested in eastern thought has possibly read the Koran. In his time, eastern thought was fashionable and a big ordeal in Germany, specifically Vienna. Naturally, Beethoven surrounded himself with eastern things. On his desk was a quote found on the statue of Isis in Sais, Egypt. In addition, his Tagebuch includes, as Guerrieri says, “Quotations of Eastern sources, Hindu scriptures, and Sandskrit Vedas…” In addition, ideas of samsara and nirvana are used, specifically in his op. 111 Piano Sonata, beginning with a “struggle” then moving and resolving to an enlightened ending.

Masonic ideas and eastern thought in Beethoven’s life are intertwined. Beethoven, never an official Freemason himself, though surrounded by them, absorbed many masonic aspects. The eastern idea of “fate knocking” can be interpreted in a masonic lens: A one act comedy about a man who is obsessed and overflowing with curiosity about Freemasonry attempts to be initiated, however the Baron says to him, “Vulgar Curiosity never comes close to the light. Only he who seeks truth may knock on the door.” Therefore his fifth symphony’s possible idea of fate can be viewed as masonic.

Guerrieri’s quote, “It’s at this point that it becomes obvious just how contrived a target the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth is for Hegel’s logic, a square peg being crammed into a round philosophical hole.” holds quite a deep meaning. It goes into Hegel’s logic and philosophy, specifically his “…idea becoming and Idea three step process: Being, Essence, and the Notion.” The step of Being, in the case of interpreting the fifth symphony, is about recognizing what the “first four notes” are, and the complicated step, Essence, is what they mean. Guerrieri’s quote is referring to Hegel’s logical steps for  an Idea and how it plainly doesn’t add up or work, for  with this we cannot get past the second step of Essence to Notion. We are stuck in Essence because the first four notes could mean anything, they could mean nothing, we will never know; therefore keeping us in limbo. Hegel’s process doesn’t quite fit and cannot be completed to achieve the four notes as an Idea.

In the chapter, Guerrieri discusses Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and their theories. What I find interesting about the pair is their need for alcohol. They are the masterminds being the idea of “communism”, for which many harbor hatred towards them, but complete drunks! They would go on bar tours and drink while discussing theories and ideas. Now how does one who is that fond of beer create such an impactful way of life with myriad details and thoughts? Finally, Friedrich Nietzsche was also mentioned, and what I found compelling about his section was his question in his book, The Gay Science:

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”

Just reading those lines is mind-boggling-what is the right answer? I suppose it is based on your life and how you view all the moments that had a negative or positive impact. This quote shows the kind of thinker Neitzsche is and gives hints of his instability and how scarily creative he is. It also includes ideas of fate, therefore relating back to Beethoven’s fifth.


One thought on “Fate

  1. Good. You capture the main first point: Beethoven was certainly deeply thoughtful about how fate plays a role in life, given the awful fact of his increasing deafness; but whether he attributed the opening of the fifth to “fate knocking at the door” is highly questionable, given Herr Schindler’s tendency to make stuff up for his own self-aggrandizement.

    Good understanding of Beethoven’s involvement with Eastern Thought, which of course was always melded with his own participation in Christian Germany — he did many settings of the Catholic Mass, for example.

    Excellent summary of the challenging relationship between Hegel and the 5th! Nicely expressed.

    Yes, hard to say how Marx and Engels managed to write so much after so much beer! It was perhaps a different age, or maybe they just had very strong contitutions.

    Nietzsche was indeed a profound thinker, and I’m glad you found this quote so interested. I would say that, from our modern perspective, we see that Nietzsche was influenced by Indian ideas of rebirth and reincarnation, without truly understanding that this didn’t mean that the conscious individual would actual being re-experiencing life over and over. So I wouldn’t fret overly much about this passage! I do like how you found an answer for yourself though: ” I suppose it is based on your life and how you view all the moments that had a negative or positive impact.”

    Good detailed post, Hattie.

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