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Clayton Haslop

Beethoven's Triumph

January 12, 2010 at 6:21 PM

A few days ago, after our return from California and just before undressing our little Christmas tree, I noticed that there were in fact 3 little presents that hadn’t been unwrapped. 

They were all from our assistant and friend, Heidii Ash.

The one with my name on it contained a little book entitled, ‘Beethoven – His Spiritual Development.’  The author, a mathematician, philosopher of science, and reviewer for the ‘The Times’ – London, was J.W.N. Sullivan.  And though worth its weight in gold many times over, you will not find it on any best seller list of today.  I can guarantee that. 

It was written in 1927.

How Heidii managed to find this book I’ve no idea, I have yet to ask her.  It is, nonetheless, the singly most timely gift ever made to me, and I will thank her for it for many years to come.

So today I’m going to share something I have found very inspiring.  Something I genuinely hope will affect you in a positive way as well, not only in your quest for violin excellence, but also in your quest to understand the nature of our common human truth.

Now you may object to some of what I’m about to say on religious grounds, and that will meet with no argument with me.  Each to his or her heart be true, for the heart is indeed the most important sense organ we possess, in my opinion.

So here goes.

As you know Beethoven began going deaf at the age of 28.  At the time he was already a celebrated, if somewhat controversial, pianist and composer in Viennese society; recognized as a true genius by most of the literati of the day.

As the condition worsened Beethoven became frantic with fear and loathing, avoiding all but the most essential contact with the outside world.  He regarded his condition as the most humiliating calamity that could befall a composer; one that would carry with it intolerable pity on the part of his supporters and endless gloating from his detractors.

Yet, at a certain defining moment, when all hope of recovery had been lost, Beethoven came through a profound transformation. 

In the process three things happened.  One, he surrendered his ego utterly; two, he lost all fear of what lay before him; and three, he recognized the independence of ‘giftedness’ from any sense of self-hood.

This was a pretty tall order from a person recognized in his early years as the very epitome of conceit, even by many of his friends.

In any case, as a result of his ‘rebirth in spirit,’ Beethoven did not give up on life or composition.  Nor did he succumb to writing music full of sadness and longing, as many a lesser man might have done.

What is found in the late quartets, and elsewhere, is music that, while acknowledging the presence and fact of suffering, is nonetheless unattached to it; music representative of the entire range of pure, genuine and honest human experience.

This was his triumph, and this our challenge, each in our own way with whatever tools we may – or may not – find or develop along the way. 

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 12, 2010 at 8:32 PM


as usual,  a very stimulating blog.  At risk of just repeating what you have already said so eloquently,  in my opinion,  the journey of life is primarily recognizing that we are spiritual rather than physical entities.  This is a process of enlightenment.  The difficulty is always the ego which drags us down to a human level so that things like `love` are all very nice but, done minus enlightenment are often selfish,  harmful and self serving.   Through some kind of process of enlightenment love becomes `genuine` as it were.  Such a force is immensely powerful (divine in fact) because it has to embrace all things in the universe including people we call enemies who may have done us great harm.  It`s a hard journey that few succeed in (Bhudda and Christ  being the two most obvious) but I think Beethoven went much further down this path than most of us ever achieve which is why his music speaks so profoundly of universal love.  More so for me,  than it reflects his personal anguish which is perhaps the most commonly highlighted aspect of his music.



From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 12, 2010 at 9:56 PM

I'm always extremely moved when I play or hear the Ninth Symphony, and in fact, I speak of it when I talk to children about Beethoven: that he would write a towering, immortal tribute to joy, having lost his ability to hear the very music he was creating!

From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on January 13, 2010 at 1:40 AM

that he would write a towering, immortal tribute to joy, having lost his ability to hear the very music he was creating!


Is there anything even comparable across the human spectrum? An architect who can't see what he's constructing? An author who can't read what he's writing? We do have inner hearing...but still. No one can ever come close to the quality of things Beethoven wrote while he was deaf 

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 13, 2010 at 3:24 AM

I agree, Beethoven is a god for me since at a very very very and very little degree, compare to him and his drama, I come from a family with little to severe body coordination problems and want so much to learn the craziest instrument for coordination... I have a little picture of Beethoven on my music stand that I look at when I struggle to play to remember that my moving little disability and chronic iced hands are nothing compare to his burden and that he succeded to turn his illness in a positive force...  So he's the compositor who speaks the most to me and who I admire the most for his music and courage!


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