Famous Lasts The Last Public Performance by Beethoven

About the last public performance of the famous conducter Beethoven, history and information.

THE LAST PUBLIC PERFORMANCE BY BEETHOVEN

This was an unexpected violin performance on Sept. 9, 1825. By the time he was 30, Beethoven's hearing problems had already affected his playing and conducting. In 1814 he held his last chamber music recital, and the following year, in front of the crowned heads of Europe assembled for the Congress of Vienna, he made his final public appearance at the piano. He became completely deaf in 1819. In November, 1822, he attempted to conduct a rehearsal of Fidelio but got hopelessly out of step with the orchestra. According to one account of the incident, "he leaped from his place in the orchestra, hastened from the theater to his lodgings, threw himself on the sofa, covered his face with his hands." On May 7, 1824, at the first performance of his most recent and greatest work, the monumental Ninth Symphony--from which he netted only $60--he sat in the orchestra following the score. At the end, he thought his work had failed to please the audience until the singer Karolina Unger turned him around so that he could see the tumultuous applause that he could not hear. Then, on Sept. 9, 1825, in the Hotel Wildemann at Vienna, he attended a performance of his String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Opus 130, which was given for 14 friends. Suddenly, he could "hear" that a passage was not being interpreted properly. He jumped up, seized a violin, and played the passage himself--a quarter of a tone flat. Ironically, the slow movement celebrated the recovery of an invalid, and Beethoven was ill at the time. He wrote his last complete work in the autumn of 1826--Opus 135, a string quartet. He died during a thunderstorm on Mar. 26, 1827. He had already completed sketches for his 10th symphony, which he felt would be his masterpiece.

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