Beethoven's Last Concert
7:11 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Beethoven's Bizarre Finale

A 44-year-old man known as a phenomenal pianist played a disappointing concert that would be his last public performance at the keyboard. Ludwig van Beethoven’s hearing loss had finally overtaken his celebrated concert career, but even before then, his mind was hardly at ease.

An 1820 portrait of Beethoven, painted by Joseph Karl Stieler.

Beethoven’s lifelong struggles have left us music lovers grateful, confused, and forever in search of the man behind the legendary music. Latest report from the search: the book Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. Its author, Jan Swafford, describes it as “a composer's-eye view of a composer.” What does composer Swafford see? For one thing, the Eroica Symphony looks really weird to him.

The finale defines what a lot of critics at the time called "the bizarre." It's just incomprehensible, because it starts off with this kind of militaristic eruption, and then it goes into this very simple bass line — just absolutely nothing. But as I say in the book, it's a nothing on which anything can be built.

Read the story here.