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His Death

A life mask of Beethoven
make by Franz Klein.

In the autumn of 1826, Beethoven took Karl to Gneixendorf for a holiday. The following is an account of Beethoven the possessed genius as he worked upon his last string quartet:

At 5:30 A.M. he was at his table, beating time with hands
and feet, humming and writing. After breakfast he hurried
outside to wander in the fields, calling, waving his arms about,
moving slowly, then very abruptly stopping to scribble
something in his notebook

In early December Beethoven returned to Vienna with Karl and the journey brought the composer down with pneumonia. He recovered, only to be laid low again with cirrhosis of the liver, which in turn gave way to dropsy. His condition had deteriorated dramatically by the beginning of March and, sensing the worst, his friends rallied round: faithful Stephan brought his family and Schubert paid his respects.

Beethoven's final moments, if a report by Schubert's friend Huttenbrenner are to believed, were dramatic in the extreme. At about 5:45 in the afternoon of 26 March, 1827, as a storm raged, Beethoven's room was suddenly filled with light and shaken with thunder:

Beethoven's eyes opened and he lifted his right fist for
several seconds, a serious, threatening expression on
his face. When his had fell back, he half closed his eyes
... Not another word, not another heartbeat.

Schubert and Hummel were among the 20,000 - 30,000 people who mourned the composer at his funeral three days later. He was buried in Wahring Cemetery; in 1888 his remains were removed to Zentral-friedhof in Vienna - a great resting place for musicians - where he lies side-by-side with Schubert.
  Copyright (C) 2005 William Lane