Beethoven's Last March

Beethovan's Funeral, March 29, 1827

Beethovan's Funeral, March 29, 1827

You pretty much have to take a moment to appreciate this: In March 1827, snowstorm lightning woke the deaf and ailing 56-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven who'd been confined to his bed in Vienna for months. Startled from coma, the composer opened his eyes, raised his fist to rail against the sky, then collapsed back, dead. So the story goes.

Three days later (this part is verifiable), ten thousand grief-stricken Viennese citizens and every local musician Beethoven had inspired, encouraged or berated, gathered for a funeral march with simple casket from the yard outside the Schwarzspanierhaus Church to the more wooded area of Wahring, where a professional actor delivered a funeral oration written by playwright Franz Grillparzer who I wish could come back to teach us the fine art of obit and eulogy writing. Here's the whole transcript (you have to plow through an opening graph referring to Germany as the Fatherland), or just savor here the best last awesome bit of testimonial in honor of a complex, tortured man who gave the world so much. Note: eulogies were always uttered by men back then, and generally shouted.

"No living man enters the halls of immortality. The body must die before the gates are opened. He whom you mourn is now among the greatest men of all time, unassailable forever! Return to your homes, then, distressed but composed. And whenever, during your lives, the power of his works overwhelms you like a coming storm; when your rapture pours out in the midst of a generation yet unborn; then remember this hour and think: we were there when they buried him, and when he died we wept!

Here are two pieces of music played at Beethoven's funeral services, one composed by him, one not: Beethoven's Equali for four somber trombones, and Luigi Cherubini's "Requiem in C Minor," which the discerning LvB admired, and you'll love too.