My Vienna in Heiligenstadt: Beethoven, despair in deafness, & his 6th Symphony
Above/featured: Memorial statue in Vienna’s Heiligenstadt Park; more details below.
Composer Ludwig van Beethoven spent a total of 35 years in Vienna, from 1792 with his arrival from Bonn until his death in 1827. Every summer, he would leave Vienna to stay in a country- or farm-house in Heiligenstadt which at the time was rural; a stagecoach trip from the inner city required several hours. Today, urban development and expansion have reached and overtaken the once verdant fields right up to the flanks of the city’s northern heights.
By 1802, Beethoven’s hearing loss was almost complete. With his doctor’s recommendation, Beethoven had hoped time away from the noisy city would help recover some of his healing, but after the summer had passed, his initial fears had come true: his hearing would not return. In desperation, Beethoven wrote to his brother a letter, known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament“. He never sent the letter to his brother; the letter would only be discovered 25 years later with Beethoven’s personal effects, shortly after his death in 1827.
I’m tracing out some of Beethoven’s footsteps in Heiligenstadt wrapped inside the present-day city’s 19th district of Döbling. All locations can be visited comfortably on foot in a single day. The following description is part of a larger overview of my search for Beethoven in the Austrian capital city.
- Beethoven Museum
- Heiligenstädter Park
- Mayer am Pfarrplatz
- 6th Symphony, “Scene by the Brook”
Wien Museum: Probusgasse 6.
Long-time resident of Vienna, composer Ludwig van Beethoven took off from the crowded inner city in the summer and headed north to the farmlands and vineyards in Heiligenstadt for solitude, relaxation, and inspiration. The building here at address Probusgasse 6 goes back to the mid 15th-century, becoming a bakery that stood here from 1732 to the mid-20th century. Believed to have stayed here in the summer of 1802, Beethoven remained productive with musical compositions: Piano Sonatas nos. 16–18, Op. 31; Variations and Fugue for Piano in E-flat major, Op. 35 (also known as the “Eroica” variations); Christ on the Mount of Olives, Op. 85; and initial sketches for the 3rd Symphony which he completed in 1804.
In the late-1960s, the city of Vienna purchased the building from private ownership. By 1970, the rebuilt structure opened as Beethoven Museum in cooperation among the city of Vienna, Wien Museum, and the Beethoven Society of Vienna.
The building is also called “Haus des Heiligenstädter Testaments” (House of the Heiligenstadt Testament). However, additional research carried out by the city casts some doubt about whether the building here is the true location where Beethoven wrote the letter to his brother.
While composing what would be his 6th Symphony in 1808 during his time at the Grillparzer house, Beethoven added to the symphony’s 2nd movement the descriptive note “Szene am Bach” or “scene by the brook”. He had been inspired by pastoral country scenes on his many walks along the Schreiberbach (“writers brook”; known also as Nussbach). That footpath is now paved and known as the Beethovengang. To his 6th Symphony, Beethoven also added the following title:
Pastorale Sinfonie, oder
Erinnerungen an das Landleben, mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerei.
Pastoral Symphony, or
Recollections of country life, more an expression of feeling than painting.
Beethoven rest area: green space, Kahlenberger Strasse 69.
Sculptor Anton Dominik Ritter von Fernkorn modelled and cast a bronze statue of Beethoven at Vienna’s Imperial-royal foundry in 1862. In June 1863, the city of Vienna inaugurated the statue, becoming the first memorial in Vienna dedicated to Beethoven, some 36 years after his death. The statue resides in Beethovenruhe next to the Beethovengang footpath, where on many peaceful walks next to the brook, he was happy and relaxed.
Greiner house: Kahlenberger Strasse 26.
Beethoven lived in the building in the summer of 1817. The country house was named after Josef Ferdinand Greiner (1798–1889) who was the first mayor of the village of Döbling.
Grillparzer house: Grinzinger Strasse 64.
In 1808, Beethoven was a guest of the Grillparzer family when the future Austrian playwright Franz was 17 years old. In the summer of 1808, Beethoven continued writing what would become the 6th Symphony while in Heiligenstadt, inspired by his many walks next to the Schreiberbach brook. 19 years later in 1827, Franz Grillparzer would write the eulogy read by actor Heinrich Anschütz at Beethoven’s funeral. At present, the Grillparzer house is private property and not open to the public.
Heiligenstadt Park: Grinzinger Strasse 84.
The park is the former site of hot springs known since the Roman Empire; similar underlying geology extends southwest towards Baden. Established over the springs were the Heiligenstadt spa baths (Das Heiligenstädter Bad) with a guesthouse and multiple baths and rooms. When the underground water source dried up in the late 19th-century, the spa baths were demolished and the area cleared out. In its place was green space for the public, opened by the city of Vienna in 1900; over time, the park was renamed Heiligenstadt Park. Just up on the hill is a 1910 memorial dedicated to Beethoven, with design and construction by Robert Weigl, Fritz Hähnlein, and Robert Oerley.
Mayer am Pfarrplatz
Beethoven House Mayer at Pfarrplatz: Pfarrplatz 2.
Beethoven stayed in this building in the summer of 1817. Today, the building is a “Heuriger” or wine tavern, owned and operated by Mayer Weingut. I described my midday dining experience inside Mayer am Pfarrplatz here.
6th Symphony, “Scene by the Brook”
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (“Pastorale”, Pastoral Symphony) had its first public performance at the city’s Theater an der Wien on the evening of 22 December 1808.
Below is an audiovisual expression of the 6th symphony’s 2nd movement “Szene am Bach” (“scene by the brook”); the video is by composer Stephen Malinowski. Beethoven never intended to copy exactly the sounds he heard; instead, his compositions are supposed to evoke pleasant memories from the countryside. Does the opening minute remind you of an undulating gurgling brook? In the final minute, can you hear birdsong from the nightingale (Nachtigall, flute); quail (Wachtel, oboe); or cuckoo (Kukuk, clarinet)?
Public transport with Wiener Linien:
tram D to terminus “Nussdorf Beethovengang”, OR
bus 38A from terminus at station “Heiligenstadt” to stop “Fernsprechamt Heiligenstadt”.
Visits to the museum and the restaurant were neither requested nor sponsored. I made all images above on 26 May 2022 with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-mUB.
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