He loved him like a brother.
Until he crossed him.
Their relationship never recovered.
Ludwig van Beethoven had it all. Or so it seemed…
He was in his twenties and the darling of the Vienna music scene.
He had devoted students, the adoration of the public and a steady flow of income from patrons that supported his music.
None was more generous in his support than Prince Carl Lichnowsky a former student of Mozart.
He lavished adulation and support ranging from apartments to introductions to the high society in Vienna. He even gave Beethoven an annual salary ‘annuity’ in the amount equivalent to $25,000 in today’s standards.
Beethoven called him one of his truest friends and patrons.
Until one day, in 1806, Carl pushed the envelope.
It seemed innocent enough. All he did was assume Beethoven would do a favor for him.
“Ludwig, I have some guests coming over for dinner…French officers from Napolean’s army you know…the kind I want to really impress…Would you play something for them…entertain us a bit…and afterwards dine with us…It would really help me out to tell them that the famous Beethoven is right here in my castle.”
The only thing was, he assumed it would be okay with Ludwig and didn’t tell him until the guests arrived. Beethoven flew into a range.
According to a witness
“Beethoven was very angry and refused to do what he denounced as ‘manual labor,’ playing to the enemies of his country.”
He hurled insults at the Prince, threw a massive fit (almost hurling a chair at him) and grabbed all his belongings.
He was staying at Lichnowsky’s estate near the Bohemian city of Troppau at the time and decided on the spot to rush back home to Vienna.
He ran out of the place into the cold storm, clutching the manuscript to the nearly finished Appassionata Sonata in his hands.
It still has the raindrops bearing the scars of the ruined friendship.
On his return back to Vienna Beethoven scribbled these famous words to Lichnowsky:
“Prince! What you are, you are by circumstance and birth. What I am, I am through myself. Of princes there have and will be thousands. Of Beethovens there is only one!”
Once he got back to his apartment, his anger did not subside.
He took the marble bust of Lichnowsky and hurled it at the floor.
Their relationship was on life support after that incident. Grave consequences ensued:
The Prince stopped the annual salary and Beethoven never dedicated another work to him again.
One of the enduring fruits of their friendship was the dedication of this, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata to the Prince. This was dedicated seven years before their fallout in 1799.
Here is footage of the Adagio cantabile, my encore from the performance I gave on November 16, 2019 at the Spark Concert.
What do you think of this story between Beethoven and the Prince?
- Do you think Beethoven over reacted or was the Prince out of line to make such a request?
- Did you ever suffer the consequences of a loss of a valued friendship that was damaged by some words or situation?
I close this story with a quote from CS Lewis:
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Please leave your comments below: