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The Immortal Genius of Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, at a time ripe for radical new ideas - political, intellectual and artistic. Uranus, which was discovered 11 years after his birth, is prominent in his nativity and there is a powerful resonance between his own chart and that set for the discovery. [1] Beethoven stands as an icon for its influence in many ways. He is remembered as one of the world's greatest composers, who wielded a revolutionary influence upon the structure of music as it transited between the Classical and Romantic periods. He lived a difficult life, full of trauma, illness and heartbreak. His tragic deafness has committed him to lasting memory by the enduring reflection of a composer who could not hear his music, but could feel it, sense it, and draw it from his inner world as a legacy of his dark and fiery spirit.

Beethoven's chart has Sun, Moon and Mercury in Sagittarius opposing Mars in Gemini - a signature of exuberant fiery passions that surface easily but exhaust themselves with no lingering malice. He wrote himself of being born with a 'fiery, active temperament' [2] and biographers note that he became angry regularly, but usually made honourable and generous gestures of amends soon afterwards. Goethe described him as 'completely untamed' and his behaviour was recorded as excessive and impulsive, faults that were mainly excused on the basis of his talent.

Uranus rising portrays his striking image (typified by features of intense concentration and unruly hair), and describes a personality marked by originality, freedom of expression, volatility, and a need to break away from the definition of expectations. Pluto culminating describes obsessive will applied to areas where he could project himself out to public scrutiny. The sextile between these two planets on the angles, combined with that powerful opposition between Mars and the luminaries, reveal that challenge would be a strong motivating force for success. This is borne out in the main threads of Beethoven's life and the trivial details revealed in his letters: "yet I got some pleasure out of it, as I always do when I successfully overcome difficulties" - he writes, referring to an incident when his carriage got stuck in mud in a tiresome journey.[3]

Mars gave Beethoven a strong fighting spirit, but Saturn's square to the ascendant brought many personal fears and anxieties. Beethoven was aware of his impeding deafness when he released his first symphony in 1800, at the age of 30. [4] Although the symphony is regarded as a classic composition today, it bears all the hallmarks of Beethoven's powerful nativity, being reviewed at the time as strange, overly extravagant, and even risqué. Nevertheless, it was accepted that the still young, new composer was displaying the traits of genius in breaking down and remodelling the established boundaries of his art.

As it became clear that attempts to alleviate his deafness were failing, he despaired of the loss of his most prized faculty. The acute sense of grief and despondency led to a deep depression of spirits that might ordinarily be expected to break the will and deflate any inspirational talent. His letters reveal that he considered suicide and fought hard against temptations to end his life. His disclosure of the fear he kept hidden from the world is very touching. For several years he felt unable to admit his disability and maintained pretence, knowing that to acknowledge his illness would mean the death of his career as a performing musician. He explains how many were fooled simply because he was known for being distracted, absent-minded and eccentric in conversation. Ultimately, his fighting spirit overcame and he chose to endure a lifelong battle against the debilitating consequences of deafness, regarding it as the supreme challenge that fate could cast against him. Always aware that his handicap was worsening, he fervently threw himself into the composition of his greatest works, becoming ever-more intense upon fulfilling his creative genius. In a letter he wrote to a friend he proclaims:

How can I, a musician, say to people "I am deaf!" I shall, if I can, defy this fate, even though there will be times when I shall be the unhappiest of God's creatures ... I live only in music ... frequently working on three or four pieces simultaneously. [5]

The latter comment draws attention to Mars in Gemini opposing the Moon and Mercury in Sagittarius. One imagines the man at work, notes and papers scattered everywhere, his mind buzzing with ideas and flitting from one project to the next. In another letter, his optimistic Sagittarian Sun rises up with the influence of Mars where he writes:

I will seize Fate by the throat. It will not wholly conquer me! Oh, how beautiful it is to live - and live a thousand times over! [6]

One of Beethoven's most moving documents was penned on Oct 6 1802, as transiting Saturn hit Neptune on his 6th house cusp. He was ill and wrongly thought himself to be near death, so wrote his will and revealed the true extent of the suffering he had endured. He describes how he had lived his life, maximising every moment as a limited opportunity to put his soul to music:

I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me. So I endured this wretched existence [7]

Beyond the drive, the challenge, the confrontation and defiance of fate, Beethoven clearly felt a great sense of inspirational motivation and a true appreciation of beauty in a world filled with hope and fear, joy and disaster, love and pain. Jupiter disposes of his lights and sits in the house of philosophy, enlightened vision and divine revelation. He was a great lover of philosophy, which he incorporated into his study of music, and a strong supporter of revolutionary attempts to liberate the oppressed and bring justice to inequality. He dedicated his 3rd symphony to Napolean although he later angrily erased his name from the title page upon discovering that Napolean had declared himself an Emperor.

In terms of a birth chart articulating the 'harmony of the spheres' that reigns at a moment of birth and seeks to find manifestation through life, it is perhaps foolish to try to isolate the factors that describe Beethoven's professional style. His whole chart carries the stamp of the energies that found expression through his music - dynamic, energetic, uplifting and stirring yet simultaneously melancholy and powerfully profound. However, a traditional approach to breaking down the chart would note that Venus, ruler of the ascendant, marks its presence strongly in the midheaven, disposed by Saturn in the 5th house of arts and creativity. Here we see the professional autograph of a composer remembered for his masterful sensitivity to musical structure, tempo and form.

Saturn in the 5th is also an indication of his celibacy. He had several occasions to fall in love but all were doomed to fail. Many features of this chart suggest powerful passions that are denied expression in intimate relationships. Pluto and Venus culminating on the inconjunct of Mars denote deeply passionate, almost obsessive desires. That Beethoven will be remembered as a romantic is a certain legacy of the 'Immortal Beloved' love letters that were discovered after his death. Great mystery surrounds their recipient, but they have become legendary for their highly emotive content, described as an 'uncontrolled outburst of passionate feeling', towards a 'one true love'. [8]

The letters speak of the painful mutual despair that he and a lady he refers to as 'my angel, my all, my very self' must endure because they cannot be united. It is supposed that this was a forbidden affair in that the recipient was married. It is perhaps of benefit to the world at large that, denied the possibility of being part of a settled and contented relationship, he was forced to channel his ardent sentiments into music, his only outlet for emotional release.

Saturn's presence dominates this nativity. Afflicted by being retrograde and in detriment, it rules the midheaven, squares the ascendant, lies on the midpoint of Uranus-Pluto, and is further personalised through the Moon's translation from Saturn to the opposition of Mars. The Moon rules the 4th house of the father and general parental influence, and there have been suggestions that the roots of Beethoven's deafness lay in a blow or fall he experienced in childhood. He certainly had a difficult upbringing - the eldest of seven children (only he and two brothers survived), his father was an alcoholic who relentless pushed him in his studies, often dragging him out of bed when he came home drunk, beating him and forcing him to practice for hours when he was tired and weary. The Moon's trine to Saturn describes the influence from his father's line: both his father and grandfather before him were professional musicians and his father was notably stern, ambitious - and hated. The family name Beethoven translates as 'beetroot farm', beetroots and farming both revealing Saturnian governance and perhaps suggesting a long rooted origin of Saturnian influence.

Beethoven's mother is signified by Venus in the 10th house. She is described as the only member of his family with whom he developed a strong and loving relationship, and he described her as his best friend. She died when he was 17, as the ever potent Uranus opposed his natal Venus from 25 Cancer, conjoined with the Sun. Though painful and disturbing, it prompted a breakthrough in Beethoven's determination to stand up to his increasingly drunken father and take responsibility for his dependent siblings. He went to his father's employer and demanded - and got - half his father's salary so the family could be provided for; his father was allowed to drink away the rest and died in 1792, leaving no great grief.

The possibility of a knock to the head affecting the hearing is not unsupported in his birth chart. Uranus and the South Node in the 1st suggest damage to the head, and the square between Uranus and Saturn - a major significator for deafness and the buzzing in the head that Beethoven complained of (CA p.246) - further suggests that a head trauma may have resulted in temporal bone fracture which subsequently triggered or magnified the effects of illness. Saturn's influence is also revealed in a recent post mortem analysis which indicated that Beethoven suffered from enlarged and deformed bones around his ear, and lead poisoning, which would have contributed symptoms of headaches, fatigue, irritability and depression.

But at the time, his illness was prescribed as being rooted in a poor stomach. One of his letters, dated 29 June 1801, describes his own assessment and understanding of the cause:

"The cause of this must be the condition of my belly which as you know has always been wretched and has been getting worse, since I am always troubled with diarrhoea, which causes extraordinary weakness. Frank wanted to tone up my body by tonic medicines and restore my hearing with almond oil, but prosit, nothing happened, my hearing grew worse and worse, my bowels remained as they had been. This lasted until the autumn of last year and I was often in despair. Then came a medical ass who advised me to take cold baths for my health; A more sensible one advised the usual lukewarm Danube bath. That worked wonders, my belly improved, but my deafness remained and became even worse. This last winter I was really miserable, since I had frightful attacks of colic and again fell back into my previous condition. Thus I remained until about four weeks ago, when I went to Vering, thinking that my condition demanded a surgeon, and besides I had great confidence in him. He succeeded almost wholly in stopping the awful diarrhoea. He prescribed the lukewarm Danube bath, into which each time I had to pour a little bottle of strengthening stuff. He gave me no medicine of any kind until about four days ago when he prescribed pills for my stomach and a kind of herb for my ear. Since then I can say I am feeling stronger and better, except that my ears sing and buzz constantly, day and night". [9]

The evidence for lead poisoning was found as a consequence of searching for indications of Mercury, a treatment applied to congenital syphilis which would have perfectly accounted for all of Beethoven's health troubles. This disease, acquired at birth, may lay dormant for 30 years or more before gradually leading to a total hearing loss. Other symptoms include nausea, stomach pains and diarrhoea. It was expected that analysis would show a strong presence of Mercury in traces of Beethoven's hair but instead it was notable only by its remarkable absence. Either Beethoven didn't have syphilis or, as many have suggested, deliberately avoided Mercury. Some claim that he refused treatment of this and other pain killers so that, despite his pain, his mind was clear for his music.

Beethoven's birth chart opens readily to the prospect that it was used by physicians of his era as a tool to try and link the weakness in his stomach to the afflictions of his hearing. Although Neptune's presence on the 6th house cusp would not have been used to indicate a weak and highly sensitive digestive system, Virgo on the 6th house cusp points to colic, diarrhoea and stomach disorders. Mercury, which rules the 6th, is afflicted by combustion and opposition to Mars. Its conjunction with the Moon in the 8th house again throws the emphasis back to a chronically weak stomach and digestive tract. It seems strange that the total lack of Mercury found in the analysis of Beethoven's hair relates to the combust status of Mercury in the chart, but would a physician with knowledge of this chart have prescribed any medication with a mercurial focus, (having identified that planet and its associated qualities as a primary source of affliction)?

Regardless of whether it contributed to his hearing problems or not, abdominal problems and severe intestinal inflammation were a constant source of pain and concern. Beethoven endured four agonizing operations in an attempt to reduce the swelling and excess fluid in his stomach; the last was on 27 February 1827. Shortly afterwards, in March, he caught a cold whilst travelling, compromising his recovery and resulting in his death, at 5:45 pm, Vienna, 26th March 1827. A small circle of his closest friends surrounded him on his death bed. One of the attendants later described the dramatic scene.

A storm raged, snow lay outside, there was a lightning flash and Beethoven's room was filled with light and shaken with thunder. His eyes opened and he lifted his right fist for several seconds, a serious, threatening expression on his face. When he fell back, he half closed his eyes ... Not another word, not another heartbeat. [10]

Saturn culminated on the midheaven as Beethoven passed away. It squared the Sun which was united with Pluto on the descendant. Mars, ruler of the 8th, was located therein, contacting Beethoven's natal ascendant. The death scene has been described by some as Beethoven 'shaking his fist at the heavens' in one final act of defiance before oblivion. Others tell it as the dying man suddenly raising his head and stretching out his right arm "majestically, like a general giving orders to an army".[11]

I like to think that as the lightning crashed, Uranus stood on Beethoven's Venus, driving its power down into a musical legacy that took the world by storm. He raised his arm in one final salute to his orchestra. His work complete, his soul was free.

Notes & References:

  1 ] Most notably, the opposition between Uranus and the malefics in the discovery chart lies across the powerful Sun-Moon-Mars opposition in Beethovens' chart. Uranus in Beethoven's chart opposes the ascendant and Moon in the discovery chart. This article uses the data established by Kraum in AA, 12/1970, as "the true time given in Mensch Im Alle, 3/1935". For detaiils of conflicting birth times see Astro databank.

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  2 ] The Heiligenstadt Testament. See
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  3 ] The 'Immortal Beloved', letter 1.
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  4 ] Beethoven's letters reveal that buzzing noises and other sounds started around 1796. Deafness began to set in around 1798 and Beethoven had lost 60% of his hearing by 1801. In 1816 he was completely deaf.
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  5 ] Letter to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, July 1801.
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  6 ] Letter to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, December 1801.
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  7 ] The Heiligenstadt Testament. See link in reference 2. This document, along with the 'Immortal Beloved' letters, was found in Beethoven's desk after his death.Back to text

  8 ] Uranus transited Beethoven's natal Venus at his death. The subsequent discovery of the mysterious love letters in his desk was to draw ongoing, world-wide attention to his deep and passionate secret love affair. The letters were written 15 years earlier, though this was only discovered after painstaking investigations into his whereabouts and movements, and by piecing together evidence relating to when the letters were written. It is now agreed that they could only have been written in July 1812. Beethoven had travelled to Teplitz, Austria and mentions arriving there at 4:00 am on 5th July, following a difficult journey. One letter was written in the morning of July 6th, another in the evening, and a third in the morning of the 7th.

Although debate remains over the identity of the recipient, a good case has been made that the Immortal Beloved was Antonie Brentano, born in Vienna on 28, May 1870. There are strong contacts between the two charts showing attraction but indicating an irreconcilable affair; among them Antonie has a Uranus-Mars conjunction at 22 Gemini, the same Degree as Beethoven's Mars, and her Venus, at 22 Cancer, is opposed to his. This was captured by the conjunction of transiting Mars as the letters were written, whilst transiting Venus conjoined Beethoven's Saturn. The letters are profound because they speak of the painful emotion of love unfulfilled. The Moon in Gemini was passing over the dual placement of Mars at 22 Gemini as the letters were written. For Beethoven, it also opposed his full Moon bringing his powerful emotions to the surface.

It is not clear why the letters remained in Beethoven's possession. Historical evidence reveals that Beethoven spent a few months after the date of the letters in the company of Antonie and her husband, but they went their seperate ways at the end of the year and never saw each other again.

For further details and narratives of the letters see:
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  9 ] Letter from Beethoven to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, June 1801.
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  10 ] From the report by Huttenbrenner who was in the room at the time of death.
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  11 ] A. W. Thayer, Life of Beethoven, 1866
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© Deborah Houlding, November 2003

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