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Beethoven Piano Sonata Op.31 No.3: Beethoven's Temper

By Sean Burnham

Beethoven in 1803

 Beethoven in 1803 as painted by Christian Horneman

Christian Horneman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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It is well known that Ludwig van Beethoven had a bit of a temper in regard to both his colleagues and his own reviews. Beethoven changed dedications, cut ties with contributors, and even retracted his feelings about a love interest after learning of their marriage to another. Confidence in his own worth inflated Beethoven's self-image, only furthering his temper when events seemed to contradict his world view. In the late spring of 1804, Beethoven took up correspondence with another publisher, Nikolaus Simrock of Bonn. Beethoven had seen Nägeli's meticulous engraving of his sonata in the series Répertoire des Clavecinistes and was dissatisfied with Nägeli. Over the course of three letters, Beethoven expressed the severity of the matter of corrections for the sonata to his secretary, Ferdinand Ries. "I must again ask you to undertake the disagreeable task of making a fair copy of the errors in the Zurich Sonata" Beethoven wrote to Ries, asking to send corrections back to Bonn for Simrock. "The signs are wrongly marked, and many of the notes misplaced; so be careful!"

Much of Beethoven's anger may be attributed to his internal struggle with the progressive loss of his hearing. In his Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802 (the same year he wrote this sonata), Beethoven expressed the wrongdoings of those who had called him stubborn, malevolent, or misanthropic. Critics could not have known the cause of his seeming so conceited, or so Beethoven thought. Up until then, Beethoven's image was mostly as a virtuoso first and a composer second. With the increasing awareness of his own deafness, the vision of being a world renowned performer slowly slipped out of reality for Beethoven. After the realization of this crisis, Beethoven turned his attention toward his compositional output. Determined to compose works of unprecedented scope and depth, Beethoven's resolve drove him to write works that would credit him as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed composers alive.