Off the Pulpit


By 1815 Beethoven had avoided society for many months, yet he agreed to play his 27th sonata at the behest of Antoine and Therese Apponyi. The orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall records the scene in his memoirs. The Embassy was filled with eminences of the day: Goethe, Schubert, Mendelssohn and others.

Beethoven was almost completely deaf. Despite an enormous ear trumpet he could not hear the sounds of his own notes but heard them in his head and so began the sonata, composed a few months earlier, with deep feeling and expression. But the heating had thrown the sound of the piano off key and the great composer cannot hear the distortions. Unease spreads throughout the room at the cacophony and although there is some applause, Beethoven will never play in public again.

Each of us brings our internal music to the world. At times we discover sadly, that to others it is unwelcome, even dissonant. Life nonetheless demands that we continue to play and refine our harmonies. Beethoven no longer performed but did not stop composing. There is a palace, the Zohar teaches, that opens only to song. Perhaps in time, like the 27th sonata, our melodies will be heard, they will unlock gates and they will endure.