These pages of notes in Beethoven’s hand includes excerpts from poetry and some personal observations about the natural world. The pages were folded twice, to create four areas on which Beethoven jotted down his notes. The handwriting is particularly untidy and spontaneous in appearance, reflecting the private nature of the notes, similar to personal diary entries.
The notes include quotations from poems by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), drawn from the poetry collection published as Blumenlese aus morgenländischen Dichtern in 1807. In the first image shown here, in the second paragraph, Beethoven copied the poem ‘Morgengesang der Nachtigall’ (‘Morning song of the nightingale’), also marking indications of meter above the text in pencil. The poem reads:
Weißt du, was die Nachtigall singt? An jeglichem Morgen
singt sie: „wer bist du, Mensch, daß dich die Liebe nicht weckt?
Siehe, das Lüftchen weht, es säuseln die Blätter der Bäume;
Jegliche Blume fühlt neu sich gestärket und jung.
Jegliches Blatt der Rose wird Zunge, den Schöpfer zu preisen,
Zunge wird jegliches Laub; und du verstummest, o Mensch?
Do you know what the nightingale sings? Every morning
she sings: “Who are you, mankind, that love does not awaken?
Behold, the breeze blows, the leaves of the trees rustle;
Every flower feels new, invigorated and young.
Every leaf of the rose becomes a mouthpiece to praise the Creator,
All foliage becomes a mouthpiece; and you fall silent, oh mankind?
It is worth noting that Beethoven set to music another Herder poem about the song of the nightingale, Der Gesang der Nachtigall (WoO 141), in 1813.
Beethoven also made notes in these pages about his loss of hearing. He writes that ‘Mein unglückliches Gehör plagt mich hier nicht’ (‘My bad hearing does not trouble me here’) and ‘Ist es doch, als ob jeder Baum zu mir spräche auf dein Lande heilig! heilig!’ (‘In the country every tree seems to speak to me, saying ‘Holy! Holy!’)
Beethoven’s debilitating loss of hearing – caused by the degeneration of the auditory nerve – was quite advanced by 1815. These notes reflect the comfort that he found in nature from his mental as well as physical ailments.