[Ads-l] Beethoven "Last Words"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 19 21:54:24 EST 2017

Below is a deathbed saying in Latin ascribed to Beethoven in 1840. He
died in 1827. This Latin statement seems to be truncated. A longer
version was published a little later.

Date: January 11, 1840
Periodical: The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of
Useful Knowledge
Article: Beethoven
Start Page 14, Quote Page 15, Column 1
Publisher: Charles Knight, London


[Begin excerpt – please double-check]
A singular anecdote is told of his death-bed. On his medical
attendants informing him of his approaching end, he immediately cried
out to those around him, "Plaudite, amici! comedia finita è" (clap
your hands, my friends! the play is over).
[End excerpt]

The 1842 review below is provides a good lead because it points to a
book containing a pertinent letter.

Year: 1842
Periodical: The Christian Remembrancer: Monthly Magazine and Review
Article: Book Review of: "The Life of Beethoven, including his
Correspondence with his Friends, and numerous characteristic Traits
and Remarks on his Musical Works" Edited by Ignace Moscheles, Esq.
Pianist 'to H.R.H. Prince Albert. In two vols, 8vo Pp. 674. London:
Colburn. 1841.
Start Page 128, Quote Page 130
Publisher: James Burns, London

[Begin footnote]
It will appear surprising, to those who have heard the sacred
compositions of Beethoven, that he should have been an unbeliever. "If
my observation," says M. Schindler, "entitles me to form an opinion on
the subject, I should say he inclined to Deism; in so far as that term
may be understood to imply natural religion." (Vol. ii p. 163.) And in
another passage, (vol. ii. p. 72,) M. Schindler, in a letter written
to Moscheles, while Beethoven was dying, says, "He is conscious of his
approaching end for yesterday he said to me and Brewning, 'Plaudite
amici, comoedia finita est.' He sees the approach of death with the
most perfect tranquility of soul, and real Socratic wisdom."
[End footnote]

There is also a match in "Revue Britannique", a non-English periodical.

Nigel Rees covered the topic of Beethoven's deathbed remark in
"Brewer's Famous Quotations" (2006). He gave two versions with
citations in 1930 and 1961. He also mentioned a connection to the
supposed dying words of Rabelais.

[Begin excerpt – please double-check]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN German composer (1770-1827)

Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est [Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over].

Words on his deathbed, quoted in 'Bega', Last Words of Famous Men
(1930). Compare RABELAIS 375:4. However, 'I shall hear in heaven' are
the last words as attributed in Barnaby Conrad, Famous Last Words
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt – please double-check raw OCR]
Francois RABELAIS French writer (1494—?1553)

The comedy is ended.

The dying words of Rabelais are supposed to have been: 'Je m'en vais
chercher un grand peut-etre; tirez le rideau, la farce est jouee [I am
going to seek a grand perhaps; bring down the curtain, the farce is
played out]: The attribution is made, hedged about with disclaimers,
in Jean Fleury's Rabelais et ses oeuvres (1877) . . .
[End excerpt]


On Sun, Feb 19, 2017 at 8:46 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
> Beethoven's "last words" are often said to be "I shall hear" or "I shall hear in heaven" (in German, of course).  I realize that most "last words" are apocryphal and this one is undoubtedly apocryphal, but I would welcome any information helping me to determine what is the earliest occurrence in print of this attributed quotation.
> Fred Shapiro
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list