Johann von Goethe (1749-1832) and Beethoven: meeting of minds

Beethoven greatly admired German Johann von Goethe's works and set some of the great writer's works to music, including his tragedy, Count Egmont.

Johann von Goethe

Beethoven greatly admired Johann von Goethe's writing. He set several of his poems to music, and wrote incidental music for Goethe's tragedy, Count Egmont - the story of the Flemish nobleman who gave his life in his country's fight for independence from the Spanish occupiers.

Beethoven and Goethe met in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz in 1812.

They did not get on. Goethe wrote to his wife that Beethoven had "an absolutely uncontrolled personality"; Beethoven wrote to his publisher that Goethe delighted far too much in the court atmosphere.

On one occasion the two men were walking in the park immediately behind the castle in the centre of Teplitz. Goethe suddenly noticed that the Empress was walking with her retinue on the other side of the park. He hurried over, insisting Beethoven come with him.

Goethe positioned himself in front of the Empress and as she passed executed a deep bow. Beethoven pushed his top hat firmly on the back of his head, crossed his arms and strode past the Empress, intentionally snubbing her. Goethe was appalled, and their friendship was irretrievably damaged.

A famous picture of the time commemorates what is known as 'The Incident in Teplitz'.

Later in his life Beethoven wrote to Goethe, hoping to rekindle their relationship. Goethe did not reply. The two men did not meet again.