Beethoven noted at the brink of the turning point of op. 135 — that turning point which leads to the summary wisdom of not just op. 135 but indirectly of op. 131, and more indirectly of all the five late quartets — “Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß”: “The resolution that is difficult to undertake,” or just “The difficult resolution.”
“What the resolution is” is an idle question. If one listens to the music, the musical answer is obvious, and if one looks for verbal meaning, one is lost — because the music has taken, or should have taken, the listener beyond the question.
The pertinent question here is: Why this statement in the last of the last quartets, the last of the last compositions, the last of the music? Why the statement at the close of the music, as it were? Why at the close of that human lifetime? Why not, say, in the 9th symphony, or in one of the earlier quartets? In fact, why not in the 5th symphony?
The idea-form is certainly one of an ending containing within it the resolve for rebirth. What it was for Beethoven Himself we can never say. For the awestruck listener, that statement — of death and continuity beyond — extends from op. 135 up until wherever he will take it. Perhaps one can take it from there up until one apprehended Beethoven in the first place, thus completing the circle.
The business of life becomes almost unendurably difficult after Beethoven. Someone said very well, “If man’s fate is to suffer in an unfriendly universe, Beethoven’s music motivates the spirit to endure, and even exult in the endurance.” But beyond that “life” which Beethoven grants us the power to endure with impunity is Beethoven Himself: We must endure Him, for Ever.
With this music — Mankind’s highest outward reach into the Beyond — the problems and pitfalls of what we call Life become mere irritants, but along with that, our lofty ideals become simple wishes; our sadnesses are drained of the drama we infuse them with, and become mere memories that will die their natural course; we cannot help comparing our hopes and ambitions with those that the likes of op. 59 and the 9th symphony describe, and they then seem as paltry as the astronomers would have us believe the Earth itself appears when viewed from the expanses of outer space.
In Beethoven our innocence ends. In negative instances, we are shown that we already have all that is needed to stand on our feet. But similarly, in things we call “our own,” we are shown that achievement is a simple matter of work, and no matter of grandeur: How the Hammerklavier moves from desolation to self-sufficiency with no songs sung about the self! How the Appassionata moves from despair to all-destroying victory with nothing to rely on but itself!
There, the casual listener might ask: Is this a self that knows nothing but itself? Does it not acknowledge a higher presence? If it does not, it shall fall some time or the other.
The answer proclaims yet again the ineffability of that universe-in-itself, the meta-phenomenon called Ludwig van Beethoven: The Master does indeed (in the late quartets) see his own limitations. He rises not only above them, He rises not only above the causes of those limitations, He rises not only up until the salvation from those limitations: He rises above the salvation itself. And if more were demanded of a living entity, He demonstrates that there is indeed a Life beyond the salvation — the life that we typically call “everyday life,” and that that life is precious.
Life is worth living despite himself, Beethoven seems to say to himself: To us, we hear in op. 135 that that life is worth living despite Beethoven. The only way to go beyond Beethoven — to survive despite the burden of his legacy — is through Beethoven Himself. The last few messages in opp. 131 and 135 seem to say, “Despite all you have heard, despite all the universes there are to be effortlessly had, despite Me Myself, you must live as though I had never told you anything.” And that we must in any case.