Composer of the Month
Date of birth: December 1770, near 17th December.
Place of birth: Bonn, Germany.
Parents names: Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena.
Siblings: Kasper Anton Karl, Nikolaus Johann, Ludwig Maria, Maria Margarita, Anna Maria Francisca, Franz Georg van Beethoven and Johann Peter Anton Leym.
Age started playing a musical instrument: Beethoven started playing the piano at age 5.
Age started composing: Probably around the age of 12.
Height: No one really knows how tall Beethoven was. I have seen suggestions ranging from 5 feet 2 inches, to 5 feet 6 inches.
Married: Never married. His love life was the subject of much speculation.
Children: Beethoven did not have children himself. He did, at one point, obtain legal guardianship of his nephew Karl, though this was not exactly a happy time for Karl.
Date of death: 26 March 1827.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December 1770. It is not known exactly what date he was born, but his birth was registered on 17 December 1770 and so he would have been born around that date, probably in the day or 2 before. He had seven siblings, but, as was very common in those days, many of them died at a very young age. Only Beethoven and two of his siblings survived into adulthood.
His father, a Court musician, wanted his son Ludwig to be as famous a child musician as Mozart had been. He was harsh with Beethoven, pushing and pushing him to become this child prodigy he wanted Beethoven to be, and irritated with him that he was not as good, or celebrated, as Mozart. Beethoven was a very talented musician, and his talent was obvious from a very young age, but not good enough for his father. His father had a violent temper, which he often took out on his son, and in later life was an alcoholic.
His relationship with his mother was much better, but sadly she died in 1786 when Beethoven was just 18 years old, and at this point Beethoven had to take on responsibility for the care of his younger brothers as his father was increasingly unable to care for them. There is little doubt that Beethoven had a very hard start in his life.
At the time his mother died, Beethoven’s main job was playing viola in the court orchestra. He had been composing from around the age of 12, and his music eventually came to the attention of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who had been impressed with Beethoven’s ability to improvise on the keyboard. Another famous composer of time, Joseph Haydn (who I will do a feature on at some point in the future) was similarly impressed with his composition and agreed to be his teacher. The relationship between these two great composers could sometimes be rather strained – Beethoven feeling that he didn’t get as much attention from Haydn as he would have liked given Haydn’s busy performing schedule, and while Haydn never said anything bad about Beethoven in public, Haydn must have been frustrated by his young, very fiery protégée.
Beethoven was a very successful musician and composer, and he was a famous man who was well paid, particularly for his performances. But just like Mozart, Beethoven’s financial situation was precarious, though for different reasons. Where Mozart very much enjoyed entertaining and living the good life, Beethoven’s financial position was made difficult by the economic situation in Austria. Beethoven spent the majority of his adult, professional life in Vienna, Austria, a country that was affected by the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15). At the time there were a number of different types of currency used in Vienna, which made managing money incredibly complicated. The Austrian government printed more and more money during the Napoleonic Wars to fund the war effort, and the end effect was to cause hyperinflation and a huge devaluation of Austrian currency. So while Beethoven may have been paid well for his performances and his compositions, the money he earned from them would have been quickly devalued because of the economic situation in Vienna.
Beethoven and Family:
As I have discussed above, Mozart did not have the easiest start in life.
The difficulties he experienced with family continued throughout his life. One of Mozart’s 2 surviving brothers, Casper Carl, died in 1815 leaving his wife, Johanna, and son, Karl, behind. Karl was just 9 at the time. Casper Carl had asked Beethoven to be his son’s guardian and to share responsibility for Karl’s upbringing with his wife. Unfortunately, Johanna and Beethoven did not get on well at all. And Beethoven was involved in a 5 year long legal battle with Johanna to obtain custody of Karl. Beethoven won and Karl had to move to live with his uncle, but this was not at all a happy experience for Karl. He ran away a number of times to be with his mother, and was brought back to Beethoven. Karl eventually escaped Beethoven, and this remained a source of unhappiness for Beethoven, who left his entire estate to Karl on his death.
Beethoven never married, and his love life has been a source of speculation for many years. I won’t write anything about it here, as you can find plenty of information and theories about it on the internet and in many books. In fact, there is a film dedicated to exploring the mysteries of Beethoven’s romantic life – although as it starts from the premise that after his death Beethoven left his estate to his Immortal Beloved, who the characters then spend the film looking for, you can see that it is entirely a work of fiction – his estate was, as said in the previous paragraph, left to his nephew Karl.
You may well have heard before reading this blog that Beethoven became deaf in his later years. In fact he first started experiencing problems with his hearing in his 20s, but at the time it was every now and then, and was not overly concerning for him. His problems with his hearing continued and worsened over the years. He complained about his ears buzzing and humming, suggesting he was suffering from tinnitus. Over his lifetime Beethoven consulted with a number of doctors hoping to find a cure for his hearing problems, and he tried to keep his condition hidden so it did not affect his career. None of the doctors’ treatments did cure or even improve Beethoven’s hearing difficulties and he finally had to accept that his condition would probably continue to worsen as he got older. While he was initially able to hide his deafness from his audiences, he eventually had to give up performing, something that had always provided him with a good source of income. Beethoven was still able to compose, though. And he continued to write some of the world’s most beautiful music. He could hear what the piece would sound like in his head even if he could hardly hear what it sounded like when performed by other musicians.
Beethoven suffered from several bouts of ill health in his later years. In the spring of 1827, he became very unwell again. His doctors performed four operations on him to relieve abdominal swelling, but he did not fully recover. He fell unconscious on 26 March 1827, and died later that same day.
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