1. Was Beethoven born on December 16, 1770?

Most probably. The date of his baptismal certificate is December 17 and in his days roman catholic babies mostly were baptized within 24 hours after their birth. Another proof is an unfortunately now lost letter by Albrechtsberger, one of Beethoven’s Viennese teachers, who wrote this letter to his pupil on December 15 and sent him his congratulations for the next day.

For more information
Albrecht, Theodore and E. Schwensen. More than just Peanuts: Evidence for December 16 as Beethoven’s Birthday. In: The Beethoven Journal (San José, 1988).

2. Was Beethoven black?

To European standards he was not, but to American standards maybe. One thing is for sure: though Beethoven surely had a dark complexion, he didn’t have a black or brown skin, nor negroid features. On the contrary. His portraits show a typical European face and so does a portrait of one his brothers and two portraits of his nephew Karl. His ancestors were partly Flemish (the Beethovens), partly German (the Keverichs). At first sight there’s not the slightest trace of a proof for his “blackness”. Yet we cannot exclude beyond any doubt that he had some drops “black” blood in his veins. During the so-called 80-year-war (1568-1648) Flanders and the southern part of the Netherlands were occupied by the Spanish and a part of the Spanish army was “Moorish”, as they called it in those days, which means from Northern Africa. So it’s not completely impossible that one of those soldiers had been the cause of some African genes in the Beethoven family.

For more information
Schmidt-Görg, Joseph. Beethoven. Die Geschichte seiner Familie. (Bonn, 1964).
Weffer, Herbert. Nochmals Beethoven-Verwandtschaft. In: Die Laterne. Mitteilungsblatt der Westdeutschen Gesellschaft für Familienkunde. (1969).
Schmidt-Görg, Joseph. Des Bäckermeister Gottfried Fischer Aufzeichnungen über Beethovens Jugend(Bonn, 1971).
Mann, Werner. Beethoven in Bonn. Seine Familie, seine Lehrer und Freunde. (Bonn, omstreeks 1982).
Raab, Armin. Beethovens Mutter – Legenden und Tatsachen. In: Bonner Beethoven-Studien. (Bonn, 1999).
Wetzstein, Margot. Familie Beethoven in Kurfürstlichen Bonn. Neuauflage nach den Aufzeichnungen des Bonner Bäckermeisters Fischer. (Bonn, 2006).

3. What does the name Beethoven mean?

Most experts think that it has to do with the fact that in the seventeenth century the Beethoven family was a family of Catholic farmers, living in Flanders. The word “beet” (these days spelled “biet”) means, not surprisingly, “beet”. The word “hof” (plural “hoven”) means “garden”, not only the grounds, but also the buildings. Some researchers point to a part of the Netherlands, called the “Betuwe”, where a long time ago a (German?) family had found “better meadows” (the prefix “bet” meaning “better”) and later on travelled southwards to Flanders where they settled down. In Flanders there was a locality called Betouwe and in the sixteenth century it’s mentioned in the archives as Bethove or Bethoven. Anyway, the use of “van” (“from”) does suggests that the name points to a particular place, be it the original “better meadow” or the later one developed “beetgarden”. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century the name was also spelled as “Piethoff(en),” “Betthoff(en),” and “Biethof(en).” A third group of experts points to the noble family de Bethues, living in Limburg, the most southern part of the Netherlands. But the most amazing digression is one by a French researcher who saw a connection to the Portugese noble family de Bethos. This family was a family of slave-traders who found their slaves in, of course, Africa. And then the story of Beethoven’s black blood comes to mind again. But these days most researchers believe in the not-noble connection to the Catholic farmers and most probably they are right.

For more information
Schmidt-Görg, Joseph. 
Beethoven. Die Geschichte seiner Familie. (Bonn, 1964).
Schmidt-Görg, Joseph. Des Bäckermeister Gottfried Fischer Aufzeichnungen über Beethovens Jugend(Bonn, 1971).
Mann, Werner. Beethoven in Bonn. Seine Familie, seine Lehrer und Freunde. (Bonn, omstreeks 1982).
Wetzstein, Margot. Familie Beethoven in Kurfürstlichen Bonn. Neuauflage nach den Aufzeichnungen des Bonner Bäckermeisters Fischer. (Bonn, 2006).

4. Was Beethoven of noble birth?

No, he was not, unless those above-mentioned dissident researchers are right. But this is not very likely. In principle the prefix “van” in Dutch and Flemish only points to a particular place, not to noble birth, in contrast to the German “von”. Seen from a Dutch point of view the composer’s name was not just “Beethoven”, but “Van Beethoven”, the word “van” being a part of the name itself, not pointing to a particular descent. There is a slight difference between the Dutch and Flemish way to write down Beethoven’s name. The Dutch way: Ludwig van Beethoven or Van Beethoven. The Flemish way: Ludwig Van Beethoven or Van Beethoven. Beethoven without ”van” is German.

5. Was Beethoven’s sister-in-law Johanna his famous Immortal Beloved?

No. A cunning American moviemaker, Bernard Rose, was the one who “invented” this hypothesis in 1995 and there’s no reason to take him seriously. There’s not the slightest trace of a proof that Beethoven and his sister-in-law were interested in each other. On the contrary. From the moment they met their relationship was a hostile one and later on the two began to hate each other. Serious biographers shrug their shoulders about Rose’s hypothesis. Yet he was not the first who frankly showed this dissident opinion. As far as I know a Dutchman, one Harke de Roos, was the first who postulated a hypothesis about a love affair between Beethoven and Johanna, though not with Johanna in the role of Immortal Beloved. If we may believe De Roos Johanna and Beethoven had a short affair in winter 1805/6. The result: Karl, who was born in September 1806. This hypothesis is not completely impossible, though also not very likely, to say the least. On the contrary.

For more information
Rose, Bernard and J. Ellison. 
Immortal Beloved. (London, 1995).
De Roos, Harke. 
Beetgenomen door Beethoven. (Katwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, 1987).

6. When and where did Beethoven write his letter to the Immortal Beloved?

In Teplitz (Bohemia) in 1812, though this has not yet been proven beyond any doubt. But the chance for another date and place is very, very, very little indeed. The most important research on this problem has been done by Unger, who published his discoveries in 1909 and 1911, later on confirmed by Sonneck. More and more evidence was found, the newest, as far as I know, in the sixties and the seventies, thanks to the investigations by Plevka and Racek, thoroughly discussed by Goldschmidt in 1977, whose book on the identity of the Immortal Beloved is still a must for every researcher.

For more information
Sonneck, O.G. The riddle of the Immortal Beloved. (New York, 1927).
Goldschmidt, Harry. 
Um die Unsterbliche Geliebte. (Leipzig, 1977).

7. To whom did Beethoven write the famous loveletter?

We don’t know, at least not (yet) for sure. Biographer Schindler was the first who tried to identify the mysterious lady. His choice was Giulietta Guicciardi, the girl to whom Beethoven had dedicated the Moonlight sonata. Later on biographer Thayer’s choice was Therese Brunswick, Giulietta’s cousin. Biographer Frimmel’s choice was Magdalene Willmann, Unger’s choice Bettina Brentano, Marek’s choice Dorothea Ertmann, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not easy to mention the name of a female friend of Beethoven’s who has NOT been put on the list of candidates! These days Solomon is by far the most fashionable Beethoven biographer in the UK and the USA and his choice is Antonie Brentano, Bettina’s sister-in-law. However, in Europe most biographers prefer Josephine Brunswick, Therese’s sister, put forward by La Mara in the twenties, again in the fifties by Kaznelson and finally in the seventies and eighties by Goldschmidt and Tellenbach, lately also by Steblin, whose research threw very exciting new light on the riddle. Another, highly unlikely candidate is Marie Erdödy, suggested by Steichen in the fifties and by Altman in 1996. Lately three new candidates were added to the list: Almerie Esterházy, put forward in October 2000, Barbara von Tschoffen, put forward in June 2002, and Maria Anna von Liechtenstein, put forward in late 2002. I give them little chance. Surprisingly in 2002 Walden did an heroic attempt to defend the candidacy of Bettina Brentano, already decades ago correctly (in my opinion) put aside. The latest news on the Immortal Beloved is Klapproth’s devoted attempt to convince the world that Josephine was Beethoven’s one and only beIoved. He may be right indeed. Josephine’s chances are by far the best.

For more information
Unger, Max. Auf Spuren von Beethovens “Unsterblicher Geliebten”. (Langensalza, 1911).
La Mara (Marie Lipsius). Beethoven und die Brunsviks. Nach Familienpapieren aus Therese Brunsviks Nachlass. (Leipzig, 1920).
Kaznelson, Sigmund. Beethovens Ferne und Unsterbliche Geliebte. (Zürich, 1954).
Marek, George. 
Beethoven. Biography of a genius. (New York, 1969).
Solomon, Maynard. 
Beethoven. (London/New York, 1977).
Goldschmidt, Harry. 
Um die Unsterbliche Geliebte. (Leipzig, 1977).
Tellenbach, Marie-Elisabeth. 
Beethoven und seine ‘Unsterbliche Geliebte’ Josephine Brunswick. (Zürich, 1983).
Beahrs, Virginia. 
The Immortal Beloved Revisited. In: The Beethoven Journal (San José, 1986).
Brandenburg, Sieghard. 
Beethovens Brief an die Unsterbliche Geliebte. (Bonn, 1986).
Solomon, Maynard. 
Beethoven Essays. (London/New York, 1988).
Lund, Susan. Raptus. A Novel about Beethoven. With Introductory Articles. (Melbourn, U.K., 1995).
Altman, Gail. 
Beethoven. A Man of his Word. (Tallahassee, 1996).
Celeda, Jaroslav and O. Pulkert. 
The Immortal Beloved. In: The Beethoven Journal (San José, 2000).
Pulkert, Oldrich. Almerie Esterházy Revisited. In: The Beethoven Journal (San José, 2002).
Brauneis, Walther. 
“…mache dass ich mit dir leben kann” Neue Hypothesen zur Identität der ‘Unsterblichen Geliebten’. In: Österreichisches Musikzeitschrift(Wien, 2002).
Buschmann, Brigitte. Gibt es neue Erkentnisse zu Goldschmidts Buch ‘Um die Unsterbliche Geliebte’? In: Kunstwerk und Biographie. Gedenkschrift für Harry Goldschmidt (Berlin, 2002).
Steblin, Rita. “Auf diese Art met A geht alles zu Grunde”. A new look at Beethoven’s Diary Entry and the “Immortal Beloved”. In: Bonner Beethoven-Studien.(Bonn, 2007).
Walden, Edward. Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved. Solving the Mystery. (Landham, Maryland, USA, 2011)
Klapproth, John E. Beethoven’s Only Beloved: Josephine! (Charleston, SC, USA, 2011)

8. Was Beethoven a homosexual and is that the reason why the identity of the mysterious lady is still a riddle?

Two things are for sure: the text of the loveletter shows beyond any doubt that he intended to send it to a living woman and the text also shows his ardent passion for this particular woman. These facts don’t fit to a homosexual. Nevertheless the Sterba couple, psychoanalysts who had been pupils of Freud himself, tried to turn Beethoven into a homosexual, though he would have ‘suppressed’ these feelings. Nowhere the Sterbas ‘accuse’ Beethoven of having practized homosexuality. But according to the Sterbas Beethoven’s ‘misogynic’ state of mind was a huge stumbling-block between him and the women. The loveletter, the Sterbas continued, is the result of his conflict between the platonic love for the woman involved and his knowledge about himself that he would never be able to become hers, to be her man in every respect. Later on Solomon and Wolf digressed on possible homosexual ‘inhibitions’ of Beethoven’s personality. I find it not very likely.

For more information
Sterba, Editha and Richard. Beethoven and his nephew. (New York, 1954).
Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. (London/New York, 1977).
Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven Essays. (London/New York, 1988).
Wolf, Stefan. Beethovens Neffenkonflikt(München, 1995).

9. When, how and why did Beethoven go deaf and what was the cause of his death?

The exact date of the onset of the deafness is unknown, but it must have happened in the period 1796/1798. It was a very slow process and not until 1817 Beethoven began to use the so-called Konversationshefte (conversation books), because he couldn’t communicate anymore with his visitors. They had to write down their questions and remarks. However, as late as 1825 he was still able to hear very loud sounds. The first who tried to write a complete anamnesis of all Beethoven’s illnesses, including, of course, his deafness was Schweisheimer and he did so in 1922. He thought that Beethoven’s other chronic illness, his bowel problems, had had the same background, most probably an underlying chronic disease, maybe an infection. To this day there is no consensus about the cause of those problems, nor about the deafness. We only know for sure that from about 1820/1 Beethoven began to suffer from chronic liver problems and that this ended in cirrhosis. Liver failure caused his death. Lead poisoning, due to bad medicines or contamination of food and wine, as the cause of his cirrhosis and/or his deafness is not very likely, though it may have added something. However, it is an uneasy fact that Beethoven drank too much and we can safely assume that this was the most important cause of his lethal liver illness. As for his deafness: otosclerosis is the most likely candidate, but without the lost hearing bones certainty is far away and probably this will never change.

For more information
Schweisheimer, Waldemar. Beethovens Leiden. Ihr Einfluss auf sein Leben und Schaffen. (München, 1922).
Forster, Walther. 
Beethovens Krankheiten und ihre Beurteilung. (Wiesbaden, 1955).
Larkin, Edward. 
Beethovens Medical History. In: M.Cooper. Beethoven. The last decade. (London, 1970).
Franken, Franz. Die Krankheiten grossen Komponisten. (Wilhelmshaven, 1986).
Bankl, Hans und H. Jesserer. 
Die Krankheiten Ludwig van Beethovens. Pathographie seines Lebens und Pathologie seiner Leiden. (Vienna, 1987).
Neumayr, Anton. 
Musik und Medizin. (Vienna, 1987).
O’Shea, John. 
Music and medicine. (London, 1990).
Palferman, Thomas. 
Beethoven’s Medical History: Themes and Variations. In: The Beethoven Journal (San José, 1992).
Scherf, Horst. 
Die Legende vom Trinker Beethoven. (München, 1992).
Kubba, Adam and M. Young. 
Ludwig van Beethoven: A Medical History. In: The Lancet (1996).
Walsh, William J. 
Press release of October 17 of The Health Institute and Pfeiffer Treatment Center on the chemical study of Beethoven’s hair. (Naperville, USA, 2000).
Davies, Peter J. 
Beethoven in person. His Deafness, Illnesses, and Death. (Westport/London, 2001).
Weiss, Rick. Study Concludes Beethoven Died of Lead Poisoning. In: The Washington Post. (December, 6, 2005).
Klinger, Wolfram. Das Rätsel von Beethovens Gehörleiden. In: Bonner Beethoven-Studien. (2006).
Reiter, Christian. Beethovens Todesursachen und seine Locken. In: Mitteilungsblatt der Wiener Beethoven-Gesellschaft. (2007).
Lorenz, Michael. Commentary on Wawruch’s report: Biographies of Andreas Wawruch and Johann Seibert, Schindler’s Responses to Wawruch’s Report and Beethoven’s Medical Condition and Alcohol Consumption. In: The Beethoven Journal. (San José, 2007).
Neumayr, Anton. Berühmte Komponisten im Spiegel der Medizin. (Wien, 2007)
Mai, François Martin. Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven. (Montreal, 2007)
Eisinger, Joseph. Was Beethoven Lead-Poisoned? In: The Beethoven Journal. (San José, 2008).

10. Did Beethoven and Mozart meet and if so, when and how?

Maybe. In January 1787 young Beethoven travelled to Vienna and we can safely assume that he wanted to become Mozart’s pupil. He stayed there until the end of March. Then he travelled to Munich, visited Regensburg and Augsburg and by the end of April he quickly returned to Bonn, most probably due to a letter of his father about the very bad health of his mother (she died in July 1787). Beethoven himself never said a word about a meeting with Mozart, nor did Mozart, nor one of those who may have been present. According to Czerny Beethoven had told him that he had heard Mozart playing the piano (and he didn’t like it, too “staccato” and “old-fashioned”). However, according to another testimony Beethoven had met Mozart, but never heard him play. Yet we all know that famous story about Mozart praising young Beethoven loudly. Beethoven’s friend Holz, who met him for the first time in 1825, was the one who threw the story into the world after Beethoven’s death and we don’t have any knowledge about the source.

For more information
Raab, Armin. Beethovens Mutter – Legenden und Tatsachen. In: Bonner Beethoven-Studien. (Bonn, 1999).
Habler, Dieter. Beethovens erste Reise nach Wien. Die Datierung seiner Schülerreise zu W.A.Mozart. In: Neues Musikwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch (2006).

11. Is it true that Beethoven, who moved to Vienna in November 1792 and died in March 1827, lived in more than 70 appartments over the years?

Yes and no. It’s a fact that Beethoven, always discontent and restless, very often moved, sometimes within a few weeks or months. But without more information one should get the wrong impression. In his days most well-to-doViennese used to leave the dirty, stinking city during the warm summer months and moved to a pleasant residence abroad, mostly somewhere in the beautiful Wienerwald. They often left in April or May and returned by the end of October. Sometimes they hired a new appartment on returning to the city, sometimes they returned to their old winter residences. Beethoven followed their tracks in this respect. Being so restless he mostly moved into a new appartment in October and more than once he was not satisfied with the summer appartment(s) he had chosen and then decided to move from one residence to another.

For more information
Klein, Rudolf. 
Beethoven Stätten in Österreich. (Vienna, 1970).
Smolle, Kurt. 
Wohnstätten Ludwig van Beethovens von 1792 bis zu seinem Tod. (Bonn, 1970).
Cooper, Barry. 
The Beethoven Compendium. (London, 1991).
Kretschmer, Helmut. Beethovens Spuren in Wien. (Wien, 1998).
Brauneis, Walther. 
Beethoven-Häuser. (Bonn, 2001).

12. Was Beethoven left-handed?

No, most probably he was not. However, on the web one can find more than one site, mostly devoted to “handicapped” people who nevertheless have become famous due to their impressive achievements, on which Beethoven is given as one of the most striking examples. Most probably the myth about Beethoven being a leftie is the result of the mirrored and often republished print of the Stieler portrait, where the composer has the score of the Missa Solemnis in his left hand and a pencil in the right one. But there’s not the slightest trace of a proof that he was left-handed. On the contrary. The only data we have seem to prove that he was right-handed. His handwriting is undoubtedly the handwriting of a right-handed person. Also instructive is the drawing by Klosson. Beethoven is sitting at a table in a public house, holding a newspaper in his left hand and a pipe in his right hand, like all right-handed people. Another proof is a drawing, made in the 1820s, on which we see Beethoven walking, holding a walking-stick in his right hand.

13. To whom did Beethoven dedicate his third symphony, the so-called Eroica?

To an unknown hero whose memory we are supposed to celebrate (according to the subtitle). However, there’s quite a lot of evidence in favor of Napoleon Bonaparte as the not-mentioned hero. It’s almost sure that Beethoven had the French consul in mind when he wrote the symphony (1802/3). At the time he considered a trip to Paris and even pondered about moving to France forever. But then the picture changed. We all know the famous testimony of his friend and pupil Ries who brought him the news (spring 1804) that Bonaparte had declared himself an emperor, expecting that the Pope would be willing to crown him, which indeed happened. According to Ries Beethoven got very angry, went to his desk, gripped the score of the just finished symphony and tore the first page (on which he had written down the dedication) to pieces. Then he shouted that “now” Bonaparte would become a dictator and that he would trample down human rights. He surely was right… He renamed the symphony into “Eroica”, but later on in a letter to the publisher he frankly admitted that the “true” name of the symphony was “Bonaparte.” It’s striking that he did not mention the name of the emperor-to-be (Napoleon), but Bonaparte, the name of the uncrowned consul. In 2007 Steblin offered a surprising view on the funeral march of the symphony: the mysterious dead person is… the Elector, Beethoven’s mecenas of his youth.

For more information
Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. (London/New York, 1977).
Geck, Martin und P.Schleuning. ‘Geschrieben auf Bonaparte’. (Hamburg, 1989).
Schleuning, Peter. Die Uraufführungsdatum von Beethovens ‘Sinfonia Eroica’. In: Die Musikforschung (1991).
Brauneis, Walther. 
‘…composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo’. Beethovens ‘Eroica’ als Hommage des Fürsten Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz für Prinz Louis Ferdinand von Preussen In: Jahrbuch des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Wien. (Wien, 1997).
Sipe, Thomas. 
Beethoven: Eroica Symphony. (Cambridge/New York/Melbourne, 1998).
Steblin, Rita. Who died? The funeral march in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. In: The Musical Quarterly (2007).

14. Are Beethoven’s famous metronome markings reliable or not?

Yes. Notwithstanding all the noise about them over the years there’s actually not the slightest trace of a proof that Beethoven had misread his metronome or had entered the manic mode of the manic-depressive disorder or had been too deaf (the markings date from 1817 and later) or had used a disabled metronome or had erred in whatever what other way. It’s not difficult to devote many a book to all the attempts to “explain” his “unplayable” markings. In the seventies of the 20th century it finally turned out that Schindler, his first (and very unreliable) biographer, is the source of all the confusion. Schindler disliked Beethoven’s metronome markings. He considered them far too fast. After Beethoven’s death he embarked on a enterprise that was to become -maybe- the main goal of his life: the “correction” of those markings into a much slower direction. With this goal in mind he “rewrote” parts of the conversation books and even produced a fake score: WoO.162. For many a decade performers took Schindler seriously and overlooked his many forgeries (not only on the metronome markings, but also connected to various important biographical problems, alas). Thanks to the research of the German researchers Beck and Herre and the American researcher Howell we now know that it’s high time to throw all the speculations about Beethoven’s so-called unplayable metronome markings into the dustbin. They are playable indeed. However, it needs a small, but first-class orchestra, a first-class conductor and first-class soloist(s). There is only one exception and unfortunately this is Beethoven’s most famous composition: his last symphony. When he wrote down the metronome markings for this music his personal circumstances were difficult and careful research has shown that he obviously made a few errors. The discussion on this complex problem is still going on.

For more information
Stadlen, Peter. Beethoven and the metronome. In: Music and Letters (1967).
Döhl, Friedhelm. Beethoven ’77. (Zürich, 1979).
Beck, Dagmar und G.Herre. 
Einige Zweifel an der Überlieferung der Konversationshefte. In: Bericht über den Internationalen Beethoven-Kongress Berlin 1977 (Leipzig, 1978).
Seifert, Herbert. Beethovens Metronomiserungen und der Praxis. In: Beethoven-Kolloquium 1977 (Kassel, 1978).
Metzger, Heinz-Klaus und R.Riehn. 
Beethoven/Das Problem der Interpretation. In: Musik-Konzepte 8 (München, 1979).
Beck, Dagmar und G.Herre.
 Anton Schindlers fingierte Eintragungen in den Konversationsheften. In: Zu Beethoven. Aufsätze und Dokumente (Berlin, 1980).
John, Kathryn. Das Allegretto-Thema in op.93, auf seine Skizzen befragt. In: Zu Beethoven. Aufsätze und Dokumente 2 (Berlin, 1984).
Howell, Standley. 
Der Mälzelkanon – eine weitere Fälschung Schindlers? In: Zu Beethoven. Aufsätze und Dokumente 2 (Berlin, 1984).
Goldschmidt, Harry. 
“Und wenn Beethoven selbst käme…” Weitere Aspekte zum Mälzelkanon. In: Zu Beethoven. Aufsätze und Dokumente 2 (Berlin, 1984).
Eichhorn, Andreas. 
Beethovens Neunte Symphonie. (Bonn, 1986).
Kolisch, Rudolf. Tempo und Character in Beethovens Musik. (München, 1992).

15. Was the famous Broadwood piano Beethoven’s favorite?

No. He got his Broadwood in 1818 when he was already very deaf, too deaf to judge the instrument objectively. However, he appreciated the precious gift, ordered by some of his best Viennese friends and sent to him by the London manufacturers. From about 1810 he had had troubles with finding a good substitute piano, after he had given up his many attempts to improve the Érard he had received from the French manufacturers in about 1803. He tried one piano after another in the period 1810-1817 and finally he got the famous Broadwood, which surely is an impressive piano indeed. He was grateful, of course. And he was told that it was an excellent instrument. That’s the background of his so-called appreciation of this particular instrument. But what we know about his likes and dislikes of pianos points to Viennese instruments (Walter, Streicher), not to English, nor to French.

For more information
Newman, W.S. 
Beethoven on Beethoven. Playing his piano music his way. (New York/London, 1988).
Skowroneck, Tilman. Beethoven’s Érard piano: its influence on his compositions and on Viennese fortepiano building. In: Early Music (2002).

16. How tall was Beethoven?

According to Schindler he was short, about 1.66/67 m. The report of the exhumation of 1863 shows that Schindler’s guess was not bad.

For more information
Bankl, Hans und H. Jesserer. 
Die Krankheiten Ludwig van Beethovens. Pathographie seines Lebens und Pathologie seiner Leiden. (Vienna, 1987).

17. What were Beethoven’s favorite dishes?

According to Schindler pasta with Parmesan cheese and salami, but a study of the conversation books shows that he also liked veal, beaf, liver, chicken, oysters, fish, spinach, fruit, cream, sugar, soup, eggs, very strong coffee and, last but not least, wine. He did not like pork and he was not really fond of beer.

For more information
Gutiérrez-Denhoff, Martella. “Die gute Kocherey”. Aus Beethovens Speiseplänen. (Bonn, 1988).

18. Was Beethoven murdered?

If we may believe Altman and De Roos, the true cause of Beethoven’s death was not the bad liver, but… poison, deliberately given by people who wanted to get rid of the dissident composer. This assumption is highly hypothetical and speculative, since there is not the slightest trace of a proof that somebody wanted to murder Beethoven. Nevertheless a considerable amount of lead has been found in his hear and his bones, at least according to the chemists who analyzed both hair and bones, by order of the Ira F.Brillant Center for Beethoven Research. Experts (Reiter, Eisinger) strongly disagree on the quality of this reseach. However, assuming that the amount of in Beethoven’s was extraordinary high, we still can safely assume that this lead had entered his body by natural causes, like food, drink and/or medicines. It is also not very likely that he died of lead poisoning or, even more unlikely, that lead caused his deafness. Beethoven did not show the usual symptoms of lead poisoning.

For more information
De Roos, Harke. Beetgenomen door Beethoven. (Katwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, 1987).
Altman, Gail. 
Fatal Links. The curious deaths of Beethoven and the two Napoleons. (Tallahassee, 1999).
Walsh, William J. Press release of October 17 of The Health Institute and Pfeiffer Treatment Center on the chemical study of Beethoven’s hair. (Naperville, USA, 2000).
Weiss, Rick. Study Concludes Beethoven Died of Lead Poisoning. In: The Washington Post. (December, 6, 2005).
Reiter, Christian. Beethovens Todesursachen und seine Locken. In: Mitteilungsblatt der Wiener Beethoven-Gesellschaft. (2007).
Eisinger, Joseph. Was Beethoven Lead-Poisoned? In: The Beethoven Journal. (San José, 2008).

19. What was the colour of Beethoven’s eyes and hair?

Brown, as stated by Schindler in his biography. Some contemporaries called his hair black, or even coal-black, but the paintings show that dark-brown is more likely. The painting of Beethoven as a 13-year-old shows light-brown hair, but often such hair will darken upon growing older (and later on will lighten again due to old age). There is some confusion about the colour of his eyes, due to the testimony of painter Klöber, who many years after he had met Beethoven recalled that he had greyish-blueish eyes. Probably his memory didn’t serve him well, for not only the still somewhat doubtful painting of the child Beethoven, but also the surely genuine paintings of later years (Hornemann, Mähler, Stieler, Waldmüller) show brown or brownish eyes.

20. Is it true that Beethoven’s mother got seven or more children, of which most of them were deaf or blind or otherwise disabled, probably due to syphilis?

No, that is not true. When she married Johann van Beethoven she was already a widow. Both her husband and her young baby had died. As far as I know nothing is known about the cause of their deaths. In 1769 she gave birth to Johann’s first child, but it died at the age of six days. Then followed our great composer, then his brother Caspar Anton Carl, who died in 1815 of tuberculosis, then his brother Nikolaus Johann, who died in 1848 of old age. Three more children (one boy, two girls) followed, all of them died very soon, respectively at the age of four days, two years and one year. Nothing is known about the causes of their deaths. Beethoven’s mother died of tuberculosis (in 1787), Beethoven’s father probably of a heart attack (in 1792).

For more information
Schmidt-Görg, Joseph. Beethoven. Die Geschichte seiner Familie. (Bonn, 1964).
Schmidt-Görg, Joseph. Des Bäckermeister Gottfried Fischer Aufzeichnungen über Beethovens Jugend(Bonn, 1971).
Mann, Werner. Beethoven in Bonn. Seine Familie, seine Lehrer und Freunde. (Bonn, omstreeks 1982).
Raab, Armin. Beethovens Mutter – Legenden und Tatsachen. In: Bonner Beethoven-Studien. (Bonn, 1999).

21. Who was the mysterious Elise to whom Beethoven dedicated that famous bagatelle for piano?

It is said that he dedicated it to Therese Malfatti, who was his piano pupil in 1809/10 and with whom he may have been in love, though the topic is still debated. Most researchers think he was, but some disagree. Anyway, if it was for Therese, why then ‘Für Elise’? Maybe it was an error, made by researcher Nohl. Years after Beethoven’s death he stumbled on the autograph of the little piece when he visited the Malfatti family. However, not one member of the family said something about a possbile ‘special relationship’ between Beethoven and Therese. Did Nohl misread Beethoven’s hieroglyphs? Later on researchers learned that Beethoven may have been in love with Therese and they concluded that Nohl must have erred. That is what most researchers think/thought. Unfortunately the autograph is lost. Recently Kopitz published an article on the internet in which he speculated that the girl behind the bagatel is not Therese Malfatti, but Elisabeth Röckel, a singer who married Beethoven’s friend and competitor Hummel. I find his evidence not very convincing. Lorenz published a strong refutation.

For more information
Leitzmann, Albert. Beethoven und Therese Malfatti. Eine kritische Studie. In: Deutsche Rundschau (1911).
Brandenburg, Sieghard. Der Freundeskreis der Familie Malfatti in Wien. Gezeichnet von Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld. (Bonn, 1985).
Beahrs, Virginia. The Beethoven-Malfatti Connection Revisited. In: The Beethoven Journal (1998).
Kopitz, Klaus Martin. Beethoven, Elisabeth Röckel und das Albumblatt “Für Elise”. (Keulen, 2010).
Lorenz, Michael. Die “Enttarnte Elise”. Elisabeth Röckels kurze Karriere als Beethovens “Elise”. In: Bonner Beethoven-Studien (2011).

22. Did Beethoven suffer from a mental disorder, like the bipolar disorder or the borderline syndrome?

According to some biographers, particularly those who are interested in psychoanalysis and depth psychology, Beethoven may have been a victim of a mental disorder. The first who suggested this possibility was Radestock and he did so in 1884. But his view was completely overlooked. Newman (1927) did a better attempt and, fitting to his times, his view was very Freudian. This resulted in speculative digressions on Beethoven’s ‘disturbed’ sexuality. In principle the view of the Sterbas (1954) was not very different and later on Solomon defended the hypothesis that Beethoven may have been a homosexual (see for my view question #8). Already in the picture for some decades is the bipolar disorder and in 2002 Davies strongly defended this hypothesis. In 2003 Kopitz digressed on the borderline syndrome. Are these disorders possible diagnoses for Beethoven?

Firstly the bipolar disorder. Manic depressive persons show various striking symptoms, almost absent in Beethoven. In manic periods they are overactive, they hardly sleep or eat and sometimes they want to buy the Empire State Building (or behaviour the like). In depressive periods they hardly leave their beds and the only thing they want is to die. Often such patients are unable to take care of themselves, at least those who do not get modern medicines. In Beethoven’s days such medicines did not exist. Over the years the depressive part of the disorder often will be the winner and suicide or suicide attempts are relatively high. It is a fact that Beethoven’s music shows strong and impressive shifts between sadness and joy. But then again, don’t we all experience such feelings every now and then? Does this make us victims of the bipolar disorder? Of course not. The only difference between Beethoven and us is the fact that he used those shifts for his music. And THAT is exactly why the music speaks to so many people. We know that he’s talking about us. Some musicologists think that those strinking mood swings in Beethoven’s music simply prove that he suffered from the bipolar disorder. Obviously those persons simply know little about the disorder. The counterproof: Beethoven was a very disciplined worker. He arose at sunrise, drank a lot of coffee and went to his desk. He worked till noon and then left for a long walk. In the afternoon he went to a restaurant for a meal and he spent the evening again at his desk. Before going to sleep he used to read a few pages of a book. It went this way year after year and that doesn’t fit at all to a manic depressive patient. It is true that he twice suffered from a depression: in 1802 and 1813. But in those years he had good reasons for such feelings. In 1802 he realized that he probably would go deaf and in 1813 he had lost his famous Immortal Beloved. Very comprensible, in my opinion, that he was not a happy man in those years. The newest author on Beethoven’s state of mind is Mai. Though he also digresses on the bipolar disorder he paints a more mellowed and more likely picture than Davies.

Secondly the borderline syndrome. This syndrome is said to be related to (sexual) child abuse. For Beethoven this could have been the case, at least more or less. However, looking at the parameters as can be found in the DSM-IVTR, I have my doubts about this diagnosis. Nevertheless musicologist Kopitz published an article devoted to this hypothesis. I tend to disagree with his reasonings and conclusions. See, for instance, parameter #5 of the DSM: suicidal thoughts and behaviour. According to Kopitz this would fit to Beethoven. But only at one moment in his life he seriously seemed to have thought of ending his life by his own hands: in 1802, when he penned down the Heiligenstadt Testament. But wasn’t it comprehensible under the circumstances? I think so. He began to realize that he would go deaf, he, a musician of extremely rare talent, a musical genius, he, who knew so well that he had an immense task, a great role in history. Also unlikely is parameter #3, put forward by Kopitz: a disturbed identity, uncertainty about the own identity. Beethoven?!? Such a strong, resolute personality? And Beethoven’s impressive capacity to be a disciplined worker in spite of all his problems doesn’t fit to the borderline syndrome either. However, it cannot be denied that other parameters surely fit to Beethoven (#2, 6, 8: instabile relationships, switching back and forward between idolatry and disdain; instabile, excited feelings; extremely hot-tempered and great anxiety). Kopitz writes that it is a problem to try to diagnose the mental state of dead persons. Very well put indeed. He himself should have been a bit more modest…

For more information
Lange-Eichbaum, W. Genie, Irrsinn und Ruhm. Neu bearbeitet von W.Ritter. (München/Basel, 1985).
Davies, Peter J. The Character of a Genius: Beethoven in Perspective. (Westport/London, 2002).
Kopitz, Klaus M. Beethovens Wesen. Gedanken zu einer “Borderline-Persönlichkeit”. In: Der “männliche” und “weibliche” Beethoven. (Bonn, 2003).
Mai, François Martin. Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven. (Montreal, 2007).

 Beethoven Timeline: Chronology Landmarks of the Life of Beethoven
1770 When was Beethoven born? December 16th uncertain in Bonn, Germany
December 17th: Baptized at Bonn
Certificate of Baptism of Ludwig van Beethoven…
1774 April 8th: Baptism of his brother Caspar Anton Carl
Ludwig learns music with his father
1776 October 2nd: Baptism of his brother Nikolaus Johann

Museum of Bonn – the house where Beethoven lived as a child

1778 March 26th: Ludwig’s first known public performance, at Cologne
1779 February 23rd: Baptism of his sister Anna Maria Franziska (died four days later)
October: Neefe pursues Ludwig’s musical training
1781 January 17th: Baptism of his brother Franz Georg (died two years later)
1782 Publication of first work in Beethoven life known as the Dressler Variations
1783 October 14th: Publication of three sonatas and other works
1784 June: Ludwig is appointed organist to the Choir of Maximilian Franz. He is 14 year old.


Museum of Bonn – The piano…

1786 May 5th: Baptism of his sister Maria Margaretha (died one year later)
1787 Visited Vienna, studied with Mozart

July 17th: death of his mother
Beethoven’s mother’s tombstone at Bonn…

1789-1792 Played for four seasons as violinist at the Opera of Bonn
Numerous Beethoven compositions
1791 December 5th: Death of Mozart
1792 November 2nd: Left for Vienna
November 10th: Arrived at Vienna
Musical studies with Haydn
December 18th: Death of his father
1794 May: His brother Carl arrives at Vienna
January 19th: Haydn returns to London. Ludwig studies with Albrechtsberger
Composition of his first major work: Trios for Piano (opus 1)
1795 March 29th: First public appearance at Vienna; he played his own works
July: Finished his studies with Albrechtsberger
August: Trios for Piano (opus 1) published
September: Haydn returns to Vienna and meets Ludwig
December 26th: His brother Johann arrives in Vienna
Proposes to Magdalena Willmann, but she refuses him
1796 Numerous Beethoven compositions and a concert given at Prague
July: Returns to Vienna after Prague, Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin before leaving for a concert in Budapest
1797 Probably the year of a serious illness, which triggered his deafness
1797-1799 Composition and publication of works

Signature of Ludwig van Beethoven

1799 Instruction by Salieri
Began composing the first symphony
1800 Concert at Vienna, playing of his first symphony
End of the year: Composition of his second symphony
The score of Ludwig van Beethoven’s first symphony…
1802 February: Finished his second symphony
April: left for Heiligenstadt in the hope that his hearing would improve.Returned to Vienna in October 

Heiligenstadt,where Beethoven wrote his will…
1803 January: Ludwig became the composer of the Theatre of Vienna, where he lived with his brother Carl
June-October: Composed the Eroica symphony
August 6th: The piano maker Sébastien Erard sent him a new piano, as a present. This allowed for bigger intervals – like the pianos we have today.
1804 April: His contract with the theatre finishes
1805 April 7th: First public performance of the Eroica symphony
Numerous workings on Leonore, with a premiere on November 20

The score of the Third Symphony,the Eroica, by Ludwig van Beethoven…
1806 May 25th: Marriage of his brother Caspar Carl
Journey with the Prince Lichnowsky, and composition of the fourth symphony
1807 Composition of the Coriolan Overture
March: First performance of the fourth symphony
Autumn: Composition of the fifth symphony
1808 Spring-Summer: Composition of the sixth symphony – The Pastoral
December: Playing of the sixth symphonyPeinture05ChefDOrchestrea
1809 April 9th: War is declared against France
May 10th: French army surrounds Vienna
May 11th-12th: France takes possession of Vienna
Beethoven teaches music to Archduke Rudolphe
1810 April 27th: Beethoven presents ‘The Letter for Elise’ to Thérèse Malfatti
1811 October: Beethoven begins writing the seventh symphony
1812 March 2nd: Presentation of ‘To the Beloved’ to Antonie Brentano
May: Writing of the seventh symphony
Writing of the letter to “The Immortal Beloved”…

Teplitz, place of residence at the time of writing the famous letter…
1813 December 8th: First public presentation of the eighth symphony
1814 February 27th: Playing of the eighth symphony
May 23rd: First presentation of Fidelio
1815 November 15th: Ludwig’s brother, Carl, dies. After several court cases, Ludwig is given guardianship of his nephew.
1816 October: Beethoven becomes ill
Beginning of the year: Beethoven is still ill
September 10th: Writing of the first bars of the ninth symphony
1818 February 14th: Beethoven and Salieri recommend the metronome in the Viennese press.
February: Beethoven’s deafness is such that he has to use a notebook and pencil to converse with visitors.
December 3rd: Karl runs away to his mother’s home, but Beethoven demands that the police bring him back.
1819 January 11th: The guardianship of Karl is taken away from Beethoven on grounds of his deafness.
November: Composition of ‘Missa Solemnis’
1820 April 8th: Beethoven becomes Karl’s tutor again, with Karl Peters.
1821 January and the following months: Beethoven becomes regularly ill
1822 October: Pursues the composition of the ninth symphony and the beginnings of the tenth
1823 March 6th: Beethoven names Karl as his heir
Works on the ninth symphony
1824 Works on the tenth symphony (only the first movement was written in detail)
February: Finished writing the ninth symphony
May 7th: Public playing of the ninth symphony
1825 May 7th-October 15th: Beethoven installs himself at Baden
1826 August 6th: Karl attempts suicide by shooting himself in the head. He’s only injured.
December: Beethoven’s health starts to decline. He undergoes an operation.
1827 He undergoes three further operations in the first two months of the year…

Beethoven’s last signature … March 22nd: Beethoven receives the last rites

Invitation to Beethoven’s funeral

March 26th: Ludwig van Beethoven dies, probably at 5:45 pm.
March 29th: Funeral after Beethoven death.

Beethoven’s tombstone at Vienna

This chronology was inspired by the works of Barry Cooper.

beethovenpictureoriginalabLudwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), the second-oldest child of the court musician and tenor singer Johann van Beethoven, was born in Bonn. Ludwig’s father drilled him thoroughly with the ambition of showcasing him as a child prodigy. Ludwig gave his first public performance as a pianist when he was eight years old. At the age of eleven he received the necessary systematic training in piano performance and composition from Christian Gottlob Neefe, organist and court musician in Bonn. Employed as a musician in Bonn court orchestra since 1787, Beethoven was granted a paid leave of absence in the early part of 1787 to study in Vienna under Mozart. he was soon compelled to return to Bonn, however, and after his mother’s death had to look after the family.

In 1792 he chose Vienna as his new residence and took lessons from Haydn, Albrechtsberger, Schenck and Salieri. By 1795 he had earned a name for himself as a pianist of great fantasy and verve, admired in particular for his brilliant improvisations. Before long he was traveling in the circles of the nobility. They offered Beethoven their patronage, and the composer dedicated his works to them in return. By 1809 his patrons provided him with an annuity which enabled him to live as a freelance composer without financial worries. Beethoven was acutely interested in the development of the piano. He kept close contact with the leading piano building firms in Vienna and London and thus helped pave the way for the modern concert grand piano.

Around the year 1798 Beethoven noticed that he was suffering from a hearing disorder. He withdrew into increasing seclusion for the public and from his few friends and was eventually left completely deaf. By 1820 he was able to communicate with visitors and trusted friends only in writing, availing himself of “conversation notebooks”.The final years in the life of the restless bachelor (he changed living quarters no fewer than fifty-two times) were darkened by severe illness and by the struggle over the guardianship of his nephew Karl, upon whom he poured his solicitude, jealousy, expectations and threats in an effort to shape the boy according to his wishes. When the most famous composer of the age died, about thirty thousand mourners and curious onlookers were present at the funeral procession on March 26, 1827.

Beethoven was born in this house, at 515 Bonngasse, Bonn, on 17 December 1770. This pencil drawing was made in 1889 by R.Beissel, 58 years after the death of the composer

For someone who was destined to be lionized by the aristocracy of his time, Beethoven’s start in life was inauspicious. He was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of an obscure tenor singer in the employ of the Elector of Cologne. Though the exact date of his birth is not known, it is known that Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770. It was customary for people to be baptized the day after they were born and indeed it is known that his family celebrated his birthday on December 16th. There is also some debate in the field centering around the fact that Beethoven told people he was born in 1772 and that it was his older brother Ludwig Maria was was born in 1770. However, Ludwig Maria is believed to have been baptized in 1769. Some scholars believe that Beethoven’s farther tried to move Beethoven’s birth year to 1772 in order make him younger and there more of a musical prodigy. In the end Beethoven most probably born on December 16, 1770. His father was said to be a violent and intemperate man, who returned home late at night much worse for drink and dragged young Ludwig from his bed in order to “beat” music lessons into the boy’s sleepy head. There are also stories of his father forcing him to play his violin for the amusement of his drinking cronies. Despite these and other abuses – which might well have persuaded as lesser person to loathe the subject – the young Beethoven developed a sensitivity and vision for music.

When, despite his father’s brutal teaching methods, Ludwig began to show signs of promise, other teachers were called in. By the age of seven he was advanced enough to appear in public. A year or so later the composer Christian Gottlob Neefe took over his musical training and progress thereafter was rapid. Ch. G. Neefe introduced Beethoven to the works of Bach and Mozart. Beethoven must have felt immense pride when his Nine Variations for piano in C minor were published, and was listed later in a prominent Leipzig catalogue as the work of ‘Louis van Betthoven (sic), aged ten’. (The former is an intentional misspelling)

In 1787, Beethoven went to Vienna, a noted musical center, where then Count Waldstein engaged Beethoven was piano teacher and became his friend and patron. Beethoven must have felt a little out of his depth for he was clumsy and stocky; his manners were loutish, his black hair unruly and he habitually wore an expression of surliness on his swarthy face. It was here that Beethoven met the great Mozart, who was dapper and sophisticated. He received the boy doubtfully, but once Beethoven started playing the piano his talent was evident. “Watch this lad,” Mozart reported. “Some day he will force the world to talk about him.”The death of Beethoven’s mother in the summer of 1787 brought him back to Bonn.

beethovenfather   beethovenmother

Beethoven’s father and mother

With the death of Beethoven’s mother, the last steadying influence on Beethoven’s father was removed. The old singer unhesitatingly put the bottle before Ludwig, his two younger brothers, and his one-year-old sister. The situation became so bad that by 1789 Beethoven was forced to show the mettle that was to stand him in good stead later in life. He went resolutely to his father’s employer and demanded – and got – half his father’s salary so that the family could be provided for; his father could drink away the rest. In 1792 the old man died. No great grief was felt: as his employer put it, “That will deplete the revenue from liquor excise.”

For four years Ludwig supported the family. He also made some good friends, among them Stephan von Breuning, who became a friend for life, and Doctor Franz Wegeler, who wrote one of the first biographies of Beethoven. Also, Count Ferdinand von Waldstein entered Beethoven’s circle and received the dedication of a famous piano sonata in 1804.
In July 1792 the renowned composer Haydn passed through Bonn on his way to Vienna. He met Beethoven and was impressed, and perhaps disturbed, by his work. Clearly, he felt, this young man’s talents needed to be controlled before it could be developed. Consequently Beethoven left Bonn for good early in November 1792 to study composition with Haydn in Vienna. However, if Haydn had hoped to “control” Beethoven’s talent he was fighting a losing battle. Beethoven’s music strode towards the next century, heavily influenced by the strenuous political and social tensions that ravaged Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. Haydn, who had been a musical trend setter himself in youth, found that Beethoven was advancing implacably along the same radical path. After realizing that Haydn was not the master he was looking for, Beethoven moved onto Albrechtsberger, another prestigious musician who called him an “excited musical free-thinker”.

Those first weeks in Vienna were hard for Beethoven. Opportunities were not forthcoming; expectations were unfulfilled. In addition it must have irked him, fired as he was by the current spirit of equality, to have to live in a tiny garret in Prince Lichnowsky’s mansion. Soon, however, the Prince gave him more spacious accommodation on the ground floor, and, mindful of the young man’s impetuous behavior, instructed the servants that Beethoven’s bell was to be answered even before the Prince’s own!

Impetuosity was also a feature of his piano playing at this time. In those days pianists were pitted against each other in front of audiences to decide who could play more brilliantly and improvise the more imaginatively. Beethoven’s rivals always retired, bloodied, from such combat. While he made enemies of many pianists in Vienna, the nobility flocked to hear him. Personally and professionally his future looked bright. Compositions poured from him and he gave concerts in Vienna as well as Berlin, Prague, and other important centers. His finances were secure enough for him to set up his own apartments. He was the first composer to become a freelance by choice, as opposed to depending on patrons. However, it was his skill as a pianist rather than as a composer that brought him recognition during his twenties. He was one of Vienna’s dominant music personalities surrounded by aristocrats and famous musicians. Until the coming of his deafness, he had five principle resources: Pianoforte Playing, Teaching, Composition, Dedications, and Concert-giving.

The first concert of his own responsibility occurred on April 2, 1800 he launched his first Symphony and introduced his world famous Septet op. 20. One year later, however, in 1801 his deafness began to hit Beethoven, causing great turmoil in his life.
The mature Beethoven was a short, well build man. His dark grey hair, then white, but was always thick and unruly. Reports differ as to the color of this eyes. His skin was pock-marked and his mouth, which had been a little petulant in youth, later became fixed in a grim, down-curving line, as if in a permanent expression of truculent determination. He seldom took care of his appearance, and, as he strode through the streets of Vienna with hair escaping from beneath his top hat, his hands clasped behind his back and his coat cross-buttoned he was the picture of eccentricity. His moods changed constantly, keeping his acquaintances guessing. They could never be sure that a chance remark might be misconstrued or displease the master in some way, for his powerful will would admit of no alternative view once he had made a judgement.
By nature, Beethoven was impatient, impulsive, unreasonable and intolerant; deafness added suspicion and paranoia to these attributes. He would often misunderstand the meaning of a facial expression and accuse faithful friends of disloyalty or conspiracy. He would fly into a rage at the slightest provocation, and he would turn on friends, dismissing them curtly as being unworthy of his friendship. But, likely as not, he would write a letter the next day or so, telling them how noble and good they were and how he had misjudged them.
I have heard him play; but to bring him so far required some management, so great is his horror of being anything like exhibited. Had he been plainly asked to do the company that favour, he would have flatly refused; he had to be cheated into it. Every person left the room, except Beethoven and the master of the house, one of his most intimate acquaintances. These two carried on a conversation in the paper-book about bank stock. The gentleman, as if by chance, struck the keys of the open piano, beside which they were sitting, gradually began to run over one of Beethoven’s own compositions, made a thousand errors, and speedily blundered one passage so thoroughly, that the composer condescended to stretch out his hand and put him right. It was enough; the hand was on the piano; his companion immediately left him, on some pretext, and joined the rest of the company, who in the next room, from which they could see and hear everything, were patiently waiting the issue of this tiresome conjuration. Beethoven, left alone, seated himself at the piano. At first he only struck now and then a few hurried notes, as if afraid of being detected in a crime; but gradually he forgot everything else, and ran on during half and hour in a fantasy, in a style extremely varied, and marked, above all, by the most abrupt transitions. The amateurs were enraptured; to the uninitiated it was more interesting to observe how the music of the man’s soul passed over his countenance. He seems to feel the bold, the commanding, and the impetuous, more than what is soothing or gentle. The muscles of the face swell, and its veins start out; the wild eye rolls doubly wild, the mouth quivers, and Beethoven looks like a wizard, overpowered by the demons whom he himself has called up.
Beethoven’s career as a virtuoso pianist was brought to an end when he began to experience his first symptoms of deafness. In a letter written to his friend Karl Ameda on 1 July 1801, he admitted he was experiencing signs of deafness.

How often I wish you were here, for your Beethoven is having
a miserable life, at odds with nature and its Creator, abusing
the latter for leaving his creatures vulnerable to the slightest
accident … My greatest faculty, my hearing, is greatly

Apparently Beethoven had been aware of the problem for about three years, avoiding company lest his weakness be discovered, and retreating into himself. Friends ascribed his reserve to preoccupation and absentmindedness. In a letter to Wegeler, he wrote:

How can I, a musician, say to people “I am deaf!” I shall, if
I can, defy this fate, even though there will be times when I
shall be the unhappiest of God’s creatures … I live only in
music … frequently working on three or four pieces simultaneously.

Many men would have been driven to suicide; Beethoven may indeed have contemplated it. Yet his stubborn nature strengthened him and he came to terms with his deafness in a dynamic, constructive way. In a letter to Wegeler, written five months after the despairing one quoted above, it becomes clear that Beethoven, as always, stubborn, unyielding and struggling against destiny, saw his deafness as a challenge to be fought and overcome:

Free me of only half this affliction and I shall be a complete,
mature man. You must think of me as being as happy as it is
possible to be on this earth – not unhappy. No! I cannot endure
it. I will seize Fate by the throat. It will not wholly conquer
me! Oh, how beautiful it is to live – and live a thousand times over!

With the end of his career as a virtuoso pianist inevitable, he plunged into composing. It offered a much more precarious living than that of a performer, especially when his compositions had already shown themselves to be in advance of popular taste . In 1802 his doctor sent him to Heiligenstadt, a village outside Vienna, in the hope that its rural peace would rest in his hearing. The new surroundings reawakened in Beethoven a love of nature and the countryside, and hope and optimism returned. Chief amongst the sunny works of this period was the charming, exuberant Symphony no. 2. However, when it became obvious that there was no improvement in his hearing, despair returned. By the autumn the young man felt so low both physically and mentally that he feared he would not surive the winter. He therefore wrote his will and left instructions that it was to be opened only after his death. This Heiligenstadt Testament is a long moving document that reveals more about his state of mind than does the music he was writing at the time. Only his last works can reflect in sound what he then put down in words.

O ye men who accuse me of being malevolent, stubborn and
misanthropical, how ye wrong me! Ye know not the secret
cause. Ever since childhood my heart and mind were disposed
toward feelings of gentleness and goodwill, and I was eager
to accomplish great deeds; but consider this: for six years
I have been hopelessly ill, aggravated and cheated by quacks in
the hope of improvement but finally compelled to face a lasting
malady … I was forced to isolate myself. I was misunderstood
and rudely repulsed because I was as yet unable to say to people,
“Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf” … With joy I hasten to meet
death. Despite my hard fate … I shall wish that it had come later;
but I am content, for he shall free me of constant suffering. Come
then, Death, and I shall face thee with courage. Heiglnstadt (sic)
6 October, 1802.
The last page of the ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’

Just how bad was Beethoven’s plight? At first the malady was intermittent or so faint that it worried him only occasionally. but by 1801 he reported that a whistle and a buzz was constant. Low speech tones became an unintelligible hum, shouting became an intolerable din. Apparently the illness completely swamped delicate sounds and distorted strong ones. He may have had short periods of remission, but for the last ten years of his life he was totally deaf.
After his return from Heiligenstadt, Beethoven’s music deepened. He began creating a new musical world. In the summer of 1803 he began work on his Third Symphony – the ‘Eroica’. It was to be the paean of glory to Napoleon Bonaparte and like its subject, it was revolutionary. It was half as long as any previous symphony and its musical language was so uncompromising that it set up resistance in its first audiences. It broke the symphonic mold, yet established new, logical and cogent forms. This was the miracle Beethoven was to work many times.

Stephan von Breuning, with whom Beethoven shared rooms, reports a thunderous episode in connection with the ‘Eroica’ Symphony. In December, 1804, the news arrived that Napoleon, that toiler for the rights of the common people, had proclaimed himself Emperor. In a fury, Beethoven strode over to his copy of the Symphony, which bore a dedication to Napoleon, and crossed out the “Bonaparte” name in such violence that the pen tore in the paper. “Is he, too, nothing more than human?” he raged. “Now he will crush the rights of man. He will become a tyrant!”

For the next few years in Vienna, from 1804 to 1808, Beethoven lived in what might be described as a state of monotonous uproar. His relationships suffered elemental rifts, his music grew ever greater, and all the time he was in love with one women or another, usually high-born, sometimes unattainable, always unattained. he never married.

His Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were completed by the summer of 1808. The Fifth indeed takes fate by the throat; the Sixth (Pastoral) is a portrait of the countryside around Heilingenstadt. These and other works spread his name and fame.

In July 1812 Beethoven wrote a letter to an unidentified lady whom he addressed as The Immortal Beloved. It was as eloquent of love as his ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’ had been of despair. The following is a summary of the letter (follow the above link for more):

My angel, my all, my very self – a few words only today, and
in pencil (thine). Why such profound sorrow when necessity
speaks? Can our love endure but through sacrifice – but through
not demanding all – canst thou alter it that thou art not wholly
mine, I not wholly thine?

So moving an outpouring may well have resulted, at last, in some permanent arrangement – if the lady in question had been free, and if the letter had been sent. It was discovered in a secret drawer in Beethoven’s desk after his death.

His brother Casper Carl died in November 1815. The consequences brought about something that neither the tragedy of deafness nor Napoleon’s guns could achieve: they almost stopped Beethoven composing. Beethoven was appointed guardian of his brother’s nine-year-old son, Karl – a guardianship he shared with the boy’s mother Johanna. Beethoven took the appointment most seriously and was certain that Johanna did not. He believed her to be immoral, and immediately began legal proceedings to get sole guardianship of his nephew. The lawsuit was painful and protracted and frequently abusive, with Johanna asserting “How can a deaf, madman bachelor guard the boy’s welfare?” – Beethoven repeatedly fell ill because of the strain. He did not finally secure custody of Karl until 1820, when the boy was 20.

The Ninth Symphony (Choral) was completed in 1823, by which time Beethoven was completely deaf. There was a poignant scene at the first performance. Despite his deafness, Beethoven insisted on conducting, but unknown to him the real conductor sat out of his sight beating time. As the last movement ended, Beethoven, unaware even that the music had ceased, was also unaware of the tremendous burst of applause that greeted it. One of the singers took him by the arm and turned him around so that he might actually see the ovation.

A life mask of Beethoven make by Franz Klein.

In the autumn of 1826, Beethoven took Karl to Gneixendorf for a holiday. The following is an account of Beethoven the possessed genius as he worked upon his last string quartet:

At 5:30 A.M. he was at his table, beating time with hands
and feet, humming and writing. After breakfast he hurried
outside to wander in the fields, calling, waving his arms about,
moving slowly, then very abruptly stopping to scribble
something in his notebook

In early December Beethoven returned to Vienna with Karl and the journey brought the composer down with pneumonia. He recovered, only to be laid low again with cirrhosis of the liver, which in turn gave way to dropsy. His condition had deteriorated dramatically by the beginning of March and, sensing the worst, his friends rallied round: faithful Stephan brought his family and Schubert paid his respects.

Beethoven’s final moments, if a report by Schubert’s friend Huttenbrenner are to believed, were dramatic in the extreme. At about 5:45 in the afternoon of 26 March, 1827, as a storm raged, Beethoven’s room was suddenly filled with light and shaken with thunder:

Beethoven’s eyes opened and he lifted his right fist for
several seconds, a serious, threatening expression on
his face. When his had fell back, he half closed his eyes
… Not another word, not another heartbeat.

Schubert and Hummel were among the 20,000 – 30,000 people who mourned the composer at his funeral three days later. He was buried in Wahring Cemetery; in 1888 his remains were removed to Zentral-friedhof in Vienna – a great resting place for musicians – where he lies side-by-side with Schubert.

Beethoven’s Life: A Timeline Part 1

Part 1: Passion and Anger 1770 – 1802, from Beethoven’s birth to the Symphony no. 2 get to know more about Beethoven’s early life and music


1770 A genius is born

17 December: Beethoven baptised in the church of St Remigius, Bonn. The date of his birth is not recorded, but since it was customary for baptisms to take place within 24 hours of birth, it is likely he was born on 16 December.


24 December: Beethoven’s beloved grandfather, KapellmeisterLudwig van Beethoven, dies.


8 April: Beethoven’s brother Caspar Carl baptised.


2 October: Beethoven’s brother Nikolaus Johann baptised.

1778 First public appearance

26 March: Beethoven’s first known public performance, in Cologne. His father advertised his age as six years, although he was in fact seven, probably to draw favourable comparisons with the child prodigy Mozart. He played ‘various clavier concertos and trios’.


Beethoven begins lessons with Gottlob Neefe, who writes of him in Cramer’s Magazin der Musik: ‘He plays the clavier very skilfully and with power [and] reads at sight very well ….. This youthful genius is deserving of help to enable him to travel. He would surely become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were he to continue as he has begun.’


14 October: Beethoven publishes the three Kurfürsten Piano Sonatas, dedicated to the Elector of Cologne and Münster, Maximilian Friedrich.


Beethoven appointed assistant court organist alongside Neefe.

1787 Meets Mozart

April: Beethoven achieves his long-held ambition to travel to Vienna to meet Mozart, almost certainly thanks to the intervention of his patron Count Waldstein with the new Elector, Maximilian Franz. Barely two weeks after arriving, and having impressed Mozart so much he agrees to take him on as a pupil, Beethoven has to return to Bonn where his mother is dying of consumption. By the time he returns to Vienna nearly five years later, Mozart is dead.

17 July: Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena, dies.


Beethoven’s father, Johann, a tenor singer, is forced to retire from the electoral choir, after his increased drinking ruined his voice. On one occasion, after becoming drunk in public, he was arrested – only to be released after Ludwig had pleaded with the police. Because of his alcoholism, he was ordered by the Elector to be banished to a village away from Bonn, and half his salary paid to Ludwig. In fact he remained in Bonn, and for appearance’s sake he received his full retirement salary, making half of it over to his son privately.

1790 Cantata on the Death of Joseph II; the Cantata on the Elevation of Leopold II

Beethoven composes the Cantata on the Death of Joseph II, and the Cantata on the Elevation of Leopold II. The musicians of the electoral orchestra refuse to perform the first, claiming it is unplayable.

December: Haydn passes through Bonn on his way to London. He meets Beethoven, who shows him his scores of the two Cantatas. Haydn, impressed, encourages him to come to Vienna where, he promises, he will take him on as a pupil.

1791 The Ritterballet

Beethoven composes the Ritterballet, allowing his patron Count Waldstein to claim it as his own composition.
Beethoven goes with the electoral orchestra on a trip to Mergentheim. On the boat, which sails up the Rhine and the Main, he is appointed kitchen scullion.

5 December Mozart dies.

1792 Leaves for Vienna

November: Beethoven, one month short of his 22nd birthday, leaves Bonn for Vienna to study with Haydn. He has been given six months leave of absence by the elector. In fact he stays in Vienna for the rest of his life – never to return to his home town.

18 December: Beethoven’s father dies.


Beethoven begins lessons with Haydn. The city’s most influential musical patrons — particularly Prince Lichnowsky – take Beethoven under their wing, and put him forward to take on the city’s piano virtuosos in improvisation contests. One after the other he defeats them and quickly establishes his reputation as the finest piano virtuoso in Vienna.

1794 Piano Trios op. 1.

Caspar Carl moves to Vienna.
Beethoven begins composing Piano Trios op. 1.

1795 Piano Sonatas op. 2

29 March: Beethoven’s first public performance in Vienna, where he premieres either his First or Second Piano Concerto.
Beethoven composes Piano Sonatas op. 2.
Beethoven performs the Piano Trios before Haydn, who is critical of no. 3, advising against publication. Beethoven is furious, but he heals the rift with his teacher when he dedicates the Piano Sonatas to him.
Nikolaus Johann moves to Vienna.

1796 Cello Sonatas op. 5

Beethoven travels with Prince Lichnowsky to Prague, where he gives a concert. He goes on to Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin. In Berlin he composes the Cello Sonatas op. 5.

1797 First performances of Quintet op. 16

Beethoven gives the first performance of Quintet op. 16 at Jahn’s restaurant in the Himmelpfortgasse.
In the summer of this year he falls seriously ill. It is possibly typhus and could mark the beginning of his deafness.

1798 Trios op. 9; the Trio op. 11; the three Violin Sonatas op. 12

In an extraordinary burst of creativity at the start of the year, Beethoven completes the Piano Sonatas op. 10, composes the three string Trios op. 9, the Trio op. 11, and the three Violin Sonatas op. 12. Later in the year he begins work on the Septet op. 20 and composes the huge Pathétique Sonata op. 13.

1799 First String Quartets op. 18

Beethoven meets the double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti, performing a cello (!) sonata with him.
Beethoven composes his first String Quartets op. 18, and begins work on Symphony no. 1.

1800 Premiere of the First Symphony

Beethoven defeats the celebrated Prussian piano virtuoso Daniel Steibelt in an improvisation contest at the palace of Prince Lobkowitz, and is never again asked to take part in an improvisation contest. His position as Vienna’s greatest piano virtuoso is secure and remains unchallenged for the rest of his life.
2 April: Beethoven’s first benefit concert, at the Burgtheater in Vienna. He premieres the Septet and the First Symphony, and performs one of his two completed Piano Concertos. He also improvises on the piano. At the concert he meets Archduke Rudolph, accompanied by his mother, Empress Theresia.
Beethoven begins work on Symphony no. 2.

1801 Moonlight Sonata

Beethoven composes music for The Creatures of Prometheus.
Beethoven’s great friend from his childhood in Bonn, Stephan von Breuning, moves to Vienna.
29 June: In a long letter to his old friend Dr Franz Wegeler in Bonn, Beethoven mentions his deafness for the first time. ‘…for the last three years my hearing has become worse…’
26 July: Elector Max Franz dies at Hetzendorf, Vienna. Beethoven subsequently changes the dedication of his First Symphony to Baron van Swieten.
October: Ferdinand Ries, son of Franz Ries the leader of the electoral orchestra in Bonn, arrives in Vienna. Beethoven welcomes him and takes him on as secretary.
Beethoven falls in love with Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, and dedicates the Sonata quasi una Fantasia to her. Many years later, after his death, it acquires the nickname Moonlight Sonata.

1802 Symphony no. 2

Baron Braun refuses Beethoven his anticipated benefit concert.
April: Beethoven moves to Heiligenstadt north of Vienna for the summer to relieve his hearing. In Heiligenstadt he composes the Prometheus (Eroica) Variations op. 35 and the three Piano Sonatas op. 31. He completes Symphony no. 2.
6 October: Beethoven writes the Heiligenstadt Testament, his last will and testament, publicly acknowledging his deafness for the first time … “Oh, all you people who think or say that I am hostile to you, or that I am stubborn, or that I hate mankind, you do not realise the wrong that you do me…I am deaf …”

Beethoven’s Life: A Timeline Part 2

Part 2: Passion and Pain 1803 – 1812, during this period Beethovenpremieres his First Symphony and meets some of the women who will have a major influence on his music.


1803 – First Symphony premiered

January: Beethoven appointed composer at the Theater an der Wien, moving into lodgings there with his brother Carl.
February to March: Beethoven composes the oratorio, Christus am Ölberge.
5 April: Beethoven’s benefit concert in the Theater an der Wien. He premieres the Second Symphony and the Third Piano Concerto, playing the solo part himself. The First Symphony is also premiered.
24 May: Beethoven gives the first performance of the Violin Sonata op. 47, with the English virtuoso George Bridgetower as soloist. He dedicates the sonata to Bridgetower, but after Bridgetower makes an insulting remark about a lady, Beethoven withdraws the sonata from him and dedicates it instead to Rudolphe Kreutzer.
Summer Beethoven composes the Eroica Symphony in the village of Döbling, south of Vienna.
Beethoven composes ‘Waldstein’ Sonata, with Andante Grazioso as second movement.

1804 Meets Josephine Deym

Beethoven begins work on his opera, Leonore, with Sonnleithner as librettist.
April: Beethoven’s contract at the Theater an der Wien is terminated, after Baron Braun buys the theatre.
20 May: Napoleon proclaimed Emperor of France. Beethoven tears up the title page of the Eroica bearing the dedication to him.
June: Beethoven moves into Stephan von Breuning’s apartment, but the arrangement ends after a serious disagreement between them.
The Eroica Symphony is performed at Prince Lobkowitz’s palace.
October: Beethoven becomes acquainted with Josephine Deym, née Brunsvik, who is recently widowed, and begins giving her piano lessons. He composes the song An die Hoffnung for her.

1805 ‘Appassionata’

Beethoven composes the Piano Sonata op. 57, ‘Appassionata’. He completes composition of his opera, Leonore.
September: The censor bans the projected performance of Leonore at the Theater an der Wien. Ferdinand Ries leaves Vienna for Bonn to be conscripted into the French army.
5 October The censor lifts the ban on Leonore.
November: The French army occupies Vienna and Napoleon establishes his headquarters at Schönbrunn Palace.
20 November: First performance of Leonore.
2 December: Napoleon defeats the combined Austrian and Russian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz.


Beethoven revises Leonore, with an altered text by Stephan von Breuning.
29 March Revised version of Leonore performed at the Theater an der Wien. But Beethoven withdraws his opera, accusing Baron Braun of cheating him of receipts.
25 May: Carl van Beethoven marries Johanna Reiss.
Beethoven works on the set of three String Quartets commissioned by Count Razumovsky and the Fourth Symphony.
17 July: Napoleon creates the Confederation of the Rhine.
August: Beethoven travels with Prince Lichnowsky to his country estate at Grätz, near Troppau, Silesia.
4 September: Beethoven’s nephew Karl is born.
Count Oppersdorff, a near neighbour of Lichnowsky in Silesia, buys the Fourth Symphony. Beethoven begins work on the Fifth Symphony.

1807 Fifth Symphony

Feb ‘Appassionata’ Sonata published
April Muzio Clementi in London secures the rights to publish several works in Great Britain for the sum of £200.
13 September: Beethoven’s Mass in C is performed at Prince Esterhazy’s castle chapel in Eisenstadt.
Beethoven completes work on the Fifth Symphony.

1808 Benefit concert at the Theater an der Wien

March: Johann van Beethoven buys an apothecary shop in Linz.
27 March: Performance of Haydn’s Creation in honour of the composer’s seventy-sixth birthday.
April: Stephan von Breuning marries Julie Vering.
Summer: Beethoven composes the Pastoral Symphony while staying in Heiligenstadt.
10 August: Beethoven publishes Fourth Piano Concerto and Violin Concerto.
27 August: Ferdinand Ries arrives back in Vienna.
October: Beethoven is offered the post of Kapellmeister to King Jerome of Westphalia (Napoleon’s younger brother) in Kassel, at a salary of 600 ducats.
22 December: Beethoven gives his much-postponed and long-awaited benefit concert at the Theater an der Wien, which sees the first performance of the Fifth and Pastoral Symphonies.


7 January: Beethoven accepts the offer of Kapellmeister in Kassel. His friends begin drawing up an alternative contract to persuade him to stay in Vienna.
Beethoven begins work on the Fifth Piano Concerto, the ‘Emperor’.
26 February: Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky agree to pay Beethoven an annuity for life on the sole condition that he remain in Vienna. He agrees, abandoning plans to go to Kassel.
9 April: Austria declares war on France.
4 May: Archduke Rudolph and other members of the Imperial family flee from Vienna in the face of the advancing French army. Beethoven composes the beginning of the Piano Sonata op. 81a, ‘Les Adieux’, for the Archduke.
10 May: French army surrounds Vienna. The next day they bombard and capture the city. During the shelling, Beethoven takes refuge in his brother Carl’s cellar with Carl, his wife Johanna and son Karl, at one point covering his ears with pillows because of the harshness of the noise on his worsening hearing.
31 May: Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s former teacher, dies at the age of 77.
23 November: Beethoven agrees to set forty-three folksongs for the Scottish publisher, George Thomson.


30 January: Archduke Rudolph returns to Vienna
13 February: Josephine Deym marries Baron von Stackelberg, her children’s tutor.
1 April: Napoleon marries Marie Louise, daughter of Emperor Franz.
Beethoven becomes acquainted with the Malfatti family. He composes the Bagatelle WoO 59 for Therese Malfatti.
Dr Giovanni Malfatti becomes Beethoven’s doctor.
July: The critic E.T.A. Hoffman’s famous review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is published in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung.

1811 An die Geliebte

15 March: Austria’s currency is devalued fivefold under a Finanz-Patent, drastically reducing the amount Beethoven receives under his annuity.
Beethoven completes the ‘Archduke’ Trio.
28 May: Ignaz Gleichenstein, who has been acting as Beethoven’s secretary, marries Anna Malfatti, Therese’s sister, and they leave Vienna soon after for Freiburg.
Beethoven begins the Seventh Symphony.
During a long period of illness, Antonie Brentano is regularly visited by Beethoven, who plays the piano for her. He sets the poem An die Geliebte to music for her.

1812 Piano Trio WoO 39

Beethoven begins the Eighth Symphony.
24 June: Napoleon embarks on his invasion of Russia.
Beethoven composes the Piano Trio WoO 39 for Maximiliane Brentano.
29 June: Beethoven leaves Vienna for Prague on his way to Teplitz in northern Bohemia.
1 July: Beethoven arrives in Prague.
2 July: Beethoven sees Prince Kinsky concerning his annuity.
3 July: Franz and Antonie Brentano and their daughter Fanny arrive in Prague on their way to Karlsbad in northern Bohemia.
4 July: Beethoven leaves Prague for Teplitz.
5 July: Beethoven arrives at Teplitz in the early morning. The Brentanos arrive in Karlsbad.
6 July: Beethoven begins a passionate letter to an unnamed woman. In it he calls her his ‘Eternally Beloved’ [unsterbliche Geliebte].
July: Beethoven and Goethe meet several times.
25 July: Beethoven leaves Teplitz for Karlsbad to join the Brentano family.
Beethoven returns to Teplitz, where he meets Amalie Sebald. She looks after him when he falls ill.
Sept Beethoven makes a sudden decision to travel to Linz where his brother Johann has announced his intention to marry his housekeeper, Therese Obermayer. Beethoven is determined to stop the marriage, judging Therese – who has an illegitimate child – unsuitable for Johann.
October: Beethoven composes three equali for trombones for the Linz Kapellmeister Glöggl.
2/3 November: Prince Kinsky, one of the three signatories to Beethoven’s annuity, dies after being thrown from his horse while hunting.
8 November: Johann van Beethoven marries Therese Obermayer.

Beethoven’s Life: A Timeline Part 3

Part 3: Passion and Glory 1813 – 1827, Beethoven’s final few years of his life were marred by family feuds and illness, but he still produced some of his best music, including his Ninth Symphony before his death


1813 Battle Symphony premiered

8 March: Karl Brentano born.
8 April: Minona von Stackelberg born.
12 April: Carl van Beethoven, seriously ill with consumption, declares that in the event of his death he wants Beethoven to be guardian of his son Karl.
21 June: The English army under Wellington defeats the French at the Battle of Vittoria in Spain. Mälzel persuades Beethoven to write a piece in celebration of the victory for his mechanical instrument, the panharmonicon. In return Mälzel constructs the first of several ear trumpets for Beethoven. The piece is later orchestrated and becomes known as the Battle Symphony op. 91.
July: Prince Lobkowitz, another of the signatories to Beethoven’s annuity, leaves Vienna in disgrace after going bankrupt.
12 August: Austria declares war on France.
28 August: Gerhard von Breuning born.
16 October: Napoleon defeated by a combined army of Austrians, Prussians, Russians and Swedes at the Battle of Leipzig, the ‘Battle of the Nations’.
8 December: Beethoven and Mälzel give a charity concert at the Hofburg at which the Battle Symphony and the Seventh Symphony are heard in public for the first time.

1814 Der glorreiche Augenblick

January: Beethoven agrees to revive his opera Leonore/Fidelio, asking Treitschke to provide a new libretto.
6 April Napoleon abdicates.
11 April: Beethoven gives the first public performance of the Archduke Trio op. 97 with Schuppanzigh and Linke; his deafness makes it a traumatic experience.
15 April: Beethoven’s old patron Prince Lichnowsky dies.
18 July Fidelio performed for the first time in its final form.
26 September: Fidelio performed before several heads of state assembled for the Congress of Vienna.
Oct-Nov Beethoven composes a cantata, Der glorreiche Augenblick, for the Congress, and attends its first performance at the Hofburg on 29 November with the librettist, Weissenbach.
31 December: Count Razumovsky’s magnificent palace destroyed by fire.

1815 Carl van Beethoven dies

1 March: Napoleon escapes from Elba.
May: Beethoven abandons attempts to compose a Sixth Piano Concerto.
June: Philharmonic Society of London commission three overtures from Beethoven for 75 guineas; he sends them the already composed opp. 113, 115 and 117.
18 June: Battle of Waterloo.
14 November: Beethoven’s brother Carl, mortally ill, makes his will, appointing his wife Johanna and Beethoven co-guardians of his son Karl. Beethoven persuades him to delete Johanna’s name. But Johanna pressures Carl in Beethoven’s absence to add a codicil reinstating her as co-guardian.
15 November: Carl van Beethoven dies of consumption.
22 November: Carl’s widow Johanna and Beethoven are appointed joint guardians of Karl, now aged nine.
28 November: Beethoven appeals to the Landrecht, the court of the nobility, to exclude his sister-in-law from the guardianship of Karl, her son, beginning a legal battle with twists and turns that is to last for several years.

1816 Beethoven fights for custody

9 January: The Landrecht rules in Beethoven’s favour over the guardianship of Karl.
19 January: Beethoven is legally appointed sole guardian of Karl.
2 February: Karl is removed from his mother, and Beethoven enrols him in a boarding school run by Giannatasio del Rio.
April: Beethoven composes the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte.
Carl Czerny, on Beethoven’s instructions, begins giving Karl piano lessons.
18 September: Karl undergoes a hernia operation. The Giannatasios take him to recuperate with Beethoven in Baden.
15 December: Prince Lobkowitz, one of the three signatories to Beethoven’s annuity, who previously had to flee Vienna to escape his creditors, dies at his estate in Bohemia.

1817 Begins Hammerklavier Sonata, op. 106

Persistent ill-health and legal problems over the custody of Karl make this the least creative year musically of Beethoven’s life.
9 June: Ferdinand Ries writes on behalf of the London Philharmonic Society, inviting Beethoven to London.
Beethoven begins work on what is to become the gigantic Hammerklavier Sonata, op. 106.
27 December: Thomas Broadwood, having met Beethoven in Vienna, dispatches to him a new grand piano with the heavier English action which particularly suits Beethoven — and the new Sonata.

1818 Karl runs away

24 January: Karl leaves Giannatasio’s boarding school and begins living with Beethoven, studying with a private tutor.
Beethoven’s planned trip to London is cancelled; he blames poor health.
February: Beethoven begins to use conversation books, due to his increasing deafness.
Beethoven begins sketches for the Ninth Symphony.
19 May Beethoven takes Karl to Mödling for the summer months, enrolling him in the local school run by the village priest, Pater Fröhlich.
August: Beethoven completes the Hammerklavier Sonata.
18 September: Johanna van Beethoven petitions the Landrecht to obtain guardianship of Karl. Her petition is rejected.
Beethoven makes more sketches for a new symphony, which he decides will have voices.
3 October: Another appeal by Johanna is dismissed.
3 December: Karl runs away to his mother; Beethoven calls in the police to bring him back.
7 December: Johanna again petitions the Landrecht, using the fact that Karl ran away from his uncle as justification for regaining custody of him.
11 December: Beethoven admits to the Landrecht that he is not a member of the nobility. The Landrecht transfers the case to the lower court, the Magistrat.

1819 Works on Gloria

11 January: Beethoven loses guardianship of Karl
March: Beethoven begins a set of variations for the publisher Diabelli, based on a theme Diabelli has composed.
April: Beethoven begins the Missa Solemnis, intended for the enthronement of Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmütz the following year.
16 April: Just before publication of the Hammerklavier Sonata, Beethoven sends Ries in London an additional bar of two notes to be inserted at the start of the slow movement.
22 June: Karl enters Blöchlinger’s institute.
2 August: Johann van Beethoven buys a large estate at Gneixendorf bei Krems on the Danube.
November: Beethoven works on the Gloria and Credo of the Missa Solemnis.



7 January: Beethoven, encouraged by Anton Schindler, petitions the Court of Appeal over the guardianship of Karl.
9 March: Archduke Rudolph is enthroned as Archbishop of Olmütz; the Missa Solemnis is not ready for the occasion.
8 April: The Court of Appeal makes a final ruling in Beethoven’s favour over the guardianship of Karl; Johanna appeals directly to the Emperor, who refuses to intervene.
31 May: Beethoven agrees to compose three Piano Sonatas for the publisher Adolf Schlesinger; they are to become opp. 109-11.

1821 Falls ill

Beethoven falls seriously ill with rheumatic fever.
31 March: Josephine Deym-Stackelberg (née Brunsvik) dies.
July: Barely recovered from fever, Beethoven develops jaundice.
5 May: Napoleon Bonaparte dies in exile on the island of St Helena.
Beethoven completes the Missa Solemnis by the end of the year, though he is later to revise parts of it.


January: Beethoven again becomes unwell, suffering for several months with ‘gout in the chest’.
Beethoven makes sketches setting Schiller’s poem An die Freude to music for use in the new symphony with voices.
Autumn Beethoven meets the young Franz Liszt, a pupil of Czerny’s, who plays for him. Beethoven is impressed and anoints him his ‘successor’.
9 November: Prince Galitzin commissions three String Quartets from Beethoven; they are to become opp. 127/130/132.
10 November: The Philharmonic Society of London offers Beethoven £50 for a new symphony. Beethoven accepts the commission, intending to travel to London to conduct the first performance there of the new Ninth Symphony.
Beethoven is elected to the Royal Academy of Music of Sweden.


Spring Schuppanzigh returns to Vienna from Russia and resumes his friendship with Beethoven, who composes a canon, Falstefferel, to mark his return.
August: After a sudden deterioration in his health, Beethoven goes to stay in Baden, where he works intensively on the Ninth Symphony.
6 August: Wenzel Schlemmer, Beethoven favourite copyist – and one of the few who could decipher his manuscripts – dies.
29 August: Karl leaves Blöchlinger’s institute and visits his uncle in Baden, before enrolling at the university in Vienna.

1824 Ninth Symphony completed

Beethoven makes plans for the first performance of the newly completed Ninth Symphony in Berlin.
Beethoven decides to dedicate the Diabelli Variations to Antonie Brentano.
February: Vienna’s leading musical names petition Beethoven — successfully — to hold the first performance of the Missa Solemnis and Ninth Symphony in Vienna. But the censor bans any performance of the Missa, a religious work, in a theatre.
7 May: After a disagreement with Count Palffy at the Theater an der Wien, and a compromise over the ban, the Missa Solemnis and Ninth Symphony are given their premieres at the Kärntnertor theatre. Beethoven stands next to Umlauf on the podium giving him the beat. At the end of the Ninth Symphony, the contralto Karoline Unger turns Beethoven round so he can hear the applause.
May: Beethoven dismisses Schindler; Karl Holz, a young Chancellery official and violinist, takes his place.
May: Beethoven goes to Baden for the summer and turns his attention to Prince Galitzin’s commission for three quartets.
June: Beethoven begins work on the String Quartet op. 127, and later in the year the String Quartet op. 132.

1825 London Ninth Symphony debut

21 March: First London performance of the Ninth Symphony, directed by Sir George Smart. Ill health forced Beethoven to cancel his intended trip to London to conduct the performance.
April: Beethoven falls ill with a serious abdominal complaint; he is attended by Doktor Braunhofer, who prescribes a strict diet.
Karl: informs his uncle of his decision to join the army.
May: Beethoven, in Baden again, works on the Galitzin Quartets, composing the Heiliger Dankgesang, the Holy Song of Thanks, for op. 132 as his health appears to improve.
June: Beethoven begins work on the String Quartet op. 130.
July: String Quartet op. 132 completed.
23 August: Beethoven begins work on the Grosse Fuge, intended as the finale for op. 130 but later published separately as op. 133.
Beethoven learns that Karl is secretly seeing his mother, which puts a strain on their relationship.
Johann van Beethoven invites Ludwig and Karl to stay at his estate in Gneixendorf.
Distraught at learning that Karl is now living with his mother, and suffering from a marked worsening of his health, Beethoven composes the Cavatina of op. 130. He later said no piece of music he had ever composed had brought forth from him such tears of grief.
15 October: Beethoven moves to his final lodgings in Vienna, the Schwarzspanierhaus.
Beethoven attempts a reconciliation with Karl, informing him he has purchased bank shares in his name.
15 December: Beethoven begins work on String Quartet op. 131.


21 March: Schuppanzigh and his quartet give the first public performance of the String Quartet op. 130. Beethoven agrees to compose a new final movement to replace the Grosse Fuge.
Johann again invites Beethoven and Karl to stay at Gneixendorf.
27 July: Karl buys a pistol intending to commit suicide. His intentions become known to his landlord, who contacts Beethoven.
29 July: Karl pawns his watch to buy another pistol and disappears with it.
30 July: Karl climbs to the Rauhenstein ruins in the Helenthal valley outside Baden — where he has so often climbed with his uncle — loads both barrels and puts the gun to his head. The first time his misses; the second shot grazes his head. He is found — and taken to his mother to recuperate.
July: Beethoven begins his last String Quartet, op. 135.
7 August: Karl is admitted to hospital for further treatment; as a potential suicide, he is forced to undergo religious instruction.
August: Ninth Symphony is published.
25 September: Karl leaves hospital.
28 September: Beethoven and Karl leave Vienna to stay with Johann at Gneixendorf.
In Gneixendorf Beethoven composes a new finale for op. 130.
1 December: After a furious row with Johann, Beethoven and Karl leave in the middle of the night in an open-top carriage for Vienna. Beethoven falls ill in a cold village tavern where they spend the night en route.
Back in Vienna, Beethoven is attended by Doktor Wawruch.
20 December: Beethoven undergoes an operation to reduce his abdominal swelling.

1827 Beethoven’s death

2 January: Karl departs for military service in Iglau in Bohemia.
8 January: Beethoven undergoes a second operation to drain fluid.
2 February: A third operation, as Beethoven’s health rapidly deteriorates.
27 February: A fourth operation, by which time the wound in Beethoven’s side has become infected.
March: Beethoven makes sketches for a Tenth Symphony.
22 March: Beethoven receives the last rites.
24 March: Beethoven receives a case of wine from the Mainz publisher, Schott. “Pity, pity, too late,” he says. They are his final words.
26 March Beethoven dies.
29 March: Beethoven’s funeral. Twenty thousand people line the streets of Vienna as the cortege processes to the Währinger cemetery, more than have ever been seen on the streets of the city. At the gates of the cemetery the funeral oration, written by Franz Grillparzer, is delivered by the actor Heinrich Anschütz.
4 June: Stephan von Breuning dies.
5 November: Beethoven’s musical effects are auctioned. His total estate is estimated at 9885 florins and 18 kreuzer, approximately £988 / $1620.



When Beethoven entered his thirtieth year, he began to suffer from an annoying roaring and buzzing in both ears. Soon his hearing began to fail and, for all he often would enjoy untroubled intervals lasting for months at a time, his disability finally ended in complete deafness. All the resources of the physician’s art were useless. At about the same time Beethoven noticed that his digestion began to suffer. …

At no time accustomed to taking medical advice seriously, he began to develop a liking for spirituous beverages, in order to stimulate his decreasing appetite and to aid his stomachic weakness by excessive use of strong punch and iced drinks. … He contracted a severe inflammation of the intestines which, though it yielded to treatment, later on often gave rise to intestinal pains and aching colics and which, in part, must have favored the eventual development of his mortal illness.
–Andreas Wawruch, physician attending Beethoven’s final illness, 1827

My hearing has become weaker during the last three years. Frank wished to restore me to health by means of strengthening medicines, and to cure my deafness by means of oil of almonds, but, prosit! nothing came of these remedies; my hearing became worse and worse. … Then an Asinus of a doctor advised cold baths, a more skillful one, the usual tepid Danube baths. These worked wonders; but my deafness remained or became worse. This winter I was truly miserable; I had terrible attacks of Kolik, and I fell quite back into my former state.
–Beethoven to Franz Wegeler, 1801

For the last six years I have been afflicted with an incurable complaint, made worse by incompetent doctors. From year to year my hopes of being cured have gradually been shattered … I must live like an outcast; if I appear in company, I am overcome by a burning anxiety, a fear that I am running the risk of letting people notice my condition. … How humiliated I have felt if somebody standing beside me heard the sound of a flute in the distance and I heard nothing. … I have such a sensitive body that any sudden change can plunge me from the best spirits into the worst of humors. …

When I am dead, request on my behalf Professor Schmidt, if he is still living, to describe my disease, and attach this written document to his record, so that after my death at any rate the world and I may be reconciled. …
–Beethoven to brothers Karl and Johann, 1802 (Heiligenstadt Testament)

Medical science is divided as to whether Beethoven’s deafness was due to direct damage to the auditory nerve (sensori-neural deafness) or to thickening and fixation of the bones which conduct sound through the middle ear (otosclerosis). … Otosclerosis is the commonest cause of deafness in a man of twenty-eight years, but the high-frequency hearing loss described by Beethoven is not typical of the condition and makes the diagnosis doubtful. …

Johann Wagner in his autopsy report identified the auditory nerves; he clearly thought they were implicated in the pathological process. The appearance of the auditory arteries seems more typical of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) than of endarteritis obliterans, which would have been seen in a chronic inflammatory condition such as syphilis.
–John O’Shea, Was Mozart Poisoned? Medical Investigations into the Lives of the Great Composers, 1991

According to Huttenbrenner, who was in the room, there was a sudden flash of lightning which garishly illuminated the death-chamber–snow lay outside–and a violent thunderclap. At this startling, aweful peal of thunder, the dying man suddenly raised his head and stretched out his right arm majestically, ‘like a general giving orders to an army.’ This was but for an instant; the arm sank down; he fell back. Beethoven was dead.
–A. W. Thayer, Life of Beethoven, 1866

The story of Beethoven apparently ‘shaking his fist at the heavens’ in one final act of defiance before oblivion has been dismissed as a romantic fiction by most Beethoven biographers. Surprisingly, it is an accurate clinical observation: people who die of hepatic failure often react in an exaggerated way to sudden stimuli such as bright light. This is due to the accumulation of toxic waste products normally excreted by the liver. Beethoven’s gesture may be seen as having been due to the cerebral irritation which accompanies hepatic failure, not as a conscious act.

The cause of Beethoven’s death–liver failure due to cirrhosis–was confirmed by the autopsy performed by Johann Wagner and Karl von Rokitansky. … The essential feature was macronodular cirrhosis of long standing with concomitant portal hypertension. Macronodular cirrhosis is less common than micronodular cirrhosis in alcoholic liver disease but certainly occurs frequently. … Chronic active hepatitis due to viral or auto-immune disease is a possibility, but it is not necessary to invoke this as an explanation in a patient known to have been drinking heavily over a thirty-year period.
–O’Shea, 1991

Beethoven’s was a long-term hepatitis, as the history from 1821 shows, which had flared up after the exposure during the journey from Gneixendorf. Such a chronic active hepatitis associated with colitis, rheumatism, repeated catarrhs, abscesses, cryopathy (attacks precipitated by chilling), the ophthalmia, and the skin disorder are extremely suggestive of connective tissue immunopathy [auto-immune disease]: such a diagnosis explains all his numerous illnesses. Arterial disease is constant in immunopathy; the atrophy of the auditory nerves could be due to arterial disease.
–Edward Larkin, Beethoven’s Medical History, 1970

Beethoven once had a terrible Typhus [fever with clouding of the mind]. From this time on dated the ruin of his nervous system and probably the ruin of his hearing, so calamitous in his case.
–Aloys Weissenbach, surgeon and Beethoven’s friend, 1820

Beethoven may well have had the specific form of immunopathic disease known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which typically commences in early adult life with a fever accompanied by mental confusion. Typical symptoms are destructive rash (‘lupus’) and redness (‘erythema’) of the butterfly area of the face. Any of the immunopathic disorders may occur, notably colitis. The excellent life-mask of 1812 shows an elongated atrophic scar particularly suggestive of Lupus. The portraits clearly show flushing of the cheekbones and nose. Beethoven’s high color was frequently commented on and may have aroused suspicions of heavy drinking.
–Larkin, 1970 


Beethoven rose at daybreak, no matter what season, and went at once to his work-table. There he worked until two or three o’ clock, when he took his midday meal. In the interim he usually ran out into the open two or three times, where he also “worked while walking.” Such excursions seldom exceeded a full hour’s time, and resembled the swarming out of the bee to gather honey. They never varied with the seasons and neither cold nor heat were noticed.The afternoons were dedicated to regular promenades; and at a later hour Beethoven was wont to hunt up some favorite beer-house, in order to read the news of the day, if he had not already satisfied this need at some cafe. At the time when the English parliament was sitting, however, the Allgemeine Zeitung was regularly read at home for the sake of the debates. It will be easily understood that our politico was arrayed on the side of the Opposition. Nor was his great predilection for Lord Brougham, Hume, and other Opposition orators necessary to this end.Beethoven always spent his winter evenings at home, and devoted them to serious reading. It was but seldom that one saw him busy with music-paper in the evening, since writing music was too taxing for his eyes. In former years this may not have been the case; yet it is quite certain that at no time did he employ the evening hours for composition (creation). At ten o’ clock at the latest he went to bed.

— Anton Schindler —
Life of Beethoven – 1840


Groot kunstenaarschap gaat niet altijd samen met lezen, schrijven en rekenen. Beethoven heeft maar een paar jaar op school  en blonk als leerling niet bepaald uit. Het slechte lezen en schrijven heeft hem zijn leven lang achtervolgd. Zijn schrift is vol taalfouten en nauwelijks leesbaar. Maar rekenen was voor Ludwig het ergste van alles. Wilde hij weten hoeveel 13 maal 24 was, dan schreef hij het getal 24 dertien keer onder elkaar en maakte een optelsom.

Ondanks zijn slechte rekenprestaties werd Beethoven wel rijk. Het lijkt erop dat de meeste missers in zijn voordeel uitvielen.

Was hij toch een rekentalent?

Beethoven en huisbazen

Voor huisbazen was Beethoven een regelrechte ramp. Begon hijzelf geen heibel over huur of herrie, dan zorgde zijn pianospel wel voor hoog oplopende ruzie. Was er ergens weer bonje, dan trok de componist eenvoudig de deur achter zich dicht en zocht een nieuwe woning. Vaak zonder de vorige op te zeggen. Op deze manier huurde hij in 1804 tegelijkertijd vier verschillende appartementen.

In de 35 jaar dat hij in Wenen woonde, had hij maar liefst 30 adressen achter de rug.

Het leven & de muziek van Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) op Compact Discs, DVD's en Boeken

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