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Bad Eagle Journal

Beethoven Was A Revolutionary

by David Yeagley · December 16, 2011 · 55 Comments ·

Today, December 16, is Ludwig van Beethoven‘s 241st birthday. Born in 1770, and no doubt the greatest composer in Western history, Beethoven was also a political revolutionary, at least at heart. A low-German Catholic from Bonn of the Rhineland, he lived during a revolutionary time of European history, and had much to say about it.

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

Napoleon Bonaparte was knocking on Europe’s Hapsburg doors in 1804, and, Beethoven’s initial response was to welcome him. Beethoven was from a poverty-stricken family, son of an alcoholic, and resented the social strata which excluded him. As his talents and heroic determination helped him rise in the social world, he was attracted to the idea that all men were equal, and that freedom was the most precious social condition. Napoleon seemed to embody these sentiments. Beethoven particularly hated British royalty (which, of course, had Hapsburg and Hanover royalty floating about in the blood), and welcomed any movement that resisted it. Beethoven admired the American revolutionaries.

However, in 1804, when Napoleon elevated himself as “His Imperial Majesty Napoleon the First, Emperor of the French,” Beethoven was disappointed and outraged. France had, of course, humiliated and crippled the Catholic church in retaliation for the papal abuse of France. That retaliation is known as the French Revolution of 1789. Napoleon by 1804 had the papacy under control, and he was not about be controlled by Rome in any way. But this attitude completely offended Beethoven, who then saw Napoleon as just another tyrant. In a famous scene witnessed by Ferdinand Reis and Count Moritz Lichnowsky, Beethoven seized the title page of his new “Eroica” (heroic) Symphony No. 3, which had been dedicated to Napoleon, and tore it in two, threw it on the floor, and stomped on it.

Beethoven was considered a radical, an eccentric, and emotionally unstable by the average Viennese citizen. Beethoven was that dusky, unkempt, emotional brawler from dirty little Bonn. Beethoven had all sorts of handicaps, as well. Not only was he naturally socially paranoid, but he became deaf, and, according to my research in to the actual “doodlings” on his manuscripts (–research done in 1990 at Hartt School of Music), Beethoven had a motor handicap. He who is universally acknowledged as the arbiter of rhythmically-based compositional structure, had extreme difficulty translating his rhythmic impressions into musical notation. Beethoven was suicidal in 1802, at thirty-two years old.

Perhaps he was an abused child. He was only 15 when his mother died, and he had to assume responsibility for the family (father and siblings) since his alcoholic father was wholly unreliable. Beethoven was swarthy, and often called “Der Spangol” (the Spaniard). He was most definitely isolated from his peers by his incredible talent as a performer and composer. He grew into a most disagreeable man. He was unspeakably rude, even violent, to other people when he thought he was crossed by them. He was plagued by his absent-mindedness in simple, practical things. He was a complete klutz, breaking nearly everything he touched (including many piano strings!), and he was never able to learn the most simple dance steps–so critical in social intercourse with the elites in whose circles his talents thrust him.

Beethoven was agonizingly aware of social status, of class warfare, and was compelled to speak and act–and compose–in honor of the brotherhood of man. His 9th Symphony, the “Choral” symphony, declares Beethoven’s ultimate attitude. All men are brothers. And, of all the emotions available to us, we must choose joy.

He saw that freedom in art was a corollary of freedom in society. To Beethoven, independence as an artist was the equivalent of independence and freedom for the citizen. The common man should throw off oppression and tyranny the same way Beethoven overthrew the conventional concepts of musical government in composition. He most definitely identified himself, however grandiosely, with the revolution of freedom and democracy in his day.

Yet, Beethoven came to appreciate order, convention, and even tradition. In 1819, he wrote to his patron Archduke Rudolph:

Freedom,–progress, is purpose in the art-world as in universal creation, and if we moderns have not the hardihood of our ancestors, refinement of manners has surely accomplished something.

This, written by a man who threw eggs in the face of a waitress when they were not to his taste.

I recall these thoughts about Beethoven, one of the idols of my youth, as I consider my own experience as a composer, and a politically-minded commentator. There are a number of people who feel that my political views interfere and even inhibit my professional success as a composer. Even the former chairman of the Comanche Nation, Wallace Coffey, more than once told me that I could be so much more successful if I would lay off my political views. A number of Jewish friends have pleaded with me to drop the politics, and give people my music. Music transcends political strife, they feel, and music is so much more valuable.

I wonder how often Beethoven heard such advice? I wonder if it ever affected his thinking, or his composing?

I feel that my friends advise me this way simply because they disagree with my political views. What they say may be true in regard to success, to some extent, but is a musician disallowed a political view? Can’t a composer have a political thought? This is a curious challenge. It says something about the nature of music.

In his diary (of 1816) Beethoven wrote, “Follow the advice of others only in the rarest cases.” Who could advise someone like Beethoven? Louis Spohr, a contemporary composer and violinist, described Beethoven as uncouth and repulsive in demeanor, but attributed such lack of “manners” as partly due to his deafness. Who can advise a musical genius who cannot hear his own works?

I would have to say, a man’s personal characteristics, however offensive or attractive, are not the basis of rejecting his thoughts. Perhaps there is a lesson in Ludwig van Beethoven for our modern political environment. Of course, it’s one thing to reject a mans ideas in preference to his music; it is another to reject a man’s music due to his political ideas. Alas, it is yet another thing to equate bad manners with political ideas.

This year promises to be a successful one for me, as a composer. There are major developments. If my political views interfere with any professional musical developments, I shall not be able to compare myself with Ludwig van Beethoven.

George R. Marek, Beethoven: Biography of a Genius (1969)
J. W. N. Sullivan, Beethoven: His Spiritual Development (1927)
Beethoven: Impressions by His Contemporaries, ed. Sonneck (1926)
Beethoven: the man and the artist, ed. Kurst (1905)
Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (1977)
The Beethoven Sketchbooks, ed. Johnson (1985)
J. M. Thompson, Napoleon Bonaparte (1952)

Posted by David Yeagley · December 16, 2011 · 1:42 pm CT · ·

Tags: American Patriotism · Arts · Bad Eagle Journal · Music · Politics · Religion · Western Europe

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55 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pamela K. // Dec 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm   

    Revolutionary. Tormented Genius. Manic-Depressive. Victim of lead poisoning.

    Beethoven was said to be all these things.

    In the book, “Manic Depression and Creativity” authors D. Jablow Hershman and Dr.Julian Lieb raise a convincing argument that the most influential composer of all time was indeed manic-depressive, or as we say, today, “bi-polar” :
    “… It may be that Beethoven survived as a creator because he was brave or because his love of music kept him going. What he did have were his manic days of “pure joy” that he prayed for, and manias triggered by the process of working, along with the confidence and optimism mania brings.”

    And then, he would “crash and burn” his high state of elation marked by sudden rages and later, despair, his confidence and optimism inexplicably shattered by mind-numbing depression and thoughts of suicide
    In 1813, Beethoven disappeared for three days and it was feared that he might have taken his own life. A few years later, during another bout with depression, the composer wrote, “During the last six weeks my health has been so shaky, so that I often think of death, but without fear …”

    Authors Hershman and Lieb noted a rough correlation between the composer’s output of creativity and drastic manic phases. The warm months of summer seemed to fuel Beethoven’s creative bursts of energy, bringing on periods of intense activity, while the long, cold Austrian winters often brought on severe bouts of depression that literally stopped him in his tracks.

    Of Beethoven’s creative genius, fellow composer and teacher Franz Joseph Haydn once wrote,
    “You will accomplish more than has ever been accomplished. You have thoughts that no other has had. You will never sacrifice a beautiful idea to a tyrannical rule, and in that you will be right. But you will sacrifice your rules to your moods, for you seem to me to be a man of many heads and hearts. One will always find something irregular in your compositions, things of beauty, but rather dark and strange.”

    Unfortunately, to medicate himself against his dark and strange moods, Beethoven drank excessively and became addicted to opium. Alcohol is said to have been the cause of his death at age 56 in 1827.

    In 2000, however, scientists analyzing several pieces of Beethoven’s hair found unusually high levels of lead. According to leading researcher, William Walsh,
    : “We are quite certain that lead was responsible for his lifelong illnesses and that lead impacted his personality.”

  • 2 David Yeagley // Dec 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm   

    Every conceivable theory about Beethoven’s health, physical and mental, has been put forward. The dead are so fruitful. And so innocently silent!

    The first time Beethoven’s hair was analyzed, they said it proved he was part Negro. Then they said he died of Syphilis. Usually, “experts” in different fields take turn publishing the latest theory, or trendy thought. They use a famous historical person, who isn’t around to contest anything. Beethoven was subjected to post-mortum psychoanalysis early on. One author suggested that Beethoven was a homosexual. I mean, whatever sells a book.

    Most of these things all do appear to be at least partially true! (I don’t know about the Negro hair, of course. That’s beyond my pay grade.)

    Then there is tuberculosis, dysentery, congestive heart failure, etc.

    I must say, I never read anything about excessive drinking, or any drinking. That’s a new one. I have never once read anything about that, and completely doubt it. He could not have composed or performed the way he did, particularly the compositions of the latter days. I think that drinking bit is a opportunistic accusation.

    (Let’s hope Jewish authors Hershman and Lieb are not indulging some nasty anti-Teutonism!)

    The bi-polar thing sounds legit, to me, although Solomon did not make a point of it. “Crazy” is what everyone called Beethoven. Indeed.

    I’ll be interested to look at that Hershman & Lieb book. Not a new theme, but, probably has more updated data.

  • 3 David Yeagley // Dec 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm   

    Where would the “lead” have come from? German beer? Again, I’ve never read anything about alcohol as a factor at all in Beethoven’s life–except that alcoholism of his father.

    Sometimes, a kid won’t drink at all, in defiance or rebellion against an alcoholic father. Perhaps not usually the case, but, it can happen. Did for me.

    I started reading books on Beethoven when I was in eleven years old. Certainly haven’t read but a fraction of them. I admired Beethoven’s courage. That’s what struck me. He seemed very much alone, but, fearless. Perhaps I misread his life. Who knows?

  • 4 David Yeagley // Dec 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm   

    There is a question of propriety when analyzing the dead.

    In our day of modern weakness and indulgence–based on tyranny–they would have taken the little Ludwig, put him in a foster home, put him on Ritalin, forced therapy sessions, and essentially stifled his talents

    The whole view of creativity as mental illness is, as a said, not a new one, but I’m thinking these days it’s part of the emasculation process of liberalism. Liberals don’t want achievers of any kind. That disturbs their “equality,” i.e., their control over everyone else.

    Beethoven’s beliefs in freedom on the dignity of man are not to be associated with liberalism, by any means! Liberals? He would have boxed their ears, for sure.

  • 5 Asaph // Dec 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm   

    I am a “selective” listener to classical music. I like powerful compositions. Beethoven certainly created some.

    As you have said before, sports is not political. Music is not political, either, unless you create lyrics to be so. Of course, when lib performers strike at conservatives (or so-called conservatives) they get hailed. If conservative performers hit liberals, it is put down as taking advantage of the arts. Always a double standard.

    On the other hand, as I recall when the Dixie Chicks slammed Bush their CD sales went down. Music is only political when you make it so lyrically, or by personal comments. And sure, you may hurt your own exposure and possibilities and shut doors as a result. At least when those who control the doors differ from you.

  • 6 Asaph // Dec 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm   

    As I recall, David, you once said many years ago that your writing has been called either too religious for secular publications, or too secular for religious publications.

    You’re just an alien, Bro. A traveler to another land not yet reached. A stranger and pilgrim, looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.

  • 7 Pamela K. // Dec 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm   

    “There is a question of propriety when analyzing the dead.” -David Yeagley

    I agree. I really hate it when people start speculating about the whys and wherefores of the dead.
    Let them rest in peace!
    I suppose my own interest in this great man being tested by manic-depression is because someone I love very much suffers from the same illness. I believe there is a strong link between manic depression and high levels of creativity in certain people. One of the best books I ever read about the complexities of this illness was the autobiography, “Call Me Anna” by actress Patty Duke.
    I have never heard the theory that Beethoven had Negro blood. However, as far as him being poisoned with lead, it could have been through the pipes used to bring water into Vienna. Lead piping was fairly common back in those days because it was easy to mold and very durable for carrying water.

  • 8 Pamela K. // Dec 17, 2011 at 8:34 am   

    ” I never read anything about excessive drinking, or any drinking… He (Beethoven) could not have composed or performed the way he did, particularly the compositions of the latter days. I think that drinking bit is a opportunistic accusation.” – David Yeagley

    You might be surprised to know that certain people can and do highly function while “under the influence”. I personally knew a man who used to paint cars and trucks for a living. He was a phenomenal freehand artist and sign painter who did his best work while high on marijuana and alcohol. In fact, his artwork was usually flourished with the motif of a marijuana leaf!
    But this said, I am in no way advocating the use of illegal drugs, or the excessive consumption of alcohol in order to spark creativity!

  • 9 Sioux // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:44 am   

    Should we hold a man’s politics against enjoying his art? Dr. Y, you have helped me to eliminate my negative feelings about listening to music or going to a movie of a Flaming Lib. I don’t want you to ever stop writing your political commentary because it is so valuable. However, I know nothing about your musical talents other than your having discussed them. I am very angry about the number of people who have great talent and don’t get the exposure due to their conservative politics. We the people demand EQUAL TIME !!!!

    BTW – lead poisoning was common back in the day when people were drinking from pewter mugs.

  • 10 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm   

    Wow! Where to begin? One cannot even measure the influence of Beethoven or Shakespeare on Western culture!

    Ludwig van Beethoven

  • 11 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm   

    Pam, I appreciate your point. But, music requires accuracy in notes, written on paper. It’s like bead work. Granted, Beethoven’s manuscripts were always a bit messy, from his youth on. But, I would never want to equate Beethoven’s creativity with artificial stimulation, or compare him to any kind of alcoholic who does creative work while drunk. I just can’t do that. I’d really have to be convinced about Beethoven having any kind of alcohol problem–different from any other German who drank more black beer than water! (Water wasn’t very pure in those days…)

    I really don’t have any evidence against the accusation, however. What I want to see is evidence for it truth. Did the Drs. claim to note an autopsy or something that indicated sclerosis of the liver? I’m sure most every European back then would have the same condition. Ha!

  • 12 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm   

    Thras, the only material used for evidence of “questionable” sexual orientation are those letters between Beethoven and his nephew Karl. Beethoven was too atrocious for any reasonable woman to marry, but, still, he wanted a child, certainly he wanted to take care of his deceased brother’s son. I think Beethoven just didn’t know how to be cool, calm, and collected. He was a dramatist. I think the article you site is grossly unfair, if not blasphemous, to say Beethoven’s sexual orientation is questionable. I think that of the authors is. Homosexuals live to accuse famous dead people of having been homosexual. It strengthens their case, they think. I find it strengthens the case against them.

  • 13 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm   

    Beethoven had innumerable female friends, associates, and perhaps affairs. Isn’t clear on that latter part. One lady, really trying to help him fit in Vienna and the new, high society, used to sneak into his apartment when he was gone, and stuff his bureau with fresh, clean shirts…

    I mean, the poor guy was seemingly not all there, in so many ways. But, he was amazingly educated, wise, brilliant, even in his words.

  • 14 Pamela K. // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm   

    I’m not sure what caused Beethoven’s death. My interest as I stated earlier was finding a link between creativity and manic-depression. Not all highly creative people have this disorder. My own belief is that it is inherited and has to do with abnormal brain chemistry. Also, I think Beethoven, if he did suffer from this disorder, might have tried to hide it. And if he did drink, may be it was to fight the demons that tormented him, especially the fear of being found out and committed to an insane asylum. In his day, people who were deemed mentally ill were often terribly mistreated and exploited by the societies they lived in. Remember the notorious Bedlam asylum? The wealthy elite use to make regular visits there to laugh at and make fun of the people confined in that horrible place.

  • 15 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm   

    I don’t really know the situation on mental illness in Central Europe (Germany in particular, or Austria) in the early 19th century. I do know something about mental illness in France. (Freud was greatly influence by French psychologists when he was younger.)

    Sex, religion, and the making of modern madness: the Eberbach Asylum and German society, 1815-1849, by Ann Goldberg is not a book I have, but really should have!

    Nor do I have Clinical psychiatry in imperial Germany: a history of psychiatric practice, by Eric J. Engstrom. I don’t know however, what exact period which is covered.

    I don’t know how I wound up with books on French wacko-ness!

  • 16 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm   

    Yes, I am aware that the only references of strong affection in Beethoven towards another male human being are found in Beethoven’s letters to Karl.

    The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, believed all human beings are, at root, “bisexual.” For my part, I do not believe that homosexuality is actually a valid scientific “sexual classification.” It doesn’t really exist in that way. Homosexuality, in my humblest opinion, is a matter of “taste,” not biology. I am truly saying that “homosexuality” itself does not exist! I certainly do not believe — no, not for a single second — that Beethoven was a “sodomite.” (I really hate to use such an unpleasant term in the same sentence as my greatest hero.)

    There is much in the world of the ‘plastic arts’ in Western Civilization, from Ancient Greece to the present — especially in painting and sculpture — to prove that many men who were artists were strongly moved by their perception of beauty in the male youth. This fact makes some — perhaps many — people uncomfortable.
    This is why the fine arts have always been controversial. This is why professional artists have always been regarded as abnormal and possibly even dangerous pariahs. Yet Carl Jung insists that artistic talent and temperament is not a sign of neurosis.

    Carl Jung

    Beethoven really did love Karl — and it was doubtless Platonic. I think that the purest love is always higher than any mere sexual interest.

  • 17 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:01 pm   

    “I’m not sure what caused Beethoven’s death.” — Pamela K

    Nobody is.

    Some have even conjectured that Beethoven suffered from, and perhaps died of, lupus.

    All we really do know is that the master got a good soaking in the rain as he took a ride home from a concert of his own music on an open milk-cart during a storm, since he did not have money for the cab fare! Pneumonia certainly played a part in his death, along with an attack of jaundice, and with dropsy as a complication.

  • 18 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:04 pm   

    For my part, I do not believe that Beethoven could have written his masterpieces while intoxicated. He had to have a clear mind to do his miraculous work! Beethoven had an unlimited musical intelligence and this would have been impaired if he were always “under the influence.”

  • 19 Pamela K. // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:11 pm   

    Vienna was once the location of one of the earliest and notorious insane asylums in central Europe, the Narrenturm, also called, “The Fool’s Tower”

    Constructed in 1784 under Emperor Joseph II, this circular structure housed 139 individual cells for inmates.

    Each cell had strong, barred doors, and chains were used for shackling inmates. Resembling a barracks, the Narrenturm was a visible reminder of how those deemed mentally ill were stigmatized and segregated from the rest of society. The worst part of it all was that mentally ill people were thrown into this asylum along with criminal deviants and were often victimized by them as well as their “caregivers.”
    “Gugelhupf” (a type of round cake) is a German slang word for mental asylums and psychiatric clinics like the Narrenturm.

  • 20 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:12 pm   

    Interestingly, although Beethoven openly despised royalty, (and wrote a hilarious set of piano variations mocking the British theme, “God Save the King”), he was desperate to raise his own social status. When he was new in Vienna, he even tried to alter his name, from “van” Beethoven to “von” Beethoven. “Van” was Flemish, or Dutch. “Von” was German regency, at many levels. I think that name change was on a title page of one of his earliest symphonies, if I remember right. It didn’t work out, of course, the name, I mean.

  • 21 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm   

    Dr. Y,

    I also find it strange, most unnecessary, and even disgraceful that the above-linked-to article speculated about our hero’s purported ‘sexual orientation.’ That worse-than-useless material marred the overall quality of the writing. This is a sign of the times in which we are living. If you want, you certainly have my blessing simply to delete the link.

  • 22 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:17 pm   

    Pam, that it terribly interesting! The circular design was obviously the model of many other European mad houses–at least those in England.

    But, I must say, there is never in any correspondence of Beethoven, or in any that anyone else wrote, a word about mental illness or “madness” as it would have been called. No clinical concerns. Why? His superior music, the highest art in Europe. He was the top!

    I guess, if you’re crazy, best to have a superior talent…

    Or, if you have a superior talent, maybe that’s what makes you seem crazy!

    Edgar Allan Poe said that a vastly superior mind would be judged mad. Look for such a person, he said, in Bedlam, or on the gallows.

  • 23 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm   

    About the “van” versus “von.”

    My reading has led me to the opposite conclusion!

    The biography I read said that Beethoven was so proud of his Dutch paternal ancestry that he strenuously resisted all those Germans who tried to get him to change the spelling of his name, despite the obvious advantages such a change might have given him, politically.

  • 24 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm   

    The name Beethoven is composed of two Dutch words — Beet + hoven. The first part has the same meaning as in English. The second is an old Dutch word for “garden.” Thus, in modern Dutch, an ‘hovenier’ is a “gardener.”

    What the name tells us is that the Beethovens were originally Flemish farmers who grew beets.

  • 25 ELIAKIM // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm   

    So who is greater David, Beethoven that is an idol of yours or the will of the LORD?

    Who do you aspire to be like?

    Beethoven or to become one with the LORD Almighty, HE who bestows blessings beyond measure to those that align with his will.

    What do you choose David?

    For your people to perish with your nation of Babylon or to align with Joseph?

    The biblical prophecies predicted that only the tribes of Joseph will be saved.

    Hence why the Dead Sea Scrolls spoke of the Messanic era of Joseph, and that only one in 1,000 would be able to stand before Joseph the flame.

    You stand before me the idol of Beethoven.

    What about the children?

    Prophet Malachi pre-warned you about this timeline and told you all that if your do not turn your hearts to the children then your nations will be destroyed.

    And what of Russell Means did you honor him?
    Did you help him?

    Did you know that he is making an amazing recovery from cancer?

    DId you know that he is written in the biblical prophecies as well?

    What do you know David?

    Do you truly know the self?

    Do you exalt the children as commanded to do so?

  • 26 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:45 pm   

    You see, Dutch is a bit closer to English than is German. “Beet” in German does not mean ‘beet.’ The word for this plant in German is “Rube.” In German, “Beet” means ‘(garden) bed,’ not ‘beet.’

    Beethoven’s name, in German, simply does not carry any legitimate historical meaning; therefore, it would be foolish to sacrifice the honest origin of the name.

  • 27 Pamela K. // Dec 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm   

    I’ve always heard there is a thin line between real genius and insanity. Let’s hope for Beethoven’s sake, he was merely a genius!
    Besides, musicians are often accused, along with artists and writers, of having an “artistic temperament”.
    In other words, what some people might find peculiar behavior, others, who are more observant, as well as thoughtful, would simply acknowledge someone like Beethoven as “marching to the beat of a different drummer”.
    I personally believe that those who dare to be themselves are often the people who end up making a difference in the world.

    Moonlight Sonata (This is my favorite)
    Ludwig van Beethoven

  • 28 Thrasymachus // Dec 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm   

    Another favorite “You Tube” Beethoven performance:

    Glenn Gould – Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto 4/4

  • 29 David Yeagley // Dec 17, 2011 at 11:44 pm   

    The meaning of Beethoven’s name is one of the first things you learn when you start reading about him.

    Louis van Beethoven (grandfather) was apparently the first musician in the family. Our composer sometimes signed his name “Louis,” rather than Ludwig. Interestingly, grandfather Louis had changed his own name to Ludwig!

    Curiously, an earlier ancestor, Arnold van Beethoven suffered the tragedy of seeing his wife burned at the stake for witchcraft in 1595.

    Our composer’s father, Johann, married Maria Magdalena Keverich, daughter of an “Overseer of Cooking” in in the Bonn Elector’s mansion. That he married a working girl, cook, and once chambermaid was an embarrassment to the Beethoven family, lowly as it was. The professional musician somehow prided himself as more.

    Maria had been married before, at 17, and had lost an infant son, as well as her husband, before she was 19. She married Johann at 21. She herself died when our composer was only 15. Biographer Marek says that the Keverich family was on a social par with the Beethovens, actually.

    The name “Beethoven” turns up in 13th century Flemish chronicles of several cities.

    Marek also disputes the degree of Johann’s alcoholism, and decries the “villain” role assigned him by so many biographers.

    Hard to say.

  • 30 Pamela K. // Dec 17, 2011 at 11:58 pm   

    Beethoven & Bridgewater

    George Polgreen Bridgewater, that is!

    A Polish born composer who claimed to have descended from an African prince! Could this be where the (mistaken) theory came from that Beethoven was part black?

    Below is an excerpt from the British Library Website:

    “In Vienna, supported by stylish performances and his Royal connections, he (Bridgewater) was welcomed into the ‘highest musical circles’. Prince Lichnowsky, a Polish aristocrat and Beethoven’s patron, introduced him to the great composer, who had already begun sketching the first two movements of what was to become the Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin in A (Op.47), the ‘Kreutzer’ sonata. Listen to the Kreutzer Sonata, performed by Bronislaw Huberman in the 1930s. It was first performed at a concert given by Bridgetower at the Augarten-Halle in Vienna on 24 May 1803, Beethoven himself playing the piano part. The sonata was copied out from Beethoven’s original hurried notation, and was barely finished in time. The piano part of the first movement was only sketched, and Bridgetower was required to read the violin part of the second movement from Beethoven’s manuscript. He did this with aplomb, delighting an audience which included Prince Esterházy, Count Razumovsky (the Russian admiral turned diplomat and friend of Beethoven) and the British ambassador.

    Bridgetower’s own memorandum of the event, written on a copy of the manuscript, records an alteration he introduced in the violin part (imitating the passage-work of the piano in the first movement). This pleased Beethoven so much that “he jumped up exclaiming, ‘Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!’ (‘Once more, my dear fellow!’)”. He also presented Bridgetower with his tuning fork, which is now in the British Library.”

  • 31 David Yeagley // Dec 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm   

    The Negro bit was another biographer’s trend in book publishing, I’m afraid. First, everyone, every famous historical figure, had syphilis. When that market maxed out as a book-selling theme, then all the famous dead were then homosexual. Then, when that idea maxed out, everyone was part Negro. Now, of course, they were all mentally ill. Next, they were all liberal Democrats!

    These are just marketing trends in the publishing business. I’m thinking it all started with a biography, a psychoanalytic biography, of Edgar Allan Poe–by Marie Bonaparte (yes–direct descendent), who was one of the two most famous pupils of Sigmund Freud! Her work on Poe was published in 1949.

  • 32 David Yeagley // Dec 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm   

    Some of the most glorious music thought is in Beethoven last piano sonatas, Op. 109, 110, and 111.

    And yes, Glenn Gould recorded them. On an old Columbia label, in the ’60s, he recorded all of them. This is some of the greatest music moments in history, I think, for composer, performer, and 33 LP recording engineering!

    I don’t know how to local such a recording these days. There is a YouTube of Gould playing Op. 109, in E Major. In the final movement, the variations, you’ll hear some of the most wonderful expression, the refulgence of joy and confidence. Unbelievable, really.

    Be patient and careful in your listening! (By the way, this is NOT the Columbia recording, which, in my opinion, was twice as good, in every way.)

  • 33 David Yeagley // Dec 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm   

    By the way, Glenn Gould was about as eccentric as Beethoven! And also a genius, no doubt.

  • 34 Pamela K. // Dec 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm   

    There is no way that Ludwig van Beethoven was a homosexual! Hasn’t any of his detractors ever heard about the story of the young woman named Giulietta Guicciardi, who stole and later broke the great composer’s heart?

    He was her piano teacher at one time and very much in love with her. But her parents felt that he was not good enough for their daughter and so she ended up marrying Count Gallenburg in 1803.
    When she came back home to Vienna from Italy in 1821, she came to see Beethoven who allegedly rejected her. He had never gotten over the shock and hurt of losing her to someone else.
    Beethoven allegedly had numerous affairs with different women, all of which ended without any permanent union.
    Perhaps he never married because he loved only one woman, Giulietta. Isn’t that what is called ‘unrequited love’?
    A medallion with a portrait of the Countess was found among Beethoven’s personal belongings after his death.
    Although his “Immortal Beloved” letters were said to have been written to another woman, Antonie Brentano, some researchers attributed them to have been written to Giulietta Guicciardi.

  • 35 David Yeagley // Dec 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm   

    You see, the Italian women got to him…

    (Well, they had dark hair and dark eyes, like him!)

  • 36 Pamela K. // Dec 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm   

    While many Italian women have dark hair and dark eyes where my paternal grandfather came from in Italy, Trentino Alto Adige province, the people are more fair-skinned and many are blonde with blue or green eyes. I’ll wager there’s quite a few people with various shades of red hair too! The people in that region speak both Italian and German, and a lesser known language called Ladin (in some remote areas) which is similar to Swiss Romansh.

  • 37 Pamela K. // Dec 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm   

    Beethoven’s letter to his mysterious ” Immortal Beloved” which was never mailed and found among his personal belongings after his death.

    ” Good morning, on 7 July, 1812
    Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us – I can live only wholly with you or not at all – Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits – Yes, unhappily it must be so – You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart – never – never – Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in V is now a wretched life – Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men – At my age I need a steady, quiet life – can that be so in our connection? My angel, I have just been told that the mailcoach goes every day – therefore I must close at once so that you may receive the letter at once – Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together – Be calm – love me – today – yesterday – what tearful longings for you – you – you – my life – my all – farewell. Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.
    ever thine
    ever mine
    ever ours”

  • 38 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm   

    Of the Glenn Gould recordings:

    Someone told me that all Gould’s Columbia recordings were re-released in a single huge box set, with original album covers. I don’t know if this is so.

    On one CD I have, entitled “The Glenn Gould Legacy, Vol. 2,” there are three Beethoven sonatas: No. 30 (Opus 109), No. 31 (Opus 110), and No. 32 (Opus 111).

    Also interesting is that Gould recorded the “Moonlight Sonata’s” opening movement in a tempo that is what Beethoven would likely have intended. (It is even marked in Beethoven’s hand as in ‘cut time’!)

    The publisher added the “Moonlight” description, not the composer, and thus the opening tempo has been slowed down tremendously to fit the supposed “theme.”

    Here are one You Tube viewer’s comments (they are not mine):

    “Traditionally, adagio has about 66-76 bpm.

    Gould is playing at around 70 bpm.

    It’s faster than most people play it (perhaps that’s why you don’t like it, because it sounds different than what you’re used to?), but it’s not “too fast”. ”

    I must admit that I like this interpretation tremendously.

    And here is the link: S Glenn Gould – Moonlight Sonata pt. I (Beethoven)

  • 39 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm   

    The Gould Beethoven CD I have is from when CBS Masterworks still owned the Gould master tapes, so it would now be out-of-issue.

  • 40 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm   

    “I don’t know how to locate such a recording these days.” — David Yeagley

    I listened to the online Gould performance of Beethoven’s Opus 109.

    Now I’m listening to the Columbia Masterworks CD release.

    This Gould performance is a studio recording and, almost certainly the one you are looking for.

  • 41 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm   

    Well, it looks like they may have the recordings — for those who can afford them! We’re talking $1,500. (One thousand five hundred US dollars.)

    Check on Amazon for:

    “Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection – Exclusive [Box set, Limited Edition] — 80 compact discs.”

  • 42 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm   

    Here Gould talks about Beethoven’s genius and about his own (Gould’s) philosophy of musical performance — all using the Opus 109 sonata to illustrate! Gould reveals to us how Beethoven’s musical intelligence was truly unlimited.

    S Glenn Gould – talks about Beethoven Sonata

  • 43 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm   

    Also, what Gould is saying would confirm the theme of Dr. Yeagley’s article, that Beethoven was indeed the ultimate revolutionary — musically speaking.

  • 44 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm   

    I’d like to add one last point, if I may.

    For those who are atheists and who believe that God doesn’t hear and answer prayer, let Glenn Gould stand as a witness.

    Glenn Gould’s mother, very devout, from her early days as a young girl, long before she even met her husband-to-be, prayed specifically that she would have a son, that his name would be Glenn, and that he would be a great concert pianist.

    After several miscarriages, Glenn Gould was born — and he certainly literally fulfilled the specifics of his mother’s girlhood prayer!

    When Gould was born, the physician in attendance, observing baby Gould’s restless arms and fingers, declared, “That boy is going to be a pianist.”

  • 45 Pamela K. // Dec 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm   

    One more note on Beethoven. I remember when I was growing up in the late 1970’s and a man named Walter Murphy, whose modern take on Beethoven’s Fifth was not only an overnight sensation on the Top 40 chart, but introduced this work of the great composer to a whole new generation.

  • 46 Pamela K. // Dec 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm   

    ” No one else can ever possess my heart – never – never – Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves.”-Ludwig van Beethoven

    The heartache of unrequited love! Here’s one for you, Ludwig.

  • 47 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm   

    A beautiful Beethoven melody adapted and made into a pretty song:

    S Music of the Angels

  • 48 Thrasymachus // Dec 18, 2011 at 8:15 pm   

    There’s an interesting true story about Beethoven’s last friendship. It also reveals that, far from being anti-social, Beethoven was a kind-hearted man with a true love for his fellow human beings:

    “Old friends and new gathered by his sickbed, and the ten-year-old son of his old friend Stephan Breuning, in particular, provided a source of diversion. Little Gerhard came by every day, concerned himself with Beethoven’s welfare, gave him his medicine, brought food from home to him, and lent him his books. Beethoven called him “my Ariel, light as the wind” and enjoyed seeing him.” — Jeroen Koolbergen

  • 49 David Yeagley // Dec 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm   

    It’s true that Italians come in all colors. (I’ve known red-heads–from Naples!)

    But, as I recall, from the cameos or pictures available of Beethoven’s Italian girlfriends, they were all dark headed and dark eyed.

    Giuliette Guicciardi

    Even his early Austrian girlfriend had dark hair and eyes.

    Therese von Brunswick

    The Brentano girl is a bit of a mystery, in terms of images. I found only two in the net: Marek says she was only a family friend (that is, she and her family) of Beethoven. Many domestic letters, but nothing indicating any kind of relationship. Besides, she was ten years younger, married, and with child when she became acquainted with Beethoven.

    Marek lists as candidates for the “Immortal Beloved:”

    Magdalene Willmann
    Giuletta Guicciardi
    The Brunswick Sisters (Therese, Josephine,
    and Charlotte
    Maria Erdody
    Bettina Brentano
    Therese Malfatti
    Amalie Sebald
    Rahel Levin
    Marie Pachler-Koschak
    Dorothea von Ertmann

  • 50 Pamela K. // Dec 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm   

    Antonie Brentano

    Antonie von Birkenstock was born in Vienna on May 28, 1780, thus 10 years younger than Beethoven. She underwent eduction with the Ursuline order in Pressburg.
    On July 23, 1798 she married the Frankfurt merchant Franz Brentano, 15 years her senior. Her first child was born in 1799 but died a year later. She then had four surviving children. Solomon states that her marriage was unhappy.
    In June 1809, Antonie’s father was seriously ill in Vienna and she went there with her children in early October. Her husband followed a short time later and set up a branch of his firm in Vienna. In May 1810, Antonie’s sister-in-law Bettina Brentano introduced her to Beethoven for the first time.
    The Brentano’s remained in Vienna until late in 1812 – she didn’t like Frankfurt much and was ill most of the time. During her illnesses Beethoven would often play the piano for her. The Immortal Beloved letters were written at a time when it was evident that she would be leaving Vienna. After her departure at the end of 1812 she and Beethoven never met again.
    Antonie Brentano died in 1869 at the age of 89.


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