HISTORY OF BEETHOVEN: 250TH ANNIVERSARY — 5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW
The renowned German composer and virtuoso pianist Ludwig van Beethoven celebrates his 250th anniversary today. Anniversary of what?
Here are 5 things you may not have known about the famous composer who came to fame between the Classical and Romantic periods of European music.
1. We don’t know when Beethoven was born
We know that he was baptized 250 years ago today, on December 17, 1770, in Bonn, Germany — but not when he was born. Church records kept track of baptismal dates. In Germany, at this time, it was common for a baby to be baptized the day after they were born.
For example, 300 years earlier, Martin Luther was baptized in Eisleben, Germany the day after he was born, on St. Martin of Tours Day, taking the saint’s name.
So Beethoven was likely born on December 16.
2. Beethoven studied in Vienna under Mozart’s teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn
In his early 20s, Beethoven moved to Vienna and studied under the “father of the symphony,” Haydn. Haydn taught the child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Born in Salzburg, Austria, Mozart was 14 years older than Beethoven and was already famous in Vienna. Beethoven admired his work and composed several variations on Mozart’s themes. Mozart’s 40th Symphony influenced Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
There is a story that the two students of Haydn met some years earlier when Beethoven had come to Vienna to hear the Austrian play. But Beethoven had to leave suddenly due to his mother’s ill health, and we don’t know if they actually met.
Nevertheless, there is an apocryphal story that Mozart had heard Beethoven play and said of him:
“Mark that young man, he will make a name for himself in the world.”
…but we don’t know if this actually took place.
3. Beethoven dedicated his Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major to Napoleon
Beethoven had been a fan of Napoleon Bonaparte, appreciating the general as a symbol of revolution and a new era in Europe, and dedicated to him his longest symphony, up to that point in his life.
However, when Napoleon crowned himself “Emperor,” Beethoven became disillusioned and scratched out the dedication on the sheet music, renaming it “Eroica Symphony.”
4. A historian wrote the words to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy
Friedrich Schiller was a leading German historian and poet at the time. He wrote An die Freude or “Ode to Joy.” Beethoven adapted it for the choral climax of his Symphony No 9 in D Minor.
It was first performed in 1824 when it was unusual to have a choral climax to a symphony. It was also played throughout the movie Die Hard.
5. His last words were brief and tragic
It has been commonly said that at the end of his life, as he died in his apartment in Vienna, he said to his later secretary and biographer, Anton Schindler
Plaudite, amici, comoedia finita est or “Applaud, friends, the comedy is over.”
But these were not his last words. His publisher Schott Music had sent him a dozen bottles of expensive wine. Beethoven whispered:
“Pity, pity — too late”
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian