When we talk about great composers, Beethoven’s name will surely come up among the long list of brilliant people. Aside from pioneering the Classical Era, Ludwig van Beethoven redefined sonatas in piano, both technically and musically. However, for all his greatness, Beethoven also had his fair share of quirks and strangeness. Take a closer look at this great composer’s life with these Beethoven facts.
Beethoven’s father fostered his success.
Johann van Beethoven, Beethoven’s father, saw that his son had a penchant and potential for playing the piano. Right then and there, he envisioned a Mozart prodigy out of his son. He pushed Beethoven to practice night and day, not allowing rest until he could reach a genius level of playing.
According to neighbors, they remember seeing young Beethoven crying and standing on a bench just to reach the piano. Sadly, his father died before witnessing Beethoven’s musical greatness.
Beethoven was never a math genius.
Beethoven may be a god in the music scene, saying that he’s bad at math is an understatement. At the age of 11, Beethoven left school to help earn money for his family. Because of this, he never got to learn how to divide or multiply.
Some say that even to his last days that if you’d ask him to multiply 11 x 22, he’d end up adding 11 and 22 altogether. This is definitely one of the more heart-tugging Beethoven facts.
Daydreaming was Beethoven’s haven.
We never can fathom what’s inside a genius’s mind, but Beethoven had a knack for zoning out. According to reports, the young musician could not keep a straight conversation because of this tendency.
Beethoven got the chance to perform for Mozart.
During his time, Mozart was Vienna’s greatest composer and musician. It was said that he was generally uninterested and unimpressed with all the other musicians during a performance in Vienna since he’s too far ahead in accomplishment and talent. When the 17-year old Beethoven came to play on the same stage during one of the performances in Vienna, Mozart took notice. He said to his peers that the world should keep their sights on Beethoven as he’ll give something valuable to the world one day.
Joseph Haydn briefly taught Beethoven.
When the young musician moved to Vienna in his 20s, he took lessons from the Father of Symphony himself, Joseph Haydn. Unfortunately, Beethoven had proglems with authority and the two did not get along very well.
They did not like the company of each other that much, which made their lessons short-lived. This is definitely one of the many surprising Beethoven facts.
Throughout his lifetimes, Beethoven suffered many illnesses.
Born at a time without modern medicine, Beethoven had a long list of diseases before he kicked the bucket. Overall, Beethoven suffered typhus, jaundice, infections, chronic hepatitis, rheumatism, ophthalmia, deafness, cirrhosis of the liver, and colitis. Aside from these internal ailments, Beethoven even had to endure skin disorders.
Nobody knows why Beethoven went deaf.
Just like anything that you know about the life of the musician-composer, the reasons why he became deaf has many theories. The generally accepted reason explains that he went deaf because of contracting smallpox and typhus disease when he was young. However, Beethoven himself mentioned in a letter that falling over as a child triggered a slow permanent damage to his hearing.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony had a disco version.
Walter Murphy arranged a disco version of the piece, calling it A Fifth of Beethoven’ for the film Saturday Night Fever. The ‘fifth’ in the title referenced a liquor bottle sold with a fifth gallon in the movie.
One of Beethoven’s symphonies was for Napoleone Bonaparte.
Despite his dislike for authority, Beethoven had huge respect for Napoleon Bonaparte. He looked up to him as someone who embodies the ideals of an anti-monarchical and democratic government during the French Revolution. Beethoven admired Bonaparte so much that he wrote the Eroica or his Third Symphony initially for him.
However, Bonaparte’s appointment as Emperor enraged Beethoven and made him scrap the project. Eventually, he removed Napoleon from the piece and wrote something entirely different. How’s that for intense Beethoven facts?
It took 10 years for Beethoven to write an opera.
out of his hundreds of works, Fidelio was the only opera that Beethoven wrote. Considering that it took him almost 10 years to write and revise the score, we cannot blame him if he never got to write another one.
The original version of his opera is now known as Leonora and is still occasionally performed in stages. Talk about one of the most amazing Beethoven facts today.
Beethoven wrote his younger brothers many letters.
When Beethoven realized his irreversible hearing loss, he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament. Written in 1802, the collection of letters addressed Beethoven’s younger brothers, talking about the musician’s acceptance yet determination to overcome his disability. Sadly, he never got the chance to send it to his brothers, with the letter only found in his study after he died.
His day job helped Beethoven provide for himself and his brothers.
Despite receiving praise for his music, the applause was not enough to provide for his family. As a result, Beethoven had to work by taking commissions from wealthy citizens in Vienna and giving piano lessons.
Beethoven communicated with friends through ‘conversation books’.
Before his hearing deteriorated completely, the process came in waves. At 25, Beethoven developed a ringing and buzzing in the ears also known as tinnitus. By the time he was 46, he was totally deaf.
Of course, he still made music with his friends often coming over to show support. During this period, they communicated by writing in conversation books, until he died in 1827.
Beethoven chose his students.
Despite teaching piano all his life, not everyone qualified to be Beethoven’s student. If you’re a girl and attractive, then it’s no problem – the composer can teach you everything. Of course, natural geniuses always had a seat in his schedules. However, if you’re not pretty nor a virtuoso, you wouldn’t have had much luck getting Beethoven to mentor you. Definitely one of the more hilarious Beethoven facts here.
Beethoven always had a taste for unattainable women.
Throughout his career, Beethoven never married because he often fell for women who could never be his. For one thing, he taught Josephine Brunswick as one of his students in 1799. According to speculations, Beethoven’s letter, ‘Immortal Beloved’ was addressed to his dear student. Of course, never got together and Josephine ended up marrying a Count. Because of Beethoven’s habit of falling in love with women he can never get, he never got the chance to be wed.
A messy room was Beethoven’s thing.
If you happened to visit his room back then, you would find leftover food and other debris scattered within his papers. Under his piano would be an unemptied porta-potty, too. Top it all off, he had a pockmarked and stubbly face. How’s that for shocking Beethoven facts?
Beethoven nearly made his nephew take his own life.
In his letter in the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, he wrote that as the day goes by, he becomes increasingly irritable and short-tempered. The once cheerful composer transformed into a grouchy man. He said it was because of his hearing that diminished day by day.
When his brother died, he became the legal guardian of his nephew. Because of his unreasonable strict ways most of the time, his nephew attempted to end his life just to escape Beethoven’s grip. This is definitely one of the most depressing Beethoven facts here.
Beethoven’s music was revolutionary.
Beethoven had such a huge impact on his generation’s music scene that the Viennese Classicism Era died along with him. Pioneering the Romanticism Era, Beethoven accomplished many firsts in music, such as writing a choir accompaniment for his Symphony No. 9.
His famous Fifth Symphony showed that his mastery of dramaturgical compositions, using short motifs that were easier to recognize instead of long ones.
Beethoven had a reputation for being a perfectionist.
A composer and musician with such greatness as Beethoven could not accept works that were less than perfect. After he finishes one sheet of musical score or composition, he would correct and revise it again and again until it fits his standards. Because of this, he is now one of the world’s most famous composers with his works still studied and admired until to this day.
Beethoven’s only opera had a lot of critics.
Beethoven wrote Fidelio as a commissioned work for Peter Freiherr von Braun. Despite having its spotlight during a stage performance in 1805, Beethoven’s piece met a lot of criticism.
Because of this, he revised the score until he had a fourth versions of it. Probably one of his lifetime projects, the opera spent 10 years in the making.
His absolute pitch allowed Beethoven to compose without hearing anything.
One of the most amazing Beethoven facts is his ability to compose despite being completely deaf. Because of his absolute pitch, he could imagine harmony and sounds in his head without even hearing the instrument. One of the most unique techniques involved sticking a wooden spoon between his teeth so that he could feel the piano’s vibrations when he was playing.
Beethoven finished his first composition at 12 years old.
He was extremely talented at such an early age, first composing a 9 set-variation by Ernst Christoph Dressler for the piano. Played in C minor, even the most seasoned musicians find it difficult to perform and perfect. How’s that for neat Beethoven facts?
Beethoven’s Silence was composed in honor of the composer’s life.
Mexican arranger, composer, and pianist Ernesto Cortázar II composed Beethoven’s Silence in 1999. The piece meant to describe the life of the renowned composer after deafness took over his career. Unfortunately, the composition hasn’t made it into any Beethoven autobiographies. Instead, it featured in the soundtrack for Dark Area, a German horror movie in 2000.
A film about a dog named Beethoven was a hit American movie series.
Spanning eight films, Amy Holden Jones and John Hughes created a family comedy movie series about a Saint Bernard named after the musician.
Symphony No. 5 is a favorite among Beethoven’s works.
Ludwig van Beethoven composed Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 from the year 1804 to 1808. In the present day, it’s one of the compositions that made a difference in the cornerstone when it comes to Western music.
Because of this, it’s one of the most frequently played and best-known symphonies. Some historians would say that it’s a favorite among all the works of the composer.
Beethoven was already deaf when he wrote Symphony No. 9.
Ludwig’s final movement for his Ninth Symphony was also known as ‘Ode to Joy’. Freidrich Schiller wrote the words for the movement based on his poem of the same name written in 1785.
During the symphony premiere on May 7, 1824, the composer could no longer hear the frantic applause and praise of the audience. To this day, the 9th Symphony still sits among the most influential musical scores. In fact, a version of the symphony became a template of the 1970 hit song, A Song of Joy. More interestingly, the symphony even became the European Union’s anthem in 1985.
Beethoven’s diary was a compilation of his life happenings.
When the composer moved to Vienna in 1792, he kept a journal where he wrote all about his life in the new city. Found after his death, the diary included all the small details of his daily life such as finding the perfect wig-make and the piano that he was interested in buying.
The Viennese Count saw Beethoven as a successor of Mozart.
When Mozart died in 1791, Beethoven was promised by the Viennese Count Waldstein that if he worked and preserved hard enough, he would receive the greatness of Mozart’s spirit through the mentorship and guidance of Haydn’s hands. Unfortunately, we already know what happened between the two.
His father faked Beethoven’s year of birth.
No one knows for sure when Beethoven was born, except that it was some time in December 1770. Although his baptism date showed December 17th, there is no actual proof of his birth. Additionally, his father lied about Beethoven’s birth year to make him more of a young prodigy in the public eye. Surprisingly, Beethoven only found out about it years later.
Beethoven did not follow trends.
When Beethoven started his career in composing music, the harpsichord dominated the musical scene. As a result, many musicians included the instrument in their compositions. However, Beethoven chose to make piano compositions, which no one even attempted to complete before. Sure enough, this is one of the most amazing Beethoven facts that show the value of individuality.
His first symphony had critics saying it was a joke.
For the Viennese nobility standards, symphonies were supposed to be lighthearted compositions and pieces of work. When he was 30, he got the opportunity to perform his very first symphony. When he did, the audience thought that the introduction of his symphony was two steps ahead of everything they were used to listening to. Because of this, critics thought of his music and compositions as a joke.
His art kept Beethoven from taking his life.
Among the many letters in the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven included a letter of despair. During a retreat outside Vienna in 1802, he wrote about feeling like his life was slipping away because of his deafness.
He also mentioned times where he thought of taking his life, but his art ultimately holding him back. He felt like it would be a betrayal to leave the world before he can create everything that he could offer.
Beethoven wrote Moonlight Sonata for a student.
Despite never marrying, Beethoven had his fair share of controversial love affairs. According to reports, Beethoven composed the Moonlight Sonata for his student, Julie Guicciardi. In total, the lovestruck Beethoven wrote 15 unrequited and passionate love letters for Julie.
Beethoven’s compositions come from bouts of inspiration.
One of the least known Beethoven facts is that his compositions came from different inspirations. His middle period compositions like Symphony No. 3, Fidelio, Sonatas Appassionata, and Waldstein had heroic inspirations. Meanwhile, his late compositions including Symphony No. 9, Missa Solemnis, and Diabelli variations of his sonata combined his musical genius with high intellectual intensity. As you’d expect, he wrote these compositions as his hearing deteriorated.
Beethoven did not name Moonlight Sonata.
Although it’s one of the first things you might associate with him, Beethoven only named this piece as Piano Sonata No. 14. The piece only adopted the name Moonlight Sonata after the German poet Ludwig Rellstab described the piece as Lake Lucerne shining in the moonlight.
Because of this, the name stuck and the sonata had its nickname 5 years after the composer died in 1832.
Viennese nobles supported Beethoven’s craft.
To ensure that the composer had a comfortable life, Viennese nobles came together and supported Beethoven’s annual salary of 4,000 florins. This sum let him stay as a resident composer and virtuoso in Vienna. Additionally, Beethoven became the very first musician to ever receive a monetary salary for composing whatever he likes, whenever he wants. How’s that for cool Beethoven facts?
Beethoven got a piano without hearing a single note from the instrument.
In 1818, the English piano builder Thomas Broadwood gave a custom piano to Beethoven as a gift. However, Beethoven never really got the chance to enjoy the instrument as he was already completely deaf when he got it. Thus, he never even heard a single note from the piano.
Chuck Berry released Roll Over Beethoven in 1956.
In 1956, rock artist Chuck Berry released his hit single, Roll Over Beethoven. The track described how rock and roll plus rhythm and blues have replaced the dominance of classical music. Because of its popularity, many famous artists like the Beatles and Electric Light Orchestra made their own versions of the song. In fact, the track made the list of 1997’s 500 Greatest Songs and Music of All Time.
Beethoven’s Symphony was the soundtrack of a blockbuster hit.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in major, Op. 92 has four movements in total. He wrote it from 1811 to 1812 while recovering in the town of Teplice. The piece was so moving that the music became the soundtrack of the 2010 film, The King’s Speech. The piece played during the titular speech of George VI for the nation. Since then, Beethoven’s piece has made it into many films and other media.
Beethoven got arrested once.
While celebrations usually involve a bit of wine and drink with friends, Beethoven took drinking to another level. Aside from his great music, Beethoven gained a reputation for drinking until he passed out. During one of his boozy escapades, he even got arrested by an unsuspecting policeman for being mistaken as a tramp. Upon his death, the autopsy showed that his liver had shrunk due to complications from drinking.