Beethoven, Ludwig van

1770-1827

Beethoven, born in the year 1770, came into the world in the beginning of a new era, a period of change and overthrow. During his boyhood, America established her freedom, in his manhood, in France were uttered the three words that vibrated round the world. In his art and in his life Beethoven stood for freedom, with no hampering of conventions.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born at Bonn, on the Rhine, December 16 or 17, 1770, on his father's side being of Flemish blood. The grandfather, also Ludwig, a native of Antwerp and descendant of an old Flemish family, had come to Bonn to take the position of Court musician in the service of the Elector of Cologne, and from 1761 to 1763 was music-director at the Court. A French writer, M. Theodor de Wyzewa, in a study of Beethoven's heredity describes the grandfather thus: "Great energy and a high sense of duty were combined in him with a practical good sense and a dignity of demeanor that earned for him, in the city he had entered poor and unknown, universal respect. His musical knowledge and ability were considerable; and although he was not an original composer, he had frequently to make arrangements of music for performance by his choir." His wife, whose maiden name was Maria Josepha Poll, having developed a passion for drink soon after her . marriage, was finally confined in a convent and kept there the remainder of her life. Their son Johann, Beethoven's father, the very opposite of good old Ludwig, is dismissed by M. de Wyzewa with these words "a perfect nullity, ... idle, common, foolish." Beethoven's mother, to whom he was very much attached, was a woman of tender nature and strong affection. Daniel Gregory Mason, in his book on Beethoven, gives this summary "If, to begin with, we eliminate the father, who, as M. de Wyzewa remarks, was an 'absolute nullity and merely an intermediary between his son and his father, the Flemish music director,' we shall find that from the latter, his grandfather, Beethoven derived the foundation of his sturdy, self-respecting and independent moral character, that from his mother he got the emotional sensibility that was so oddly mingled with it, and that from his afflicted grandmother, Maria Josepha Poll, he inherited a weakness of the nervous system, an irritability and morbid sensitiveness, that gave to his intense individualism a tinge of the eccentric and the pathological."

Ludwig was the second of Johann's seven children. The father, indulgent to himself, was a stern taskmaster to others. Early recognizing that little Ludwig possessed unusual musical ability, with shrewd intent of developing a musical prodigy he kept him, often weeping, to his practise. Ludwig was made to begin the study of music when not yet four years old, the father giving him lessons on violin and clavier. When the boy was nine years old, he was turned over to Pfeiffer, a tenor singer, and received instruction from him, more or less regularly, for a year. He also studied the organ, under the Court organist, Van den Eeden, an old friend of the grandfather's, and at the age of eleven came under the influence of Christian Neefe, who succeeded Van den Eeden as organist at the Court. Neefe immediately noticed the promise of his pupil, and prophesied that if he kept on as started he would become a second Mozart. When only twelve, Beethoven could play the greater part of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier, a performance none but the initiated can rightly appreciate. When he was not yet twelve years old Ludwig acted as chapel organist during Neefe's absences, an important though unpaid post. When Neefe was given charge of secular music also at the Court, Beethoven, then only a little over twelve, was appointed cembalist of the orchestra; as he was always obliged to attend rehearsals and performances, he gained valuable practise and experience. When he was fourteen, he was given the appointment of second Court organist with a salary of 150 florins (about $63), and every morning played the organ at six o'clock mass. During the year he studied violin with Franz Ries, and continued trying his hand at composition. While the compositions of this period were not of much value, the improvisations were, and he began to be spoken of as one of the best piano-players of his day. In 1787 he made his first journey to Vienna, where he met Mozart and played before that master so effectively, extemporizing on a subject given by Mozart, that the latter remarked to a companion: "Pay attention to him. He will make a noise in the world some day."