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In the midst of our Night Shift tour, here are some facts you may not have known about the man of the moment, Ludwig Van Beethoven.
1. The secret to his success
What do Beyonce, LeeAnn Rimes and Lindsay Lohan have in common with Beethoven? Other than prodigious musical talents and fantastic hair, all of these superstars shared a secret weapon: each of them had a dedicated parent managing their careers. Beethoven’s father, Johann, heard how successful Mozart’s father had been in marketing his own son, and thought he’d give it a go with his little Ludwig. He organised for the boy to perform publicly from the age of 7, and sorted out his musical education. When Johann died in 1792, Ludwig’s brother Carl started to get involved. In addition to negotiating higher prices for recently composed works, Carl also began selling some of Beethoven’s earlier unpublished works, and encouraged Beethoven to compose alternative arrangements of his more popular works.
2. The deal with Mozart
It is unclear whether or not Beethoven ever met his contemporary, Mozart. Among those who think that he did, though, there are rumours about what exactly went on between them. Some believe that Mozart was unimpressed by the younger man – even going so far as to actually reject him as a student after an unsuccessful audition. Others believe the opposite – that Mozart was extremely impressed and upon hearing him play exclaimed “Mark that young man; he will make himself a name in the world!”
What is undeniable, however, is that he was influenced by Mozart’s music. His quintet for piano and winds is particularly reminiscent of Mozart’s work for the same configuration, albeit with his own distinctive touches.
3. His messy love life
Beethoven’s love life was constantly hindered by class issues. In late 1801 he met a young countess, Julie (“Giulietta”) Guicciardi through the family of Josephine Brunsvik, one of his students. Sadly for him, the difference in their social status was too great, and he could not marry her. However, he later dedicated to her his Sonata No. 14, now commonly known as the “Moonlight sonata” or “Mondscheinsonate” (in German).
After failing to get anywhere with Julie, he found love with Josephine herself. He wrote her innumerable passionate love letters, and although it seems that she reciprocated his feelings, class issues once again hampered the affair. Citing her “duty” and the fact that she would lose custody of her children if she married a commoner, Josephine regretfully dumped poor Ludwig and married the Baron von Stackelberg in 1810.
4. His mental health issues
By 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. In an incredibly moving letter to his brothers, now called the Heiligenstadt Testament, he describes his thoughts of suicide, and the emotional ups and downs which he experienced as a consequence of his disability. He wrote about the anguish of his hearing loss, and his ultimate decision to continue living for the sake of his art. His volatility was well known, but he nonetheless was well loved by his friends and family. Throughout his life, he maintained a close circle of friends who were consistently devoted in their efforts to help him cope with his incapacities.
5. His custody battles
Although Beethoven did not have any children himself, he tried to the best of his ability to be a father to those of his brother, Carl. When Carl died in 1815, the children were given over to their mother, whom Beethoven felt was unfit for the task of raising them (she was a convicted criminal, with several other illegitimate children). However, the subsequent court case between her and Beethoven was extremely stressful, and was once again fraught with class issues. At the time, the Austrian legal system was split in two, with one court for the gentry and one for commoners. Beethoven managed to blag his way into the posh court, based on the “Van” in his name (the german “von” usually denotes nobility). The case was going well, until he accidentally revealed his true origins, and was relegated to the court of commoners. Although he managed to relieve Carl’s wife of custody by 1816, the case did not settle until 1820.
6. And finally:
The third largest crater on Mercury is named in his honor, as is the main-belt asteroid, 1815 Beethoven.