There’s lots to love about Ludwig!
Media Release ·
In 2020 Queensland Symphony Orchestra celebrates 250 years of the music of the great Beethoven!
Next year marks 250 years since the birth of the incomparable Ludwig van Beethoven, recently voted Australia’s favourite composer in ABC Classic’s Top 100 Composer countdown. In 2020, Queensland Symphony Orchestra joins orchestras across the globe in celebrating Beethoven’s phenomenal repertoire with a series of nine concerts and special tributes featuring the music of the man whose symphonies have been called the ‘cornerstones of Western civilisation’.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in December 1770, although for many years Beethoven’s father claimed he was two years younger to make his musical prowess seem even more impressive. Before Queensland Symphony Orchestra begins Beethoven’s 250th birthday celebrations here are a few interesting facts about his life which, like his compositions, was full of drama, passion, and sadness.
Beethoven’s hearing famously started to decline around 1796, when he was aged just 25. By 27, he had persistent tinnitus and he lost his hearing entirely by 46. Despite many theories, from lead poisoning to smallpox, it is still unknown what caused Beethoven’s hearing loss. While there is no doubt he found his disability extremely challenging, some of his most celebrated works were composed in his later life when he’d lost his hearing entirely.
Unlucky in love
Beethoven was not a typically handsome man; in fact Countess Julia Guicciardi, the woman to whom the composer dedicated his so-called Moonlight Sonata, once described him as, "very ugly, but noble, refined in feeling and cultured”. He also seemed to be mostly attracted to unobtainable women who were either not of his class, such as Julia (who wouldn’t marry him because he was a commoner) or married. Beethoven fell in love with his ‘only beloved’ Josephine Brunswick after he began giving her piano lessons in 1799. Although he wrote her dozens of love letters, of which 15 still survive, it seems his love was ultimately unrequited.
Partial to a pint
Beethoven’s father Johann was a known alcoholic and it seems the apple (cider) didn’t fall too far from the tree. Beethoven was once arrested for being a drunk tramp by an unsuspecting policeman who didn’t recognise him. Another tale alleges he had written a piece of music for a young lady and was planning on proposing after he had performed it for her at a party. Alas, the punch was too alluring, and he ended up too intoxicated to perform (or propose). After his death his autopsy revealed a shrunken liver due to cirrhosis.
Beethoven in the movies
Even those who have never been to a classical music concert will know Beethoven’s work, largely due to its appearance in dozens of films over the decades. The moving music from Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 featured in The King’s Speech (2010), Ode to Joy (from his 9th Symphony) was in both 1971’s A Clockwork Orange and Die Hard (1988), his Symphony No.6 was in A Cure for Wellness (2016) and in Fantasia (1940) and the second movement from his Piano Sonata No.8 was in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). A disco adaptation of his Fifth Symphony even featured in Saturday Night Fever (1976).
Beethoven the Grouch
Beethoven’s volatile temperament was the stuff of legend. He was a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, who he believed embodied the democratic and anti-monarchical ideals of the French Revolution, so he dedicated his third symphony ‘Eroica’ to him. But then, Napoleon declared himself Emperor. Beethoven sprung into a rage, ripped the front page from his manuscript and scrubbed out Napoleon’s name.
In the end, Beethoven passed away during a thunderstorm on 26 March 1827, surrounded by loved ones. His cause of death was believed to be liver failure caused by hepatitis and exacerbated by his drinking. Recent studies of his hair and bone have found unusually high levels of lead, meaning that too could have contributed to his death at the age of 56.
Friends and biographers have recorded many different versions of his final words including ‘Pity, pity — too late,’ (in reference to a delivery of wine just arriving on his death bed), ‘Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over’ and ‘I shall hear in heaven,’ a reference to his deafness.
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