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10 fascinating facts about Beethoven to celebrate his birthday

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10 fascinating facts about Beethoven to celebrate his birthday
Photo: DPA
17:19 CET+01:00
December 17th marks the baptism of one of the most prolific and talented composers in history - Ludwig van Beethoven. To commemorate this day, here are 10 fascinating facts about his life.

For years Beethoven falsely believed he was younger than he was

The birth house of Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn. Photo: DPA

For many years the iconic composer falsely believed he was born in 1772 rather than 1770. It is speculated that this deception was engineered by his father to make his son's musical talents seem even more advanced than they already were.

For his actual age, Beethoven was certainly very talented and starred in his first public performance at just seven years old. But his father advertised his son's age as six and a half, possibly to draw comparisons to Mozart, who was considered a child prodigy and began touring Europe at just six years of age.

There is in fact no clear record of the exact date Beethoven was born but there is a record of his baptism on December 17th 1770, in Bonn. Babies were usually baptised within a day or two of their birth due to high infant mortality rates, so it's pretty likely he was born on December 16th.

He published his first composition at age 12

Opus 113 by Beethoven. Photo: DPA

Beethoven was known for being incredible at improvisation, through which he created a wealth of compositions in his lifetime. Composer Johann Baptist Cramer, a contemporary of Beethoven, once said, "if you haven't heard Beethoven improvise, you haven't heard improvisation."

By 1783, at the tender age of 12, Beethoven published his first official composition - a set of nine variations for piano. Not only were these written in C minor, an unusual choice for the time, they are also very difficult to play.

Beethoven continued to compose music even after he became deaf

'Beethoven's trumpet, opus 13' by John Baldessari. Photo: DPA

Beethoven's adult life is marked by a heroic struggle to continue his career as a musician and composer, despite increasing deafness. From the age of 25 his hearing began to decline, by 27 he began to hear constant buzzing and he lost his hearing entirely by 46.

Though he eventually retired from conducting and performing due to his loss of hearing, he continued to compose throughout his life. Beethoven actually produced some of his most important works during the last decade of his life, when he was completely deaf.

Even without his hearing, Beethoven retained perfect pitch. He would supposedly go for long walks on which he would improvise incredibly intricate phrases in his head, jotting them down in his notebook as he went.

Difficult family life

Beethoven aged 13 by Unknown. Photo: DPA

Ludwig van Beethoven's father was a failed court singer and put all his hopes onto the young Ludwig - forcing him to practice for hours every day and night and beating him for wrong notes. Neighbours recounted stories of seeing the boy standing on a footstall to reach the keyboard and crying as his father loomed over him.

Beethoven was one of seven children, though four died, leaving him and two younger brothers. By the age of eleven he had to leave school to support the family.

He continued to be taught by Bonn court organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe, and soon began working as his assistant. By the time Beethoven was 18, he was the main breadwinner for his family as his father's alcoholism meant he could no longer work.

Beethoven was a heavy drinker

Portrait by Ferdinand Waldmueller. Photo: DPA

Just like his father before him, Beethoven was fond of a drink and it most likely was a factor in his death at age 56. He was once mistaken for a tramp and arrested by a policeman who didn't recognise him, while stumbling drunk through town in 1827.

Legend goes that Beethoven's last words were "applaud friends, the comedy is ended" in Latin, a popular final line for theatre productions. But in actual fact his last words were far less intellectual. A music publisher friend reportedly brought the composer several bottles of wine as a gift on his deathbed, to which Beethoven said, "pity, pity, too late".

His work has had a huge impact on the world

Beethoven was a central figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in music and many of his compositions were considered innovative for the time. For example he was the first to write symphonies that included the bassoon and the trombone.

He also combined vocal and instrumental music in ways that had never been done before such as in his 9th Symphony, which was of such a grand musical and ideological scale that many thought it evidence that he had lost his mind.

Overall Beethoven can be credited with raising instrumental music from below literature and painting, as it had been considered for several centuries, to the highest form of art.

Nowadays his music has influenced culture outside of the world of classical music, for example a disco version of his fifth symphony is featured in the film Saturday Night Fever, called 'A Fifth of Beethoven'

In 1972 'Ode to Joy' from his ninth symphony was voted to be the melody for the anthem of the EU and was also featured in the film 'Die Hard'.

Beethoven's seventh symphony was used in the film 'The King's Speech', during the iconic scene where George VI makes his address to the nation.

He was the first musician to ever be given a salary just for composing as and when he wanted

Vienna. Photo: Wikipedia

Beethoven moved permanently from Bonn, Germany, to Vienna, Austria, when he was 22. Though his scruffy outward appearance gave many people the impression he was struggling financially, he actually lived quite comfortably in Vienna from money for commissions, publishing his work and giving lessons.

But then in 1808 after a huge quarrel with someone at a benefit concert, Beethoven talked of leaving the city.

To keep him there as resident virtuoso and composer, a group of nobles banded together to provide him with an annual salary of 4,000 florins simply for staying in Vienna and composing whatever and whenever he wanted.

Beethoven had a tumultuous love-life

Beethoven was not necessarily a handsome man and that, combined with his long list of physical ailments and shabby appearance, meant he was not a huge hit with the ladies. But his talent and passionate character meant he did have a number of love affairs

Countess Julia Guicciardi, one of his piano pupils to whom the composer dedicated his so-called Moonlight Sonata, once described him as, "very ugly, but noble, refined in feeling and cultured."

Beethoven seemed to be mostly attracted to unobtainable women who were either not of his class, such as Julia, or married. It seems he was also at one time engaged to Josephine Brunsvick, the widow of the elderly Graf von Dyem, and later to the daughter of one of his doctors, Therese Malfatti. Though both of these understandings fell through.

After Beethoven died, a letter addressed to an anonymous 'Immortal Beloved' was found amongst his posessions. But to this day biographers have been trying to unravel the mystery of who this woman was. There was even a film named after this letter, starring Gary Oldman, which explores Beethoven's life and love affairs (though the historical accuracy may be a little lost in favour of plot).

Beethoven was a very sickly man

Bust of Beethoven, Beethoven Museum Vienna. Photo: DPA

Apart from his ever increasing deafness, which was likely caused by complications from a childhood illness, Beethoven apparently also suffered from a huge number of illnesses - colitis, rheumatism, typhus, abscesses, jaundice, and chronic hepatitis, to name but a few.

He died at home, during a thunderstorm, surrounded by friends and family. The most likely cause is liver failure due to the hepatitis and exacerbated by his fondness for a drink. 

Beethoven had a huge funeral

Photo: Wikipedia

Around 20,000 people attended Beethoven's funeral in 1827. Although he had never met him, the composer Schubert was one of the torch bearers as he was a great admirer of the maestro.

A monument to the iconic musician and composer stands in Vienna and simple reads, 'Beethoven'.

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