A visitor to the 39-year-old composer’s Vienna apartment described Beethoven’s personal habits in notoriously disparaging detail—a picture curiously contrasting with the same reporter’s observations of his fastidious attention to his favorite beverage.
“For breakfast he had coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a glass machine. Coffee seems to have been his most indispensable food, which he prepared as scrupulously as the Turks. Sixty beans were calculated per cup and were often counted, especially when guests were present.”
This according to “Beethoven’s 60 coffee beans” by Leonardo Ciampa (The American organist LII/3 [March 2018] pp. 50-51).
Below, a highly caffeinated performance by Peter Schickele.
Beethoven was known for his unwillingness to show subservience to the aristocracy, but sometimes others might do it for him, as when his friend and occasional librettist Aloys Weißenbach tried— without the composer’s knowledge and without success—to wangle him an Order of Merit from King Maximilian I of Bavaria. When Breitkopf & Härtel issued his 1811 Chorphantasie, op. 80, with an inscription to King Max, Beethoven wrote in protest:
“To what in Heaven’s name do I owe the dedication to the King of Bavaria? Explain it to me immediately. If you meant it as an honorable gift to me, then I want to thank you; for the rest, such a thing does not suit me at all. Did you dedicate the work yourself, personally, perhaps? How does this fit together? One cannot with impunity start dedicating things to kings.”
This according to “Ludwig van Beethoven: Verhinderter Träger eines bayerischen Verdienstordens” by Robert Münster (Musik in Bayern 73 [2007–2008] pp. 207–14).
Many thanks to David Bloom for bringing this to our attention and translating Beethoven’s letter! Above, Maximilian I; below, the Chorphantasie.
Beethoven’s last piano sonatas: An edition with elucidation (Oxford University Press, 2015) is the first English-language edition and translation of Heinrich Schenker’s landmark editions of Beethoven’s opp. 109, 110, 111, and 101 (Wien: Universal Edition, 1913).
Each of the four volumes incorporates references to corrections and other remarks entered by Schenker in his personal copies of the sonatas, many of which have not been presented in any of the previous German editions of the works.
Also included are supplements to the original text with explanations of certain points in the commentary and graphic presentations of several passages.
Below, Svâtoslav Rihter performs the op. 101 sonata.
Beethoven’s conversation books indicate that he particularly liked pasta with parmesan cheese and salami.
He also liked veal, beef, liver, chicken, oysters, fish, spinach, fruit, cream, sugar, soup, eggs, very strong coffee and, last but not least, wine. He didn’t like pork and he was not really fond of beer.
This according to Die gute Kocherey: Aus Beethovens Speiseplänen by Martella Gutiérrez-Denhoff (Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 1988); the book includes several recipies.
Below, a chance to enjoy Beethoven’s music with some street food.
The increasing range of Beethoven’s performance indications paralleled the growing depth of expression in his music. While his predecessors had been content with four basic tempos—adagio, andante, allegro, and presto—he began to add qualifiers, indications of gradual tempo change, and descriptive words and phrases in German.
Still unsatisfied, he began to rely on metronome markings, although he stressed that they only provide a point of departure for a performance in which “feeling also has its beat, which cannot wholly be conveyed by a number”.
He started to favor graphic treatments of crescendo and diminuendo, ensuring dynamic shapes that would not necessarily be intuited by the performer. He used sforzando in structural as well as expressive ways, and expanded volume markings beyond the range from pp to ff.
His pedaling indications usually reinforce harmonic contexts, though sometimes they cause harmonic areas to overlap; this might explain why some of Beethoven’s contemporaries complained that his pedaling resulted in a confused sound. His articulation markings often reinforce motivic structure and development.
All of these performance indications are most fully understood in the context of the particular instrument he was using at the time.
This according to “Interpreting Beethoven’s markings: A preliminary survey of the piano sonatas” by Tallis Barker (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] pp. 169–182). Below, Sviatoslav Richter demonstrates his approach to Beethoven’s performance indications.
On 15 February 1819 the leading Dutch newspaper Nederlandse staatscourant reported that Beethoven had been seriously wounded when he was run over by a carriage. The notice, a translation of a French report issued the day before, used strong language that implied that the internationally revered composer must have been hospitalized with broken bones or a concussion, and could be in mortal danger.
The report was an example of an international game of telephone—successive notices in various countries had piled on exaggerations to sensationalize the story. The earliest report, from the Frankfurter journal on 29 January 1819, was a much blander account:
(The composer van Beethoven, because of his weak hearing, suffered the misfortune of being knocked down and injured.)
It is possible that even this was an exaggerated version of a neighbor’s anecdote from around that time, in which the composer slipped and fell in the mud, and furiously refused to let the laughing bystanders help him to his feet.
This according to “Beethoven run over: A curious traffic accident in early 1819” by Jos van der Zanden (The Beethoven journal XXVI/1 [summer 2011] pp. 26–27).
Above, Beethoven as he often appeared on the streets of Vienna around 1819, depicted by the sculptor Johann Daniel Böhm (1794–1865), a friend of his at the time; below, Evgeny Kissin performs the Rondo a capriccio, op. 129 (“Rage over a lost penny”) as an encore.
Having once considered himself “one of the staunchest opponents of classical music”, Charles Schultz (1922–2000) discovered the symphonies of Beethoven in 1946 and became an avid fan of classical music with a prodigious record collection. He also created the piano-playing Schroeder, a Beethoven fanatic, for his comic strip Peanuts.
A well-worn 1951 LP in Schultz’s collection by the pianist Friedrich Gulda of the Hammerklavier sonata, op. 106, may have inspired a series of strips from the early 1950s in which Schroeder is seen playing this work. The one reproduced above is the only one in which the piece is named, though it still relies on the reader to read music—and German!—for a full identification. Note Schultz’s imitation of German Fraktur script for both the work title and his signature.
This according to “Michaelis’ Schulz, Schulz’s Beethoven, and the construction of biography” by William Meredith (The Beethoven journal XXV/2 [winter 2008], pp. 79–91). Below, Svâtoslav Rihter performs the sonata. Happy Beethoven’s 240th birthday!
Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore
Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.
The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.
This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.
Above, the Beethoven monument in Qingdao. Below, Beethoven’s ninth symphony in Chinese.
Related articles are here.
After Beethoven’s biographer and sometime secretary Anton Schindler (inset) was exposed as having forged certain entries in the composer’s conversation books, scholarly suspicions were raised regarding all of Schindler’s activities—not least, he was blamed for the 22-month gap in his collection of these books, from mid-September 1820 to June 1822. Since his forgeries had tended toward self-aggrandizement, many scholars assumed that Schindler had destroyed these priceless documents because they somehow undermined the image that he wanted to project.
An article in the Stuttgart Morgenblatt on 5 November 1823 absolves Schindler of this crime. In it, Johann Sporschil profiled the composer in glowing terms and added, by way of a human interest angle, that Beethoven had lost a great deal of his correspondence when he had recently moved from the country to the city. The gap in the missing correspondence exactly matches the gap in the conversation books, indicating that both sets of documents were lost in one or more of the trunks that the composer himself had, in a surviving letter, rued having had to transport.
This according to “Anton Schindler as destroyer and forger of Beethoven’s conversation books: A case for decriminalization” by Theodore Albrecht, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Above, a page from one of the surviving conversation books.
Throughout the nineteenth century, parallels between the forms and contents of individual compositions and a variety of poems and prose tales were discussed. Liszt, Strauss, and other composers cited literary classics in the titles of their works and even published excerpts in their scores. As a consequence, certain critics came out in favor of musical programmism, while others advocated musical absolutism.
More recently, such discussions have been amplified by suggestions that certain works of fiction themselves employ musical structural principles, particularly sonata form. Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann (above) can be viewed in relation to Beethoven’s piano sonata op. 111, and several of Jane Austen’s novels can be compared with Mozart concerto movements. This approach suggests new ways in which musicologists might acquire a deeper understanding of such issues as musical representations of gender, the ways in which instrumental compositions may be said to embody character, and the problem of music and narrativity.
This according to “Musicology and fiction” by Michael Saffle, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.