Ludwig von Beethoven—perhaps the world’s greatest composer—was born to a family of musicians in Bonn, Germany in 1770. Both his father and grandfather were singers and musicians. Ludwig’s father, Johann, was his first piano teacher and, by all accounts, a strict one. Johann recognized his son’s performing genius and attempted to exploit his talent as a virtuoso musical prodigy (in the manner of Mozart, a couple of decades earlier).
Beethoven’s first decades were spent mastering the piano. He studied with Haydn and sought training with Mozart. Alas, the Austrian composer died in 1791, a year before Ludwig reached Vienna. Even at this point, Beethoven expected a career as a performer, not a composer. Fortunately, he soon began composing music: sonatas, symphonies and one opera.
In the late eighteenth century, Beethoven began to develop tinnitus—a “ringing” in the ears. As the condition worsened, he was unable to hear music and conversation (or other human interaction) became very difficult. In the last decade of his life, he was totally deaf. Despite this adversity, Beethoven continued to work, composing some of his most-admired works during this period.
Bed-ridden for the final months of his life, Beethoven died on this day in 1827—reportedly during an explosive thunderclap of a severe thunderstorm. The cause of Beethoven’s death is debated. Possible explanations include syphilis, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, Whipple’s Disease, or lead poising inflicted during his doctor’s medical treatments.
The bookends shown above, made in America in the 1920’s or 1930’s, may be found by clicking on the photo above.
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