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All about Ludwig
“Write down the harmonies of your soul!”

Beethoven at the Vienna Opera
Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were performed for the first time in the Theater an der Wien. | Illustration: © Kitty Kahane

Was Beethoven able to negotiate his own fees? And what was the deal with the women in his life? An attempt to get to know the famous composer – frame by frame.

Bonn, born and bred

Beethoven and Emperor Maximilian Franz of Austria in Bonn Illustration: © Kitty Kahane

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770. Maximilian Franz of Austria, Elector-Archbishop of Cologne, ruled Bonn starting in 1784. Maximilian was regarded as a tolerant man who promoted education and culture. Bonn thus developed into an important cultural metropolis.

Young Ludwig

The young Beethoven writing letters Illustration: © Kitty Kahane “Music began to be my first youthful activity when I was four years old. Often the music whispered to me: Try to write down the harmonies of your soul!” (Beethoven, aged 13, in a letter to the Elector Maximilian Friedrich of Cologne, 1783).

Paths of music

Beethoven spielt Bratsche. Illustration: © Kitty Kahane As a teenager Beethoven played viola in the Bonn Hofkapelle and took piano and composition lessons from Christian Gottlob Neefe. In 1787 Elector-Archbishop Maximilian made Beethoven's first trip to Vienna possible, during which Ludwig allegedly met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for discussions on music.

Quarrel with Hadyn

Beethoven takes music lessons with Haydn Illustration: © Kitty Kahane In 1794 Beethoven and his brother Kaspar Karl departed permanently for Vienna – the capital of the music world at the time! There Beethoven took lessons from Joseph Haydn, who described his music as “too complicated!”. A difficult teacher-student relationship …

Composer of the hour

Beethoven is conducting an orchestra Illustration: © Kitty Kahane On December 22, 1808, Beethoven gave the most important concert of his life. His Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (among other pieces) were performed for the first time in the Theater an der Wien – with no heating in an icy winter. Beethoven became the leading composer of Viennese Classicism.

Freedom, freedom

Beethoven negotiates with his publisher Illustration: © Kitty Kahane Wealthy individuals sponsored Beethoven financially. This, however, resulted in frequent moves. He moved more than fifty times within Vienna, often to small study rooms in his patrons' palaces. “I love an independent life”, he once wrote to his music publisher, with whom he negotiated his own fee. Beethoven became the prototype of artists pressing for freedom – with all its ups and downs.

Beethoven and the women

Beethoven writes a letter to the "Unsterbliche Geliebte" Illustration: © Kitty Kahane In 1812, Beethoven, who never had a long relationship with a woman, wrote his famous “Letter to the Immortal Beloved”. Who was meant by this letter, however, remains a mystery for scholarship to this day.

Beloved nephew Karl

Beethoven wants to adopt his nephew Karl Illustration: © Kitty Kahane “The daily grind exhausts me,” Beethoven wrote to his beloved nephew Karl, whose adoptive father he so deeply wished to become. Beethoven lost this battle after a bitter dispute with his sister-in-law. Probably the greatest defeat of his life.

Deaf and blind

Beethoven and his conversation books Illustration: © Kitty Kahane At the time of the composition of his great Ninth Symphony between 1822 and 1824  – first performed in 1824 – Beethoven was not only deaf, but almost blind as well. Beethoven drank too much alcohol. And as for music, at this point he could hear it in only in his mind ...

Grave of honour

Many people attend Beethoven's funeral Illustration: © Kitty Kahane When, after struggling with a number of illnesses, Beethoven died at the age of 57, 20,000 people are said to have accompanied his body to the Währinger Cemetery in Vienna. The poet Franz Grillparzer wrote: “Remember this hour and think: we were there when they buried him, and when he died, we wept!” In 1888 his body was moved to a large honorary grave in the Vienna Central Cemetery.