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Bonn

::: Beethoven in Bonn :::

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn (Germany) as the second son of Johann van Beethoven, tenor at the court of the Elector, and of Maria Magdalena Keverich from Ehrenbreitstein. He was baptized on December 17, 1770 in the St. Remigiuskirche in Bonn. He was probably born the same day or the day before he was baptized. In the Catholic Rhineland it was a custom to baptize newborns as quickly as possible and we can assume that it will not have gone differently with Beethoven. He is named Ludwig after his grandfather, the Kapellmeister Louis (Ludwig) van Beethoven, who was born in Mechelen in Flanders (Belgium) and who established himself as a young musician in Bonn in 1733 as a court musician. In the same year he married Maria Josepha Poll. Of their children, only their son Johann remained alive.


Bonn in 1770


Johann van Beethoven marries Maria Magdalena Keverich in 1767. The first child born, a son, Ludwig Maria, dies after six days. There will still be a lot of confusion in Beethoven's life around the date of birth of this older brother and almost namesake. When Ludwig is three years old, his beloved grandfather, a prosperous and respected Kapellmeister, dies. Despite the short time he has known him, Beethoven will retain great admiration for this strong man throughout his life and carry his portrait with him during his numerous relocations in Vienna.


The 'Beethoven-Haus' in Bonn


Ludwig's childhood is not very happy. Contemporaries describe him as a withdrawn, solitary and somewhat neglected child. He has two younger brothers, who will follow him to Vienna later. Casper Anton Carl is born in 1774, followed by Nikolaus Johann, 2 years later. More children are born, but they all die young.

Beethoven's mother is described as a serious woman who seems to have little control over her family. According Bäckermeister Fischer, who lived in the same house at Rheingasse in Bonn, where Beethoven spent most of his youth, she hardly ever smiled. The marriage between the two parents was not very good and there was a chronic lack of money in the family. Father Johann was a heavy drinker and a poor pedagogue for his son. He did realize that his eldest son was an exceptionally gifted child. He therefore decided to give music lessons to his son when he was about four years old. He hoped to be able to turn him into a prodigy, just like Mozart's father. Little Ludwig, despite his great musical talent and love for music, did not become a child prodigy. His father's lessons were often a torment for the child, who was sometimes taken out of bed to play the piano when his father had returned from the pub.


Johann van Beethoven


It is therefore a huge step forward when the composer and intellectual Christian Gottlob Neefe moved to Bonn in 1779 and became undoubtedly Beethoven's most important music teacher. He immediately realizes that the young Beethoven has an extraordinary talent and writes in Cramer's Magazin der Musik that 'if he continues like this, the young Beethoven will certainly become a second Mozart'. Beethoven leaves school in 1779. He will suffer from his poor education all his life, but will later learn a lot of the knowledge he has missed. Especially the Classics and Shakespeare will get his preference. He never really gets the hang of math. In fact, he never got any further than addition and subtraction.


Christian Gottlob Neefe

In 1782, a published composition from him for the first time, 'Dresslervariaties' and the next year following the so-called 'Kurfürstensonates'. In this year he also gets to know Stephan von Breuning and Franz Gerhard Wegeler, who will remain friends for life.

In 1784, Beethoven was appointed court organist alongside Neefe and earned 150 florins a year. In part through his teacher, the young genius in 1787 travelled to Vienna on recommendation of Elector Maximilian Franz to study with Mozart. Whether the two have ever met is unknown.

Ludwig's stay in Vienna did not last long. Soon he returns home where his mother is seriously ill. She suffers from tuberculosis and died on July 17, 1787, later followed by Ludwig's sister, a few months after she was born.

Soon after his wife's death, Ludwig's father is going downhill quickly. He is now often guilty of serious alcohol abuse. This is one of the reasons why his voice has been ruined and he is being retired by the Elector. Ludwig is forced to claim half of his father's retirement, because he now has to provide for the education of his brothers and keep the family running. The years that follow in Bonn are not really happy years for Beethoven. The care for his father, who he regularly has to get drunk from the pub or rescued from the hands of the police, the responsibility for his two younger brothers, the death of his beloved mother and sister, all this will sign his life. In addition, the provincial town of Bonn is far too small for his enormous talent.

A point of support and light is the widow von Breuning and her children. Beethoven gives piano lessons to Lorenz and Eleonore von Breuning - the latter will later marry Franz Wegeler - while Stephan von Breuning, who will later also move to Vienna, will remain one of his best friends. Beethoven experiences love, understanding and intimacy and learns a great deal in this culturally advanced family that was never taught to him at home. Young Ludwig now also regularly plays the viola in the Elector's orchestra. When Emperor Joseph II dies in 1790, Beethoven is asked to compose a cantata. This cantata is never performed during Beethoven's life. This composition, together with the variations 'Venni Amore' is a high point in Beethoven's Bonn period.


Emperor Joseph II


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in 1791. One year later, Beethoven was personally invited by Joseph Haydn to study with him in Vienna. During his first trip to England, Haydn stayed in Bonn and was impressed by the young talented Beethoven.





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