his grandfather and namesake
hardly knew his grandfather who died when the young Ludwig was barely
3 years old. It is known that the composer greatly revered the man,
and throughout his life he kept the picture shown here of his grandfather.
The elder Ludwig was a choirboy in his youth, then sang as a bass
in various churches, and later became a choir conductor. On finally
moving to Bonn, he became Capellmeister of the Elector of Cologne,
serving in that position until the time of Beethoven's birth in 1770.
His ancestors were of humble origin - farm laborers from the Flemish
province of Brabant whose later descendants became artisans and tradesmen.
grandfather, who lived from 1712 to 1773, was the first in the Beethoven
line known to have taken up a musical career.
He must have left a strong impression on the young Ludwig who certainly
inherited his "musical genes."
A bit of history: The Archbishopric of Cologne
was founded by Charlemagne. In the 15th century, Bonn was chosen as
the episcopal seat by the Bishop of Cologne and the powerful German
princes or Electors, so called because they were entitled to participate
in choosing the Holy Roman Emperor. It was thus that Bonn became a
center of culture.
Johann van Beethoven, his father
He was also a musician, a tenor in the Court of the Elector of Cologne.
He was known to be ill-tempered and a drunkard, but this latter reputation
is now thought to have been vastly exaggerated; in reality, he did
not take to the bottle until he had suffered some hard blows in life,
such as the death of his wife and daughter. Johann was Beethoven's
first music teacher whose teaching methods the young Ludwig thought
harsh and repressive. He sensed early on that his son Ludwig would
be a great musician. When Ludwig gave his first recital, Johann understated
his son's age so he could pass him off as a child prodigy. Johann
died in 1792.
Her origins were not as humble as we are often led to think. Actually
she came from a family of some distinction - her forbears served in
the Court of the Electors of Trier and many relatives were clerics,
mayors, or councillors. A young widow of the chamberlain to the Elector
of Trier when she married Johann, she was an attractive woman of sweet
and gentle disposition who shielded Beethoven from his father's harshness.
Of her Beethoven wrote: "She had been a good and loving
mother, and my best friend." She died in 1787.
Johann and Magdalena had seven children, of whom only the composer
and two others Nikolaus-Johann and Kaspar-Karl survived childhood.