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Some Important Figures in Beethoven's Life

Ludwig van Beethoven,
his grandfather and namesake


Beethoven 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. Beethoven's 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.

Magdalena Kewerich
his mother


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.
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