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6 things you (probably) didn’t know about Beethoven

Tue Oct 21 2014

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Beethoven is so popular that to come up with things his fans don’t know is a challenge. Let’s see how we do…

1. Beethoven’s father and paternal grandfather were both well respected musicians (employed by the court of the Elector of Cologne) but his mother’s side of the family was artistic in a different way. His maternal grandfather was head chef at the court of the Archbishop of Tier. I’ll bet his mum was a good cook too.

2. The posters for Beethoven’s first public performance advertised him as being six years old, when he was actually seven. It seems Beethoven’s father thought a child stopped being a prodigy after six, and was willing to lie to sell seats.

3. Beethoven started learning with the court organist in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, when he was nine years old. Neefe was a member of the Illuminati, a secret society founded in 1776 (any fan of Dan Brown novels will be familiar with this mysterious group).

4. Beethoven used to immerse his head in cold water to stay awake. Some people think this caused his hearing loss, which started when he was just twenty-six years old.

5. As he got more depressed, Beethoven became lax about his appearance and personal hygiene. During one of his countryside walks he came across a village, and looked so appalling that the locals thought he was a tramp. They called the police, had him put in jail, and it took a musical director in a nearby town to identify the famous Beethoven before he was set free again. The villagers felt so guilty that they bought him a new set of clothes!

6. Beethoven died on 26 March 1827 during a thunderstorm (apparently the moment he passed was accompanied by a clap of thunder…) One of his friends, Johann Hummel, saved a lock of his hair, and 200 hundred years later the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory stuck the hairs under the most powerful x-ray beam on the planet (yes, they really did.) They discovered extremely high lead levels, which of course suggests lead poisoning. This could explain Beethoven’s constant nausea and headaches, and could have caused his death. Whether he drank from lead lined cups, ate contaminated fish, or was given lead-based medical treatments we can but speculate…

 

Hear us perform his ground-breaking Eroica symphony this week in London and in Basingstoke.

 

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