Beethoven’s nickname was The Spaniard because he was dark skinned and different from the light skinned, fair haired German kids.
Beethoven was no beauty.
Ludwig was intense.
With a huge head, a wild mass of hair, and somewhat protruding “buck” teeth, he was also a habitual spitter, which he did wherever and whenever he pleased.
He was also clumsy, and had a habit of accidentally upsetting small furnishings in the fine homes he visited.
As a dancer, he was awkward and unbalanced, an interesting revelation given the amazing rhythmic vitality of his music.
Beethoven’s friends noted many times the cuts on his face from shaving: Ludwig may have been the greatest composer in history, but lacked this simple skill.
His moods were wildly varied, but associates recall him as generally sullen. He was also argumentative, and lived alone in squalor because his cantankerous behavior was unbearable by any servant or housekeeper.
Thus Beethoven’s apartments were an unholy mess, with pens and spilled pots of ink and piles of laundry and last night’s dinner plate jumbled together in one grand mess.
Beethoven was involved in a few somewhat shady deals with publishers, but in those days a composer was lucky to get anything. Beethoven is to be applauded as one of the first composers to exploit the concept of music publishing. He died a wealthy man.
But there was another side to Ludwig.
He was entirely original, a fact that everyone who knew him or his music acknowledged readily. He followed no rules but his own, and was held to no standard but his own.
Full of brilliant ideas and creativity, Ludwig found it difficult to get along with anyone, for there were very few people he could trust with his inner thoughts.
Although he fell in love many times, he always seemed to pick women that were unattainable, and either married or above his social station.
Thus he lived alone, and then his terrible deafness became total.
In deafness, Beethoven retreated into a fantasy world of musical construction, writing music of personal, haunting beauty, as if he now wrote for himself alone.
Perhaps he believed he was the only one who could understand this late music.
It’s important to remember that at the end of Beethoven’s life, his music had become old-fashioned, and for a brief time his complex, late period compositions were ignored by all but the most cultured zealots.
The fashion in 1827 was lighthearted and dour Beethoven was dismissed as too serious.
To understand Beethoven, try to see the tragic arc of his life: his meteoric start as a young star, his sudden growing deafness at the height of his fame, and then his final isolation.
Beethoven began as a social lion, able to penetrate to the highest social levels, as an equal, in a way that no artist had ever done.
If Ludwig died a rich but lonely old man, he was at least assured of his immortality.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press
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