20 Beethoven Fun Facts

From Ludwig van Beethoven’s mysterious birthdate to dedicating his third symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, Beethoven wasn’t just a musical genius—he was anything but prototypical. Check out these twenty fascinating Beethoven fun facts to get to know the man behind the music. 

1. Nobody Knows His Real Birth Date

While it’s likely Beethoven was born in December 1770, his actual birthdate has never been verified. Even the composer himself wasn’t sure when he rang in a new year! In fact, 1772 was the year he thought he was born, but baptismal records indicate otherwise (his baptism date is December 17, 1770).

2. His Father Tried to Make Him a Child Prodigy Like Mozart

Beethoven’s father, Johann, was intent on having his son follow in Mozart’s footsteps. He took him out of school to focus on his career, and Beethoven delivered. 

3. His Finished First Composition Was at 12 Years Old

Entitled Nine Variations on a March by Dressler,  Beethoven wrote his first composition at the age of 12. The piece influenced Beethoven’s later, more explosive works. 

4. He Was Not a Math Genius 

A symphony consists of a series of rhythmic patterns, so it makes sense that Beethoven’s works are mathematical. While it may sound like Beethoven had a knack for math, those who have evaluated his sketches disagree. 

5. He Performed for Mozart 

If you had worldwide classical music domination in sight, wouldn’t you want to study with the best in the world? In April 1787, Beethoven went to Vienna to meet with Mozart. The audition went so well that Mozart agreed to take him on as a student. Sadly, Beethoven’s mother fell ill, and he was forced to return to Germany. By the time Beethoven made it back to Vienna, Mozart had passed away. 

6. He Was Taught by Joseph Haydn 

On his way to a performance in London in December 1790, Austrian composer Joseph Haydn stopped in Beethoven’s hometown of Bonn. It was not long after this that Beethoven traveled to Vienna once again to study under one of the greats. 

7. He Was Plagued by Ill Health Throughout His Life 

Beethoven suffered greatly. He lost his hearing in his 20s and endured severe gastrointestinal issues. Scientists studied his DNA and found he suffered from neurological disorders, liver disease, and hepatitis B. He also suffered from jaundice, an early indicator of liver disease.

8. The Exact Cause of His Deafness Is Unknown

The 19th century was not the healthiest of times, so there could be several reasons behind Beethoven’s hearing loss. Some experts point to potential lead poisoning, others to inherited neurological and autoimmune disorders. One thing’s for certain—Beethoven started to go deaf around 27 years old

9. He Revealed His Despair in the Heiligenstadt Testament

Beethoven experienced severe depression and pain because of his ailments. He described his suffering to his brothers in a letter known as the Heiligenstadt Testament.

10. He Was Completely Deaf at 40 Years Old

Symphony No.9 is considered Beethoven’s most brilliant work and one of the greatest classical pieces of all time. While it may have looked like he “conducted” this final symphony, he could not hear this Ode to Joy. He was completely deaf, and the orchestra only pretended to follow along with him. Instead, they looked to the “real” conductor, Michael Umlauf, who had to turn Mozart around to see the crowd’s standing ovation. 

11. Schiller Provided the Lyrics for His Ninth Symphony

A lifelong fan of Friedrich Schiller, Beethoven got the chance to incorporate the poet’s work into his final symphony. Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” speaks to freedom and courage.

12. Piano Sonata No. 14 Is the Original Name

One of Beethoven’s most celebrated works, “Moonlight” Sonata was not the composer’s intended title. It is believed to have been given its “nickname” by music critic Heinrich Friedrich. Upon listening, Friedrich referred to it as “a boat visiting, by moonlight, the primitive landscape of Vierwaldstättersee in Switzerland.” 

13. Moonlight Sonata Was for His Student 

Beethoven was rumored to have had a love affair with his student, the beautiful Countess Julie “Giulietta” Guicciardi. It was around the time of their lessons and budding relationship that the “Moonlight” Sonata was written. If you want to know more about the affair, check out the novel The Woman in the Moonlight by Patricia Morrisroe. 

14. Not Everyone Was a Fan of His String Quartets 

Known for its deep emotion and twisty nature, Beethoven’s late string quartets were not as unanimously praised as his other works. Critics of the 19th century found them erratic, which may have been a byproduct of his hearing loss. 

15. He Wrote Eroica for Napoleon Bonaparte 

We know Beethoven admired freedom and courage, given his appreciation for Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” mentioned above. It should then come as no surprise that the French Revolution (and Napoleon Bonaparte) inspired him as well

Originally The Bonaparte Symphony, Beethoven wrote the piece in 1803, one year before Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France. Beethoven disapproved of The Little Corporal’s move, wiped Napoleon’s name, and renamed the piece the Eroica (the “Heroic”). 

16. He Only Wrote One Opera

Beethoven’s only opera, entitled Fidelio, is both metaphorical and reflective of the composer’s ongoing struggles. Entrapped by the solitude of his deafness, the opera is about a man imprisoned, with themes of struggle, hope, and courage. At its core, it is a love story where freedom is the crowning achievement. 

17. He Gave Piano Lessons 

You’d think Beethoven wouldn’t need a side hustle, but he did. To earn extra cash, the composer taught piano to aristocrats. This is how he met his “dear, enchanting girl” Julie “Giulietta” Guicciardi, to whom the “Moonlight” Sonata is dedicated. 

18. He Never Married

Before Julie Guicciardi came along, there was Josephine Brunsvik, arguably Beethoven’s great love. Het met Josephine, a student, in 1799, a few years before Guicciardi. Sadly, Josephine broke his heart when she married Count Joseph Deym. 

19. He Died During a Thunderstorm 

Beethoven suffered from many chronic conditions, and his cause of death is unknown. One thing that is certain is that he died during a raging thunderstorm in Vienna on March 27, 1827. He was 56 years old. 

20. Thousands Attended His Funeral

While the exact number can’t be verified, it’s believed that between ten to thirty thousand people attended Beethoven’s funeral march. The event took place in Vienna on March 29, 1827, two days after his death. 

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