The Quick 10: Happy Birthday, Beethoven!


Happy Birthday to Beethoven! At least, we think it’s his birthday (see #1).

To celebrate, let’s all bash someone over the head with a chair, stop washing our clothes and drink way too much coffee. Read on to read about those habits and seven more unusual facts about the great composer.

1. There’s no official documentation to commemorate Beethoven’s b-day,

but he was baptized on December 17, leading most experts to believe he was born the previous day since the baptism usually took place the day after the birth in those days.

2. His upbringing may have been pretty brutal:

his dad basically ignored him until he discovered that Ludwig had a talent for music, and then spent the rest of Beethoven’s childhood beating him and locking him in the cellar if he wasn’t practicing music. Family friends reported seeing him sobbing at the piano bench. However, new research can’t seem to turn up much proof that Beethoven’s father was a Joan Crawford-esque parent, so take this with a grain of salt.

3. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts off with the same rhythm as “V” in Morse Code – dot dot dot dash. That’s why the BBC started using it to kick off their broadcasts during WWII – it subtly symbolized “V” for victory.

4. He had a notoriously bad temper and didn’t care who knew it. He once threw a plate of food at a waiter, stood outside the palace of Prince Joseph Lobkowitz and yelled that he was a donkey, broke a chair over the head of a wealthy nobleman, and regularly stopped playing mid-performance if he felt the audience wasn’t lavishing enough attention upon him.

5. He wasn’t terribly tidy. One neighbor said Beethoven’s place was the filthiest place she had ever seen, with discarded food and overflowing chamber pots riddling the place. His clothes were so dirty that his friends bought him new ones.

6. Despite his disgusting habits, he had plenty of admirers

– especially Antonie Brentano, who wrote that Beethoven “walks Godlike among the mortals.” Although madly in love with Beethoven, she remained faithfully married. Some experts believe she is the woman for whom Beethoven wrote “Immortal Beloved.” He also dedicated his Moonlight Sonata to Giulietta Guicciardi and “Fur Elise” to Therese Malfatti (pictured).

7. Beethoven liked to get out for frequent walks to clear his head, but his incredibly unkempt appearance led to his arrest during one of those walks. He was so disheveled, smelly and messy that townspeople thought he was a tramp and alerted the police, who arrested him for vagrancy. No one believed him when he insisted that he was the famous composer Beethoven – it wasn’t until a local music director was brought in that Ludwig was identified and let go.

8. A precise man who liked his caffeine, Beethoven counted out exactly 60 coffee beans for each cup of coffee he drank.

9. There’s a fantastic story – that is probably just a story – that as Beethoven died, a great clap of thunder filled the sky. Beethoven’s biographer, A.W. Thayer, says it went something like this:

At this startling, awful peal of thunder, the dying man suddenly raised his head from Hüttenbrenner's arm, stretched out his own right arm majestically—like a general giving orders to an army. This was but for an instant; the arm sunk back; he fell back; Beethoven was dead.

We believe his last words to be “Pity, pity – too late!” in response to hearing that his publisher had sent him a case of wine. Other accounts have him uttering, “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over" but this is likely untrue.

10. Years later, the cause of Beethoven’s death is still up for debate. Samples of his hair and bone were tested years after his death, revealing 100 times more lead in his system than humans should have. One forensic expert believes this was the result of bad doctoring – Beethoven’s well-meaning physician may have given him a “cure” that was actually quite deadly. But he was also very sick for years and years before his death, plagued by everything from diarrhea to chronic and crippling stomach pains.