19 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Beethoven

Beethoven-Haus, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Beethoven-Haus, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers who ever lived, was born in December 1770 in Bonn, Germany to a musical family. His grandfather and father were both singers in the state choir. Stubborn and self-involved, dramatic yet loving of his friends, Beethoven would become a virtuoso pianist and canonical composer of nine symphonies, concertos for piano, piano sonatas, and string quartets. His oeuvre spanned the period between the Classical style, characterized by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn, and Romantic style, led by Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, and created a new vocabulary of humanism and enlightenment in music. Having performed brilliantly for much of his youth and into his early thirties, Beethoven slowly lost his hearing, yet went on to write many of the most important works in musical history.

To celebrate the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven this year, here’s a list of things you might not know about this beloved artist, with information from Jan Swafford’s biography Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph.

1. Ludwig van Beethoven was the third Ludwig in the Beethoven family.

The first was his grandfather, and the second was Beethoven’s older brother, who died six days after his birth.

2. Ludwig van Beethoven’s father hustled his son into performing.

Early on, Johann van Beethoven noticed the boy’s penchant for playing. He set his sights on creating a prodigy just as Mozart had been a couple of decades before. Johann forced his son to practice day and night to reach the same level of genius. Neighbors of Beethoven remembered the small boy standing on a bench to reach the keyboard, crying, as his father loomed over him.

3. Ludwig van Beethoven was bad at math.

Having left school at age 11 to help with household income, Beethoven never learned how to multiply or divide. To his last day, if he had to multiply, say, 60 x 52, he’d lay out 60 52 times and add them up.

4. Ludwig van Beethoven was a notorious daydreamer.

Once, while speaking to family friend Cacilie, she noticed him zoning out. When she demanded a reply to what she’d said, his answer was, “I was just occupied with such a lovely, deep thought, I couldn’t bear to be disturbed.”

5. On his first visit to Vienna, 17-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven performed for Mozart.

Mozart, then the greatest composer in Vienna, was generally unimpressed with other musicians, being so far ahead of his peers in talent and accomplishments. No one really knows what happened in the recital, but apocryphally, Mozart allegedly walked out of the room saying, “Keep your eyes on him—someday he’ll give the world something to talk about.”

6. Ludwig van Beethoven’s performances were known for improvisation.

One of Beethoven’s contemporaries, composer Johann Baptist Cramer, told his students that if you haven’t heard Beethoven improvise, you haven’t heard improvisation.

7. Ludwig van Beethoven learned from Haydn.

After moving to Vienna in his early 20s, Beethoven took lessons from Joseph Haydn, father of the symphony. As per Beethoven’s habit with teachers, the two often got frustrated with each other, and ultimately didn’t like each other very much.

8. Ludwig van Beethoven pioneered composition for piano.

Beethoven’s predecessors had composed for harpsichord, but Beethoven decided he would focus his efforts on the piano, an instrument for which no one had yet written comprehensive work.

9. Romantically, Ludwig van Beethoven had mixed results.

Some women admired him for his genius, while others found him repulsive. A woman he courted once called him “ugly and half crazy.”

10. Ludwig van Beethoven was sickly throughout his life.

Born at a time without modern medicine, Beethoven suffered from deafness, colitis, rheumatism, rheumatic fever, typhus, skin disorders, abscesses, a variety of infections, ophthalmia, inflammatory degeneration of the arteries, jaundice, chronic hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver.

11. Ludwig van Beethoven’s deafness probably resulted from childhood illness.

Though Beethoven attributed the beginning of his deafness to an instance in which he was startled and fell, it was likely a side effect of a disease he had suffered from as a child, such as typhus or smallpox. He began to hear constant buzzing at age 27.

12. Ludwig van Beethoven wrote sonatas for his love interests.

Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, popularly called Moonlight Sonata, was a hit from the time of its completion in 1801. The following year Beethoven dedicated it to his pupil and main squeeze Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.

13. Ludwig van Beethoven hated giving piano lessons.

He made exception for truly talented students or attractive young women of whatever level of talent.

14. Ludwig van Beethoven controlled his public image.

The composer set the tone of critiques of his work in the leading music journal of the day, the Allgemein musikalische Zeitung (AMZ), telling the editor to back off with negative comments if he wanted to receive copies of the musician’s work.

15. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major was dedicated to Napoleon.

At first, Beethoven admired Napoleon as a symbol of revolution and new era in Europe, and wrote his third symphony, also called Eroica, as he considered moving to Paris. Later Beethoven would be disappointed that the French general crowned himself emperor, but the symphony would be a defining artistic work of the German enlightenment.

16. Friedrich Schiller provided lyrics for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Schiller, a leading German philosopher, published his poem An die Freude (Ode to Joy) in 1786 [PDF]. Beethoven adapted the poem for the glorious choral climax of his Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, first performed in 1824.

17. Ludwig van Beethoven never quit his day job.

Despite his acclaim, the composer always had to work hard to ensure a comfortable living by giving piano lessons, writing work commissioned by wealthy Viennese citizens, and publishing his own music.

18. Ludwig van Beethoven died during a thunderstorm.

In 1827, at age 56, Beethoven died from a constellation of possible maladies, including cirrhosis, syphilis, lead poisoning, or infection (the exact cause is unknown). Gerhard von Breuning, the son of Beethoven’s friend Stephan von Breuning, compared the occasion to the composer’s symphonies with “crashes that sound like hammering on the portals of Fate.”

19. Thousands joined the procession at Ludwig van Beethoven’s burial.

Vienna’s leading composers, playwrights, poets, and citizens‚ took part at the city’s Währing cemetery. His monument said, simply, "BEETHOVEN."

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

17 Facts About Airplane! On Its 40th Anniversary

Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Shot on a budget of $3.5 million, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker wrote and directed Airplane!, a movie intended to parody the onslaught of disaster movies that graced movie theater screens in the 1970s. The comedy classic, which arrived in theaters on July 2, 1980, ended up making more than $83.4 million in theaters in the United States alone, and resurrecting a few acting careers in the process. Here are some things you might not have known about the comedy classic on its 40th anniversary.

1. Airplane! was almost a direct parody of the 1957 movie Zero Hour!

Shorewood, Wisconsin childhood friends Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker grew up and moved to Los Angeles, where they were responsible for the sketch comedy troupe Kentucky Fried Theater. The trio made a habit of recording late-night television, looking for commercials to make fun of for their video and film parodies, which is how they discovered Zero Hour!, which also featured a protagonist named Ted Stryker (in Airplane! it's Ted Striker). In order to make sure the camera angles and lighting on Airplane! were matching those of Zero Hour!, the trio always had the movie queued up on set. Yes, the three filmmakers did buy the rights to their semi source material.

2. Universal thought Airplane! was too similar to their Airport franchise.

Universal released four plane disaster movies in the seventies: Airport in 1970; Airport 1975 (confusingly in 1974); Airport ‘77; and The Concorde ... Airport ‘79. Helen Reddy portrayed Sister Ruth in Airport 1975 and was game to play Sister Angelina in Airplane! before Universal stepped in and threatened to sue. Instead, the role went to Maureen McGovern, who sang the Oscar-winning theme songs to The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—two movies that were also “disaster” movies, albeit ones not involving a plane.

3. David Letterman, Sigourney Weaver, and other future stars auditioned for Airplane!

In early conversations regarding Airplane!, Paramount Studios suggested Dom DeLuise for what would eventually become Leslie Nielsen’s role, and Barry Manilow for the role of Ted Striker, but they were never asked to audition.

4. Chevy Chase was mistakenly announced as the star of Airplane!.

Chevy Chase was erroneously announced as the star of Airplane! in a 1979 news item in The Hollywood Reporter.

5. The role of Roger Murdock was written with Pete Rose in mind.

Pete Rose was busy playing baseball when Airplane! was shot in August, so they cast Kareem Abdul-Jabbar instead.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got a pretty swanky carpet out of his Airplane! gig.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Graves, and Rossie Harris in Airplane! (1980)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rossie Harris, and Peter Graves in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s agent insisted on an extra $5000 to the original offer of a $30,000 salary so that the basketball legend could purchase an oriental rug he'd had his eye on.

7. Peter Graves thought the Airplane! script was "tasteless trash."

Peter Graves eventually found the humor in the film, including the pedophilia jokes, and agreed to play Captain Oveur. Graves's wife was glad he took the role; she laughed throughout the premiere screening.

8. No, the child actor playing young Joey didn't know what Peter Graves was actually saying.

Rossie Harris was only 9 years old when he played the role of Joey, so did not understand the humor in Turkish prisons, gladiator movies, or any of Oveur’s other comments. But by the time he turned 10 and saw the movie, Harris had apparently figured it out.

9. Airplane! marked Ethel Merman's final film appearance.

"The undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage” played a disturbed soldier who believed he was Ethel Merman. Merman passed away in 1984.

10. Michael Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul was in Airplane!.

Jonathan Banks plays air traffic controller Gunderson.

11. Airplane!'s three-director setup caused legal problems.

The Directors Guild of America ruled that Abrahams and the two Zuckers couldn’t all be credited for directing a movie, nor be credited under the single “fictitious name of Abrahams N. Zuckers.” A DGA rep was on set to make sure that only Jerry Zucker spoke to the actors. What he saw was Jerry Zucker next to the camera, who would then go to a nearby trailer where the other two were watching the takes on a video feed, and come back to give notes to the actors after conferring with his partners. A DGA executive board eventually gave the three one-time rights to all share the credit.

12. A BIT ABOUT BLIND POLISH AIRLINE PILOTS WAS WRITTEN AND FILMED.

Blind singer José Feliciano, and lookalikes of blind singers Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, played Polish airline co-pilots. The Polish-American League protested, and it was determined by the writer-directors that the idea wasn’t funny enough to stay in the movie.

13. Robert Hays was starring in a TV show at the same time he was filming Airplane!

Robert Hays, the actor who played Ted Striker, had to race back and forth between the sets of Angie and Airplane! for two very busy weeks. The theme song to Angie was performed by the one and only Maureen McGovern.

14. Robert Hays was—and is—a licensed pilot.

He can even fly the ones with four engines.

15. Leslie Nielsen had a lot of fun with his fart machine.

Leslie Nielsen sold portable fart machines for $7 apiece on set, causing a brief epidemic of fart noises emanating from most of the cast and crew and delaying production. When they were shooting Hays’s close-up, Nielsen used the machine after every other word of his line, “Mr. Striker, can you land this plane?”

16. Stephen Stucker came up with all of Johnny's lines.

Lloyd Bridges and Stephen Stucker in Airplane! (1980)
Stephen Stucker and Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Stephen Stucker was a member of the Kentucky Fried Theater. His line “Me John, Big Tree” was part of an old riff he used to do, which continued with him going down on his knees and putting an ear to the ground to hear when a wagon train was arriving.

17. The original rough cut of Airplane! was 115 minutes long.

After screenings at three college campuses and two theaters, the film was cut down to 88 minutes.