Today May Be Beethoven’s Birthday

It could have been yesterday. But one thing is certain – Beethoven was baptized two hundred and forty years ago tomorrow – on December 17, 1770.

Why, then, did he claim that he was born two years later, in 1772? In his Heiligenstadt Testament of October 1802, he even implied that he was three to five years younger than his real age.

One explanation may be that his parents wanted to present him as a Wunderkind and that he believed them. The younger, the greater the Wunder. Another that the uncertainty about the birthday, or even the parentage itself, may be connected in some strange way with his chronic and seemingly inexplicable unwillingness to deny the rumour that he was the illegitimate son of a king of Prussia, either Friedrich Wilhelm II or Frederick the Great himself.

Again and again Beethoven’s nephew, Karl, and his friends asked him to refute the rumour, which first appeared in print in 1810 and which had gained wide currency in England, France and Italy and, of course, in Germany. He would not do it until he began to suffer from the illness that was to bring about his death three months later, on March 26, 1827. What took him so long?

“I have adopted the principle,” he wrote to his old friend Franz Wegeler on December 7, 1826, “of neither writing anything about myself nor of replying to anything that has been written about me. Hence, I leave it to you to make known to the world the integrity of my parents and especially of my mother.”

Everything has a reason, good or bad. It just so happens that we do not know what had blocked him.

Source: Beethoven, by Maynard Solomon

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5 responses to “Today May Be Beethoven’s Birthday

  1. I never heard of his being an illegitimate son of any King of Prussia. Konigin Luise proved that there was an artistic strain in the Hohenzollern family. Of course she was no blood relative, except of Kaiser WILHELM I and Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

  2. You write “Everything has a reason, good or bad” and then cite Beethoven, by Maynard Solomon as your source for the article. The assertion strikes me as outrageously and obviously false. Is it yours or Solomon’s? Would you label me a pagan anti-rationalist pre-Enlightenment gnome if I were to express doubt that “everything has a reason”?!

    • The statement about reason is mine, not Maynard Solomon. I was quoting Hegel, but don’t ask me for the source. Yes, I would label you a pagan anti-rationalist pro-Enlighenment gnome, like me.

  3. PS- “Thinking only begins at the point where we have come to know that Reason, glorified for centuries, is the most obstinate adversary of thinking.”
    — Martin Heidegger
    But this may overstate the case just a wee bit…

    • Heidegger is considered one of the great philosophers of our time – but I prefer reason to unreason. Still, I will not say anything unpleasant about him since he had such a powerful influence on Sartre and so many others and since he was a love-object of the pro-Enlightenment Hanna Arendt. Of course I take into account his attachment to the Nazis and the difficulty of his language.

      comment-reply@wordpress.com12/26/10 2:37