Ludwig van Beethoven was born on 16th December 1770 in Bonn. His parents, Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich had married on 12th December 1767 in the church of Saint Remigio. Johann was 27 and Maria 21 at the time. The Beethoven family, partly Flemish by ancestry, a mixture of middle class and Rhineland peasantry, had two generations of musicians preceding the birth of the genius who would immortalize their name. In the genealogy of the Beethoven family, there may even be Spanish ancestors. The Low Countries had been occupied by Spain, specifically the catholic areas where the family came from.
The child was called Ludwig after his grandfather a choirmaster. The christening took place on 17th December 1770, the day after his birth, a common practice at that time. His godfather was his aforementioned grandfather and his godmother Frau Braums, the wife of a neighbor who had organized the christening. Even at the time there were rumors that the child was illegitimate. Later on, these rumors gained some credence and between 1810 and 1816 it was being openly suggested that he was illegitimate son of Fredrick II, much to the anger of Beethoven and his friends.
Ludwig's father was the son of Louis van Beethoven. Known as "the old man", this musician of Dutch origin was well respected and reasonably well off. He had been appointed "Kapelmeister" at the court of the Elector of Cologne and received a salary of 400 florins, which was not an inconsiderable sum at that time. To certain extent, Johann is the link between grandfather and grandson, between two musicians of prestige, separated in time by a generation.
Johann himself began his studies as a chorister in the church of the Elector at the age of twelve. At sixteen he was appointed "Hofmusikant", an appointment, which had no doubt much to do with the teaching and preparation, he received from his father Louis.
Johann fell in love with a young girl called Maria Magdalena. her father, who had died, had been Head chief at the castle of Ehrenbreitstein. When Johann decided to get married to her, his father Louis, "the old man", was vehemently opposed to the idea at the beginning. Although the nobility at that time made no distinction between members of the lower orders and musicians were also viewed as servants, Louis thought otherwise. He felt there was a class difference and that he belonged to a different social order, a feeling, incidentally, that his grandson would inherit. Finally, however, he gave his consent to the marriage.
Louis died suddenly on 24th December 1773 when Ludwig was only three years old. From then on things did not get too well for the Beethoven family. Johann sought his father's position at court but the Elector refused his request.
Ludwig's mother died on 17th July 1787. She was only forty-one. She died of tuberculosis due to poor nutrition, as the family at this time were beset by economic problems. Johann, her husband, having been rejected by the Elector after the death of his father Louis, had taken to drinking, spending what little money he earned in local taverns. His family, deserted and destitute, were left to fend for themselves. Little wonder that Ludwig and his brothers and sister had less than a happy childhood.
There is certain confusion about Ludwig van Beethoven's birth certificate. In April 1769, a year before his own birth, a brother had been born who had also been named and registered Ludwig. This child only lived for six days. Ludwig was born the following year and given the same name. This has given rise to a great deal of confusion, which has never been clarified. Dates used by biographers are sometimes contradictory due to this problem with the archives.
Anton Karl was born in April 1774. his godparent were the minister Belderbuch, and Countess Caroline von Satzenhofen. Johann thought that with these godparents he might have some influence on the Elector and be appointed to his father's position at court. This, as we know, did not happen.
Before Ludwig's sixth birthday, in October 1776, his second brother, Nikolaus Johann, was born.
Beethoven's only sister, Maria Margaretha, was born in 1786. she was only one year old when her mother died.
Beethoven began his studies with his father and at the age of eight performed his first concerto accompanying a young singer. This was at five o'clock on the evening of 26th March 1778 in the academy where he studied. This was where his father decided that he should take lessons from several teachers in the different musical disciplines.
He began to attend music lessons with a teacher called Van Den Eden, court organist and a friend of his grandfather Luis. these classes did not last long, as the child felt they were a waste of time and that he himself knew more about music than the old man.
His father sought another teacher and in 1779 he was being taught by Tobias Pfeiffer, an excellent musician although a little odd. The latter quickly became friendly with the pupil's father as both of them used to frequent the same taverns. At the same time Ludwig began attending classes with a little known musician called Christian G. Neefe. Both teachers treated their pupil roughly, at times getting him out of bed and forcing him to spend the whole night playing the piano. Surprisingly Beethoven was never bitter about this. However, such behavior meant that Pfeiffer only lasted a year in Bonn and so Ludwig was soon free from his influence.
In 1780 Ludwig was being taught violin and viola by his cousin Franz Rovantini. At the same time he was attending primary schools, first Neugasse, later Münsterschule, and finally Tirocinium. Beethoven was both overworked and undernourished for a child of his age.
In 1781 he left school for good to dedicate himself full-time to music. He studied organ with Brother Willibald Koch from the Franciscan monastery in Bonn, who finally accepted his as his assistant. Later he studied under Zenser, the organist of the Münsterkirche. By 1783 he was sufficiently trained so as to be able to seek paid appointments, and in 1784 he was appointed assistant organist at court.
Beethoven was born and brought up in Bonn. It was there that the first signs of his genius came to light, and where he had his first experience of life.
It was not in Bonn, his native city, but in Vienna, at the time the musical capital of the world, that Beethoven's enormous musical talent began to develop. In Vienna, Beethoven had his best friends and his great masters, and it was Vienna that shaped his personality and his style.
In 1781 Beethoven was invited to Holland. his father could not go but it was an opportunity not to be missed and he let him go with his mother. Like Mozart, Beethoven would tour as a "child prodigy". They arrived in Rotterdam in autumn 1781. Traveling down the Rhine, it was so cold that his mother had to frequently rub his feet to avoid frostbite. Beethoven gave only a few performances in private houses. He obviously was not yet the child prodigy his parents wished him to be.
In 1787 Beethoven traveled to Vienna. This was the turning point in his career. He spent several weeks organizing his future life during which time it is supposed he met Mozart, who would later be his teacher. Mozart asked Ludwig to play something for him, but thinking that the piece had been rehearsed beforehand Mozart was not particularly impressed. When Beethoven realized this, he asked Mozart to suggest a theme on which he might improvise.
This time the young pianist of sixteen did indeed impress the genius from Salzburg. Mozart went to an adjoining room where some friends were listening: "Take note", he said, "one day the whole world will be talking about him". Some biographers suggest that Mozart taught Beethoven composition; others disagree. There is as yet no conclusive proof for either theory.
Beethoven had to leave Vienna shortly after his arrival there. His mother had died and he had to return to Bonn. But he was back to Vienna again in 1792, receiving instruction from Haydn. From this point on, the city really became his home.
Haydin's fees for these lessons were symbolic as he was anxious to help Beethoven. Haydn got him lodgings in the attic of the home of Prince Lichnowsky hoping that a good relationship might develop, which is in fact what happened. Within a short time Beethoven was a guest of honor in the prince's house with rooms, servants and a carriage at his disposal.
In the early years in Vienna, Beethoven was known more as a performer than a composer, and he used to take part in competitions with other pianists. In 1796 he went on tour to Prague and Berlin, performing the first three parts of his "Mass" and the first six parts of Psalm 191.