Ludwig Van Beethoven
EARLY LIFE OF BEETHOVEN
Some day you may be fortunate enough to cross the broad Atlantic and
visit European countries. If you are, you will surely wish to go to
Germany. Many hundreds of travelers go there every year to take a trip
down the Rhine. It is said to be the most beautiful river in all the
There are many interesting things to be seen on a trip down the Rhine.
On one side green vineyards slope down to the river. On the other side
rocky bluffs rise abruptly from the water's edge. Old castles stand on
many of the bluffs. Some of the castles are in ruins and are almost
hidden by the overgrowing ivy.
Many are the cities and villages that have been built along the banks of
the Rhine. Some of the cities are quaint and old-fashioned. Bonn is such
a city. The people of Bonn are very proud of a certain low building that
faces a narrow street. They take every traveler to see it. They point
over the door to a tablet on which are carved words meaning, "In this
house Ludwig van Beethoven was born, December 17, 1770."
Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the great German composers. In fact,
many people consider him the greatest composer that the world has ever
known. Whether this be true or not, certain it is that his music is
loved in every land. Nearly a century and a half has passed since Ludwig
van Beethoven was born in his humble home in Bonn. Ludwig's father was a
singer. He was a good-for-nothing sort of fellow. He never earned enough
money to support his family well.
He was paid about one hundred and twenty-five dollars a year for singing
in a church. Besides this he made money by giving music lessons. He
spent the little money that he had carelessly. He often spent it for
himself when it was greatly needed by his wife and children.
Indeed, if it had not been for the good old grandfather, things would
have gone hard with the Beethoven family. As long as he lived, he was a
great help to them in every way. There were several Beethoven children,
but Ludwig was his grandfather's pet and was named for him.
Ludwig was only three years old when his grandfather died. Well did the
boy remember the old gentleman's scarlet coat and flashing eye. Well did
he remember, too, his love and kindness.
The mother of the great Beethoven was a patient, hard-working woman. He
never forgot the lessons of truth and obedience he received from her.
Beethoven always spoke tenderly of his mother and never forgot her
patience. When he was a young man, he wrote, "She was a dear, good
mother and my best friend."
Little Ludwig was hardly out of his cradle before his father gave him
music lessons. While he was still a tiny lad, he was compelled to
practice many hours each day. When he was only four years old, the
neighbors often saw him sitting on a bench by the door, sobbing. He
cried because he knew that he must soon go in to work at his scales.
Ludwig's father hoped that his son would learn music rapidly. He wished
to have him play in concerts as Mozart had done when a boy. He thought
that in this way much money might be earned. So he kept the lad almost
constantly at work at his music. Ludwig practiced almost all the time
when he was not at school or sleeping.
The boy studied two instruments, the piano and the violin. At first his
father was his only teacher. But soon a regular music teacher was
employed. The boy practiced hours at a time. When we think how much work
was required of the little fellow, we almost wonder that he did not hate
his music. But this was not the case. On the contrary, he liked it
better than anything else in the wide world.
By the time Ludwig van Beethoven was ten years old, he had become a fine
organist. He had received some lessons on the organ. His teacher was
organist in the prince's chapel. Once upon a time this man was called
away from Bonn. Wondering whom he could get to play in his absence, he
thought and thought. Finally he said: "Perhaps the boy, Beethoven, could
take my place. I will give him the chance, and we shall see what the lad
How proud was the boy when his teacher honored him in this way! He said
to himself: "I must do my very best. I do not want my master to be
ashamed of his pupil." He put forth his best efforts, and every one who
heard him had words of praise for his playing. When the master returned
and heard of it, he said, "Some day this boy will be as famous as
The organist in the chapel at Bonn did not know how true his words were.
He did not dream that one day the German people would be proud to erect
a monument in Bonn to this same Beethoven. Little did he imagine that
the one word Beethoven would be considered sufficient to carve at the
base of the monument.
With the other Beethoven children, Ludwig was sent to school. He had
lessons in all the common school studies and in French, Latin, and
Early in his teens, Ludwig was appointed second court organist. He was
paid for this work, but the knowledge of great composers which he gained
was worth more to him than the money he received.
Although in after years Beethoven was untidy, he cared much for dress
when he was court organist. Every one turned to look at the little
fellow in his sea-green coat and white flowered waistcoat. With his hat
under his arm and with his sword at his side, young Beethoven looked
very much like one of the gentlemen of the court.
BEETHOVEN IN VIENNA
The year 1787 was one which Beethoven never forgot. That was the year in
which he first went to Vienna. He was at that time seventeen years old.
For many months he had been longing to visit the Austrian capital.
For a long time Beethoven had been saving his money to take this trip.
Like all other young musicians of those days, he had a great desire to
study in Vienna. He hoped, too, that he should be fortunate enough to
play for Mozart. In this he was not disappointed.
You may imagine how happy Beethoven must have been to meet Mozart one
day and to be allowed to play for him. He played selections from the
great composers, until Mozart said: "Many others can do what you have
just done. I have heard that you often compose as you play. Sit down
again and compose for me."
The young musician was excited, but he was not afraid. He knew that he
should succeed. He had often composed as he played, and felt sure that
he could do it now. For a few moments only there was silence. Then the
boy's fingers moved swiftly over the keys, and the room was filled with
the sweetest music. Not once did the lad falter, not once did he make
the slightest mistake.
Mozart was astonished. He was amazed that this German boy showed such
skill. He listened for a while in silence; then he arose and tiptoed
from the room. He whispered to some friends, "Keep your eye on this
youth. He will make a noise in the world some day."
Beethoven had been in Vienna only a short time when he received sad news
from home. A letter from Bonn told him that his mother was dying. He
hastened home, and reached there only a few days before her death.
Beethoven was very sad. He wrote to a friend, "Who was happier than I so
long as I could speak the sweet name of mother? There is none to whom I
can say it now."
Beethoven decided to remain in Bonn. He felt that he must do something
to help support the family; so he made up his mind to give music
Among his pupils was a lad from one of the wealthiest families of Bonn.
The mother in this family was a woman of culture and refinement. She
often invited Beethoven to her home and talked with him as his own
mother might have done.
She gave him the finest books to read. He became interested in the best
writings. He read the poems of Goethe with great pleasure, and was fond
of English poets as well. He spent many hours studying the works of
Shakespeare and Milton.
For five years Beethoven taught music in his native town. During this
time he made many friends. One of these was a count, and a very good
friend he proved to be.
After Beethoven's first visit to Vienna he longed to go there again. His
friend, the count, had often heard him express this wish. The gift of a
piano and some money from the count helped Beethoven to obtain his wish.
In 1792 he went to Vienna to study music. He became the pupil of Haydn.
He did not have many lessons from that teacher, for Haydn soon left the
When Mozart was twenty-five he had published nearly three hundred
compositions. Beethoven at the same age had published almost none. After
his arrival in Vienna, however, he began to write down some of the
beautiful music which filled his mind. These compositions won for him
many friends among the families of rank in Vienna.
Princes and nobles vied with one another in entertaining him. They saw
in him a musician of great promise. They were proud that such a composer
had chosen Vienna for his home. They appreciated his music and were
always glad to hear it.
Scarcely a day passed that Beethoven did not play in the home of some
person of wealth. During the first few years that he spent in Vienna, he
did not appear in concerts. He played only in the homes of his friends,
where his symphonies delighted all hearers.
Beethoven was an eccentric man. His friends were people of fashion, but
he cared little for style. In fact, he was often untidy in his dress.
His clothes were loose and ill-fitting. His hair was long and unkempt.
His aristocratic friends were polished and courteous in their manners.
Beethoven was impolite and even rude at times.
In spite of all these faults, his friends were fond of Beethoven. It has
been said of him, that he "never let go of what seemed to him the
right." He was honest and sincere in all that he did. He was
warm-hearted and generous. For all these things he was loved.
Among Beethoven's friends was a prince. He and his wife lived in a
beautiful palace and kept many servants. They invited Beethoven to live
with them. He was a member of their household for several years.
The prince had four musicians in his home. These men played together to
entertain the prince, the princess, and their friends. Beethoven
devoted much time to the training of these musicians. He spent many
hours in teaching them the works of the famous composers.
Those years in Vienna were filled with hard work for Beethoven. He
learned to play upon many instruments. He studied the horn, viola,
violin, and clarinet. He did this that he might know better how to write
music for the orchestra.
The citizens of Vienna were a music-loving people. Many of them had
never had an opportunity of hearing Beethoven play. They were anxious to
listen to some of his own compositions; but he did not like to play
before a large audience. At last he appeared in public. In 1795 he gave
several concerts. One of these was for the benefit of Mozart's widow and
When Beethoven was about thirty years old, a sad misfortune befell him.
He realized that he was becoming deaf. He tried the best doctors, but
they could do nothing for him. His deafness slowly increased.
When the musician first knew of his deafness, he told no one. He seldom
went to the homes of his friends, for he could not bear to have them
know that he was deaf.
Beethoven was never happier than when he was in the country. He spent
all his summers there. Every day he wandered for hours through the
woods. When he became deaf, he wrote to a friend, "It makes me sad to
think that others can hear the notes of a far-off flute or a distant
shepherd's song, and I can not."
To another friend he wrote: "My deafness troubles me less here than
elsewhere. Every tree seems to speak to me of God. How happy am I to
wander through the cool paths of the forest! No one can love the country
as I do!"
Even though he was deaf, Beethoven sometimes tried to lead the
orchestra. One time a symphony of his was played at a concert. Every
seat in the large hall was filled. Beethoven took his place, and at a
signal from him the music began. It was the Ninth Symphony. The people
listened in silence to the beautiful music. When the last note had died
away, the room was perfectly quiet for a moment. Then a storm of
applause broke forth.
Beethoven, with his back to the people, did not hear it. He knew not
that his symphony had so greatly pleased them. The clapping grew louder
and louder. Then one of the musicians touched Beethoven upon the arm. He
turned and saw what he had not been able to hear. As the deaf musician
bowed, the eyes of many were filled with tears.
Beethoven often went to the park when he wished to write. There, in the
thickest part of the wood, some of his most beautiful music was
composed. He sat in the fork of an old oak and wrote, sometimes a
symphony, sometimes a sonata.
The master was once invited to try a new organ in a large monastery. A
few friends went with him. When they arrived, the chapel was almost
empty. No one could be seen except a few monks at their prayers and some
peasants sweeping out the long aisles.
Beethoven went at once to the great organ. At first the music was soft
and sweet. Gradually the tones grew richer and fuller. The music rose
and fell until the beautiful tones were echoed from every corner of the
Little by little, the church, at first so empty, became filled with
groups of black-gowned monks. Beethoven had no thought of the silent,
listening people and they had no thought of him. The heavenly music had
turned their thoughts to God. The lips of the monks moved in prayer, and
the peasants, before so busy, had dropped their brooms and were standing
with folded hands and bowed heads.
Beethoven was a hard worker. Strange to say, the greater part of his
work was done after he became deaf. He often rose at three in the
morning to write a concerto or a symphony. Sometimes he worked far into
the night, composing a sonata or a serenade. His published works number
several hundred pieces of music.
The last years of the great master's life were sad. For a long time he
had been unable to hear the notes of his loved piano. "He, the maker of
sweet sounds, could not hear his own voice, or catch the words that fell
from the lips of those he loved."
During his last illness Beethoven found great comfort in reading music.
A friend sent him some of Haydn's compositions. Beethoven passed many
pleasant hours reading them. He found much comfort, too, in Schubert's
Beethoven died in 1827. A few days before his death he said, "I shall
soon go upon the long journey." His last words were, "I shall hear in
THE MOONLIGHT SONATA
It happened at Vienna. One moonlight evening, in early summer, a friend
called upon Beethoven. He said, "Come, let us walk together in the
moonlight." Arm in arm the two friends strolled through the city. In
passing through a dark, narrow street, Beethoven paused suddenly.
"Hush!" he said. "What sound is that? It is from my sonata in F. Hark,
how well it is played!"
It was a mean little dwelling before which the two friends paused to
listen. The music went on. Almost at the end of the beautiful sonata,
the music ceased, and low sobs were heard instead. A girl's soft voice
said, "I can go no farther. It is too beautiful. I have not the power to
play it as it should be played. Oh, what would I not give to go to one
of Beethoven's concerts!"
"Ah, my sister," said another voice, "why wish for that which you can
not have? We can scarcely pay our rent."
"You are right," answered the girl, "and yet I wish for once in my life
to hear some really good music."
"Such a wish will never be granted," said her companion.
Beethoven looked at his friend. "Let us go in," he said.
"Go in! Why should we go in?"
"I will play for her," said the master, in a low tone. "This girl has
the soul of a musician. I will play for her, and she will understand."
Without waiting for an answer his hand was upon the door.
As the two friends entered the room, they saw a pale young man sitting
by a table making shoes. Near him sat a young girl. She was leaning
sorrowfully upon an old-fashioned harpsichord. Her long golden hair fell
over her neck and shoulders. Both the young man and the girl were very
poorly dressed. Both started and turned toward the door as the strangers
entered the room.
"Pardon me," said Beethoven, "but I heard the music and was tempted to
enter. I am a musician."
The girl blushed, and the young man appeared annoyed. "I also heard
something of what you said," continued Beethoven. "Shall I play for you?
Shall I give you a concert?"
Beethoven's manner was so friendly and his voice so kindly that a smile
took the place of the frown on the young man's face. The four, who but a
moment ago were strangers, became friends at once.
"Thank you," said the shoemaker, "but our harpsichord is so poor and we
have no music."
"No music," echoed Beethoven. "How then does the young lady play so--"
He stopped suddenly, for the girl turned her face toward him, and for
the first time he saw that she was blind.
"I beg your pardon," he stammered, "but I had not noticed before. Then
you play by ear?"
"Yes, entirely," the girl answered.
"And where do you hear music, since you attend no concerts?" asked
"I used to hear a lady practicing near us. During the summer evenings
her windows were often open, and I walked to and fro outside to listen."
The girl seemed shy, so Beethoven said no more. He seated himself
quietly before the harpsichord and began to play. Never before had
Beethoven played as he played that night for the blind girl and her
brother. From the moment that his fingers began to wander over the keys,
the very tone of the instrument seemed to grow sweeter.
The brother and sister were silent with wonder. The young man laid aside
his work, and the girl sat perfectly quiet. She leaned forward a little
as if afraid lest she might miss a single note of the sweet music.
Suddenly the flame of the one candle wavered, sank, flickered, and went
out. Beethoven paused. His friend rose quietly and threw open the
shutters. A flood of soft moonlight filled the room, so that it was
almost as light as before. The moonbeams fell brightest upon the piano
and the player.
But the music had stopped. The master's head dropped upon his breast,
and his hands rested upon his knees. He seemed lost in thought, and sat
thus for some time.
At length the young shoemaker arose. Eagerly, yet timidly, he approached
the musician. "Wonderful man!" he said in a low tone, "who art thou?"
One of the composer's rare smiles flitted across his face. "Listen!" he
said, and with a master's touch he gave the opening bars of his own
sonata in F.
The girl seemed to know that no one but the composer of the music could
have played it so well. "Then you are Beethoven," she exclaimed.
Beethoven rose to go, but they begged him to stay. "Play to us once
more--only once more."
He again seated himself at the piano. The moon shone brightly through
the window. Looking up thoughtfully to the sky and stars, he said, "I
will compose a sonata to the moonlight." Touching the keys lightly, he
began to play a sad and lovely melody. The music filled the room as
gently as the soft moonlight creeps over the dark earth.
Then the time changed. The music became brighter and more rapid. One no
longer seemed to see the moon gliding through fleecy clouds. Instead,
one thought of sprites and fairies dancing merrily together.
Once again the music changed. The notes were as rapid as before, but
they seemed fraught with sadness. It was such music as fills the heart
"Farewell to you," said Beethoven, pushing back his chair and turning
toward the door. "Farewell to you."
"You will come again?" said the brother and sister in one breath.
He paused and looked tenderly at the face of the blind girl. "Yes, yes,"
he said, "I will come again and give you some lessons. Farewell! I will
come soon again." His new friends followed him in silence and stood at
the door until he was out of sight and hearing.
"Let us hasten home," said Beethoven to his friend. "I must write out
that sonata while the music is still in my mind." When they reached
home, Beethoven seated himself at once and began to write. He worked
until daybreak. When he had finished, he had written the Moonlight