Ludwig Van 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

can do."

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

Italian besides.

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.


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

shadowy chapel.

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




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

with wonder.

"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


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