March 28, 2020

Beethoven and macaroni with cheese

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770 and was baptized on 17 December. The few papers we have tell us that he had a difficult childhood (his father was a musician, but alcoholic and violent).

Although he did not excel academically, he devoted himself to reading the great authors. His education truely began with his father and other musicians of the chapel of Bonn, and he gave his first public concert at aged eight.

The sovereign of Bonn invited Beethoven to go to Vienna for further training, where he studied with Antonio Salieri. In 1792, the year he arrived in Vienna, also received lessons with Haydn.

The first symptoms of deafness began appearing in 1798, and began to make it  impossible for Beethoven to execute his works. So he adapted his method of work and began to give more importance to the preparatory phase, filling the notebooks he kept throughout life, which became an essential source. However, his hearing was deteriorating and becoming increasingly difficult to hide, and from 1799 Beethoven started living away from social contact.

In the summer of 1802, Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers (which he never sent) confessing to have thought more than once about suicide, and that he would have followed through with it had it not been for his unconditional love of music.

That same year, Beethoven developed a whole new way of composing. In fact, the works of this first period are the most celebrated.

In 1808, Beethoven deliberately imposed the image of the musician as a “sound poet”: music, like poetry or philosophy, was a liberation of thoughts. Such ideas, which have been defined by some as “esoteric”, reflect his increasing exasperation with his deafness.

From 1803 he embarked on a new musical style, his middle period, and altered his composition practice, now known as the “Heroic”. Indeed, his Third Symphony, known as the Eroica, is longer and larger in scope than any previous symphony.

Beethoven’s third period can be argued to span 1816 to 1827, but by 1818 his deafness was complete. Nevertheless, he continued his personal quest for music, rediscovering older forms.

One of the few bright spots in these years was the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which was a success. The audience applauded enthusiastically, but he, being deaf, did not realize. After he turned around, the audience waved their handkerchiefs in token of applause.

Beethoven died on March 26, 1829. His funeral was attended by about twenty thousand people.

– How Beethoven really was.

Speaking of Ludwig van Beethoven is a reference to stormy, sullen, irritable character – according to the versions of character we have been led to believe over the years. However, this began to be questioned from the bicentennial of his birth, in an article in the weekly Der Spiegel, as a view often adulterated and exaggerated.

Beethoven was irritable, yes, and sullen. But he was supportive and inspired affection in the people he met. He also never forgot his obligations and behaved well and proper in society. Proof of this version of his character can be found in him being granted citizenship in Vienna:

The municipal authorities of the city and Imperial Court of Vienna, by the intervention of the finance committee of the Civil Hospital and considering that Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven gave last year’s instrumental performance of a work for the benefit of its citizens, citizens and children are received in the hospital of St. Marx, not only free but also with simple good will, personal responsibility for the direction, and so with this charitable effort has been so abundant income for the funds to help the poor Civil Hospital, which has relieved them of luck to the poor citizens, citizens and children bowed by age and frailty, free give citizens of the capital and Court as evidence of recognition of merit and appreciation of these good feelings.

(Vienna, November 16, 1815).

What is not in doubt, either now or among his contemporaries, is his genius. All  were totally amazed to hear that he was able to change a person’s mindset overnight. Felix Mendhelsson-Bartholdy wrote the following to his parents on May 25, 1830:

Goethe (…) Beethoven would not hear anything, but I told him it was impossible to pass by, and it touched him, then, the first part of the Symphony in C minor. It affected him very unique way. First he said this: it does not move, just astonishes, it is great. He continued mumbling and after a while he began again: It’s great, totally amazing! It seems that the house will collapse. As if everyone was touched simultaneously! And on the table in the middle of another conversation, began again with the same thing …


Also, Richard Wagner, in his story “Eine Pilgerfahrt zu Beethoven” (1840), confessed:

I only remember one afternoon I heard perform a Beethoven symphony, which then gave me fever, sick and when I regained my health, was a musician.


Beethoven awakened the affection of those who dealt with him. It is true that he could be unfriendly, but when he was with those who were his friends, the situation changed, and he was very cordial and friendly.

I found this man with a reputation for wild and haggard, the excellent artist with a heart of gold, a great genius and a kind deal.

(Letter from Karl August Varnhagen von Ense-military, diplomatic and writer-a-poet Ludwig Uhland, political and Germanist.Prague, 23 December 1811).

Beethoven received me with a touching love (…) full of enthusiasm, exclaiming: “Yes, you’re a great man, great man!” This man, known as brusque and surly, gave me all the honors and attended me at the table with such application as if i was the lady of his love. (…) It gave me great confidence in myself to see me treated so affectionatly, [and I have] esteem for this great spirit.

(Carl Maria von Weber to his wife.Vienna, October 5, 1823).

Beethoven had such a bias against child prodigy, who ever objected more vigorously. (…) I played first a short piece of rail. At the end, Beethoven asked me if I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the Fugue in C minor from “Well-Tempered Clavier.” (…) After the final chord I looked up. The dark and bright eyes of the master are set, perversely, on me. Suddenly there came a gentle smile of stern countenance. (…) “What a great man!” He whispered. Suddenly embolden me. “I can play something of yours?” I asked boldly. Beethoven nodded smiling. (…) When I finished Beethoven took my two hands and said, “Go!, You are a lucky, happy and glad it will do many other people. There’s nothing more beautiful! ”
This event in my life has been my greatest pride, the palladium of my whole career.

(Franz Liszt).

The great Beethoven always wondered to me: What is new and colossal stupidity there?

(Ignaz Castelli -Viennese poet and writer).

No one had any doubt of Beethoven’s talent and genius. Time is usually spent examining his character, personal and sometimes quirky way of doing things, and his living through his music. This aspect of him is something that stands out in most texts. No one fails to notice his character, his genius.

He is way ahead of the culture of all mankind and who knows if they ever reach. Hopefully they live up to the mighty and sublime enigma in his spirit that has matured and reached its highest perfection.
All human energy is deployed as a clock mechanism that goes up and down, only he himself freely engender the unexpected, the uncreated:

“Opening my eyes I have to sigh, as I see it goes against my religion and I have to ignore a suspect world that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”
Beethoven told methe first time I saw him: “In most people something good moves, but it has no artistic nature, artists are spirited, do not cry” he said.
I would say a genius that will appear in a later stage of perfection as sovereign of the world.

(Letter to Goethe Bettina Brentano.Vienna, May 28, 1810).

To pretend to instruct him, even intelligent people prepared me, is smug, since he illuminates the genius and often brightens as lightning, when we are in darkness and not even suspect the day breaks forth.

(Letter in response to Goethe to Bettina Brentano.Weimar, June 6, 1810).

In all matters relating to his art is as sovereign and true that no artist dared to approach him, but everything else is so naive that you can make it whatever you want. His cluelessness is of pranks and mischief. (…) What keeps the world together (face and ear) excommunicate him, so he lives in the deepest solitude. When people sometimes speak long with him and a response is expected, he starts to hum, takes his staff and writes.

(Letter to Bettina Brentano Anton Bihler. July 9, 1810).

If I had not known by irrefutable evidence that Beethoven is the greatest, deepest and gifted among German composers, I would have said him, to me, that I am totally ignorant of music, to have the indisputable proof of it. He lives only for his art, and no earthly passion hinders creation. (…) I mention all this so do not try to compare it with any other musician, but put it aside.

(Carl Maria von Weber to his wife.Vienna, October 5, 1823).

Beethoven complained that he could not play the violin well. Amenda encouraged him to try, but Beethoven was playing in a horrible way, so Amenda shouted: “Stop, I beg you”. Beethoven stopped, and then both burst out laughing. One night, surprisingly, Beethoven improvised on the piano, and Amenda said, when it ended: “What a pity that such admirable music is lost at birth”. Beethoven said, “You’re wrong, because I can play all the fantasies that I suddenly want.” And he interprets it without changing anything.[1]


Carl Czerny (1791-1857) was a pupil of Beethoven between 1800 and 1803, and his notes shows us some curiosities about the composer:

The Adagio in E major of the second quartet Rasumoffsky came some time in contemplating the starry sky and think about the harmony of the stars.
By 1803 Beethoven once said to his friend Krumpholz: “I’m satisfied with what I’ve done so here. From now on, I start a new way”. Shortly afterwards he composed the three sonatas (for piano) Op 31.
Beethoven’s work is not held at any time. Before and after lunch, morning and evening, his active imagination was always working and often he woke up at midnight and scares your neighbors with the strongest line, noise, song, etc.


Russell describes his way of playing, his placement at the piano and the way he acted:

From the moment he sits at the piano, you forget that there is the world  outside of him and his instrument. When you think you are deaf it seems impossible that you understand what you are playing. When playing softly, sometimes you produce no sound. One hears with the ears of the soul. While his eyes and the almost imperceptible movement of his fingers indicate that he pursues the phrase by moving all its nuances, the instrument is really as dumb as the pianist deaf. Left alone, Beethoven sits at the piano. At first, merely short chords here and there without continuity, but gradually he forgets all about him, and for half an hour was lost in an improvisation whose style was varied and was characterized primarily by strong modulations. The experts were enthusiastic. For the uninitiated, the most important thing is to observe how the music went from the soul of this man to his face. He seemed to be feeling brave, imperious and stormy, but languid and calm. The muscles of his face swelled, his veins bulged. The glare was churning violently, his mouth was moving, and Beethoven seemed a magician who feels that he has invoked the spirits.


Also, Beethoven himself, through his statements or notes from his diary, helps us try to understand how music and life was, for him, the same concept. While his words were not always seem consistent with his behavior, of course, they reaffirm his character:

Much to do on Earth, do quickly! (1814)

Living … only in your art, how great you are the limitations imposed by the senses, it is no longer your only life. (1816)

To get safety there’s no other choice but to leave here, where you’re sinking into vulgarity, just so you can take flight to the heights of your art, just a symphony, and then go, go … (1817)

 Back to sacrifice to your art all the minutiae of social life! (1818)

I never thought of writing to gain fame or honor: I have in the heart has to go out and write about it. (Special statement of intent)

I have always been among the greatest admirers of Mozart and I will remain while I have a breath of life.


As well as his talent, his genius, his absolute love for music, the most important thing is that Beethoven was a person, with little quirks and tastes, same as each one of us. Worldly things are the least known of him, and yet, are those that best enable us to understand that he was a man like any other. Anton Schindler, in his biography of the composer, writes:

Beethoven was hardly more than five feet four inches, as measured Vienna. (…) His brown eyes, small, laughing almost completely disappeared in the head. What was wrong only reflected their bright eyes and his face, never gestured with his head and hands, except when he was with the orchestra. His laughter gave the whole face an extremely kind and warm air.

The memory of Beethoven to the past was always very weak … If he was busy with a new composition, all its unique and obviously “I” lived there. His desk looked at the same time a table of trinkets (…) Washing and bathing was an absolutely essential needs of Beethoven (…) The coffee seems to have been his most essential food. It took about two grains per cup and often told (…) His favorite foods included macaroni and Parmesan cheese …


Bassin, Jean y Brigitte, Ludwig van Beethoven, Madrid, Turner, 2003.

Carozo, M. Storia della musica occidentale, vol. 2, Roma, Armando, 1997-1999.

Ludwig E., Beethoven, Buenos Aires, 1994.

Würz A. Y Schimkat R., Beethoven, Madrid, Tecnos, 1970.

[1] Bassin, Jean y Brigitte, “Recuerdos conservados en la familia de Amenda”, Ludwig van Beethoven, Madrid, Turner, 2003, p. 93.

2 Comments on Beethoven and macaroni with cheese

  1. An interesting article, but I didn’t understand the reference to ‘macaroni and cheese’ was it the medley of quotations that followed? I wish you had given us more of an insight into your own reaction and affection for Beethoven.

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