Most everyone is familiar with the name Beethoven. Even if you don’t listen to his compositions, you have probably at least heard his name. But what about the family behind the man? We often don’t think about the family dynamics behind the great composers of the past, focusing on their music more so than the individual. Let’s take a brief look at his father and grandfather. Ludwig van Beethoven is the son of Johann and grandson of Lodewijk. He was named after his grandfather – Ludwig is the German equivalent of Lodewijk.
Lodewijk van Beethoven was born in January 1712 in Belgium, near Mechelen. He moved to Bonn, Germany at the age of 20 and died there in December 1773, about a week after his grandson turned 3 years old. Lodewijk was a well known musician in Bonn in his day – a source of pride for the younger Ludwig. He worked at the court of the Elector of Cologne Clemens August of Bavaria, starting as a bass singer and moving up to be appointed the Kapellmeister (music director) in 1761.
Lodewijk had one son, Johann. Johann was born in 1740 and spent his life in Bonn. He died in 1792. Also musically inclined, he joined the court of the Elector of Cologne in 1964 as a tenor. Johann played the violin, zither, and the keyboard instruments of the day, such as harpsichord and clavichord. He also taught harpsichord and clavichord.
When his son, Ludwig, showed an interest in music at a young age, Johann became his first teacher. Rumors abound that he was a strict teacher. He had dreams of creating another child prodigy like Mozart and stated Ludwig’s age to be six at his first concert when he was really seven. Ludwig went on to have many other teachers and as we know developed into an amazing musician. His father was an alcoholic and the family came to depend more and more on Ludwig for financial help. After the death of his wife, Johann declined even more. Two years later, Ludwig eventually gained the legal right to have half of Johann’s salary paid to him instead to aid in supporting his two younger brothers.
What a stressful position to be in as a young man. It is a family dynamic that continued for most of Ludwig’s life as he felt he needed to care for his siblings and their offspring – sometimes to the point of interference.