How Much Do You Know About the Life of Beethoven?

By: Don Fujiwara
Image: Grafissimo / amtitus / E+ / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images

About This Quiz

On any top list of classical music composers, you'll see the name Ludwig van Beethoven as a perennial shoo-in, putting him in good company with the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn. While Beethoven may not have been nearly as prolific as the others in terms of bodies of works, his footprint across Western culture has been as profound if not more so. His works have appeared in films such as Disney's "Fantasia," "The King's Speech," "The Breakfast Club," "Howard's End" and "Rosemary's Baby," all this without mentioning the recurrence of his Symphony No. 9 in the "Die Hard" franchise and in both the novel and motion picture "A Clockwork Orange."

However, there was so much more to the man than his body of work. Consider how his deafness not only cut him off from his singular passion for music but also served to isolate him from the people around him. And, still, he managed to surmount despair and disability and go on to compose the 9th, arguably the capstone to his career and a paean to fellowship and humanity.

In keeping with this spirit, we issue a challenge. How much do you know about Beethoven, not just as composer, but also as a man? Take the quiz; test your knowledge. You may learn something, or you may end up surprising yourself.

When was Beethoven born?

Though no records exist documenting Beethoven's birth date, he was baptized on Dec. 17, 1770. At the time, the custom of the Catholic Rhine region dictated parents wait no longer than 24 hours after birth to baptize the child, thus making it very likely Ludwig's birthday came on Dec. 16.

In what city was Beethoven born?

Beethoven was born in Bonn, the then-capital of the Electorate of Cologne. Bonn is in Germany today, but in Beethoven's time, it was still the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, the city served as the capital of one the largest principalities, which included northern Germany and parts of Belgium and Holland.

When did Beethoven die?

Beethoven died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. His student, Therese Countess of Brunsvik, wrote, "Never had an emperor a funeral to equal it. Thirty-thousand people accompanied him to the gravesite."

Beethoven was named Ludwig after ...

The composer's father, Johann (1740-92) was the son of Flemish singer Ludwig van Beethoven (1712-73). The elder Ludwig moved to Bonn in 1732 and within a year secured a position in the chorus at the court of then-Archbishop-Elector Clemens August of Bavaria.

Ludwig and two siblings were the only Beethoven children to live past infancy. What were the names of those siblings?

Kaspar Anton Karl van Beethoven was born in 1774, and Nikolaus Johann came along in 1776. Out of seven children, the three brothers were the only ones who survived to adulthood.

How many times was Ludwig van Beethoven married?

Beethoven never married, though several women had played important roles in his life and work. After his death, love letters he wrote to an unidentified "Immortal Beloved" had been found among his personal effects, and it's precipitated much speculation in the years since.

Which of the following women is not a contender for Beethoven's Immortal Beloved?

Sophie de Bawr was born Alexandrine-Sophie Goury de Champgrand and was only two years younger than Beethoven. She was a French writer and composer who survived the revolution.

Which of the following lines is not from the Immortal Beloved letter?

Beethoven may have had his own way with words, but this line that's not from his letter was penned by the 12th-century French nun Heloise and is among her correspondence with philosopher Peter Abelard.

How many times has Beethoven's body been buried?

Upon his death in 1827, Beethoven was originally laid to rest in the Waehringer Ortsfriedhof, in one of Vienna's outlying districts. His burial site underwent repairs in 1863, and his body was reburied in a metal coffin. In 1888, his body was again exhumed and then buried at the Zentralfriedhof in central Vienna.

The name "Eroica" has been attached to which of Beethoven's works?

In 1801, Beethoven composed his 3rd Symphony, which would become known as Sinfonia Eroica, or the heroic symphony. In 1802, he composed 15 variations for solo piano on the same theme he used in the climax of Symphony No. 3.

Beethoven originally dedicated his Symphony No. 3 to which emperor?

Beethoven saw Napoleon as a champion of the democratic ideals of the French Revolution, but upon finding out Bonaparte had declared himself emperor, the composer said, "Then he is nothing but an ordinary man! He is going to trample the rights of man underfoot, and his ambition will make him the greatest of tyrants." Beethoven the scratched out Napoleon's name from the dedication.

Which work is known as the Pastoral Symphony?

Composed in 1808, Beethoven's 6th Symphony is unusual for its time in that it has a five-movement structure. In a letter to his friend, the Baroness Therese Malfatti, he wrote, "How happy I am as soon as I can wander in the woods, in the forests among the trees, the rocks! No man could love the countryside as much as I."

Nothing says Beethoven like the four-note motif, da-da-da-duum. What work is this from?

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, composed in 1808, is also known as the Symphony of Fate. Scholars of the composer debate over whether the work reflected Beethoven's worsening deafness or his enthusiasm for the ideals behind France's revolution.

Which opera composer called Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 as the "apotheosis of the dance"?

Beethoven spent much of 1811 and 1812 composing his Symphony No. 7 in A major. The German composer Richard Wagner took heavy inspiration from Beethoven. Wagner wrote, "Never has an art offered the world anything so serene as these symphonies in A and F major, and all those works so intimately related to them, which the master produced during the divine period of his total deafness."

How many operas did Beethoven compose?

Beethoven's only opera, "Fidelio," premiered in Vienna on Nov. 20, 1805, one week after French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte occupied the city. It kind of flopped, but can you blame the guy?

Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47, was named after what?

Beethoven dedicated his last sonata for violin and piano to Rodolphe Kreutzer, who he described as "the premier violinist of Paris." It turns out the Frenchman never even played the sonata that bears his name.

Which of Beethoven's works has been called the "Moonlight Sonata"?

Beethoven completed "Quasi Una Fantasia" in 1801, dedicating it to his student, Countess Giulietta Guiciardi. Of her, he wrote, "She loves me, and I love her." Owing to their respective social standings, he could not marry her. The sonata's name is attributed to a German music critic named Ludwig Rellstab.

Which of Beethoven's works is commonly known as "Pathetique"?

Beethoven wrote this stately piece in 1798. He did not name the piece, but his publisher did. The Symphony No. 6 in B minor is also named Pathetique, but it was composed by the Russian Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Which of these people did not write a history of Beethoven?

Prince Lichnowsky was one of Beethoven's staunchest supporters and patrons, right up until their friendship ended on account of an argument. Schindler wrote "Life of Beethoven" in 1840, though his credibility as a historian has been nearly destroyed by Thayer, who wrote the three-volume "The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven." Music historian Theodore Albrecht wrote "Ludwig van Beethoven: A Guide to Research" and edited three volumes of "Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence."

In "Life of Beethoven," Anton Schindler wrote that the composer was very particular about his morning coffee. According to Schindler, how many beans did Beethoven allot to each cup?

While we have to take Schindler's account with a grain of salt, he did write, "Coffee seems to have been the nourishment which [Beethoven] could least dispense ... " That much sounds pretty reasonable.

Anton Schindler was Beethoven's friend and, at times, live-in amanuensis. In "Life of Beethoven," Schindler wrote about the composer's tastes in food and drink. Which of the following did he mention?

Schindler wrote, "all fish dishes were [Beethoven's] special predilection." He also said Ludwig was partial to a glass of beer in the evenings, as well as "a pipeful of tobacco."

In his time, Beethoven was as renowned a musician as he was a composer. With what instrument was he a virtuoso?

Well, technically, the fortepiano first. The development of the modern piano increased the fortepiano's range from five octaves to five and one-fifth in 1790. Technology raised that number to six in 1810 and seven in 1820.

Which Concerto is named the "Emperor"?

Beethoven completed Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, his final concerto, in 1811. He dedicated it to his benefactor and student Archduke Rudolf of Austria (1788-1831). One tale has it that upon hearing the work, a French soldier in the audience became overwhelmed and cried out, "C'est l'empereur!" The more likely scenario is the Emperor Concerto was named so by John Baptist Cramer, the English publisher of the work.

How many symphonies did Beethoven complete?

In theory, there's a Beethoven's 10th. It was cobbled together from the composer's notes by music scholar Barry Cooper. Even if all the parts were from the same composition, Beethoven did not complete a Symphony No. 10.

What was Ludwig's first paying gig?

By 1784, Ludwig had already been playing the organ at the court of Maximilian Friedrich, archbishop-elector of Cologne. Max Friedrich made things official on February 29, 1784, giving the 13-year-old Ludwig an annual salary of 150 florins.

How old was Beethoven when he first performed publicly?

Taking a page from Leopold Mozart's book, Johann van Beethoven had Ludwig debut alongside one of his own pupils on March 26, 1778. Johann billed his son as 6 years old, but the boy was actually 7. The turnout to the boy's performance was a little underwhelming.

Which of the following was Beethoven's first published composition?

Nine Variations on a March by Ernst Christoph Dressler for piano in C minor was Beethoven's first published work; he then completed the Three Piano Sonatas, dedicating them to Elector Maximilian Friedrich. The Minuet and Trio in G was actually Mozart's first composition.

How old was Beethoven when his first composition was published?

Nine Variations on a March by Dressler came out in late 1782 when Beethoven was eleven years old. He completed the Three Piano Sonatas the following year. Ludwig dedicated his first composition to Felice, Countess Wolff-Metternich, whose husband was president of the High Court of Appeals in Bonn.

After Beethoven's death, a letter he had written in October 1802 was found among his possessions. This letter, addressed to his brothers, was part will and, arguably, part suicide note. What has this document come to be called?

In May 1802, Beethoven went to Heiligenstadt, an hour's carriage ride from Vienna proper to rest and recuperate. On Oct. 6, 1802, Beethoven wrote his brothers describing his anguish at his increasing deafness and its effect on not only his social life but also his sense of purpose. He wrote a second part to this letter on Oct. 10, 1802. In the testament, Beethoven addressed Karl Kaspar by name but referred to Johann as [blank] Beethoven.

Which Russian writer penned the novella named for and featuring Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in A major?

Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata serves as the centerpiece to Tolstoy's eponymous novella, which related the events that lead the main character to commit uxoricide. The main character, a man named Pozdnyshev, said of the work, "Ugh! A dreadful thing, that sonata. Especially that [Presto] movement."

Which opera composer described the Symphony No. 5 as "one of the most important works of our time"?

In describing the 5th Symphony, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman wrote: " ... the heart of every sensitive listener is certain to be deeply stirred by one emotion, that of nameless, haunted yearning, and right to the very last chord, indeed for some moments after it, he will be unable to emerge from the magical spirit-realm where he has been surrounded by pain and pleasure in the form of sounds." From "E.T.A. Hoffmann's Musical Writings: Kreisleriana; The Poet and the Composer; Music Criticism."

Ludwig van Beethoven's musical career spanned which two eras of classical music?

The Classical period lasted from the mid-1700s to the early 1800s. Music's Romantic era began in the early 1800s and continued through the early 1900s. Beethoven's career bridged the two periods, and though his compositions were very much grounded in Classical period sensibilities, some argue that his later works helped shape the aesthetic of the Romantic era.

Which of these composers did Beethoven study under?

Beethoven left Bonn to study with Haydn in Vienna in late 1792 until about 1795. Their relationship had its ups and downs, but Beethoven ultimately dedicated his Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2, No. 2 to his teacher in 1796. The Italian composer Andrea Luchesi served as Kapellmeister, a musical director of sorts, at the same court chapel where Beethoven served as assistant organist, though there is no evidence a teacher-student relationship existed between the two.

Beethoven fought a lengthy legal battle over the custody of whose child?

In late 1815, Ludwig's brother Karl Kaspar died, leaving his 9-year-old son, also named Karl, under the co-guardianship of his wife, Johanna, and Ludwig. From 1816 to 1820, the composer fought a vicious custody battle for sole guardianship of Karl, which he won. On a separate note, Beethoven's other brother, Johann, despite Ludwig's best efforts, managed to marry his housekeeper turned mistress, Therese Obermeyer. Johann never had children.

Beethoven set the 1785 poem "Ode to Joy" to music in the final movement of his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. Which German poet wrote "Ode to Joy"?

Toward the end of his life, Beethoven underwent a burst of creativity that culminated in the Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123; the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, in 1823; and the Ninth Symphony in 1824. Schiller's "Ode to Joy" was influenced by Freemason poetry, and while neither Beethoven nor Schiller were masons, the sentiment of universal brotherhood resonated with both of them.

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