Bumping into Beethoven

I doubt there is anywhere in Bonn you can go and not see a picture of the man himself. And credit where credit is due…if I had composed an opera, a violin concerto, five piano concertos, and nine symphonies, ten sonatas, and seventeen string quartets, I’d expect to be looking down from above and catching the odd glimpse of my best side!

Although he eventually settled in Vienna, Beethoven’s home town of Bonn has not forgotten him.

There’s a lesson to be learned in the fact that despite his disturbing childhood (his father was a particularly violent alcoholic, apparently) and the onset of deafness in his twenties, he could still find the wherewithal to compose the marvellous Ode to Joy. The cause of his deafness is still unknown, although the lack of any factual conclusions hasn’t stopped people wondering: syphilis, lead poisoning, typhus, autoimmune disorder and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake have all factored in the diagnosis at some stage. But imagine not being able to hear your own music – at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he wept when he heard no applause. He had to be turned around to see the audience clapping wildly.

While many other musicians, including his one-time teacher, Haydn, actually feared his work because it relied too much on passion, Mozart recognised his talent for what it was. Apparently, when he heard the 17-year-old play, he said ‘Watch this lad. One day he will force the world to talk about him.’

I didn’t get to see his house – I didn’t particularly want to. He was born there, he lived there, and he lived plenty of other places, too. So what? Far more satisfying was the short time spent in St Remigus’s Parish Church where, at the age of 10, he used to play the organ at 6am mass. And yes, fanciful as I am, I thought I could hear faint whispers…

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