19 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Beethoven

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770 in Bonn to parents Johann and Maria, who were excited and scared about the future of their newborn son. Stubborn and self-involved, dramatic yet loving of his friends, Beethoven would become a virtuoso pianist and canonical composer of dozens of symphonies, concertos for piano, piano sonatas, and string quartets. Having performed brilliantly for much of his youth and into his early thirties, the musician would slowly lose his hearing and ultimately focus his efforts on composing alone. Even after he’d lost his most precious sense, Beethoven would create some of the most moving works of all time.

Jan Swafford’s Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph chronicles the life of the master musician, painting the picture of a character who loved and hated ferociously, of a Europe wrought with revolution and enlightenment, and of a Vienna housing some of the foremost icons of history (Mozart and Haydn would predate Beethoven there). Below is a list of things you might not know about this beloved artist.

1. Beethoven was actually the third Ludwig van Beethoven in his family. The first was his grandfather, a noted musician in Bonn, and the second was Beethoven’s older brother, who passed six days after his birth.

2. Beethoven’s father noticed early on the boy’s penchant for playing. He set his sights on creating a prodigy as Mozart was just years before, and Johann beat music into Ludwig, forcing him to practice day and night to reach the same level of genius. Neighbors of Beethoven remembered the small boy standing on a bench to reach the keyboard, crying, his father looming over him.

3. Having left school at age 11 to help with household income, Beethoven never learned how to multiply or divide. To his last day if he had to multiply, say, 60 x 52, he’d lay out 60 52 times over and add them up.

4. Among his friends, Beethoven was a notorious spacecadet. Once, while speaking to family friend Cacilie, she noticed him zoning out. When she demanded a reply to what she’d said, his answer was, “I was just occupied with such a lovely, deep thought, I couldn’t bear to be disturbed.”

5. On his first visit to Vienna, 17-year-old Beethoven was scheduled to perform for Mozart. The latter was generally unimpressed with other musicians, having been so far ahead of his peers in talent and accomplishments. No one really knows what happened in that fateful meeting, but myth has it that Mozart walked out of the room saying, “Keep your eyes on him—someday he’ll give the world something to talk about.”

6. Beethoven was known for his improvising (before he lost his hearing). One contemporary of his, composer Johann Baptist Cramer, told his students that if you haven’t heard Beethoven improvise, you haven’t heard improvisation.

7. After moving to Vienna in his early 20s, Beethoven took lessons from Joseph Haydn, father of the symphony. As per Beethoven’s habit with teachers, the two often got frustrated and ultimately didn’t like each other very much.

8. When Beethoven had been composing for some years, the piano began to come into its own. Whereas his predecessors had composed for harpsichord, Beethoven decided he would focus his efforts on the instrument no one had yet written comprehensive work for.

9. Beethoven had varying luck with women. Some admired him for his genius while others found him repulsive. A woman he courted once called him “ugly and half crazy.”

10. Beethoven was a sick kid to his dying day. Throughout his life he would suffer from deafness, colitis, rheumatism, rheumatic fever, typhus, skin disorders, abscesses, a variety of infections, ophthalmia, inflammatory degeneration of the arteries, jaundice, chronic hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver.

11. Though he attributed the beginning of his deafness to an instance in which he was startled and fell, the foundation would have probably been a disease he had suffered from as a child like typhus, smallpox, etc. He began to hear constant buzzing at age 27.

12. The Moonlight Sonata was a hit from the start, dedicated to Beethoven’s pupil and love interest Julie Guicciardi.

13. Beethoven hated giving piano lessons unless they were for exceptionally talented students or attractive young women of whatever talent.

14. He was instrumental in setting the tone of critiques of his work in the leading music journal of the day, AMZ, telling the editor to back off with negative comments if he wanted to receive copies of the musician’s work.

15. His Symphony no. 3, called Eroica, was dedicated to Napoleon (before he’d disappointed Beethoven and crowned himself absolute monarch, as opposed to being a symbol of revolution and new era in Europe) and written at a time when Beethoven considered moving to Paris. The move never happened, but the symphony would be a defining artistic work of the German enlightenment.

16. One of the major inspirations of Beethoven’s famed Ninth Symphony was poet Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” which he’d been meaning to put to music since his youth.

17. Despite his acclaim, Beethoven always had to work hard to ensure a comfortable living by giving piano lessons, writing work commissioned by wealthy Viennese residents, and, of course, publishing his own music.

18. He died during a thunderstorm at age 56, his friend comparing the occasion to the composer’s symphonies with “crashes that sound like hammering on the portals of Fate.”

19. Thousands joined the procession at his burial. His monument said, simply, “BEETHOVEN.”

13 Things You Didn't Know About Sam Goody

Joe Wolf, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Joe Wolf, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Sam Goody dominated the music marketplace for decades, but after several buyouts and mergers, the once-ubiquitous retailer dwindled to a few storefronts before finally fading into mall history.

1. SAM GOODY WAS A REAL GUY.

The man who founded the ubiquitous mall chain was born Samuel Gutowitz on February 25, 1904. Friends and family dubbed him “Goody” when he was just a child; according to the The New York Times, Gutowitz eventually made the moniker his legal name.

2. INSPIRATION STRUCK AFTER GOODY ACQUIRED RECORDS FOR A CUSTOMER.

Though Goody had entrepreneurial ambitions from a young age, he wasn’t always in the music business. One of his first ventures was a toy and novelty store in lower Manhattan. In 1938, a customer stopped into his shop looking for old records of Enrico Caruso, Alma Gluck, and Paul Reimers. Goody was perplexed—“I thought [records] went out with the dodo birds,” he said—but promised to deliver for his customer. Goody recalled a stack of old 78-rpm disks in the basement of his apartment building in Washington Heights, so he went home and offered his landlord a can of beer in exchange for the pile of junk. (Over the years, Goody also said the exchange cost him three cigars.) After cleaning the records, Goody resold them for a whopping $25—and realized he was in the wrong business.

3. IN THE EARLY YEARS, SAM GOODY RAN PLENTY OF OFFBEAT PROMOTIONS.

When long-play records first hit the market, Goody courted customers by giving complementary turntables to anyone who spent more than $25. He ended up giving away 40,000 of the new-fangled devices—but in spite of the incredible cost to his company, Goody considered the promotion a success. “That meant 40,000 new customers,” he said.

Not all of his promotions were music-related. Goody once purchased 400,000 silver dollars and gave them to customers who spent $15. When the promotion proved successful, he repeated it with half-dollars, buying 400,000 JFK 50-cent pieces to give to customers spending $10. Though the gimmick worked, Goody later had some regrets about the promo. “I should have kept the silver dollars and given away the business,” he said. “When the silver price jumped like never before, I could have gotten $10 million for my $500,000 purchase.”

4. HIS FLAGSHIP STORE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR 7 PERCENT OF U.S. RECORD SALES.

The unique promotions clearly worked. Goody’s flagship store on West 49th Street was constantly deluged with customers—up to 4000 a day. In 1955, business was booming to the point that the flagship location sold 7 percent of the 33 1/3-rpm disks in the entire nation, with a gross income of close to $4 million.

5. SAM GOODY PRICES WERE SO LOW THAT THEY “ROCKED” THE COMPETITION.

Not all of Goody’s promotions were gimmicks. He also managed to undercut his competition: One 1962 advertisement offered three LPs for $7.99 compared to a $13 price tag, or $4.49 per record, at Goody's competitors (in today's money, that would be a savings of $45 dollars, or $15 per LP). When Goody took an ad out in the Western edition of The New York Times advertising Bob Newhart albums for $1.89, his competitors were angry. “What does Goody pay for this product to be able to sell it for less than I can buy it?” one competitor complained to Billboard Music Week in 1962.

6. SAM GOODY SALESPEOPLE WERE INCREDIBLY KNOWLEDGEABLE.

To have a job at the Sam Goody flagship store, employees had to prove they possessed a vast knowledge of music. Being well-versed in top 40 hits wouldn’t cut it; Goody employees had encyclopedic knowledge of all things music, from opera to punk. And he paid them well to do it—according to one employee who worked there, even part-timers received medical insurance, sick pay, vacation pay, and retirement benefits.

7. GOODY SOLD OUT TO THE AMERICAN CAN COMPANY.

In 1978, Goody sold all of his stores to the American Can Company, which owned another mall-centric music store that was one of Goody’s biggest competitors: Musicland. It was under American Can leadership that Goody became a staple in shopping malls across the U.S., with store numbers ballooning to 250 nationally. Goody stayed on as a consultant with American Can for five years, earning an annual salary of just $35,000.

8. HE SOLD THE BUSINESS TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.

Sam Goody’s 26-store empire had a stellar reputation: Low prices, vast inventory, knowledgeable salespeople, $60 million in sales. So why did he cut the whole thing loose for just $5.5 million in 1978? According to Goody, he gave the company away “cheap” because of his sons, Howard and Barry. "They loved each other then and they still do," he later said. "But they competed with each other on everything and soon even the help was taking sides. I could only see them breaking it all apart. So I sold the company."

9. THE COMPANY FACED AN EARLY ANTI-PIRACY SUIT.

Music piracy wasn’t invented with Napster—illegal tapes flooded the market long before the internet made music sharing commonplace. In 1981, Sam Goody Inc. faced a lawsuit for dealing counterfeit cassette and eight-track tapes. The suit alleged that more than 100,000 illegal tapes had been sold at Sam Goody stores, resulting in lost revenue of more than $1 million for artists like Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Paul Simon. In a plea agreement, the company pled no contest and was fined $10,000 for transporting counterfeit Grease soundtracks from Queens to Minnesota.

10. BEFORE AMERICAN IDOL, THERE WAS SAM GOODY’S “BANDEMONIUM” CONTEST.

Long before celebrity judges listened to local talent for reality TV purposes, Sam Goody tapped the unsigned band market for promotional purposes. For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sam Goody held their "Bandemonium" contest, pitting acts against each other in a battle-of-the-bands-style competition. Winners included Bobby Llama and Darwin's Waiting Room.

11. IN 2000, SAM GOODY GOT SOLD AGAIN.

The American Can Company sold Musicland and Sam Goody to Best Buy for a cool $425 million in 2000. But the relationship didn’t last long. By 2006, the stores were sold to another competitor, Trans World Entertainment. Trans World eventually converted all of the Sam Goody locations into f.y.e. stores—except for one.

12. THE LAST SAM GOODY STORE CLOSED ON OCTOBER 31, 2012.

The last Sam Goody holdout, located in San Diego, shuttered its windows on Halloween 2012. According to a company exec, the single store remained partly because the giant neon signs bearing the company logo were simply not economical to replace in that particular location.

13. A "ROUGH TRADE" RECORD STORE WAS REBRANDED AS SAM GOODY IN 2015 FOR AN HBO PROJECT.

Your eyes didn't deceive you if you think you spotted a retro-looking Sam Goody store in Brooklyn in 2015. A British-based record store called Rough Trade agreed to allow a temporary redesign in order to accommodate the production of Vinyl, an HBO drama executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.

30 Stores That Will Be Closed on Thanksgiving

iStock.com, zoom-zoom
iStock.com, zoom-zoom

In recent years, the Black Friday craze has inched further and further into Thanksgiving. With stores opening as early as 5 p.m. on Thursday, festive dinners are being overshadowed by shopping frenzies. Retailers like to point the blame at consumers—according to the National Retail Federation, almost six in 10 Americans plan to shop Thanksgiving weekend—but opening a day early also runs the risk of cannibalizing sales that could have been made on Friday. Furthermore, with stores open the day before, the idea of going shopping in the middle of the night for already picked-over merchandise seems unnecessary.

But there are still stores that allow workers to stay home and enjoy the holiday. BestBlackFriday.com keeps a running (and updated) list of which companies will not be open on Thanksgiving. 

1. DSW

Photo of DSW Shoe store
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP, Getty Images

DSW employees can kick off their (well-priced) shoes and settle in for a holiday spent with friends and family; all of the chain's stores will be closed on Thanksgiving.

2. COSTCO

costco warehouse
iStock.com, slobo

The warehouse club has always had a reputation for being good to its employees. This Thanksgiving, Costco's 200,000-plus team members will have the opportunity to spend the holiday with their families (same goes for Christmas and New Year's Day).

3. NORDSTROM

Nordstrom storefront
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Nordstrom won't be open for business on Thanksgiving, but some employees will still be coming in for work. "[F]or the past 40+ years, some of our employees work on Thanksgiving eve and into the wee hours of the morning on Thanksgiving Day to decorate our stores with our holiday trim," a company spokesperson told ThinkProgress in 2014. "This is mostly a group of employees who have volunteered to be there and some bring along relatives or friends to join in. We'll also have a small team working in our Nordstrom.com Call Centers on Thanksgiving to serve the many customers who shop online that day."

4. DILLARD'S

A Dillard's storefront
iStock.com, Lee Walters

In 2014, a Dillard's spokesperson told ThinkProgress, "We choose to remain closed on Thanksgiving in longstanding tradition of honoring of our customers' and associates' time with family."

5. BJ'S WHOLESALE CLUB

Getty Images

BJ’s Wholesale Club will be closed Thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving gives family and friends the chance to spend time together," Chris Baldwin, the company's president and CEO, said in a press release in late September. "We're committed to letting our team members enjoy the holiday, and we'll be ready bright and early for our biggest Black Friday ever."

6. BURLINGTON

A Burlington storefront
iStock.com, krblokhin

"Thanksgiving is more than turkey. Or football. Or sleeping in," the company formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory wrote in a blog post. "It’s a time to reflect. To be thankful and appreciate what we have. To celebrate and share with family and friends near and far. That’s why Burlington stores are closed on Thanksgiving Day, so our customers and associates can enjoy time with their friends and family near and far."

7. REI

REI store in Seattle
Suzi Pratt, Getty Images for REI

REI will close all of its 151 stores for both Thanksgiving and Black Friday—yet all 12,000 of the retailer's employees, including hourly workers, will be paid to embrace the company's mission of getting people outdoors. "When you look at retail today, this playbook of promotions and consumerism, it's not working," REI chief executive Jerry Stritzke told Fortune. "It feels like it's lost momentum since then."

8. SUR LA TABLE

Scott Mindeaux via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Better make sure you've got all the Thanksgiving Day kitchen appliances and tools you need before the big day; kitchenware haven Sur La Table will be closed.

9. CRATE & BARREL

Crate & Barrel storefront
iStock.com, RiverNorthPhotography

Crate & Barrel employees will be staying home on Thanksgiving this year.

10. JO-ANN FABRICS AND CRAFTS

Jo-Ann Fabrics storefront
iStock.com, RiverNorthPhotography

Your arts and crafts projects will have to wait until Friday: Being closed on Thanksgiving has been a long-held tradition for Jo-Ann's stores.

11. T.J. MAXX

Getty Images

"We feel so strongly about our employees spending Thanksgiving with their families," T.J. Maxx and Marshalls spokeswoman Doreen Thompson said in 2013. "And we don't anticipate this changing in the future."

12. MARSHALLS

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Marshalls, like T.J. Maxx, is owned by TJX and will therefore also be closed.

13. PIER 1 IMPORTS

Getty Images

For the past couple of years, Pier 1 Imports has decided to stay closed for the holiday.

14. PUBLIX

Getty Images

You'll have to buy your last-minute Thanksgiving fixings somewhere other than Publix.

15. SIERRA TRADING POST

iStock

“As in past years, Sierra Trading Post stores will be closed on Thanksgiving so our associates can enjoy the holiday with family and friends,” a company spokesperson said.

16. BARNES & NOBLE

Getty Images

Barnes & Noble wants its employees to enjoy the holiday with their families (then curl up with a good book).

17. SAM'S CLUB

Getty Images

Sam's Club is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

18. IKEA

IKEA storefront
iStock.com, TonyBaggett

If you’re craving Swedish meatballs instead of turkey (or, you know, you really need an ottoman), you’ll have to wait it out. Most IKEA locations in the U.S. will be closed on Thanksgiving so employees can spend time with family and friends.

19. THE HOME DEPOT

Getty Images

The Home Depot stays closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

20. PATAGONIA

Patagonia store window
iStock.com, electravk

In 2014, when asked why Patagonia stores close on Thanksgiving, a spokesperson responded, “It’s a holiday—we’re closed!”

21. STAPLES 

Getty Images

It wasn't until 2015 that Staples decided to close its stores on Turkey Day. “We want our customers and associates to enjoy Thanksgiving their own way,” former company president Demos Parneros said in a press release at the time of the announcement.

22. PETSMART

PetSmart storefront
iStock.com, J. Michael Jones

Better make sure you've got enough catnip and dog treats to last the day; PetSmart will be closed.

23. LOWE'S

Getty Images

The home improvement giant gives its employees Thanksgiving Day off to spend with their families. 

24. GUITAR CENTER

Getty Images

The musical instrument retailer will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. The rocking will recommence on Friday morning.

25. MALL OF AMERICA

Mall of America sign out front
iStock.com, Wolterk

By closing its doors on Thanksgiving, the Mall of America has brought a bit of excitement back to Black Friday. "The energy has been extremely high," director of public relations Dan Jasper told CNBC in 2016. "It's a completely different vibe than the past few years."

26. THE CONTAINER STORE

The Container Store storefront
iStock.com, Nicolas McComber

In 2015, The Container Store posted a statement on its blog explaining why they choose to close on Thanksgiving Day: "We love seeing all of our customers—don’t get us wrong! But we feel it’s more important for all of our employees to be able to spend this holiday with their families, in order to recharge and renew and come back to work ready to take on the holiday season!"

27. NEIMAN MARCUS

Neiman Marcus storefront
iStock.com, RiverNorthPhotography

The luxury department store will be closed for Thanksgiving. But if you're so inclined, you can order a Thanksgiving dinner for 12 from them for a cool $495.

28. PETCO

Petco storefront
iStock.com, Miosotis Jade
PETCO employees will be spending the holiday home with their own pets this year.

29. OUTDOOR RESEARCH

iStock

In 2016, the outdoor apparel and gear company said it would be joining REI in its #OptOutside initiative, and will be closed on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. They're repeating the newfound tradition again this year.

30. OFFICE DEPOT

Office Depot storefront
iStock.com, clearstockconcepts

"As we evaluated our store hours for this holiday and weighed the business and personal considerations, we decided it was best to provide our associates with the day off to spend time with family and friends by closing our retail stores on Thanksgiving Day," Office Depot's former COO Troy Rice said in a 2016 press release. They're doing the same this year as well.

This is just a fraction of the list of stores deciding to stay closed on Thanksgiving. Check out of the full list on BestBlackFriday.com

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