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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.”

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15 Fascinating Facts About David Bowie
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BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

The music industry lost one of its most iconic artists when David Bowie passed away from liver cancer on January 10, 2016. Bowie’s death came as a surprise to music fans around the world, as he kept his diagnosis quiet. Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the often-elusive nature of Bowie over the years. Here are 15 things you might not have known about David Bowie, on what would have been his 71st birthday.

1. HE CHANGED HIS NAME SO HE WOULDN'T BE CONFUSED WITH THE MONKEES’S DAVY JONES.

David Bowie was born in London on January 8, 1947 as David Robert Jones. But as he readied to embark on his musical career as a teen, there was a problem: Davy Jones, the lead singer of The Monkees, was already a known quantity in the music industry, and the aspiring artist was afraid they might be confused. So David Jones changed his name to David Bowie.

In 1967, 14-year-old Sandra Dodd sent Bowie what would be his first fan letter from America, in which she asked him about his name. Bowie quipped: “In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it. ‘Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you’ said my manager.”

2. NO, HIS EYES ARE NOT TWO DIFFERENT COLORS.

While people often claim that Bowie had heterochromia, a genetic condition that results in having two different colored eyes, that is incorrect. Both of his eyes are blue; the ocular oddity that you do notice is what is known as aniscoria, or a permanently dilated pupil—which happened when Bowie was 15 years old and got into a fight with his friend, George Underwood, over a girl. "I was so aggrieved I walked over to him, basically, turned him around and went 'whack' without even thinking," Underwood explained. (His fingernail sliced into Bowie’s eye.)

Fortunately, there were no hard feelings; the two later collaborated on an album as The King Bees and Underwood went on to design the album covers for some of Bowie’s most famous records, including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

3. THAT WASN’T THE ONLY TIME BOWIE'S EYE TOOK A BEATING.

In 2004, while performing in Oslo, Norway, a “fan” threw a lollipop onto the stage, which somehow managed to strike Bowie in the eye—and get stuck. A member of his crew was able to remove it, and Bowie went on with the concert. Rebel rebel indeed.

4. HE WAS BOYHOOD FRIENDS WITH PETER FRAMPTON.

Despite Bowie being more than three years older than Peter Frampton, the two struck up a friendship as youngsters. Both attended Bromley Technical High School, where Frampton’s dad was Bowie’s art teacher. The two shared a unique bond over music, and remained close friends until Bowie’s death. "He really introduced me, along with George Underwood, to Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, people I wasn't aware of at that age," Frampton once said of his childhood friend. The two would collaborate a number of times over the years.

5. BOWIE AND ELTON JOHN WERE PALS AS TEENS, TOO.

Back in their teens—when Bowie was still known as David Jones and Elton John went by Reginald Kenneth Dwight—the two future rock icons became quick friends and would frequently get together to talk about music. But shortly after Bowie’s death, John admitted that they had a falling out and hadn’t talked much in about 40 years.

“David and I were not the best of friends towards the end,” John said. “We started out being really good friends. We used to hang out together with Marc Bolan, going to gay clubs, but I think we just drifted apart. He once called me ‘rock ’n’ roll’s token queen’ in an interview with Rolling Stone, which I thought was a bit snooty. He wasn’t my cup of tea. No; I wasn’t his cup of tea.”

6. AS A TEEN, HE FOUNDED THE SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO LONG-HAIRED MEN.

In 1964, when he was just 17 years old, Bowie formed The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, an organization aimed at protesting the treatment that he and other men with long hair received on the streets of London. He took the matter seriously, as you can see from the BBC interview above.

That BBC spot led to an interview with the London Evening News, where Bowie explained that the organization was “really for the protection of pop musicians and those who wear their hair long. Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell. It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls.”

7. HIS FIRST HIT, “SPACE ODDITY,” WAS PERFECTLY TIMED.

On July 11, 1969, Bowie released the single “Space Oddity.” The timing could not have been more perfect. Nine days after its release, the BBC ran the song over its coverage of Apollo 11’s lunar landing. It would end up being his first big hit in the UK.

8. HIS BROTHER WAS A MAJOR INSPIRATION FOR HIS MUSIC.

In 1985, Bowie’s half-brother Terry Burns, who battled mental health issues throughout his life, escaped from the hospital where he had been admitted and killed himself. In Nicholas Pegg's The Complete David Bowie, the writer reveals that Burns had quite an impact on Bowie’s writing. He was reportedly the inspiration for a number of his songs, including “Aladdin Sane,” “All the Madmen,” and “Jump They Say.”

9. BEING ZIGGY STARDUST LED HIM TO QUESTION HIS SANITY.

3rd July 1973: David Bowie performs his final concert as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, London. The concert later became known as the Retirement Gig
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Though Bowie had many alter egos over the years, Ziggy Stardust was the most famous of them. From 1972 to 1973 he toured in character as the glam rock persona until he abruptly announced that he would be retiring Ziggy during a concert in 1973. “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do,” Bowie said of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

He later admitted that Ziggy “wouldn't leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour ... My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity."

10. FOR A TIME, HE FEARED A WIZARD MIGHT STEAL HIS URINE.

Four years after his Ziggy Stardust period, Bowie became the Thin White Duke. It was during this period that he struggled with both drug and emotional problems. In David Buckley’s book, Strange Fascination: David Bowie—The Definitive Story, the author wrote that by 1975, Bowie was "living a cocooned existence [in Los Angeles], disconnected from the real world.” He was apparently subsisting on a diet of peppers and milk, and exhibited some truly strange behaviors—like keeping his urine in his refrigerator so that "no other wizard could use it to enchant him.”

11. HE WAS A BIT OF A FUTURIST.

Not only was Bowie ahead of his time when it came to his art, but he also seemed to foretell the rise of the internet. In 1999, while discussing a newfangled invention known as the world wide web with Jeremy Paxman of the BBC, the host suggests that the internet’s potential has been “hugely exaggerated.” Bowie was quick to make it clear that he didn’t agree. “I really embrace the idea that there’s a new demystification process between the artist and the audience,” Bowie said “The interplay between the user and the provider will be so in sympatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

12. HE WAS A PIONEER OF MUSIC STREAMING.

In September 1996, Bowie became the first major artist to release a single via internet download only with “Telling Lies.” It took about 11 minutes to download. (Times have changed.) That was just the beginning: In 1998, Bowie announced that he’d be launching his own internet service provider, known as BowieNet.

13. HE WAS A VORACIOUS READER.

May 1973: In a black and white horizontally striped jacket with wide lapels glam rock star David Bowie
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While he was mostly known for his musical output, Bowie was a major bookworm who often read a book a day. In 2013, the curators at the Art Gallery of Ontario compiled a list of the artist’s 100 favorite books as part of an exhibition, “David Bowie Is.” It was an eclectic list, encompassing everything from Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary to Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.

14. HIS SON RECENTLY CREATED A BOOK CLUB IN BOWIE’S HONOR.

In late December, Bowie’s son—filmmaker Duncan Jones—announced via Twitter that he would be paying tribute to his father’s love of reading with an online-based book club.

The club will kick off with Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor, and the conversation will begin on February 1.

15. A LOCK OF HIS HAIR SOLD FOR $18,750.

In June 2016, just a few months after the singer’s passing, a lock of Bowie’s hair—which had been snipped in 1983 by a wig mistress at Madame Tussauds in London—went up for auction as part of Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction held by Heritage Auctions and sold for a hair-raising $18,750.

“David Bowie changed music forever and fans are hungry for related precious objects that bring them closer to their favorite musician," Margaret Barrett, Heritage’s director of entertainment and music auctions, said at the time. "What brings you closer than a lock of hair?" (The bidding started at $2000 and early estimates thought it might only go as high as $4000.)

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20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. On what would have been his 83rd birthday, here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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