Music and Travel: History and the Beethoven Tour

Ludwig van Beethoven is a household “word” more than 200 years after the musician was born. He remains a formative figure when it comes to music in the Western world. Indeed, Beethoven is regarded as a crucial figure in the momentous transition from the Classical and Romantic eras in Western music.

No matter the type of music you like, perhaps you have an interest in the history of music more generally. In the final analysis, when it comes to music, what comes before has always played a role in what people from all walks of life listen to at a particular juncture in time.

Moreover, you may be like many people and have a more generalized interest in history. If you are planning a trip to Europe, the reality is that historical sites nearly always play a significant role in a traveler’s itinerary. With this in mind, if your European travels will take you to Germany and Austria — and they likely will if you are like most visitors to the Continent — consider taking in some of the sites, and sounds, associated with the life of Beethoven during your travels.

Beethoven’s Childhood

The first stop on any journey to take in the life of Beethoven is Bonn. Beethoven’s grandfather, for whom he was named, left what is today Belgium and traveled to Bonn, located in modern day Germany, at the age of 20. At the time Bonn was part of an ecclesiastical principality of the Holy Roman Empire. It was in this city that Beethoven first captured the attention of the public as a musical talent.

Upon arriving in Bonn, Beethoven’s grandfather immediately was engaged as a court singer for the Elector of Cologne. Ultimately, he became the Kapellmeister or music director at court. Ultimately, he became the preeminent musician in the region. His son was also employed as at court as a musician.

Although no official record exists of Beethoven’s birth, he was baptized in a Catholic church on December 17, 1770. The tradition in the Catholic Rhine country at the time was for the baptism to take place the day after a child’s birth. Thus, there is a solid, general consensus that Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770.

Beethoven’s first music teacher was his own father. Beethoven made his first public performance at the age of six or seven.

Beethoven also began composing at a young age, for the Elector of Cologne and while at court. The Elector was impressed with the talent demonstrated by Beethoven and highly encouraged the musician and composer while at court.

Many of the buildings that Beethoven encountered during his formative years are still standing. Indeed, his birthplace is one such site and has become the Beethoven House museum in Mechelen. The museum is a marvelous stopping point for anyone interested in the history of music generally, and Beethoven more specifically.

Beethoven’s Career

At the age of 17, Beethoven made his first journey to Vienna, Austria. Historians believe that he went to Vienna with in the intention to study under Mozart, although that never came to pass. A couple of weeks after arriving in Vienna, Beethoven learned his mother had taken ill and died.

Beethoven returned to Bonn, where he found his father slipping deep into the alcoholism. Beethoven did not immediately return to Vienna, but stayed in Bonn for the subsequent five years to care for his younger brothers.

Ultimately, in 1792, with the much-impressed Elector of Cologne’s assistance, Beethoven returned to Vienna to establish himself as a musician and composer. Mozart died at about the time Beethoven returned to Vienna. Beethoven himself did not immediately embark on composing, but studied under Joseph Haydn, who himself had been a student of Mozart.

One of the most amazing cities in all of Europe, Vienna is rich with sites that were familiar to Beethoven throughout his adult life. This includes not only buildings in which Beethoven lived, by majestic structures in which the works of the musician were presented during the course of his adult life and while working as a composer.

By the end of the 18th century, Beethoven had become largely deaf. Because of his deafness, and other health considerations, Beethoven moved from Vienna to a small town called Heiligenstadt directly outside the Austrian Empire capital city. He would eventually return to Vienna.

In the end, the symphonies for which Beethoven is most famous for today were created after the onset of the composer’s deafness. He would die on March 26, 1827, in Vienna.


Jessica Kane is a writer for SoundStage Direct, the number one online source for the best vinyl records and turntables.

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