Beethoven’s 250th Birthday

250 years ago this month, Ludwig van Beethoven was born. Although the exact date of his birth is not known with complete certainty, it is generally assumed to be 16 December 1770. According to Wikipedia: “There is no authentic record of the date of his birth; however, the registry of his baptism, in the Catholic Parish of St. Remigius on 17 December 1770, survives, and the custom in the region at the time was to carry out baptism within 24 hours of birth. There is a consensus (with which Beethoven himself agreed), that his birth date was 16 December, but no documentary proof of this.”

Beethoven was born in Bonn, which at that time was the capital of the Electorate of Cologne, and is currently better known as the former capital of Western Germany. However, he ended up living in Vienna for more than half of his life, from shortly before his 22nd birthday until his death at age 56.

There are, of course, still many visible reminders of his 35-year residency in and around the Austrian capital. For example, there is an imposing statue of him in the Beethovenpark, right across from the Konzerthaus (concert house) in the city’s 3rd district.

The imposing statue in the Beethovenpark.

Apparently Beethoven lived in close to 40 different residences during his time in Vienna, some of which where actually outside of the city proper, which at that time was still significantly smaller than it is today.

When he started losing his hearing, he decided to live in Heiligenstadt for a while. Back then, Heiligenstadt was a small town just north of Vienna, but is now part of the city’s 19th district. He had hoped that a spa with healing waters located there at that time would help him get better again. One of the buildings where he lived currently houses the Beethoven Museum.

The building at Probusgasse 6 in Vienna’s 19th district where Beethoven once lived, now the location of the Beethoven Museum.

Nearby, in the Heiligenstädterpark, is another nice statue of the composer, as a reminder of his residency in this area.

The Beethoven statue in the Heiligenstädterpark.

Just a little further up the road, near the vineyards on the slopes of the Kahlenberg, is the Beethovengang, a walking path along a small creek. Beethoven himself used to walk here frequently, trying to find new ideas and inspiration for his musical compositions.

The Beethovengang in Vienna’s 19th district.

Just a few kilometers south of Vienna is the small town of Mödling, where Beethoven spent three consecutive summers, in 1818, 1819, and 1820. The actual house where he stayed still exists, with a large plaque above the entrance reminding us of these summer residencies.

The house in Mödling where Beethoven spent several summers away from the city

Another 10 kilometers or so further south is the beautiful town of Baden bei Wien, well known for its thermal baths (“Baden” is German for baths). In 1927, to commemorate the centenary of Beethoven’s death, a temple dedicated to the composer was erected in the town’s Kurpark.

The Beethoven temple in the Kurpark in Baden bei Wien.

Near Baden you can also find the Beethoven Wanderweg, a hiking trail through the hills and forests just west of the town. Apparently Beethoven used to love going for walks in nature here.

Trail signs along the Beethoven Wanderweg near Baden bei Wien.

Back in Vienna, the very last apartment where Beethoven lived was in the city’s 9th district. The original house does not exist anymore, but there is a plaque on the wall of the current building in the same location, telling us where Beethoven spent the last few years of his life.

The plaque at Schwarzspanierstrasse 15 in Vienna’s 9th district, where Beethoven had his final residence.

Beethoven died on 26 March 1827, after having been bedridden for several months due to a severe illness. He was buried in the Währinger Ortsfriedhof (village cemetery), just west of Vienna. However, this cemetery was closed down in 1873, and on 22 June 1888 Beethoven’s remains were exhumed and transferred to a grave of honor in Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery, currently in the city’s 11th district). His original grave, however, can still be found in what is now the Schubertpark along the Währingerstrasse in Vienna’s 18th district.

Beethoven’s original grave (left) in what is now the Schubertpark, and his grave of honor (right) in the central cemetery.

To end this post in true celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, here is a recent recording of his 1st piano concerto. This performance is by Khatia Buniatishvili, who studied piano at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, thus quite literally in the footsteps of the great composer himself, who had made this city his home for most of his life.

All photographs © Wim Hordijk.