Treasures in Beethoven’s Birthplace

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By Yinka Olatunbosun

The quiet courtyard in front of the yellow building was the point of entry into Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, Germany. Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the most taught classical musicians in music classes is still a most sought-after figure at death as tourists arrive in thousands daily to experience this iconic museum called Beethoven-Haus.

It was a case of special guests in a special house. The NRW Kultur secretariat led six music journalists, Thomas Rees (UK), Sebastian Scotney (UK), Joe Woodard (US), Patrick Spanko (Slovakia) Herbert Hopfl (Austria) and yours truly to see how this great artist is immortalized.

Earlier that morning, a quick walk ahead of others to window shop led to the discovery of Beethoven’s bust right at the centre of the market square. The way to Beethoven Haus ahead was paved with interlocking blocks that formed the “Walk of Fame’’. Beethoven is indeed the city’s pride. That was obvious from the Rhine River. After a group walk from the Italian restaurant overlooking the Rhine, the Beethoven ship was spotted near the shore.

A walk through a maze of Bonn’s landmark buildings wound up at the entrance door to Beethoven Haus. No one was allowed to go into the house with a large bag, perhaps big enough to cart away the few strands of Beethoven’s hair or other priceless articles of history kept safely in the house.

The pairs of watchful eyes around the house were piercing, almost rendering the security cameras unnecessary. Next, the guide recounted vividly every detail of the last years of Beethoven, his struggles with ear troubles and poor health with such accuracy of a bystander. But Beethoven died in 1827 -hence there was no chance that she could have met him.

Perhaps, the only late musician in Nigeria that his former residence currently serves as a musical museum is Fela. But touring Beethoven’s house was with a different taste. One is that there is a multi-lingual audio guide in headsets for every visitor to lead one through the two-storey house with 12 rooms. There was freedom to start the tour from any point. In the end, all visitors leave with almost the same information: Beethoven performed for the elite and his compositions are part of the most remixed songs in history.

On the first floor, there are oil paintings to document his family; his appearance at the court orchestra where he was employed at 12; the viola he played in Bonn before leaving for Vienna at 22 where he lived till death. There are portrait etchings showing Beethoven’s teachers in Vienna and on permanent exhibition is a valuable collection of woodwind instruments.

The bulk of Beethoven’s life in Vienna formed the content on the second floor. A bronze bust of Beethoven made in 1812 by a Viennese sculptor named Franz Klein is close to artistic truth because it was made from the life mask of the great composer.

An emotional tinge would run through the spine of any one who sees the “Conversation Books’’. These are notes written by Beethoven to communicate with friends and associates at the time he had difficulty with his hearing about the age of 30. His wit shone through the lines in his notes although he was reportedly depressed at the thought of being deaf as a musician. It was like losing the most important work tool. In addition to the notes, there were ear trumpets to aid communication and turning away from these articles was to see the magnificent piano presented to Beethoven in 1817 by the London piano builder, Thomas Broadwood. An object of Beethoven’s affection is the subject of the love letter addressed to “Immortal Beloved’’. It was no surprise to discover that such phenomenal musician had love interests, with portraits of these ladies on the wall as testimonials to his feelings at various periods of his life- yes, various was emphasized.

Remains of some of Beethoven’s manuscripts were seen- saved from fire or rain or other destructive elements such as rats. In the same room, his travel and normal desk laid. Before he was laid to rest, a death mask was made by Josef Danhauser about 12 hours after his death. This mask was placed beside his life mask by Franz Klein when Beethoven was 41.

The building where Beethoven died was demolished in 1904 but not his last moments. Captured in water colour painting by Franz Stober, the funeral cortege was witnessed by no fewer than 20,000 mourners. Many of his friends scampered to cut strands of his hair as memorabilia and only a few was left.

When the six journalists arrived in Boon for the Jazzfest, their first dinner was served at Beethoven’s restaurant and the first concert they watched was at the Beethoven Orchestra. It was with reluctance that the lot received the news of leaving for this aspect of the tour in Bonn which is arguably the most important. The museum ranks among the very few 18th century residential houses that had been preserved.

The only part of Beethoven Haus that the guide didn’t lead us was the Digital Archive Studio which has Beethoven’s works such as audio letters, music scores and s digital reconstruction of his last home.

A wholesome consolation came from the museum shop on the ground floor loaded with interesting articles such as CDs, T-shirts, bags, snow globes, miniature piano and violin to take to one’s home country and sing, “I was here’’. There was no record of marriage or children but every piece in Beethoven Haus attests to a life of artistry well-spent and well-preserved.