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Thread: Beethoven and Race

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Default Beethoven and Race

    I've searched but I haven't seen a thread on this. I feel if TC is to touch all the bases of classical music then this needs to be discussed.

    Going through my sizable book collection, I came upon a series I had bought many years ago--"Sex and Race" by J. A. Rogers in three volumes. I remember reading these and finding them interesting although I didn't agree with a lot of the conjecture. For example, the black Madonna-and-child statues are not depicting Mary and Jesus as "Negro" as Rogers seems to think. Some of the other conjecture I cannot pass any judgment on as I am not an expert in these areas (or any areas to be painfully honest). One instance concerns Beethoven whom Rogers asserts had some African ancestry. Turns out it has quite a bit of presence on the internet both pro and con but Rogers was the first to raise the issue as far as I know.

    Rogers presents some intriguing evidence (anecdotal though it is) of people who knew the composer or his biographers describing his complexion and facial traits:

    "Rounded nose, black-brownish complexion." From Fischer's Beethoven The Man, Vol. 1, p. 1, 1929

    "His beard--he had not shaved for several days--made the lower part of his already brown face still darker."--Carl Czerny from Beethoven: Impressions of his contemporaries, arranged by Oscar Sonneck, p. 26, 1926

    From this same book, Beethoven is described as "dark" (Grillparzer, p. 154), "brown" (Bettina von Arnim, p.77), "brownish" (Rellstab, p. 180).

    Gelinek describes him as "Short, ugly, dark" from Nohl's Beethoven Depicted By His Contemporaries, p. 37, 1880)

    Fanny Giannatasio del Rio, who was in love with Beethoven, wrote in the biography, An Unrequited Love: An Episode in the Life of Beethoven, p.60, 1876: "Beethoven could not possibly be called a handsome man. His somewhat flat broad nose and wide mouth, his small piercing eyes and swarthy complexion, pockmarked into the bargain, gave him a strong resemblance to a mulatto."

    According to Rogers, Beethoven's teacher, Haydn could also have been black and relates an incident of Beethoven biographer Thayer who heard from Andre de Hevesy who heard it from Carpani that when Prince Esterhazy first heard a new symphony he asked the name of the composer who was brought before him. "What!" exclaimed Esterhazy upon seeing Haydn for the first time, "the music is by this blackamoor? Well, my fine blackamoor, henceforward thou art in my service!" Carpani also stated that Haydn was after that frequently referred to as "the Moor." Rogers, though, does bring up the possibility that Haydn may actually have had a Turkish ancestry although he presents nothing concrete to back up the assertion.

    Thayer brings up the incident in order to point that Beethoven "had even more of the Moor in his features than his master [Haydn]."

    It should be an easy enough issue to settle, we have Beethoven's death mask:





    Based on this alone, Beethoven could very well indeed have an African ancestry. I think all of us have seen black people that look like this. The real test is not so much that we study his ancestry or split hairs over whether he was Portuguese or Moorish as opposed to true "Negro." You can rationalize your way out of anything if you are determined enough. I agree with Rogers that the real test would be simply to dress him in American street clothes, stand him on any street corner in some city like Detroit or DC or Chicago or Compton and see how many people would immediately assume him to be just another black man.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    And the reason that anyone should care about this is ?

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Not remotely credible. This ancient canard has long been discarded. And Haydn? Ridiculous.

    BTW your Beethoven "death mask" is actually a life mask, done in 1812. His death mask from 1827 exists but is quite different and was made after the autopsy.



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    I thought I heard some African rhythms in the final movement of his 7th Symphony. It's all coming together now.

    Thanks!
    Facts don't care about your feelings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Not remotely credible. This ancient canard has long been discarded. And Haydn? Ridiculous.

    BTW your Beethoven "death mask" is actually a life mask, done in 1812. His death mask from 1827 exists but is quite different and was made after the autopsy.

    Heck. Looks like me after a day of 3000 posts.
    Facts don't care about your feelings.

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Triplets View Post
    And the reason that anyone should care about this is ?
    Now we might ask, what difference does it make? Maybe he was of African ancestry, so what? His music was beautiful and he is one of the most important people in the history of music. And I agree with that. But I also have to admit that part of me cares. Part of me says it does make a difference. Not because it bothers me that Beethoven was or wasn't black or mulatto or whatever but because if we don't care, we run the risk of becoming historically inaccurate and inaccurate history is worthless and, in fact, is not history but propaganda.
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Blacks were hardly unknown in classical-period Vienna. Besides the Chevalier de St. Georges, there was George Bridgetower, a virtuoso violinist and friend of Beethoven. Beethoven wrote his Kreutzer Sonata for Bridgetower and dedicated it to him as the "Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Bridgetower, big wild mulatto composer," probably a bit tongue in cheek.

    Of course Beethoven and Bridgetower had a falling out, as was typical with Beethoven, and he changed the dedication to Rodolphe Kreutzer, who disliked Beethoven's music and never played the piece.


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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Beethoven fell out with Haydn also but nevertheless spoke highly of him later in life. He was a very interesting fellow (I was going to say a very colorful fellow but decided for this thread it would not be a good choice of words).
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Not remotely credible. This ancient canard has long been discarded. And Haydn? Ridiculous.

    BTW your Beethoven "death mask" is actually a life mask, done in 1812. His death mask from 1827 exists but is quite different and was made after the autopsy.

    Ok, but what I'm asking for is proof. I want TC to be a place that either sets the record straight or at least presents the pros and cons so readers can come here and get some balance. I have no interest in pushing that Beethoven was black or half-black or whatever (although it's looking like some people think that's what I am doing). I want the issue to get discussed to a reasonable conclusion. I don't care what the conclusion is just so long as it is not based on knee-jerk or emotional reactions. "Beethoven black?? Preposterous!" Ok, why?
    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    I think he was Italian myself
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Jesus was divine. He could have looked any way.
    And since Europeans gave him to the world ...........................
    In any event he wouldn't have looked mean or stupid like the pictures you chose
    Last edited by Itullian; Mar-30-2015 at 04:05.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor Redseal View Post
    Ok, but what I'm asking for is proof.
    Well, look at it this way. Beethoven's ancestry has been explored in as much detail as possible in his biographies, most recently Cooper and Swafford. There is, in his biographies, no hint of African ancestry to any degree whatever. If you think he was "black," to whatever degree, I'd say the burden of proof is on you and not on somebody else to prove otherwise. Good luck!
    Last edited by KenOC; Mar-30-2015 at 06:43.


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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post
    Jesus was divine. He could have looked any way.
    And since Europeans gave him to the world ...........................
    Archaeologist John Romer gives a somewhat amusing explanation of how the standard Jesus portrait came to be: When Alexander conquered part of the world, like all rulers, his subjects often imitated or even lampooned his mannerisms. Alexander was hard of hearing and when someone spoke to him, he would cock his head, cup his hand to his ear, knit his brow in concentration and let his jaw kind of hang slack. This mannerism became very famous throughout his empire.

    When artists sculpted statuary of Alexander, they incorporated this famous trait but idealized it into what became known as "the Dying Alexander" where his knit brow and slack jaw was made to look like he was yelling orders to his men while mortally wounded or ready to breathlessly make an exclamation of undying love--whatever the observer chose.



    When artists in Europe painted portraits of the crucified Christ, they borrowed the Dying Alexander:



    And this pose became the Western standard of male beauty designed to make ladies swoon:

    "God," asked Adam, "why did you make Eve so beautiful?"
    And He replied, "So that you could love her."
    "But God," asked Adam, "why did you make her so stupid?"
    And He replied, "So that she could love you."

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