In the 15th and 16th century, written history underwent a massive campaign of misinformation and deception. With the European slave trade in full swing, Africans were transported to various parts of the world and were stripped of every aspect of their humanity, and in most of western civilization, were no longer considered human. This triggered a wholesale interpretation of history that methodically excluded Africans from any respectful mention, other than a legacy of slavery. This can result in being taught, or socialized, from one perspective. In this instance, historical information tends to flow strictly from a European perspective.
In an age where history is seriously being rewritten, new information is coming forth that is shocking intellectual sensitivities. What was once considered written in stone is now melting away with the discovery of facts that heretofore have been hidden or omitted; things so different that they are generally classified as controversial or unusual.
That brings us to the topic of this post; the true identity of Ludwig van Beethoven, long considered Europe’s greatest classical music composer. Said directly, Beethoven was a black man. Specifically, his mother was a Moor, that group of Muslim Northern Africans who conquered parts of Europe--making Spain their capital--for some 800 years.
In order to make such a substantial statement, presentation of verifiable evidence is compulsory. Let's start with what some of Beethoven's contemporaries and biographers say about his brown complexion.:
(Louis Letronne, Beethoven, 1814, pencil drawing.)
” Frederick Hertz, German anthropologist, used these terms to describe him: “Negroid traits, dark skin, flat, thick nose.”
Emil Ludwig, in his book “Beethoven,” says: “His face reveals no trace of the German. He was so dark that people dubbed him Spagnol [dark-skinned].”
Fanny Giannatasio del Rio, in her book “An Unrequited Love: An Episode in the Life of Beethoven,” wrote “His somewhat flat broad nose and rather wide mouth, his small piercing eyes and swarthy [dark] complexion, pockmarked into the bargain, gave him a strong resemblance to a mulatto.”
Beethoven's death mask: profile and full face
C. Czerny stated, “His beard--he had not shaved for several days--made the lower part of his already brown face still darker.”
Following are one word descriptions of Beethoven from various writers: Grillparzer, “dark”; Bettina von Armin, “brown”; Schindler, “red and brown”; Rellstab, “brownish”; Gelinek, “short, dark.”
Newsweek, in its Sept. 23, 1991 issue stated, “Afrocentrism ranges over the whole panorama of human history, coloring in the faces: from Australopithecus to the inventors of mathematics to the great Negro composer Beethoven.”
Of course, in the world of scholarship there are those who take an opposite view. In the book The Changing Image of Beethoven by Alessandra Comini, an array of arguments are presented. Donald W. MacArdle, in a 1949 Musical Quarterly article came to the conclusion that there was “no Spanish, no Belgian, no Dutch, no African” in Beethoven's genealogy. Dominque-Rene de Lerma, the great musical bibliologist, came to the same conclusion.
Included in this discussion is a reference made of Beethoven’s teacher, Andre de Hevesy, in his book, Beethoven The Man. “Everyone knows the incident at Kismarton, or Eisenstadt, the residence of Prince Esterhazy, on his birthday. In the middle of the first allegro of Haydn’s symphony, His Highness asked the name of the author. He was brought forward.
“‘What!’ exclaimed the Prince, ‘the music is by the blackamoor (a black Moor). Well, my fine blackamoor, henceforth thou art in my service.’
“‘What is thy name?’
In Alexander Thayer's Life of Beethoven, vol.1, p. 134, the author states, “there is none of that obscurity which exalts one to write history as he would have it and not as it really was. The facts are too patent.” On this same page, he states that the German composer Franz Josef Haydn was referred to as a “Moor” by Prince Esterhazy, and Beethoven had “even more of the Moor in his looks.” On p. 72, a Beethoven contemporary, Gottfried Fischer, describes him as round-nosed and of dark complexion. Also, he was called “der Spagnol” (the Spaniard).
Other “patent” sources, of which there are many, include, but are not limited to, Beethoven by Maynard Solomon, p.78. He is described as having “thick, bristly coal-black hair” (in today's parlance, we proudly call it “kinky”) and a “ruddy-complexioned face.” In Beethoven: His Life and Times by Artes Orga, p.72, Beethoven's pupil, Carl Czerny of the “School of Velocity” fame, recalls that Beethoven's “coal-black hair, cut a la Titus, stood up around his head [sounds almost like an Afro]. His black beard...darkened the lower part of his dark-complexioned face.”
According to Alexander Thayer, p. 238, “A true and exhaustive picture of Beethoven as a man would present an almost ludicrous contrast to that which is generally entertained as correct. Sculptor and painter in turn have idealized the work of their predecessor, until the composer stands before us like a Homeric god—until those who knew him personally, could they return to earth, would never suspect that the grand form and noble features . . . are intended to represent . . . their old friend.”
According to the Sadie edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, p.392, the most approximate impression we can expect of the composer's physical appearance is the 1814 engraving by Blasius Hofel (R) and the 1812 life mask (L), which clearly reveals his broad, flat nose (which can be seen in the Jacobs book, pp.142-143, the Hofel portrait on p. 150.)
The author of this edition of Grove's, p. 392, insists that the “idealized portraits and busts . . . owe nothing to literal or even to poetic truth.” So a picture, particularly in Beethoven's case, is not always worth a thousand words.
(R) Engraving by Blasius Hofel, Beethoven, 1814, color facsimile of engraving after a pencil drawing by Louis Letronne. This engraving was regarded in Beethoven's circle as particularly lifelike. Beethoven himself thought highly of it, and gave several copies to his friends.
Beethoven, the Black Spaniard
Just how does an individual with a Teutonic surname born in eighteenth-century Germany acquire the moniker “The Black Spaniard”?
One of the homes in which Beethoven resided in Vienna, Austria, the music capitol of European Music at that time, was called the “Schwarzspanierhaus,” the “House of the Black Spaniard.”
In a PBS presentation about Beethoven, the host and narrator, Russian Actor Peter Ustinov, said that Beethoven would become angry when people called him “inferior.” Clearly, he must have been an exotic and at times disparaged presence in Germany and Austria.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -1827) was born in Bonn, Germany, but his family originated in Belgium, which was then called Flanders. Interestingly, his family name, as noble and grand as it sounds, is a Flemish one quaintly and literally meaning “beet garden.” For over 200 years, Belgium/Flanders had been occupied by Spain. One need only look at a map to see how close in proximity Southern Spain is to Northern Africa, separated by the Strait of Gibraltar, which, from a geological standpoint, appears to have forged its way through an erstwhile connection between the two terrains.
Africans had easy access to Spain, the zenith being the 700 year reign of the Moors in that country. (“Moor” comes from Greek/Latin root words meaning “Black” or “dark-skinned.”) The protracted Black presence in Spain apparently protracted its presence in Belgium/Flanders along with the Spanish. Thus, Beethoven inherited this Black Spanish strain. Which leads to a very critical question: Why the proliferation of spurious portraits that hide his ethnic heritage as a man of color?
Beethoven was one of the most innovative and amazing musical geniuses, ever. His deafness made that amazing genius even more so. his music reveals a cultural connection to his African ancestry. In the Blom edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, p. 20, is stated, “A rhythmic or time-active cast of thought was inherent in his nature,” and “(n)umerous examples could be given from familiar music in which an off-beat accent converts an ordinary into an extraordinary passage.” The distinctive characteristic of off-beat accents, or syncopation, is intrinsic and integral to Black people's music making, which gives it a unique vitality and kinetic energy.
Examples of this rhythmic trait are his mammoth string quartet known as “The Great Fugue,” which sounds "way ahead of its time" and foretells 20th century atonality. Also, the second movement of the last Piano Sonata he wrote, Op. 111 in C minor, sounds like the genesis of jazz. He had exquisite foresight as to how music would evolve in the future. He was an astounding piano improvisateur, which moved Mozart to prophesy, “He will give the world something worth listening to.” The last movement of the “Waldstein” Sonata, op. 53, has a syncopated bass, which might inspire gospel music clapping. It is also the same off-beat pattern used in reggae and Hip- Hop music.
Beethoven makes prolific use of the syncopating kettle drum in much of his orchestral music, such as the dramatic Symphony No. 5, which contains one of the world's most famous themes, and the majestic “Emperor” Piano Concerto No. 5.
He was the first composer to invigorate European Classical Music with prodigious use of this decidedly inherent African rhythmic trait.
He was also one of the first composers to deviate from the musical template of eighteenth-century rules and regulations.
In his Fourth Piano Concerto No. 4, the piano begins the opening, as opposed to traditionally beginning with the orchestra. The “Waldstein” Sonata begins in G major, even though it is written in C major.
He was the first composer to include a chorus in a symphony, which became known as the “Choral” Symphony No. 9, the theme of the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”
He was also one of the first composers to inject his personal thunderous temperament in his music, as evidenced in such piano works as the “Appassionata” Sonata, Op. 57 and the fittingly named “Tempest” Sonata, op.31, no.2.
He was the first composer to explore and exploit the virtuosic possibilities of the piano, which necessitated piano makers' building stronger, more durable instruments.
His was the first piano music to require the pianist to play the trill and the melody with one hand, as in the “Hammerklavier” Sonata where he took piano music where it had never gone before. With his daring musical innovations, formidable piano technique, the injection of deep musical subjectivity as opposed to abstract musical objectivity, he rendered the composer free from stilted, restrictive dogma and ushered in the Romantic Period. He gave inspiration to Liszt, Schumann, and Chopin.
In the ugly throes of Institutional Racism during Beethoven's lifetime when Chattel Slavery in America was in full operation and Europe was preparing to subjugate the entire continent of Africa for itself, the European Colonialist and Imperialist Masters found it necessary to obscure certain facts in order to justify keeping an entire people in bondage and sub-human status.
The U.S. Constitution even slated Black people as being only 3/5 human. Such an imperative necessitated academic fraud. The dubious system that portrayed the Ancient Egyptians as White people is the same dubious system that portrayed Beethoven, one of the greatest composers ever, as White. The same dubious system is still intact, which would motivate Hollywood to give false ethnic representations in the Beethoven movies 'Immortal Beloved', and 'Beethoven Lives Upstairs.' Fortunately, the world does consist of honest people who were and are willing to nullify historic prevarications.
In a just and equitable society a person's skin color is supposed to be of no consideration. Beethoven was a phenomenal genius and during the many years of childhood and adult life when I was unaware of his ethnic heritage, being constantly confronted by persistent and insistent portrayals of his image as White which I thought were correct, that just did not matter. I saw him as a great composer whose music I enjoyed listening to and performing.
Unfortunately, the European oppressors, colonialists, and imperialists who instituted a universal system based on color superiority and color inferiority, falsifying and suppressing evidence to exalt one people and debase another have made it matter. Such perpetration of academic theft was based on color, which makes color a major consideration in the imperative of seeking academic justice for the people whose great and noble past was stolen and hidden from them to prevent their aspiring to a great and noble present and future.
It is time to build that just and equitable society that redresses academic pilferage, recognizing the color-blindness of genius and the historic contributions of all people thereby engendering understanding, respect, and equality.
We have all been fed false information for reasons previously mentioned. It is no secret that scholars, writers, critics, advertisers and Hollywood have changed history for their own specific reasons. What is uniquely different in the intellectual landscape, people of color now have an army of sophisticated scholars to combat the continuation and dissemination of false information that has been accepted as standard, as well as the canon in academia.
It is hoped that the revealing of this information will motivate others to critically look at all data flowing in their brains for authenticity. Hollywood is notorious for changing facts. It is in no way suggested that we should hate Hollywood or the publishers of history text books, but we should hold them accountable for disseminating inaccurate depictions, especially when it changes the course of history, by which our children are influenced.