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Ron Powell

Ron Powell
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SEPTEMBER 28, 2009 3:49AM

Was Beethoven Black? Was His African Heritage Whitewashed?

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 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.:

Beethoven2

(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.”

deathmaskdeathmask2 

 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?’

“‘Joseph Haydn.’”

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.” 

Beethovenweb
                 
(Blasius Hofel, Beethoven, 1814, monochrome facsimile of engraving after a pencil drawing by Louis Letronne.)
               
Also, in The Changing Image of Beethoven by Alexandra Comini, p.31, the author relates the Czerny account using the word 'bristled' and 'shaggy' in reference to the composer's  hair. On the same page, a composite description is presented based on eye-witness accounts: “his complexion was brownish, his hair was thick, black and bristly.” It is clear that his physical appearance was so strikingly uncommonplace, that those who knew him and had seen him could do no other than give an accurate description.

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.”  

  lifemasklifemask_small

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.

  250px-BeethovenBeethovenCweb

(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.

Signature_Van_Beethoven_
       

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I think you underestimate the extent to which in societies where everyone is white, darker skin coloring is called black. In Russia, the people of the Caucasus (people for whom the label Caucasian is a lot more accurate than your average person of European ancestry) are called 'black'. They are tend to swarthy, with skin tone similar to Spaniards, Italians and Iranians -- people we would call indisputably white.

I suspect this was true all over Europe. Those 'blackamoors' may have had darker skin tones than, in particular, the English. But would we, today, call them black?

Assuming that Beethoven had some African ancestry, are you going by the one drop rule? Does having a drop or two of African blood mean that he had any African cultural heritage? I'd assume if he had an ancestor who passed for white, they wouldn't have brought along any recognizable African heritage, even assuming they had any, given that the ancestor was probably not in an environment with any appreciable African culture (ie may have been purchased as a child and raised in a household with no other people of African origin)

Alexander Pushkin, considered by the Russians to be the greatest writer of Russian Literature was proud of his African grandfather. Pushkin is considered to be white. In portraits, you can see the African heritage if you look for it, you probably won't see it if you are just looking at a picture of a great Russian poet. Pushkin is less well known than, say, Tolstoy, in English because he wrote poetry and poetry doesn't translate well, particularly not between languages as different as Russian and English.

Pushkin is considered to be the founder of Russian literature because of his mastery of the nuances of the Russian language. One of his greatest poems was Boris Gudonov, about the life of that Tsar. It's very hard to say that having some African ancestry means that he contributed to African culture.

Ultimately, most of us, with the possible exception of the most milky white or night black have an unknown mix of blood. We need to get beyond the color of skin to who we are.
If Beethovan's mother were a Moor, as the references here report, that would make him and African of the half-blood....The one drop rule was created and imposed by American slave holders to ensure the continued status, as slaves, any of their illicit progeny and their offspring...Being "black" not only was a descriptive term re skin color, but a legal term which defined the status of anyone who had "one drop " of African blood coursing through his/her veins....
Pushkin may have had no difficulty describing himself as descended from Africans but being black in Western Europe clearly had different social, political, and legal connotations and consequences attached...We cannot move forward unless and until we are willing to set the record(s) straight particularly and especially in matters such as this....
Naw! This is going to drive a lot of southerners up the wall. That is if they ever heard of Beethoven. I'm not talking about liberal southerners. They'd be cool with it.

I know what Joe Wilson would say. YOU LIE!!!
Very intriguing and substantial evidence. I think there are many famous people throughout history who were perceived as one race or another only to be from some other. I always thought Lincoln looked like a mix of several ethnicities. Native-American, African-American. But his Marfan's contributed to his unusual physical characteristics as I have learned first hand.
Great post Ron.
Rated
@MR, I think the facts, when looked at objectively, speak for themselves.
@KOB, The political, social, and cultural implications can be monumental...Wait until someone discovers and discloses conclusive evidence and proof of the fact that Jesus was NOT blond haired and blue eyed.....I know he seems to get browner (more tanned) with each generation....But when it is finally concluded that he was a person of color..... That's the stuff of traumatic social and cultural upheaval....
Thanks, Ron, for sharing this information about Beethoven with us. Being the subject of spoonfed history in the US I had only seen the 'retouched' photo of Beethoven you show and had never seen the others. Despite gaps in my historical knowledge, I am quite aware of scholars attempting to reclaim African influence in a variety of our cultures. I especially appreciate your demonstrating musicology as evidence of that influence. I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Ivan Van Sertima years ago when his book, They Came Before Columbus was first published. It never raised as much of a brouhaha in Houston as it did in other places...perhaps because at that time Houston had a significant afrocentric presence in the art, music and literature of Houston, Texas at the time. Hence the cultural grant 'pie', as it were, was pretty equally apportioned. It had not always been that way nor would it stay that way as cycles seem prone to be.
I don't see your piece as 'not moving on' as some have suggested. I see it as 'moving on' with clearer knowledge. Why does it matter? For a lot of reasons but let this old political scientist mention the "p" word: Politics! Yea, verily in the arts despite disclaimers to the contrary. Permit me the cobbled definition of politics I used in my first year classes: Politics is contestation over the shared meaning about the authoritative allocation of resources in deciding who gets what, when, where, for what and, importantly, how much.
Good job, Ron
@Patie, Thanks for the supportive comment...I am sure that there will be those who despite the stated thrust of this post will continue to question why work of this nature is necessary....My response to that inquiry is rather simple: The very fact that you feel compelled to ask is proof positive of the need for this kind of material to be given exposure previously denied. This work and the revelations and assertions contained herein should be shared as widely and as profusely as possible.
This is just fascinating. I guess I agree with both you and Malusinka, if that makes any sense. It's true that we are all a mix, but on the other hand, it also seems important to undo the perception that all the greats were "white." I think it's funny that the one academic said he didn't have a drop of African in him. Well, given that we all came out of Africa, that's kind of silly.
I saw an interesting show on TV. DNA analysis reaveals that many Americans have some black heritage. In days of discrimination many very light skinned African-Americans disappeared into the white popultion to avoid discrimination.
Truly fascinating piece, Ron. Your research on this subject is impressive and convincing, not to mention extremely well-written. I was fascinated the whole way through. I'm printing this piece and showing it to my fellow classical music lovers.

And, I assume you know that Lincoln was Jewish. Want me to prove it?

A big fat R
Great, great, informative post, Ron. I had never heard this before, but I'm fascinated by the implications here.
@ Malusinka

This is only significant in that race has been used for at least the past 5 centuries as a pretext for imperialism and subjugation of entire cultures.

If the color of one’s skin is truly a non-issue, then what harm is there is setting the historical record straight?
The Moors were from North Africa, of Berber origin. They intermarried and converted locals. So a 'Moor' from Spain would probably appear to us to be one of the darker shades of white. They probably did have some sub-Saharan (Black) African ancestry (meaning some intermixing in the past, not meaning majority sub-Saharan ancestry), but not much of the culture.

So, I guess I feel that rather than 'covering up' Beethoven's origins, maybe we call him white because that's what we'd call him if we saw him today.

Anyway, Beethoven may have had and Pushkin definitely had some African ancestry. Does that make them black?

Why should we, in the modern day, follow the old, racist one drop rule? I thought that was partly based on the theory that white was better and anything "contaminating" pure white blood would be bad.

It makes more sense to me to use Beethoven and Pushkin as examples that there really is no such thing as pure blood, than to try to use them as examples of African achievement.

I'd hope that a nation who elected Obama as president had managed to get over the idea that skin color has any correlation with intelligence or ability.
@ Malusinka

“So a 'Moor' from Spain would probably appear to us to be one of the darker shades of white.”

“So, I guess I feel that rather than 'covering up' Beethoven's origins, maybe we call him white because that's what we'd call him if we saw him today.”

You are making a number of assumptions here, which conveniently fit your world view. These are your opinions, and you are certainly entitled to them.

“It makes more sense to me to use Beethoven and Pushkin as examples that there really is no such thing as pure blood, than to try to use them as examples of African achievement.”

I am in total agreement. However, the fact of the matter is that the Eurocentric version of history depicts most individuals and civilizations of any renown with pale flesh and Anglo features? A simple Google search makes this point quite evident.

“I'd hope that a nation who elected Obama as president had managed to get over the idea that skin color has any correlation with intelligence or ability.”

Generations of children have been force fed many untruths about history and achievement. Having a black president does not change the cultural brainwashing my grandchild will undergo when he begins to attend school.

I think we should first set the historical record straight. Then, a discussion about the relative insignificance of race may be more appropriate.
Well, that explains my visceral love of Beethoven, and why I respond to his music on a cellular level, not like I do to Bach or Mozart, or for that matter, early Beethoven when he was still Mozart. Every musical form I love is African in origin, or at least, the rhythm is my entry point. I know what you mean about the Emperor, that compelling rhythm under the pretty melody. It has you on the edge of your chair. It's almost impossible to avoid nodding your head to the rhythm, which is of course, frowned upon in symphony halls. The 4th Piano Concerto also has that unexpected rhythm thing going, too. Makes me want to listen to the whole body of work again.
@Lainey, "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.' "

The point of this piece is to establish the fact that the forces that would "whitewash" The Ancient Egyptians, Jesus and Beethoven are the forces that would have us believe that President Obama is somehow not a citizen of the United States and therefor not legitimately holding the office of President... ignorance and racism borne of the ignorance that is perpetrated and perpetuated generation after generation....

@KK, Please rent or buy the movie "The Human Stain" or better yet read the book....I think you will find that "passing" and the consequences of doing so is not necessarily limited to "the days of discrimination".

@jb, Be my guest....This post is somewhat prodigious in scope I felt that what is presented here was necessary to overcome the inertia of what readers have been led to believe or assume....I think I have created some reasonable doubt which would vindicate the premise upon which the post rests...I would like to think that you have the capacity the resources and references that will support your assertion......

@M, I believe you are missing the point here...The post is as much about a system that found it necessary to "whitewash" an individual to justify or cover up that truth regarding the wholesale dehumanization of an entire race....Look again at what is presented here and read not what you THINK is being said but was is actually being asserted........

@SD, Setting the record(s) straight is anappropriate starting point re resolving the problems/issues that have been created as a result of the lies and hypocrisy..."Generations of children have been force fed many untruths about history and achievement. Having a black president does not change the cultural brainwashing my grandchild will undergo when he begins to attend school.

I think we should first set the historical record straight. Then, a discussion about the relative insignificance of race may be more appropriate." I believe you have rested my case for this post....


@SL, Sounds like an excellent idea.....

I'll bring the wine, you bring the cheese.... ;-)
Spin:

I spent some time on Wikipedia looking at who the Moors were. I came to my conclusion based on that. I can only assert that I feel I was unbiased, you are free to come to your own conclusion.

I expressed myself badly. What I meant was the ancestry of people like Beethoven and Pushkin illustrate that race is an artificial construct. You, obviously, call Beethoven black. I don't. The truth is that there isn't a neat divide between white and black and arguing over what shade of gray is light enough to be called white or dark enough to be called black is not productive.

I don't see how we are going attain a society where the content of one's character matters more than the color of one's skin if we obsessively divide everyone into black or white.
@Malusinka, AGAIN "I believe you are missing the point here...The post is as much more about a system that found it necessary to "whitewash" an individual to justify or cover up the truth regarding the wholesale dehumanization of an entire race....Look again at what is presented here and read not what you THINK is being said but was is actually being asserted.".......

I would like for you to take a good look at the two potraits of Beethoven that I placed side by side for maximum effect, and explain why the entire western world found it necessary to adopt the stylized portrait on the left as the "official" presentation of Beethoven's physical appearance when by all written accounts he looked and would be more readily identified by those of his contempraries who saw the engraving on the right....." This engraving was regarded in Beethoven's circle as particularly lifelike. Beethoven himself thought highly of it, and gave several copies to his friends."

If you continue to avoid and evade what I am asserting is the primary thrust of my post by trying to recast my work in terms of a childish argument about black versus white and which group has the right to claim the accomplishments of which individuals, I must conclude that you have chosen not to be relevant.

As it is, none your comments are particularly constructive and add nothing to the discourse....

Once again, the discussion is about the construction and maintenance of an entire social, economic, political and cultural system that is rooted in lies and falsehoods to justify its very existence...."Conservatives" and "Reactionaries" wish to maintain this foundation of lies, deceit which as fostered repression and oppression....and vast amounts of untold wealth for those who have perpetrated and benefitted from the system as it was built and continues to be. "Liberals" and "Progressives" wish to reexanine and rebuild the foundation upon which western world has been built. We recognize that this must be done in order to achieve a global order that is consistent with the pursuit of the noble principle of "freedom and justice for all". We cannot achieve universal equlity, freedom, and justice if we simply sweep the past under the rug and proceed as though it didn't exist and has no impact on contemporary issues and current events.....
Ron:
Whitewashing only occurred if he was actually black, which is not something I think you've proved.

Among other things, check out the San Jose State University's sample of Beethoven's hair: http://www.sjsu.edu/beethoven/collections/beethoven_hair/hair.html

There are a lot of Beethoven hair samples out there. The Library of Congress has over 20 samples. Private collectors have more.

Wikipedia has a whole series of Beethoven portraits, including one when he was 12 or 13 and I don't think anyone was whitewashing one of the world's greatest musicians.

Actually what the selective choice of portraits and the 21st century American interpretation of 18th and 19th century German words seem to be doing is blackwashing (if there is such a word) Beethoven.

There's plenty in history for you to get outraged about. At least have the courtesy to get outraged about things that actually happened.
Very interesting....but it doesn't make any difference what his skin color was or his background was. He was and will always be a great musician.
Amazing how people suddenly become "mixed race" when they do something fabulous. This just floored me, because the images with the swarthy skin and negroid features were buried deep!
@Malsinka, Yes the choice of portraite was selective the focus on the prtrait here is due to the fact that Beethoven himself 'selected' it as his favorite....Identitiy theft is clearly not a new phenomenon nor is mishandling of evidentiary materials...."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."

The hair samples of which you speak have not been ascertained conclusively to be that of Beethoven....Their is some evidence that Beethoven was disturbed by certain presumptions about his complexion and lineage....

On the question of being outraged....AGAIN you missed the point of this post....What is outrageous is people who continue to cling to the notion that their view or opinion which is based on suspect or tainted information is somehow accurated, legitimate or even superior because it is consistent with the material that is being challenged....What "actually happened" is that much of the history of the modern western world has been predicated on the erroneous assumption that conquest, slavery, and genocide were legitimate and approproprite devices employed by Western Europeans as the desire for, and attempts at, world dominance become ever more prevelant. How do you "discover" a place already inhabited? What is entailed in the notion of "manifest destiny"? What exactly is "the white man's burden"? The answers to these questions and others have at the core or root a very basic fundamental and central theme.....If the arc of history bends toward justice, history must be clearly and accurately and objectively articulated..........

@pk, In a perfect world your expression is, of course, most appropriate and it would be gratifying to be able to simply discuss the merits of Beethoven as a composer and musician.....My post poses the question: Why was it necessary to make Beethoven, or Jesus for that matter, appear to be something other than they actually were....Why is it so important for some to cling to historical inaccuracies and falsehoods?

@Zuma, This information has been hidden and obscured.....My question is why? Can we reach a just and "colorblind" society without exposing and exploring these issues with all of the relevant information available to us....
I had a high school friend with your name who idolized Beethoven.
If you ever lived in Pensacola, Florida, please contact me.
Congratulations. You have taught me something I didn't know before, which is an accomplishment for both of us.
I just heard today about this and did some research. There seems little evidence to support Ron's claim: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A25895-2000Oct17

I showed my sister, a Beethoven fan, the desk mask without telling her about the article. Her response? "Cool!" She did not for a second see a man of Negroid descent in the mask or the portraits.

Upon further research, I found that most Moors were not Negroid, so how can there possibly be a case? Isn't the assertion that he was black really one that he was Negroid and not from North Africa?

As for his swarthy look, the same could be said of Tennyson. It is often noted that he looked more like a Spaniard than an Englishman. It means nothing. There are Swedes with black hair, as any Swedish film reveals. The desire to blackwash Beethoven is appalling and deceptive. You never find white people claiming they are black. Might curious that blacks are always trying to be white.
What relevance does the colour of his skin have? The important thing is that the man was a genius. To harp on his origins is a superfluous misdirection - it is of absolutely no significance.
American people are funny.
Or maybe it could be better to say "people who live in the past are funny". Yeah, better in fact.
I'm french and quite documented in the european history (mainly). It's why i know the arabs left the spain with the Reconquista, leaving behind them enough of their blood to make what the Spanish and Portuguese peoples are today. That and the sun, don't miss the most important point. Because if you never came to the sea just between europe and africa, i can tell you that all the people who live just north of it ARE NOT WHITE-SKINNED. But they don't have "african" ancestors in the past 3000 years or so in their family trees.
Yeah, sun can do such things. In france we call the "arabic-skin" people "butter-skinned". In an attempt to make a difference with the real african people. Just because it's two cultur groups completely different.
And Jesus, if you want to know, was not "black", he was like all the other people in this corner of earth. Black hair, brown eyes, soft-brown skin. Like the next prophet. But when some people translate the Bible in english, they found the picture too .. Ehm .. inconvenient. Yeah, in many translations of the Bible, he's described as i wrote. And in the first in greek and hebrew, it's the case.
But back at the main case. Beethoven was born in a country in which the ruler was an emperor. And at this point you miss one detail. To be beautiful at this time, to show that you didn't have to work, you used to have to show a pure white skin. Because only workers expose their skin to the sun.
So, in this kind of society, and in the internal society that was the court, a guy with some colors on his face was a worker or a stranger. That's it, here comes the nickname.
Next step, the masks. It's funny (yeah, another time), i saw one guy last day who had a nose and globaly (except one or two details, and younger too) had this face. Was he "black" ? Not at all. Not what we in france call black. And having an ancestor born on africa 1500 years ago don't make you black. And it must be at least 500 years, if his ancestors moved from africa straight to spain before the main step of the reconquista (the sheikhat of grenade doesn't count, be serious.)
So the face is not a "black-type face". At all, i must say. I seriously don't know where you get that impression. Oh, sorry, i apologise, i know.
Consequently, i think that another time, we got an useless demonstration. Cool, you proved that 300 years before Beethoven wrote his first piece of music, his ancestors lived in spain. What a discovery ! Really important for the orchestral/classical music world !
Yeah, i had nothing better to do than destroying a stupid argumentation at 1am. It improves my english, so i won't say it's time lost.
And by the way, i was listening to chopin while writing. I think he was described as pale .. Or it's only an wrong idea stuck in my mind ...
Whatever. Don't care. Just enjoy it.
Why are you so frightened by this two year old post?
Ron, did you plagiarize from http://www.nathanielturner.com/beethoventheblackspaniard.htm

If yes, why pass off another person's opinions as your own - do you feel so inferior that you need to impress the online community with your (insincere) thoughts and knowledge?

I enjoyed reading this post but was irritated because I had already read Melony's essay (see link).

Or do you want to set the record straight?
Sorry that is Deborah Mosely's essay not "Melony's" I just checked the link again. Still, you've got something to answer to Ron?
@Philoxenos: Thanks for the heads-up....This was an oversight that should have been caught and corrected by me long ago...
We post many things from a variety of sources....Everything from text to video with the intention of sharing....and stimulating exchanges of ideas and opinions....This is as it should be on a social platform such as Open Salon....Thanks again....Stay well....
I've read about this claim before, but not in such detail. It all seems very credible to me. The African influence in Europe has been greatly underestimated in my opinion. Beethoven the Euro-African musical revolutionary now belongs to the world. I only wish that human society was as beautiful as his music.
@BS; Thanks for taking time out to read this apparently timeless post...Your thoughts are appreciated and well put.
Fascinating piece! I did not know this, and am grateful that you have brought this information to light. It doesn't surprise me. Highly rated.
@EK; I am equally grateful for your comment.
Hmm, though I don't mind questioning false history, I also don't really care whether Beethoven was black or white. It just seems irrelevant at this point. Still, I found your article fascinating... your scholarly analysis, most edifying.
Rated for style and research. As far as relevance goes, as I said in a post about prejudice I wrote, entitled "Mama, Why Does That Man Have a Stick in His Hand?":
"I’ve thought it would be wonderful to have an instant genome test, so that those afflicted with racial prejudices could find out they are (with very rare exception) a combination of many different ethnic groups. Once confronted by the evidence that their “different” is just a dot in the matrix to which we are all connected, I imagined their prejudices and the beliefs which sustained them, unable to survive."
As someone who grew up in a Jewish family and was constantly being told about all the things Jewish individuals had accomplished, I also wondered about the obvious Mongolian genes that were so apparent in relatives from that part of the world. I wondered at one point, if the accomplished relatives on that side of the family ever thought of crediting their Mongolian, rather than their "Jewish" heritage, for that...
While I appreciate your motivations, I really would love to live long enough to see a planet, where everyone becomes conscious that including, or excluding, accrediting or diminishing, anyone's characteristics, as a detriment or benefit of the portion of their multiplicity of genetic heritage(s) they choose to pick out for that purpose, is so damn over...
Say, didn't somebody else say something like that rather eloquently, on a mall somewhere about 40 years ago?
Uhhhh...I'm wondering why folks are so fascinated by this very old argument, myself. Answer: Yeah, he had a drop or two.

And...now...let the music be the most important thing we remember about the brutha...
@BB; I, too, would like to be on a
planet where all of this would be
irrelevant, but I don't.

@Sam; It would be great if we lived in
a world without racial prejudice and
stereotypes, but we don't.

If President Obama were being "judged,
not by the color of his skin, but the
content of his character", there would
have been no demands for his birth certificate or transcripts
Racial stereotypes and racial prejudice
are due, in part, to the misinformation
or disinformation carried in history books.
We've certainly come a long way, but
we've got a long way yet to go.

Thanks for taking the time to read and
comment on this post.
@K; Was a time when a drop or two
would have been enough to make him a slave or subject to Jim Crow laws
which would gave made it crime to teach him music. Justifying slavery meant the
preclusion of the possibility that black
people were/are capable of writing symphonies (or being president).?
@K; Thanks for the comment and taking
time out to read this post...
This theory has been around for years, but I'm glad you laid it out so intelligently here at OS for all of us to read.

I agree with Malusinka. People are judged mostly on appearance, and not by the degree of "white" "black" or "Hispanic," Asian or other blood they have running through their veins.

President Obama had a "white" mother, but no one refers to him as "white." Because of his looks, he is deemed "black." I have family members who look very "white," but are Latinos/Hispanics. My teenage son looks just like his Irish-American father, so he will be deemed "white" by the world despite his mother's mixed Native American/Spanish heritage. (My son is proud of his roots, BTW, and educates people about his mixed ancestry when he can.)

Truth is, we are all mestizos–mutts. We all go back to Mother Africa, to Lucy, if you trace back far enough.

Racial classifications create confusion because the force society to oversimplify people based on skin color and appearance. Thankfully, the world continues to evolve and become even more diverse every day. I hope one day all of these manufactured terms will become obsolete. Until then, I will continue to cherish Beethoven's musical genius, no matter what he looked like.
@DMW; If Beethoven had been a mass murderer, do you think his appearence
would have undergone such a transformation? Are the forces that
influenced the transformative depictions still afoot and at work today?

Thanks for taking the time to read and
comment.
@P; No profile, no blogs, no reply.
Ron, My gut tells me you are right. What about all of those strange paintings of Jesus that make him look blond and blue-eyed? I'm sure he looked more semitic than anything else, but that hasn't stopped people from trying to make him look more like themselves.

And what about the Virgin of Guadalupe? In Mexico, she is brown, brown, brown. Although, she was probably semitic, too, so that wouldn't be a far-off depiction of the real Mary.

There is a statue of Jesus of Nazareth in southern Colorado that forms part of a trail of statues followed by the faithful every Easter. The artist who created the statues was Hispanic, and some people have complained that he made the statues look Hispanic, too. But many Hispanics of the U.S. Southwest are the descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled the inquisition, and came to the New World with Spanish explorers in the 1500s. So, some Hispanics argue that those statures are probably closer to reality than the little statuettes found in many suburban Catholic churches that feature a Celtic-looking Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
@DMW; There'ats evidence that suggests that Beethoven indicated a preference for a likeness that would make others distortions of his true appearance. Tricky business, ignoring an apparent self-identificatiion
@DMW; There'ats evidence that suggests that Beethoven indicated a preference for a likeness that would make others distortions of his true appearance. Tricky business, ignoring an apparent self-identificatiion in favor of distortions.

It's not just your gut, it's your intellect working from a different perspective perhaps provided by this post...

Thanks for your comments.
Ron, Believe me. I understand the concept of self hate. There's a lot of that going around in the Latino/Hispanic community. I can't tell you how many Hispanics who look Native American claim to be descended from "pure" full-blooded Spaniards. Don't even get me started on what "pure" and "full-blooded" anything is supposed to mean.
This not a case of self hatre.. Beethoven
liked the Hofel engraving, showing him to be a person of color, so much that he gave copies to his friends.... (see above)

Thanks again....
This nonsense of claiming famous Europeans and other whites as "black" goes back to J.A. Rogers and his ridiculous idea that the bad reputation of "the Negro" could be eliminated if he could pad the racial resume with whites, so to speak.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Augustus_Rogers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven#General_reference

http://www.sjsu.edu/beethoven/about_beethoven/faq.html

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2598/was-ludwig-van-beethoven-of-african-ancestry


http://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris-the-great-the-egyptian-hercules/beethoven-the-black-a-moors-of-europe/
Contrary to the "one drop" myth favored by RonP01, "Negro blood" alone did not make anyone a slave:

http://backintyme.com/essays/item/395

http://backintyme.com/essays/item/46

Like most U.S. myths regarding that nation’s unique endogamous color line, folkloric tradition says that it has something to do with slavery. Specifically, popular culture as well as U.S. academia, liberals as well as conservatives, teach Americans to blame long-dead slavery for their currently enforced polity. (This resembles the way that Americans blame slavery
for their racialism and their endogamous color line, although slavery was ubiquitous while the latter phenomena remain unique to the United States.)

The actual legal connection between slavery and physical appearance was precisely the reverse. A person of any visible European ancestry was presumed to be free. The court cases Gobu v. Gobu (1802 NC), Hudgins v. Wrights (1806 VA), and Adelle v. Beauregard (1810 LA) established the U.S. caselaw that
if you had any discernible European ancestry you were presumed free, and the burden was on the alleged slave owner to prove that you were legally a slave through matrilineal descent. This law was then followed in hundreds of court cases without exception until U.S. slavery was ended by the 13th Amendment.

Even a cursory examination of the historical court case records shows that the notion of invisible Blackness first appeared in the free states of the Ohio valley in the 1830s, was not accepted in the south until long after the Civil war, first became statutory in 1910, and did not spread nationwide until the 1920s.
The ridiculous practice of claiming famous Europeans or whites for what used to be called the "Negro race" seems to have been started by J.A. Rogers as a way of padding the "racial resume," so to speak.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Augustus_Rogers

http://en.wikipedia.orgwikiLudwig_van_Beethoven#General_reference

http://www.sjsu.edu/beethoven/about_beethoven/faq.html

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2598/was-ludwig-van-beethoven-of-african-ancestry
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
.
OK -- it's time to be reasonable here ...
.
Even IF Beethoven actually did have some amount 
of Black racial lineage -- that would NOT make 
him into an actual racially-Black person.
.
People need to begin to understand that there is 
NO SUCH THING AS A "LIGHT-SKINNED 
BLACK" person (the term is a racist oxymoron 
created by Racial Supremacists to deny people 
who were of a Mixed-Race lineage, that included 
any amount of Black bloodlines, the right to be able 
to publicly acknowledge and accept their full lineage).
.
Thus, even IF Beethoven were found to have 
some amount of Black bloodlines -- it would 
simply mean that he was a WHITE person 
(who just happened to also be of a lineage 
that --like most of the White people found 
throughout the U.S.) -- was MULTIRACIAL.
.
Think about it …
.
If he had a tiny 'drop or two' of "Asian blood" 
from an ancient-ancestor -- no one would 
ever call him a "Light-Skinned Asian" man.
.
So -- with all things being equal -- it makes no 
sense to call him a "Light-Skinned Black" man
-- just because he had a 'drop or two' of 
"Black blood" from an ancient-ancestor.
.
The ONLY way that ANYONE could EVER 
think of Beethoven as being a Black man is 
IF they were adhering to and embracing the 
'black-lineage degrading', racist 'One-Drop Rule' 
-- which made the ridiculous and false claim that 
any amount of Black bloodlines, found in the full 
lineage of a Mixed-Race or other non-Black person, 
is so very 'tainted', ‘filth’ and 'contaminated' that it 
literally 'destroyed' all of their other bloodlines and 
mysteriously made them into a racially-Black person.
.
HERE'S A LITTLE HISTORY NOTE:
.
The racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) was BANNED by 
the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 via the decision 
made in the historic 'Loving vs. VA' court case.
.
SOURCES:
.
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157 

www (DOT) facebook (DOT) com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4152 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153 

www (DOT) facebook (DOT) com/allpeople.gifts/posts/272938769421484 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4180 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4179 

www (DOT) facebook (DOT) com/notes/allpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-m¬ixed-race/321878451159708 

groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1399 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/3331 

groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1032 
groups (DOT) yahoo (DOT) com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1034 
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
.
@ADP & AGP; Both of you make valid points. However, the question remains: Why was there such an effort to expunge Beethoven's self-acknowledged African heritage or lineage.

Thanks for your erudite contributions to the discussion.
It was not uncommon for Europeans to use words such as dark-skinned, brown or even black to describe INDIVIDUAL traits. These should not be interpreted to mean "black" in any "racial" sense. Even old Norse sagas call some individuals "black" but that doesn't mean there were "Negro" Vikings.
Vikings may have encountered people of color other than North American Indians.
People with other than blonde hair or blue
eyes may have been referred to as "black".
You haven't responded to the central question: Why the need to
exclude Africans possessed of negroid
physical features from the Pantheon of
individuals capable of producing art, literature, math, or science?
The fact of the matter is that Germany did have contact with darker skinner conquerors. They were called Huns and Mongols. Ethnologists say that many of the darker features common in Europe in prior centuries were due to the asiatic influence, due to prior Steppe Nomadic conquests. I don't think this is due to an African ancestor, though.
Darker features among Central Europeans/Germans can also be attributed to the Turks, who attacked Austria repeatedly during the 1600s. We also can't forget the fact that the Romans were olive skinned Mediteraneans and they peopled the Limes (the fortifications on the Rhine) not only with Latins, but with Legionaries of varying cultural backgrounds, such as Scythian, Sarmatian, Arab and the like.

I think all of these options are more likely, historically, than Africa, purely due to the fact that late 18th century Germany was not a maritime power.
That said, your Flemish account is a possible circumstantial account. But You would need to prove that Beethoven's family was directly descended from Spanish occupational authorities.

Did the Spanish occupation of the Spanish Netherlands intermix with the locals? Or, did the Spanish colonial authorities recruit local troops?
What I'm basically trying to say is that just because Beethoven has a Flemish name, and Flanders was run by Spain, and Moors lived in Spain, does not, ipso facto, mean Beethoven was Moorish.

That's a large leap of logical attenuation.
And as for Jesus: our paintings of him are based on a portrait of Casere Borgia, a mass murdering Italian nobleman. Ironic, huh? lol.

In all likelihood, Jesus probably looked like an Arab.
I'd like to see more evidence about his mother, though. You make the statement, but don't back it up.

This account states that Maria Magdalena Keverich, Beethoven's mother, was actually from Treves/Trier in Germany

http://www.madaboutbeethoven.com/pages/people_and_places/people_family/biog_maria.htm
Cicumstantial as it might seem, Beethoven, himself, apparently identified with the likeness that depicted him as a person of color. Your willingness to attribute his non-whiteness to nearly anything other than possible African ancestry reinforces the primary or central theme of this post.
You presented no evidence for that, either. I support your general arguments regarding racism and historicism in US history and the horrors of the same, but I think you do a dis-service to the cause of anti-racism by making this kind of argument.

Perhaps Beethoven was nicknamed "the moor" in Germany. This does not mean he identified as a moor. I have frequently called myself a "Young Turk" but this does not mean I consider myself Turkish.
And its not just a matter of circumstantial evidence. You claim his mother was a moor, but the historical evidence says she was German.
And the "Home of the Black Spaniard." Was this building given this name because Beethoven lived there, or did it have the name prior to his living there?

Again, Austria was also ruled by the Spanish King Henry V and the Hapsburgs, who jointly ruled Spain, Austria and the Spanish Netherlands, as well as Naples and much of the New World (after Columbus). So the "spanish" name could have come from numerous sources.

I am an attorney and I welcome arguments. I just think you need to do a better job with yours here. Not because I would disagree with them, but because if done poorly, they do poor justice to the principle you are trying to espouse.
Hi, I can't tell what to think from the post and the comments. It would make sense to me that Beethoven was partly of African descent, because his music was so different from his predecessors. Is there any way to do DNA testing? I like the idea, I must say. The use of the real image of Beethoven should be propagated. However, if you used someone else's material without attribution, you should edit your post to include that information, even though it is on a blog.
@Rw
I think what you and many past commenters here (obviously not Black/African identified) fail to understand is we experience the removal and insertion of Black identity when it is convenient. White privilege prevents you from seeing the cultural and racial implication provided by erasing Black/African identity. We all would love to live in a world where race and ethnicity is irrelevant, but we do not. We live in a world where the mantra that stands, not limited to America, says that "White is right". Whiteness in Whites is invisible, whereas People of Color (PoC) are reminded of their racial category in any and EVERYTHING they do and experience. Until/unless you are a PoC this does not make sense and has never occurred to you. Whiteness is the base standpoint and any other view point is an argument. Look at skin bleaching in Jamaica, India, Japan, Korea, etc. These are all countries with a myriad of people who have never even visited America and yet the preference for Whiteness has affected them. In Arizona multicultural studies are ILLEGAL and racial profiling has been put into law and practice, yet the "race is not an issue if you don't talk about it" bubble you live in exists.

The continued rhetoric you have for just ignoring Beethoven's heritage and any heritage other than White is problematic in itself. Being White comes with no explanation. You are just White, while if you look Asian, Hispanic or African/Black the first question is "where are you from/what is your race or ethnicity. This is not limited to America, contrary to popular belief, because in many southern European countries African people (specifically dark-skinned people from North Africa) are treated with disdain because they are much of the time immigrants. They are treated similarly to Mexican immigrants in America. The mindset is a White supremacist notion that anything of Color is abnormal, moreover Black or African is the lowest on the totem pole. You have people on this comment thread saying that he was a Spaniard, he looked more Arab than black, he was simply not Black (@ Malusinka) but you are ignoring the most problematic discourse; that he was anything BUT Black. Questioning the importance of mentioning that Beethoven had African ancestors is a problem. The refusal to acknowledge that maybe he wasn't lily white is a problem as well.

I'm just trying to convey that you have to consider the perspective of PoC who RARELY have important/genius/revolutionary people that look like them and they can relate to represented in history. So when this information arises, yes it IS important to us that his background is displayed.
Dude. You are absolutely right about all that stuff and I 100% agree with you regarding the sociological mores of racism and how it impacts society.

I just want you to prove your point about Beethoven, which up to now, you really haven't done except through shoddy circumstantial evidence and conjecture.

I'm an attorney. My arguments here aren't "rhetoric," but standard logical arguments and standard calls for proof, common in the law and academia.

Your sole defense to your assertion is the fact that "If somebody disagrees with you, this just shows they are racist, and this proves your point," which is a form of circular reasoning. This is so, because, by your own admission, there would then be no way for anybody on earth to dispute your findings. You would always, 100% be right, on every subject, because to contradict you would imply racism.

In science and law, all arguments and assertions have a weakness and before one can receive a PhD one must have an Oral Argument. Part of this procedure is to admit to the panel one or more weaknesses in your argument, assumptions or unstated premises. THings that, if proven contrary, could hurt the general argument.

You refuse to accept this regarding your general argument. I have given you evidence that Beethoven's mother was not a Moor from Flanders, but a housemaid from Germany, and yet you still don't debate history, but lash out in diatribes.

I am not interested here in racism. Only the historical accuracy of your assertion.
IMHO this post is much ado about nothing!
Whether Beethoven was white or black means absolutely nothing! He was German, whether he was a white German or a black German. He had no African heritage. Blacks in this country are so hung up on their African Heritage. If you are raised African ( and since when is Africa considered a country --- it is a continent of many nations and peoples! ) Sorry if I come off racist, but to me it's high time people get over this. Yes slavery was reprehensive, and no my people had nothing to do with it! They were still serfs in Europe at the time!
@K; Thanks....

@Wren; Agreed, as stated in a previous
reply...Thanks
@Kenny; The important thing here is that you took the time to read and comment...Thanks
@Rw; Your persistent demand for evidentiary "proof" affirms your
continuing failure to grasp the
meaning and purpose of this
2 year old post.

Are you looking at the pictures?

Historical "evidence" regarding people
of color has been tampered with, distorted,
or destroyed by the very people and forces
from whom you seek "proof".
I've read this a couple times now, very interesting, and not a surprise at all, especially with Europe's history of so many hiding their true identity during certain eras...my own family has some mysteries that way, hidden Jewish heritage, possibly hidden black heritage...part of why life can be so interesting, all these secrets to find.
@Rw; By the way, I am an attorney also...This post is designed to raise reasonable doubt re the euro-centric presumptions and biases that run through virtually everything that is offered as historical fact.
People, especially people of color, have been convicted and executed on less than what is presented here...
@ kyamahst: I haven't read all the comments yet, but will add that yes, to PoC it seems like just 'white' is enough, but oh please. That is the first line of demarcation within the whites: where are your people from, southern europe, central (said with a sniff) or northern europe? Once that line is established it goes on, with all the inherent snobbery.
This also happens with all churches among white Christians: after the Catholic vs Protestant judgment (the Catholics aren't Christians they're Catholic, one), the judgment between which KIND of Protestant you are, if you are, and on and on. Certain whites find a way to 'draw the line' with snobbery and hierarchy and judgment in every crowd, even a crowd of WASPs.
Tangent, maybe, and not as visible to the rest of the world??
Isn't it very visible though? It certainly seems quite glaring from here.
@JT; Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.. Quite poignant...
Interesting. But I'm still not sure why genetics would have such a strong role in the ability of a musical genius to discover and successfully employ syncopation.
@Rw The rhetoric you employ is the same of covert White supremacists (keep in mind that White supremacists are not just White). Only White people can be racist, so if a White person disagrees that Whiteness is preferred as a WHOLE and attempted by Whites and PoC they in fact ARE being racist. The blatant denial of the aversion to all things brown that exists is also racist. If you see no problem in neglecting to mention the ancestry and how ethnically ambiguous Beethoven was then you don't understand racism. Racism is the reason why Beethoven, a musical genius, was presented as White to kids in school. The discrepancies in the last 2 portraits of Beethoven speak volumes. His mother's geographical origins are irrelevant when presented with his appearance. Brown skin and certain facial features don't just appear from staying out in the sun too long.

@JT
What you fail to understand is regardless of your specific ancestry, if you appear White, you benefit from White privilege. Snobbery is irrelevant when it is contained within the group in power and privilege is involved. In talking to someone you may find they are of Irish, French, and Russian ancestry but by appearance they are still classified as White and receive the attached privilege.

@CH
Because his base identity was created as White, and therefore assigned to his genius ability, so there was no problem. The ongoing assumption that Black/African people were subhuman (specifically estimated to be 3/5 human) meant we were incapable of creating music, art, literature, etc. If he would have been presented as multicultural/ethnically ambiguous there would have been uproar.
Ron: You are basically saying that since Eurocentric whites distorted facts in the past, you are free to do so in the present.

All I am saying is that you need to prove to me that Beethoven's mother was of Spanish descent. I understand, fully, that Europeans went to great lengths to hide possible African and/or Moorish descent. If Beethoven's mother was of direct Spanish lineage, that would be something to talk about. But you jumped the gun and said she was of Spanish Moorish extraction, from Belgium, when all the evidence shows she's from Trier/Treves.

I just want you to put forth a solid case, that's all.

You are arguing from ideology/theology. Not logic or facts.

Pictures mean nothing. For example, I was in 7th grade and there was a painting of Nixon on the wall, he looked very dark and sweaty (it was a caricature from Watergate). An African-American classmate of mine raised her hand and asked the teacher if Nixon was our first "Black" president. The teacher said no, and the student got mad and accused him of racism.

I am saying that just because somebody had darker features doesn't automatically mean they are of African extraction. They could be. But not necessarily.

You are committing the fallacy of association.

For example, Rabbits eat lettuce. Camels also eat lettuce. But this shared trait does not mean that all Rabbits are camels.

Whites tend to have straight hair. Native Americans and East Asians tend to have straight hair. This doesn't mean that all whites are native American.

We also have to be careful about generalizing about racial characteristics. There is really no such thing as race, genetically speaking. Only general variations. But these aren't absolute. Not just and only because of intermixing, but also because of something called "Sexual selection" within and among members of the same group.

For example, red hair can occur naturally in Asia without any white genetic influence. These mutations all occur naturally in the human genome and aren't unique to any single group.

Samething with all the traits you discuss above. They are not uniquely black, such as those relating to hair and nose. Beethoven could've been black. But he could've been something else, too. Or he could've been totally caucasian. There's no way to know unless we dig him up, grind up his corpse and stick it in a centrifuge and test what halpotype he had running around inside him.

And furthermore, the traits that racist white southerners thought were uniquely "white" weren't. In fact, most caucasians aren't white, and yet standard caucasian traits transcend whiteness and extend to Indians and Persians, even though they may not be considered white by Southern racists. Further, some of these traits may even be found in East Asia, but clearly, they aren't caucasian.

I'm just saying that facial characteristics are poor circumstantial evidence of genetic background. Further, the circumstantial family tree you constructed is an even worse indice of familial descent.
@ Kenny
To me, as a Black woman, it is INSULTING because my ancestors were not documented so I can't assign my heritage to a country in Africa. My maternal and paternal ancestors were slaves and I can trace my history as far as North Western Africa. You must understand that my peoples' history in books is reduced to a chapter and sometimes not even that although they were CRUCIAL to the development of many civilizations, while being denied basic human rights. Excuse me for wanting good things to be associated with African heritage/Blackness besides the usual associations with poverty, disease, illiteracy, rape, murder, crime, abuse, ignorance, negativity, ugliness, etc.; basically any negative adjective you can think of.
@Rw; Again you're missing the point. I don't need to prove anything to anyone....You keep apealing to the authority of history written by those who would distort or destroy the facts and then accuse me of doing the same thing as a way of defending the dishonesty inherent in the history that is trumpeted as truth....You continue to appear to want to agree but continue to lapse into the racist fog of refusal and denial...There is sufficient information and material to question the reliabilty of commonly accepted assertions regarding Beethoven's ethnic and racial heritage....You are as fearful as you can be of the prospect that Beethoven could be something other than what you believe him to be....Your mind is as closed to this possibilty as it can be....The point here is not so much whether Beethoven was something other than white...The point here is, why has there been such an effoert to hide the possibilty that he (and others) could be a person of color (of African descent)?....You appear to have some grounding in a variety of academic disciplines, however your prejudices and biases are so readily apparent in your comments, that you beg to be dismissed as simply another racist bigot who would prefer to be openly ignorant and publicly stupid than to deal with legitimate challenges to racist dogma....

@CH; If we were discussing the Huckle Buck, the HokeyPokey, or Hip Hop there would be no problem in assuming the "natural" rythm of black folks...But the 9th Symphony or the Moonlight Sonata, well that's just a bit too much for the average white person to ascribe to the "natural" musical/rythmic abilities of "those" people....

@Ky; You go girl....
I find it quite amusing and interesting that a post published more than two years ago is still generating this level of interest and discussion.... On the eve of Black History Month no less..........
Must be some kind of Open Salon record......Thanks for the continued interest an commentary....
Ron, the fact is this article has absolutely no evidence to suggest he was of African descent.

Furthermore genetics have absolutely nothing to do with musical ability. Musical ability and techniques are learned. There is no such thing as a 'natural rhythm' for any different race. It is an insult to Beethoven to suggest that his innovations in music were merely genetic.
Ron: Your resort to unfounded ad hominem attacks, I suppose, is proof positive that you have lost this debate. Rather than prove your point, you hurl insults. Opposition to your point of view is ridiculed and lambasted as heresy, and those who oppose you accused of being infidels or worse, racists.

If facts and the historical record disagree with you, your ideology allows you to disregard it by saying the historical record is racist. As such, you can ignore it and posit facts more to your liking. In such a paradigm, there is really no way to debate or discuss anything with you. It gets circular.

I am open to a study of anybody's ancestory, and to the possibility that Beethoven had a multi-ethnic background. That said, you did a very poor job doing this here.
And the fact of the matter is that I am on the left, left Progressive side of the political spectrum, as far from a racist as possible. Perhaps socialist. That said, I am also an academic purist. I like my arguments pure and unadulterated. You fail here. This isn't an ideological attack on you, or even a philosophical one. I think we share the same politics. My criticism here is purely academic.
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 the book entitled Beethoven by David Jacobs (p. 133), is a facsimile of this non-extant building, which, according to the author, was formerly a monastery. The center facade has the sign "I Resley," the left facade is unlabelled. But the right facade is labelled, "Zum Schwarzspanier," "To the Black Spaniard."

And this is because the monastery was inhabited by black-robed Spanish benedictine monks and "Schwarzspanier" can be traslated also as "black Spaniard*s*

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Was_Beethoven%27s_mother_part_Moor_or_of_African_ancestory_as_well_as_European#ixzz1l5goaKbe
A good counterargument is found here

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Was_Beethoven_Black
Is this an example of cognitive dissonance?
I have no basis on which to agree or to disagree w the assertion(s). I am clear-as-a-bell, however, and I say this as a proud caucasian father of a Black man and as a Progressive--

...many here, as seems the writer here, sure as hell seem to be color-struck.
A provocative question, but I don't see anything conclusive. DNA from a descendant would help, I guess. of course, under the One Drop Rule, I imagine we have a lot more black people than we have black people. I have always wondered about this, as I am 5' 11" and could dunk back in the day. My son, who is a b-baller, is the same height and can slam it home with 2 hands and do windmills.

The part about Beethoven's music having an African influence is as firm an example of evidence of black linage as short white boys that dunk. Further study may reveal an affinity for fried chicken and 'tater salad. Better still, if he could simultaneously play the highest and lowest notes on the keyboard while being able to hit middle C, he must have been black...

Interesting read, Rw. Maybe this old SNL skit with Belushi as Beethoven was more real than realized.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1oZmRA2K1E
Oops. Interesting read, Ron.
Rw led me to this, so that was the error.

To me, it's one of those questions that, if answered either way, is pretty moot. An interesting twist, but little significance. The idea that Beethoven's music was influenced by biology is as silly as my riff on stereotypes.
I'm a Mozart guy, anyway.
@ kyamahst: I do not fail to understand that at all.
I'm with Rw and PJ here. The structure of your syllogism--Blacks have rhythm; Beethoven had rhythm; therefore, Beethoven was black--would be funny were it not so racist. By that logic, Earl Scruggs is black, because he plays the banjo. Did Beethoven write a sonata for banjo, or play the banjo? If not, I'd say he was not black.
You ae completely missing the point of this post.one of you have addressed the questions raised here. There is no effort to prove or assert Beethoven's musical genius and ...acomplishment on the basis of his heritage. No effort to deduce or argue racial heritage or lineage as a cause or source of talent or intelligence....Why was/is the mere
prospect of his being something other than white so frightening
The question again why the overwhelming need to then and now to avoid or deny any hint of a possibility that Beethoven may well have been a person of color......
It seems to me that about a third of the respondents just go along with your really bad arguments, another third just passively say OK what the hell, let the dude rage and the last third are just amazed that you actually can make all these specious connections with a straight face.

I don't give a rat's ass what color Beethoven was; it's irrelevant to me.

What's a little bit interesting. altho irrelevant, is why you feel you have to run this 70's I'm-one-up-on-you-whitey game that was old in 1970 when Tom Wolfe wrote Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.

You're not nearly as smart or cool or incisive as you think.
And by the way, Ron, what you think you know about the 3/5 provision is absolutely wrong and backwards.

I leave it to you to figure that out.
@ Trav.; Is that the best you can do?
"his music reveals a cultural connection to his African ancestry."

There are multiple paragraphs depicting his music to be a result of african heritage. I don't particularly care if he does have African heritage, this discussion is ridiculous.

I don't fear his being non-white. It makes no difference to me. But you can't decide something (whatever it may be) and expect people to believe it as fact just because you say its true. You do actually have to prove it. Or at least provide some basis for your assumptions.
@@BM; Look at the paintings and drawings and ask yourself why the one that makes him appear to be some kind of ideal Aryan is the one that is shown exclusively in all of.of the standard text books.....
The continuous denial of the importance on properly relating Beethoven's ancestry and appearance is racist. In the portraits his skin is significantly lightened and his eyes are changed from brown to blue. What is the purpose of assigning him more European features? And after this alteration exists, Whiteness is invisible so therefore any further discussion is irrelevant. Color is 'visible' so it must be negated or dismissed with the apathetic statements 'it makes no difference' and 'what does it matter?'

@PJ
If you were unaware, male slaves were bred (YES) to be stronger, more athletic, and more physically fit in general to produce more labor by their owners. Your assumption that athletic ability is associated with having 'one drop' of Black blood is problematic. You are indirectly implying that African people cannot create music.... Your humor, if that's what it was, is lost on me.
Ron, I agree in many publications they do use the most Aryan blue eyed painting and I find the practice of publishing Aryan ideals appalling.

Although while the painting is now used frequently due to its recognisability as a result of previous use, it is hardly used exclusively without other paintings, especially outside of tiny articles with a single small photo.

I happen to be familiar with each of these photos and apart from the one that is a darkened black and white version, not one of them have any 'african tendencies' that I can spot. I admit I'm no expert in the field of facial recognition though I doubt anyone here is.

And yes eye colour shouldn't change but since when are brown eyes purely the eyes of African people? They happen to be more prevalent than blue eyes in many European countries.


Kyamahst, I am not trying to deny the importance of relating his heritage.
It makes no difference to me is simply a statement that he was a great man and one of the world's finest composers, no matter what his background. If he turned out to be English or Russian I would feel the same. Interesting to know, but it doesn't change my personal opinion of his music. There is nothing racist in that whatsoever.

All I am saying is that there is nothing to actually suggest that he was of African heritage. I would be interested to find out that he was if it were true (that's why I read the article) but the article was filled with pure speculation. No better than a tabloid. And I base my opinions on facts, not speculation.
Thanks, Kathy, for taking the time to read and comment.
OK, at this point in time, the only reason I feel a desire to read or even comment on this blog is that I am a black female musician who is taking a music "appreciation" courses at the bottom of the map (Louisiana). I can for sure explain what my experience was when learning the biographical and artistic information about Beethoven presented by reps of higher learning. It may be easier to first verbalize the feelings I had when listening to earlier magridals, operas, and symphonies ending the Baroque period and Bach. I would have to say that the experience listening to Bach, Vivaldi, Verdi was "standardly" pleasant- even after being introduced to the Classical Period with Haydn and Mozart. Conveniently, the last composer we spoke about before class ended- was one of our teacher's favorite, Beethoven of course. As we sat through her verbal workout about his genius artistic creativity I was just waiting for someone to ask our controversial question.. But not today!- (oh well I already knew what I felt :), but then we listened to samples of his masterpieces, and I couldn't help but to notice the "all around sound" from the delicate singing of each section to the powerful rhythms of a united symphony (specifically the AMOUNT of rhythm that his music possess.) And I felt from that point that there was no need to debate.
We all know or need to know and believe that blacks of the planet are the creators, mothers, fathers of this planet and everything, everyone on it- even rhythm. It doesn't matter how much of black genetics (no matter how obvious or absent) still dwells in our "blood"- unless a genetically identifiable group has a reputation of distorting the truth. Then we MUST research who is crying wolf. Once you credit or discredit their claim there comes a point of what I like to call informational enlightenment. Your natural instinct is to be accountable for what you know!
It seems the popular idea is that Beethoven was one of the greatest. His work has a similarity to the well rounded work compared to jazz, "original" rock and roll, and pre-evolved hip hop and is artistic enough to accept as my own style.. AFTER THAT his race means little to nothing!
It's also important to let students and anyone that cares to know about Beethoven's ethnicity because you never know how it may inspire in the specific direction that he went. Beethoven composed music even when he couldn't even HEAR which is close to be considered a MIRACLE!
As far as Jesus and the Bible goes- How can we rely on opinions of people who give us a book that tells us thou shalt not kill as we're also watching your people kill us.. If you "give" us information like that shouldn't you follow the guidelines of that book, and lead by example. How about this?.. Blacks who knew anything worth while back then didn't even live to reproduce or be accounted for. So dont ever expect blacks to belittle what happened to us then or what is happening now- We're still here in this American nightmare and the only "good" that will ever come out of here is what we with or without help of whites accomplish considering the inhabitants of this land can NEVER be avenged! :p If the remaining ignoramoes are ever enlightened Your Welcome in advanced. Thank You to those that acknowledge light AND dark.
First of all, the first pictures here posted that are supposedly Beethoven's Death Mask are actually his Life Mask done in 1812.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven
One of the reasons that has been suggested that Beethoven was not black is that Beethoven and a very talented virtuoso violinist, George Bridgetower, who was biracial and a contemporary of Beethoven's, were never compared to each other as being racially similar in any literature of the day. It really doesn't matter.
Also, the reference to "Schwarzspanierhaus"- the name is actually "The Old House of the Black-Robed Spaniards" and Beethoven lived there only the last year and a half of his life. It had previously been a monastery built by Benedictine monks from Spain.
It appears there could have been a bit more research and less conjecture in sections of this article.
I made this account to ask- which edition of Solomon are you referencing? I have the second, revised edition and page 78 has no description of B's appearance whatsoever.
We have a problem here. Some pencil sketches of Beethoven seem to suggest that he may have been black. While in oil portraits he is certainly white. If Beethoven was indeed black, the fact would not be in dispute, either then or now. Let us understand that Beethoven was white until proven otherwise. This is not a case of historical revisionism, but rather of petty point scoring. Similar claims for the ' blackness' of the Ancient Egyptians, Hannibal, Jesus Christ and others are unfoundered.
We have a problem here. Some pencil sketches of Beethoven seem to suggest that he may have been black. While in oil portraits he is certainly white. If Beethoven was indeed black, the fact would not be in dispute, either then or now. Let us understand that Beethoven was white until proven otherwise. This is not a case of historical revisionism, but rather of petty point scoring. Similar claims for the ' blackness' of the Ancient Egyptians, Hannibal, Jesus Christ and others are unfoundered.
That's a good read. I'm going to check other information on the web.
Comments are now closed.