Johann van Beethoven

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Painting by Benedikt Beckenkamp, allegedly depicting Johann and Maria Magdalena van Beethoven. Whether the portrait is authentic or not is disputed, with Alexander Wheelock Thayer writing that it rests on "uncertain tradition" and it "lacks authoritative attestation".[1]

Johann van Beethoven[2][3] (c. 1739 or 1740[4][5] – 18 December 1792) was a Flemish-German musician, teacher, and singer who sang in the chapel of the Archbishop of Cologne, whose court was at Bonn. He is best known as the father of the celebrated composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Johann was an alcoholic and an abusive father who often beat Ludwig. At 18, Ludwig had to obtain an order to force Johann to support his family. Johann died soon after Ludwig moved to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn.


Johann van Beethoven was the son of Maria Josepha Poll (married 1733) and Lodewijk or Ludwig van Beethoven[6][7] (1712–1773; not to be confused with Johann's famous son of the same name), who was probably born in or near the city of Mechelen, in the Habsburg Netherlands (now in Flanders, Belgium), and had served as a musician in several communities in and around Mechelen before establishing himself in Bonn in 1733, where he served as a musician at the court of Prince-Archbishop-Elector of Cologne Clemens August of Bavaria, rising to the post of Kapellmeister in 1761. Johann van Beethoven also showed musical talent, and joined the court, primarily as a singer, in 1764. In addition to singing (his range, while usually described as that of a tenor, may have extended into alto and even higher registers), he played the violin and zither, and played and taught keyboard instruments of the day, including the harpsichord and the clavichord.

He met his future wife, Maria Magdalena Keverich (1746–1787), on a trip to Ehrenbreitstein. She was the daughter of the head chef to Johann IX Philipp von Walderdorff, Archbishop-Elector of Trier, whose court was there, and she had family connections in the court orchestra at Bonn. Keverich was already widowed at the age of nineteen. She and Johann were married on 12 November 1767 in the Catholic Church of St Remigius, Bonn. They had seven children, three of whom lived into adulthood:[8]

  • Ludwig Maria van Beethoven (2 April 1769 – 6 April 1769)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (16 December 1770 in Bonn, Kurköln – 26 March 1827)
  • Kaspar Anton Karl van Beethoven (8 April 1774 – 15 November 1815)
  • Nikolaus Johann van Beethoven (2 October 1776 – 12 January 1848)
  • Anna Maria Franziska van Beethoven (23 February 1779 – 27 February 1779)
  • Franz Georg van Beethoven (17 January 1781 – 16 August 1783)
  • Maria Margarete Josepha van Beethoven (5 May 1786 – 26 November 1787)

Johann realized Ludwig's talent and became his first teacher. Johann was also aware of Leopold Mozart's success traveling with a talented and young Wolfgang, and wished to duplicate their fame and fortune. He was, however, an abusive father according to a number of witnesses. "There were few days when [Ludwig] was not beaten in order to compel him to set himself at the piano", related one childhood friend of Ludwig.[9] A court councilor reported that Johann occasionally locked Ludwig in a cellar.[9] Whenever Ludwig played poorly, Johann would exclaim that it was an embarrassment to the family. Johann would drag young Ludwig out of bed to play piano all night with no sleep. Johann was an alcoholic, a situation that worsened when Maria died in 1787, after which time the family was increasingly dependent on young Ludwig for support. In 1789 the 18-year-old Ludwig obtained an order resulting in one half of Johann's pay being turned over to him for support of the family.

Johann died in 1792, not long after Ludwig moved to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn. His employer the Elector wrote sardonically to a friend, "The revenues from the liquor excise [tax] have suffered a loss in the death of Beethoven."[10]


The family name means "from (van) Bettenhoven". Johann van Beethoven was only one half Flemish;[11][12][13] his father Lodewijk was the last Beethoven to be fully Flemish. Most of his most recent family came from the German-speaking Rhineland region and the Electorate of the Palatinate of the Holy Roman Empire.


Johann's famous son Ludwig van Beethoven had no children and was never married, but his second son, Karl, did have children. However, none of Karl's living descendants now bears the name of Beethoven, the last to do so, Karl Julius Maria van Beethoven, having died without a son in 1917.


  1. ^ Alexander Wheelock Thayer, The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven, Volume I of III accessed 15 June 2022.
  2. ^ Johann van BEETHOVEN, Tenorist an der kurfürstlichen Hofkapelle zu Bonn, geboren um 1740 in Bonn? (Religion: rk), gestorben am 18 December 1792 in Bonn, Sohn von Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (siehe IIb) und Maria Josepha BALL. Kirchliche Trauung am 12.11.1767 in Bonn, St.Remigius mit Maria Magdalena KEVERICH, 20 Jahre alt, geboren am 19 December 1746 in Ehrenbreitstein (Religion: rk), gestorben am 17 July 1787 in Bonn mit 40 Jahren. Schwindsucht, Tochter von Johann Heinrich KEVERICH SR>, Kurfürstlich Trierscher Oberhofkoch, und Anna Clara WESTORFF. [1] Archived 22 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Johan Van Beethoven, dus vermoedelijk geboren te Bonn omstreeks 1739. Hij werd opgeleid om zijn vader op te volgen, en werd tenslotte als hofmusicus aangesteld. Hij huwde te Bonn in de St.-Remigiuskerk op 12 November 1767 met Maria-Magdalena Keverich, geboren te Ehrenbreitstein bij Koblenz op 19 December 1746 en overleden te Bonn op 17 juli 1787. Johan stierf 4 jaar later op 18 December 1792. [2] Archived 5 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "The Fathers of Great Musicians (Continued)." The Musical Times, Vol. 46, No. 751 (1 Sep. 1905), pp. 587–590
  5. ^ Joseph Kerman, et al. "Beethoven, Ludwig van." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed 14 November 2013. [3]
  6. ^ Ludwig van BEETHOVEN, Kapellmeister der kurfürstlichen Hofkapelle zu Bonn, getauft (rk) am 05.01.1712 in Mecheln, St.Katharina, gestorben am 24 December 1773 in Bonn mit 61 Jahren, Sohn von Michael van BEETHOVEN (siehe I) und Marie Louise STUYCKERS. Aufgebot am 26 August 1733, kirchliche Trauung mit 21 Jahren am 07.09.1733 in Bonn, St. Remigius mit Maria Josepha BALL, geboren um 1714 in ? Gestorben am 30 September 1775 in Bonn. [4] Archived 22 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Lodewijk Van Beethoven, gedoopt te Mechelen op 5 januari 1712. Na 12 jaar koraalschool en twee jaar bij meester Colfs was hij in 1727 haast 16 jaar oud : een degelijk gevormd koorzanger en organist. Op 2 November werd hij aangesteld tot plaatsvervangend tenor en enkele dagen later als plaatsvervangend dirigent van het koor van de Luikse St. Lambertuskathedraal. Daar, te Luik, moet de Keulse aartsbisschop hem gehoord hebben en troonde hem mee naar Bonn. In deze residentiestad der Keulse keurvorsten werd Lodewijk vanaf 1733 aangesteld tot bassist van het hofkoor met een jaarwedde van 400 gulden. Hij huwde te Bonn in de St.-Remigiuskerk op 17 September 1733 op 21-jarige leeftijd met Maria-Jozef Poll, een meisje uit Bonn. Lodewijk stierf te Bonn op 24 December 1773 in de ouderdom van 62 jaar. Maria-Jozef overleed op 30 September 1775. [5] Archived 5 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Karl van Beethoven's family Tree in: [retrieved 17 December 2015].
  9. ^ a b Maynard., Solomon (1979). Beethoven (Schirmer books paperback ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. p. 16. ISBN 002872240X. OCLC 9629102.
  10. ^ MacArdle (1949, 537)
  11. ^ R. Capell, Beethoven, in Music & Letters, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Oct. 1938), pp. 375–390
  12. ^ Ernest Closson and Gustave Reese, Grandfather Beethoven, in The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Oct. 1933), pp. 367–373
  13. ^ TF Howell, Beethoven's nationality, in The Musical Times, 1915. "The chief hereditary character of Beethoven was Flemish, and all else was what we now label German."


  • MacArdle, Donald W. (1949) The Family van Beethoven. The Musical Quarterly 35:528–550.

External links[edit]

  • "The 'Van' of Beethoven" by Herbert Antcliffe in The Musical Times, Vol. 77, No. 1117 (Mar. 1936), pp. 254–255 – Article explains how "A certain Ludwig (Lodewijk) van Beethoven was born at Mechelen as the son of Michiel and the grandson of Cornelius and of Catherina Leempoels..."