Beethoven died on this day in 1827. Amazing to me, if Mozart had also died in 1827, he still would've been just 71. When I was little, I loved the Peanuts comics and enjoyed getting paperback collections of the strips. Nearly every December 16, the story concerned Beethoven’s birthday and Schroeder’s celebration of it. Of course, Schroeder also performed Beethoven sonatas and other works on his toy piano. Other themes included Schroeder's large, scowling bust of the composer, which I tried to replicate with modeling clay.
Thus inspired by a favorite comic strip, I liked certain Beethoven compositions when I was young. In those days, the Huntley-Brinkley evening news concluded with a piece by Beethoven. I wrote NBC to learn the title and got a letter back! The piece was the scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth. Subsequently, I found a used recording of the symphony at our hometown library’s annual book sale. Eventually, I also found LPs of the fifth and seventh symphonies and some of his named sonatas. We had a Van Cliburn recording of one of the piano concertos, and an LP of the "Kreutzer" sonata performed by David Oistrakh.
I liked all this music in a juvenile way, feeling a little "grown up" listening to it but genuinely enjoying it, too. I also took piano lessons but never managed the spontaneous, unpracticed skill of Schroeder, although I managed to learn the first and second movements of the Moonlight Sonata pretty well, and the ubiquitous "Fuer Elise."
Our library acquired a copy of George R. Marek’s Beethoven: Biography of a Genius (Funk & Wagnall’s, 1969) when it was published or perhaps the following year. I didn't read the whole book but I enjoyed checking it out. I was 12 in 1969, and at 13 and 14 I had unrequited crushes on a couple of girls, which unfortunately aggravated some childhood depression I’d had even earlier. Feeling scarily hopeless at such a young age, I found comfort in the fact that, as Marek discussed, Beethoven struggled for acceptance, too!
Marek’s chapter on “The Immortal Beloved” is interesting. Beethoven's letter to his “Unsterbliche Geliebte,” dated July 6-7 and later analyzed to be 1812, was found among his effects after he died. But who was the woman, to whom Beethoven wrote with such passion? Was the letter returned to him, or did he never send it? Reviewing the numerous women important to Beethoven---like Josephine Brunsvik, Guilietta Guicciardi, Amalie Sebald, Bettina Brentano, and Therese Brunsvik---Marek builds an interesting and convincing circumstantial case for Dorothea Ertmann, although (from what little I’ve read on the subject), many scholars argue for Josephine Brunsvik. From time to time I still leaf through my own copy of the thick book, which gives an excellent sense of the composer’s era and life.
My daughter is a big fan of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, including their concept album "Beethoven's Last Night." We have listened to it on our cross-country trips, and she has heard it performed live. This Wikipedia article summarizes the story, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beethoven%27s_Last_Night