Beethoven’s Family

Sonata Op.13 Mv.2   L.Beethoven (1770-1827)

"If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee"


Ludwig had a younger brother Nikolaus whom Ludwig had tried to shield from their abusive alcoholic father. As adults there was little affection between them. Ludwig, as we well know, went into music. His younger brother, however, was something of a ne'er do well until he found a way to profit handsomely from Napoleon's conquest of Vienna, which by general consensus amounted to Nikolaus "collaborating with the enemy". Nikolaus insisted on being called "Johann", their father's name, something which understandably irritated Ludwig to no end. On one occasion, Johann Beethoven stopped by Ludwig's abode — who wasn't home — and left his calling card "Johann Beethoven, Land Proprietor". Ludwig returned the favor, and when Johann wasn't home he wrote on the back of Johann's card "Ludwig Beethoven — Brain Proprietor".

In 1826 Ludwig visited his prosperous brother — unsuccessfully petitioning him to help their delinquent nephew Karl. It did not go well, and in frustration Ludwig took the only immediate transportation home — an open carriage in the middle of winter. Ludwig arrived home with a high fever that led to his death several weeks later.

Gerhard von Breuning, son of Ludwig's best friend, Stephan von Breuning, gives us this description of Nikolaus — I mean Johann:

'For some years after the death of the great "brain owner", his brother, the "landowner", played a strange, naïve role. During Ludwig's life Johann's interest in his works was limited to possible gain from them; now he tried to present himself as an appreciative admirer. At concert performances of music by his deceased brother he would sit in the first row, all got up in a blue frock coat with white vest, and loudly shriek Bravos from his big mouth at the end of every piece, beating his bony white-gloved hands together importantly. These oversize gloves, with their flapping fingers, could often be seen elsewhere as well, in the elegant drives in the Prater …

'All this pretentiousness and in general the overall appearance of Johann — who bore no physical resemblance to Ludwig: he had a long face, big nose, one eye squinting outwards, giving his face an expression of perpetual self-satisfaction — earned him the nickname of "Archduke Lorenz", from the familiar proverb about people who endeavour to put on a great show and conduct themselves ridiculously in the process. Johann died in Vienna in January 1848. He proved to be as preposterous after his brother's death as he had been contemptible during his brother's life.'