Happy B-Day, Ludwig.

Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770. There is no record of the date of his birth, but the custom at that time was to baptize on the day after birth, so December 16 is usually celebrated. So, birthday or baptism day, the fact that Ludwig was born – and survived – is still good reason for us to celebrate.

Seven children were born to Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich, but only three survived beyond the first couple of years. Ludwig, the second-born and oldest of the surviving children, was named after his paternal grandfather, as had been his first-born brother who had died eight months earlier, only four days after birth. No wonder they rushed to baptize infants ASAP. Ludwig is the German form of Louis. His family was moderately musical, but nothing distinguished.

Maria Magdalena died at age 40 of tuberculosis, and Johann was mired in alcoholism, leaving the 17-year-old Ludwig largely responsible for the family’s livelihood. The featured image is a portrait of him by an unknown artist painted when he was thirteen. If you want more details of his life, Wikipedia is useful.

Here’s a fitting way to celebrate Ludwig’s birthday, with variations on “Happy Birthday” in the style of Beethoven, by Leonid Hambro, recorded in 1970 for his 200th birthday year.

While there are a lot of really good performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, you almost never hear it performed these days in English. Is it heresy to even think about it? I got to wondering whether it was ever been performed in English instead of the original Geman. Turns out it has — perhaps even quite often in the “old days”. There are at least two very early recordings with the last movement “Ode to Joy” sung in English. Two, at least, that are readily available on YouTube.

The English conductor Albert Coates recorded an English-language version with an unnamed orchestra, chorus, and soloists in 1923.

A 1926 recording with the London Symphony and English soloists conducted by the German maestro, Felix Weingartner.

However, the very first recording of Beethoven’s Ninth (in German with German forces) in 1923, actually seems to sound a bit better than the English ones; German engineering of course.


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