Marble House / 1796

Beethoven was Here!

Was Ludwig van Beethoven the illegitimate son of King Frederick William II? This rumor was so persistent that it made it into print in the third edition of Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus’ Conversations-Lexikon in 1814. Beethoven himself somewhat reluctantly denied the claim shortly before his death. Why?

In 1796 Beethoven performed a concert for the music enthusiast Frederick William at the Marble Palace in Potsdam, the summer residence of the Prussian king. The monarch, who maintained one of the largest and best orchestras in Europe, was also an adept cellist. He practiced his instrument for two hours a day, because he hoped to become a virtuoso. Frederick William admired the young Beethoven, who had a bad haircut and was carelessly dressed, but who could play a Silbermann fortepiano almost casually. In parting the king gave him a valuable gift: a gold box filled with Louis d’or coins. Beethoven was both flattered and felt supported by the patronage of the art-loving king.

Years later Beethoven was disappointed by Frederick William II’s successor, King Frederick William III, to whom the composer dedicated his Ninth Symphony. Instead of the valuable diamond ring he had been promised, he received merely a simple ring valued at 300 gulden ‒ but it was at least some form of recognition. It is likely for this reason that Beethoven’s denial of the rumor of being Frederick William II’s son was made quite late in his life.