Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler

The most famous portrait of Beethoven has coloured our view of his personality and appearance unlike any other. It has thus added to the "myth" which has grown up around the composer. Stieler's idealized and heroized depiction of the composer has also captured Beethoven's creative genius. It is therefore not surprising that this portrait still most often serves as the basis for reproductions of the composer (even for Andy Warhol). One might suppose that the idealized depiction was the result of alienation and even possibly embarrassment, as the painter was not able to reach the composer. But in fact the opposite is true. From Beethoven's conversation books we know that Stieler was permitted four sittings between February and April 1820. This "concession" - Beethoven considered such sittings to be a kind of penance - was not only due to Stieler's artistic ability but also to Franz and Antonie Brentano, who commissioned the portrait. Beethoven was happy to grant them this concession as he had been close to them since 1809 and once referred to them as his "best friends in the world".

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Beethoven's viola

At the age of 18 Beethoven was given a post as viola player in the Bonn court orchestra. After he had moved away from Bonn, the instrument was left behind with his violin teacher Franz Anton Ries, who was likewise a member of the orchestra. His descendants placed it at the disposal of the Beethoven-Haus. Following its restoration it is still played today on special occasions.

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First edition of the Dressler Variations WoO 63

In 1782 Beethoven's first composition was published by a Mannheim publisher: Piano Variations on a March by Dressler. Beethoven's teacher Christian Gottlob Neefe wrote about his pupil in the "Magazin der Musik" in 1783 with reference to the composition. He praised the twelve-year-old's promising talent, who could "surely become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, if he should progress as he has begun".

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Silhouette of the Breuning family

The young Beethoven liked frequenting the Breunings' house in Bonn. This connection was of the greatest importance for Beethoven's personal development. The second oldest son, Stephan von Breuning, was still one of his closest and most reliable friends in Vienna. Beethoven gave the daughter Eleonore piano lessons. According to Gerhard, Stephan von Breuning's son, there was also a "warm and everlasting bond of friendship" between them both.

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Organ console

Beethoven had played on this organ console at the Bonn Minorite Church (today Remigius Church) from the age of ten. When the organ was rebuilt in 1904, the historic console was dismantled by the organ builder firm Klais and given to the Beethoven-Haus in 1905.

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Writing desk

The writing desk (with a walnut veneer) is one of Beethoven's few surviving pieces of furniture. In his numerous Viennese lodgings the desk was always afforded pride of place.

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CD-ROM Beethoven's last lodging in Vienna

Autograph manuscript of the Piano Trio in one movement WoO 39

Maximiliane Brentano, the musical daughter of Franz and Antonie Brentano, was not yet ten when Beethoven composed his Piano Trio in one movement WoO 39 for her "to encourage her piano playing". The score is unusually cleanly written; it could be used for performance. Beethoven added fingerings to the piano part for ease of playing. No other Beethoven manuscript contains such extensive fingerings. The encouragement seems to have paid off. Nine years later Beethoven dedicated his Piano Sonata op. 109 to the adult Maximiliane Brentano.

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Travel desk

In the last weeks of Beethoven's life this travel desk was placed right next to his bed. Three days before he died he wrote his forth and last will at the desk. Beethoven probably kept his letter to the "Immortal Beloved" in the open compartment shown here.

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String quartet instruments

Beethoven was given these four valuable stringed instruments around 1800 by his friend and patron Prince Lichnowsky, possibly in connection with the creation of the String Quartets op. 18, Beethoven's first works for this classical Viennese genre. As one of the composer's first Viennese patrons, Prince Lichnowsky gave him an annual stipend of 600 gulden. The composer was to be given access to this until he was able to find an appropriate position. The instruments are marked with a big "B" and Beethoven's signet on the back.

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Letter to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, 29 June 1801

Beethoven confided in Franz Gerhard Wegeler, a doctor and his boyhood friend, that his hearing had become worse over the last three years. In the theatre he was now forced to move close to the orchestra so as to be able to hear the actors. He was no longer able to distinguish the higher notes of instruments and singers from a distance. When people spoke softly he could hear the sound but was no longer able to distinguish the words. Shouting caused him pain. His ears were filled with whistling and buzzing day and night. Even worse than the physical side-effects seemed to be those on his personality. He felt deeply humiliated. That such a disaster should befall him, a composer at the height of his creativity!

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Hearing devices

Beethoven had been increasingly battling hearing difficulties since he was thirty. In 1813 he had Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, an inventor of mechanical devices, produce several ear trumpets. They did not, however, prove very useful. Yet for a long time he placed his hopes on "hearing machines".

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Beethoven's last grand piano

The pianoforte was built by the Viennese piano manufacturer Conrad Graf. Graf placed the instrument with quadruple stringing at Beethoven's disposal in January 1826. It originally had an additional sounding board to increase the sound. The piano was added to the Beethoven-Haus collection in 1889.

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Two locks of Beethoven's hair

Many people paid the composer a last honour, when he was laid out in state - they took a lock of his hair as a souvenir. Afterwards, Beethoven's head was completely bald. Many of these locks of hair ended up in the Beethoven-Haus. Two of the locks are on display together with a certificate of authentication from the Viennese art expert Anton Gräffer, who later undertook the auction of Beethoven's music.

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Death mask

Beethoven died during the afternoon of 26 March 1827 in his Viennese lodgings in the "Schwarzspanierhaus". The next morning the painter Josef Danhauser was asked to take a death mask of the composer.

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