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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Letter to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, 16 November 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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CD Beethoven's piano (Op. 126, 1st movement)

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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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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Titel 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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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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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

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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CD Beethoven's string quartet