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A Road Trip to Germany for Beethoven

While many of my peers that are studying abroad this semester are finally getting settled into their new environment and gearing up for classes, I have taken somewhat of a different route. I’ve already had my first round of finals and am on fall break as I write this in mid-September! Not to fear, though, my classes will be starting up again and won’t slow down for the rest of my time in Vienna, Austria.

For fall break, I have decided to take an academic break. By that I mean take a break from my normal classes and do some major research on Ludwig van Beethoven for a lecture/presentation that I am planning in conjunction with a junior piano recital for next semester under the guidance of my piano instructor, the unceasingly amazing Cheryl Everett (just as an FYI, Cheryl has held performances in Vienna. Appreciate that the next time you hear her play “Old Wabash”).

Although my official research began in Vienna, as Beethoven lived most of his life in the city, I would be remiss if I did not visit his hometown, Bonn, Germany while being abroad. It was about a 10-hour train ride, but worth every second of it. I have been able to visit numerous memorial sites dedicated to Beethoven. It worked out that I am in Bonn during Beethovenfest! Not quite like Germany’s other “fest”…Some people are very serious about the music of Beethoven, and others just kind of check it out. Unfortunately for me, however, the events being held during my time in Bonn had sold out before my arrival.

The first location I went to was the actual birth house of Beethoven. Dean Rater’s new office, if it were split into two levels with a small attic above it, would be very comparable to the size of the original Beethoven house. It was quite small for a family, but the Beethoven Society has made adjustments to the structure of the house and adjoining houses, combining them to make a nice sized museum. In the museum, I was able to see many original items from Beethoven’s era including instruments (pianos, violins, violas, cellos, flutes, clarinets, bassoons), documents (personal letters, official *original* scores of music, conversation books, announcements/advertisements), furniture (writing desks and busts) and other mementos such as a lock of Beethoven’s hair from right after he died, pictures (paintings) of his closest friends, and his infamous hearing devices due to his hearing loss.

At the completion of my tour of the house and museum, I spoke briefly with the faculty and once they found out the reason for my trip to Bonn, they invited me to visit their private library to share their resources on Beethoven with me. I ended up staying for a few hours just reading and jotting things down. It eventually came time to close and they invited me to come back for as long as I would be in Bonn.

I discovered on my second day of research the table I was working from is a table from the 18th century. It had belonged to one of Beethoven’s close musician friends (I unfortunately didn’t catch the name) and it is believed by the Beethoven Society that the “Quartet Table” was used numerous times by Beethoven and his friends for composing and playing music, as at each side of the table the setting could be converted into a music stand, perfect for string quartets.

I’m already excited about my presentation, but I am more looking forward to the continued research while I am abroad.