Music was the name of the game today in Time Travelers as we ventured back in time to meet Ludwig Van Beethoven! Not only did we learn all about this grumpy genius, but the children were treated to a special performance by me on my circa 1981 Casio Synthesizer. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the synthesizer still rocks, despite the fact that the “beat machine” function has long since gone the way of the Dodo. Fortunately, for me, Beethoven did not need a Samba beat to accompany his pieces, so we were all set.
First off, we took some time to learn all about Beethoven. The brief synopsis? Born in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven (like Mozart) was a bit of a child prodigy, performing in public at the age of 7. But mostly under the temperamental and, at times, mean-spirited eye of his father, Johann. By the time he was twelve, he was earning a living for his family by playing the organ and composing. He was eventually known as the greatest pianist of his time. Beethoven’s most famous works include Fur Elise and his 5th and 9th Symphonies. By the young age of 26, Beethoven began losing his hearing, eventually going completely deaf. This did not stop Beethoven from composing and playing, however, and he wrote some of his most beautiful pieces without ever hearing them himself.
Some of my favorite fun facts about Beethoven include:
- One of Beethoven’s favorite foods was macaroni and cheese
- Beethoven loved to drink strong coffee and always used exactly 60 coffee beans for his brew.
- One of the most heartbreaking stories about Beethoven is that, at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the applause from the audience. When he turned, and heard nothing, he wept.
- Beethoven was prolific, and in his lifetime he wrote a total of 9 symphonies, 7 concertos, 17 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, and 10 sonatas for violin and piano.
- Beethoven was known for being a bit, shall we say, grumpy. If, during a performance, anyone in the audience began talking, Beethoven would stop playing his instrument and glare at the offending people.
- Another example of his grumpiness? He once threw a plate of food at a waiter when he didn’t like the service.
- Beethoven owned five legless pianos and composed great works on the floor so he could feel the vibrations as he played and composed.
Speaking of legless pianos, I then read a fabulous book to the kids entitled The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven by Helen Bauer (look for it at your local library!) and we then took a minute to listen to some of Beethoven’s most famous works – Fur Elise and excerpts from his 9th Symphony.
Fully inspired by this musical master, the children were then given blank sheet music on which to compose their own pieces. I went through a quick lesson of musical terminology (treble and bass clef, forte versus piano, allergro versus andante) and the children were off and running! Once finished, they had to name their pieces, assign tempo and dynamics and then I, the maestro, played their pieces on the always-chic synthesizer, making sure to use the harpsichord setting for added ambience. The results were truly amazing – and the kids’ eyes just lit up as I played their pieces.
Here’s one student’s ode to their favorite (cute) dog:
And another, channeling their inner Beethoven in an opus titled “People Stink”:
What you can do at home!
- There are many fantastic children’s book about Beethoven. Two of my favorites are Beethoven for Kids: His Life and Music with 21 Activities by Helen Bauer and Jonah Winter’s The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven.
- Listen to other examples of Beethoven’s works! Find music online, borrow a CD from your local library or, if you have an instrument at home, try to work out a few notes from your favorite piece!