Friday, 15 June 2018


Beethoven, often coined "the Spaniard" by his peers (meant
as a pejorative) due to the darkness of his complexion,
inherited his pigment from a line of Spanish ancestors, new
book alleges in chapter dedicated to Ludwig and maternal
María Josefa Poll
SPAIN - A new book on Spanish musicians aims to seek out the possible motivating factors behind the setting of 18th/19th century classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1805 opera Fidelio, set in Seville – a theory which begins and ends with one María Josefa Poll, the musicians maternal grandmother, said to be of Latin descent.

According to musicologist Andrés Ruiz Tarazona, author of the new compilation España en los grandes músicos, Poll descended from either south of the Pyrenees or was descended from a “Spanish family who undertook the journey north during the War of Spanish Succession.”

It’s a controversial statement among leading Beethoven scholars, who until now, have not given the subject much credence – citing lack of surviving historical data and much speculation. 

Tarazona draws his conclusion based on the findings of American music scholars David Jacobs and professor at Harvard, Elliot Forbes, who had concluded that Poll had originated from eastern Spain – those findings, Tarazona states, will be given special precedence in a chapter devoted to Ludwig.

Of what little evidence survives of Poll, incidentally, also comes from the research backed by Forbes: in the critically acclaimed three-volume Thayer’s Life of Beethoven (Alexander Wheelock, 1866-1879), later revised and edited by the Professor in 1991, there can be found one mention of María Josefa, in a church registry.

According to the register of the parish of St. Regimus at Bonn, Germany, Poll, then aged 19, wed Beethoven’s grandfather of the same name, aged 20, on 7 September 1733.[1] No record of ancestry is present in the surviving documents, however there is a record of baptism that would follow shortly after – consecrating the birth from the union of one Maria Bernadina Ludovica, Ludwig’s late aunt, Christened on 28th of August, 1734. (Bernadina would survive for only a year, expiring in infancy on 17 October 1735. Her Baptismal Sponsors, Maria Bernadina Mengal and Michael van Beethoven likely contributed to the child’s Latinised Christian name.)

Of the broad bibliographical works on Beethoven, from Thayer to 21st century biographer and music historian Jan Swafford, there is only one other incidence in which Poll is given any veritable mention – in the latter’s 2014 Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, now considered a standard. Her origins are not mentioned.

Ludwig van Beethoven - the composers' grandfather who
shared the same name, wed
María Josefa Poll at Bonn in
1733. The elder Beethoven was himself a musician,
serving as bass singer and later Kapellmeister of the
Kölner Kammerchor.
In España en los grandes músicos, Tarazona continues to make his case, citing a perceivable “Spanish influence” in the life and works of the 19th century icon – specifically, in Beethoven’s decision to set his only opera, Fidelio (1805) in Seville.

The musicologist further posits that the decision to enroll Ludwig’s nephew Karl (of whom Beethoven had obtained custody following the premature death of his brother, Kaspar Karl, on Nov 15 1815) into a Viennese boarding School founded by Cayetano Anastasio del Río, a local aristocratic tutor, the following year was based almost solely on paying homage to Karl’s “Spanish roots.” The del Río family is believed to have offered Beethoven moral support during the contentious battle for custody of the young boy, and it is to their school, presently run by one Giannattasio del Río that a 9 year old Karl was immediately placed following Ludwig’s upsetting win over Johanna, the child’s biological mother, in 1816.

However, as surviving documents detail, Karl’s enrollment in the boarding school was to be short lived: he remained in the Viennese institution only until 24 January 1818 before becoming privately home schooled under a tutor appointed by Ludwig.

Later, Beethoven would seek out German schooling for Karl – first at the institute of Johann Baptist Kudlich[2] (where the boy would temporarily become a boarder), and, after a failed attempt at tutorship under Johann Michael Sailer,[3] a German Jesuit professor of theology and residing Bishop of Regensburg, Ludwig would have his nephew enrolled at the school of one Joseph Blöchlinger von Bannholz,[4] officially becoming a boarder there on 22 June 1819.

Wherever the truth may reside for the family Beethoven, España en los grandes músicos[5] should make for an interesting read.

Listen below to Jon Vickers perform the famous tenor aria "Gott! Welch' Dunkel hier" from Beethoven's Fidelio:

[1] Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, Wheelock pp. 45, 46
[2,3,4]Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary, By H. P. Clive, Professor of French Peter Clive, Oxford University Press, 2001 pp. 17, 18
[5] ISBN: 9788417308810
External links: 

- Rose.

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