Thursday, December 17, 2015

I thought I'd unearth one of my Beethoven drawings in celebration of his birthday this month. Here he is surrounded by his acolytes, one musical ancestor, and at least one rebellious composer-baby (Chopin) who was probably more influenced by Beethoven than he cared to admit! 

Random classical music radio fact: Occasionally a stickler for accuracy in the listening audience has corrected my pronunciation of the composer's last name. "It's not VON Beethoven, dear, it's VAN Beethoven."
This is accurate enough -- Beethoven's surname was Dutch (or maybe Flemish, as some maintain), but early on some of his patrons started using the "von" prefix and Beethoven never bothered to correct them. A few people get exercised about this, even today. I suppose it's possible Beethoven might have been trying to claim a certain social status  by letting people pronounce his name as if it were von Beethoven (the German prefix "von" implies aristocracy, while the Dutch prefix "van" indicates a more neutral connection to one's forebears' geographical origins). He depended on patrons, and letting the mistake persist certainly couldn't have hurt his professional prospects, but the jury's still out.
To the listening audience, it's difficult to distinguish which version of his name you're using, anyway. They both sound like VAHN. To say van Beethoven and to pronounce it like Van Morrison, is worse than saying von Beethoven -- at least to me.

Anyone who needs to say Beethoven's name on the air would do well to follow conductor Gerard Schwarz'  advice: "Just call him Beethoven."
If you do use the prefix, though, pronouncing it with an initial "F" sound rather than a "V" sound, like FAHN, gives the accuracy sticklers one less stick to beat you with.
Anyway, it's Beethoven's music that really matters!