Did you know that Ludwig van Beethoven's roots lie in Mechelen?

14/07/2017

The composer Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in Germany and spent much of his life in Vienna. Even so, his surname features the Dutch word ‘van’ as opposed to the German version ‘von’. This is thanks to Ludwig's ancestors. They came from Mechelen.

Ludwig inherited his musical talents from his grandfather, Lodewijk van Beethoven (1712-1773). As a young boy, this baker's son had a lovely voice and sang in the chorister school Het Koralen Huis linked to Mechelen's Saint Rumbold's Cathedral. He later received private tuition on the church organ. In 1732, after a short stop in Leuven, Lodewijk ended up in Liège, where he was appointed as a singer at Saint Lambert's Cathedral. One year later he headed off to Bonn in Germany, where his grandson Ludwig was to be born in 1770.

The name Beethoven probably refers to the small village of Bettenhoven (Bettincourt) in Hesbaye, which now belongs to the borough of Waremme in the province of Liège. In the late 15th century, a certain Jan van Bettehoven (circa 1485-1571), could already be found living in Kampenhout, near Mechelen. This was Ludwig's great-grandfather, seven generations back. And, in 1595, a certain Josyne van Beethoven, who was also from Kampenhout, ended up burning at the stake at the Grand Place in Brussels, on suspicion of witchcraft.

Mechelen continues to remember the van Beethovens. On the Haverwerf by the River Dijle, there is a statue of both Lodewijk and Ludwig as a young boy. And the street where Lodewijk lived is now called the Van Beethovenstraat. One of the bridges that crosses the Dijle is also named after van Beethoven. The district of Kampenhout also keeps up the tradition and has installed a bust of Ludwig.

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