Fact or Fiction?

Stieler portrait in The Harmonicon's office

Stieler portrait in The Harmonicon’s office in My Interview with Beethoven

People have asked me, “Is it true that. . .?” and then they complete their question with a curiosity about Beethoven.

Here are some of the questions. More will follow when more readers respond. Watch for updates!

How much of this book is true about Beethoven?

At least 90 percent is true about Beethoven–his experiences, his life, his expressions, his illnesses and deafness, his relationships with others, even his coffee. Of course, his discourse with George Thompson is fictional, but is very much based on his personality and the changeable and volatile ways he typically expressed himself.

The letters in the book–from Prince Lichnowsky, Ludwig to Giulietta, Miss Becky to George and to the Immortal Beloved–where did you get those?

All letters in the book, with the exception of Beethoven’s three letters to his “immortal beloved” and his Heiligenstadt Testament, are fictional.

Is it true that Beethoven was accused of hating women?

Yes, it is true. However, Beethoven reserved his contempt for people, women especially, who showed themselves to not be the moral, “noble” woman Beethoven expected women to be. I believe that his mother, Maria Magdalena, a long-suffering wife and mother, groomed him (perhaps unintentionally) on how a proper, good woman should behave (she also influenced him in avoiding marriage, since her marriage made her miserable.) She was always honest, never cheated on her husband, sacrificed much for her family, and Fate thanked her with consumption, ending her life at age 40.

Beethoven admired many women, i.e., those who had remarkable musical talent and appreciated his music as art. And as noted in his biographies and this novel, his only opera, Fidelio, is a paean to the noble, faithful woman that is Leonore.

That disastrous Dec. 22, 1808 concert . . .Did those things really happen during Beethoven’s performance — him knocking over the candelabra,  smacking a child in the face, and the pianoforte collapsing onstage?

Yes and no. The first incident of him swiping the candles off the pianoforte during the concert actually did happen, according to observers who recorded their impressions. His hitting the child happened during rehearsals the month before. The collapsing instrument is fictional. However, it was known that Beethoven had played his instrument so aggressively that the strings did break.

Is George Thompson a real person who met Beethoven?

George is fictional, as are his parents, Phineas Poole, Miss Becky, Mr. Wilson, Gabrielle, Madame and several very minor characters. The rest are real (visit “Meet the Novel’s [Real] Characters” here).