FAQ 68 - Was Beethoven Black?

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Dear Arnold,

I, too, studied classical music as a youth (classical piano for ten years). When I first heard that Beethoven was 'black,' I was very skeptical because it was in the context of "Everyone who was anyone was 'black'." That was in the late 1960's during the early stages of the 'black pride, Black is beautiful,'emergence, and it was presented almost as a joke. Since that time, I've had reason to reconsider, based in part on the following taken out of J.A. Roger's work, 100 AMAZING FACTS ABOUT THE NEGRO WITH COMPLETE PROOF, written in 1957.

The following is his proof:

Frederick Hertz, German anthropologist, in "Race and Civilization," refers twice to Beethoven's "Negroid traits" and his "dark" skin, and "flat, thick nose." (pp. 123 and 178).

Frau Fischer, an intimate acquaintance of Beethoven, describes him thus, "Short, stocky, broad shoulders, short neck, round nose, blackish-brown complexion." (From r. H. Schauffler, The Man Who Freed Music, Vol. I, p. 18, 1929).

In speaking of the immortal Haydn who was Beethoven's teacher, Andre de Hevesy, says: "Everybody knows the incident at Kismarton or Eisenstadt, the residence of Prince Esterhazy. In the middle of the first allegro of Haydn's symphony, His Highness asked the name of the author. He was brought forward. "'What!'exclaimed the prince, 'the music is by this blackamoor? 'Well, my fine blackamoor, henceforward, thou art in my service.'"

Carpani, who originally related this says that "Haydn's complexion gave room for the sarcasm." And that Haydn had the title of "second professor of music but his new comrades called him The Moor." (G. Carpani: Le Haydn, etc. Letter 5. Milan, 1812).

Referring to the above incident, Alexander W. Thayer, perhaps the foremost authority on Beethoven, says, "Beethoven had even more of the Moor in his features than his master, 'Haydn.'" (Beethoven, Vol. I, p. 146). By "Moor" was meant "Negro." Until recent times the German for "Negro" was "Mohr."

Paul Bekker, another very noted authority on Beethoven, says that "the most faithful picture of Beethoven's head" shows him with "wide, thick lipped mouth, short, thick nose, and proudly arched forehead." (Beethoven, p. 41, 1925. trans. Bozman). Thayer adds that Beethoven was an ugly little man, and no one would be more astonished than the great composer should he return and see how he has been idealized by sculptors and painters.

Beethoven's family originated in Belgium, which had been ruled for centuries by the Spaniards, who had large numbers of Negro soldiers in their army there. Theophile Gautier speaks of a Belgian type characterized by brown skin and dark hair "a second race which the soldiers of the Spanish Duke of Alva have sown between Brussels and Cambrai."

In short, the general description of Beethoven, even to his frizzly hair, fits that of many an Aframerican or West Indian mulatto. In the Southern States Beethoven would have been forced to ride in the jim-crow car.

See also: Rogers, J.A., "Sex and Race," Vol. I, pp. 288, 289,302 (1941) for other data on Beethoven's Negro strain, one of which is from the new York Times. Also p. 8 for portrait of Beethoven drawn from life by Hofel, which clearly shows the Negro strain. For more extended proof as well as a picture of Beethoven's life-mask see Sex and Race, Vol. 3, pp. 306-309.

Now, I will admit that there is nothing indicated here that Beethoven was a "mullatto," in it's strictest sense, which meant, literally, the offspring of a white woman and a black man (or vice-versa). And THAT hasn't been proven otherwise. "Mullatto" was often misused as meaning "light-skinned blacks." However, when one explores the accepted definition of "race" as it relates to black people, the U.S. definition seems to have been (and continues to be) that "If you have one drop of 'black' blood in your lineage, you're black.

I contend that, with all of the above evidence, one must conclude that Beethoven was AT LEAST of African descent. Perhaps not a 'mullatto (1/2 black,' 'quadroon (1/4 black),' or 'octaroon (1/8 black),' as the old terminology went. But, if he WASN'T black, then many people of African descent in the U.S. today would have to be excluded from being black as well, especially given Mr. Roger's accounts of Beethoven's descriptions.

Rather long-winded, but I felt it important to share with you the whole thing. I'll probably post this on the AFAM-L list as well. Your thoughts?

Byron L. Crudup 8/95