Museum Monday: Beethoven’s Birthplace

Has anyone else been outraged by the clips on WNYC when they ask people on the street “Who is Beethoven?” followed by soundbites of multiple people saying “a dog!” (see here for WQXR’s Beethoven Awareness Month program)

Last week’s work took me to Bonn, Germany. The city still has an old feel, receiving less bomb damage than many of its counterparts. The rule here is to be a slightly lesser city right next door to two cities of greater importance.

Beethoven's Birthplace, Bonn, Germany. RL Fifield 2012.

Beethoven’s Birthplace, Bonn, Germany. RL Fifield 2012.

One of Bonn’s survivors is Beethoven’s birthplace, a worthwhile visit for those enamored with the composer and music. It’s a rather reasonable admission at 5€, so I didn’t try for my professional discount (it’s a perk of being a museum professional – my badge gets me free admission almost everywhere). I received a brochure in English, and then was left to my own devices. The desk attendant told me to stow my bag, but forgot to mention that I was free to explore the property. I attached myself to a German language tour, until I found a docent who indicated that I could walk around by myself. Alas, no photos allowed.

On first inspection, the house appears to be in good condition. The ground and second (first floor in Europe) floors are open for viewing. I would have enjoyed more historic house settings. Instead, the building is used as gallery space. Notable objects include Beethoven’s viola, ear trumpets, and pianos. One is Broadwood grand of the same era, but the other is Beethoven’s and they are placed snugly facing each other, as Beethoven had them arranged in his last residence. I learned that Beethoven started to go deaf as early as age 30, and considered all the music he created after that time. I also considered what a disaster I was in my college Music Theory class.

The English language materials glossed over a lot of history. Alas, my German is nearly non-existant. I thought that hanging with the German language tour might be fun – it wasn’t. I just became frustrated. On the ground floor, concerts on period instruments take place – that I would have enjoyed. I found myself wishing that the recorded music playing in that space was from those instruments, rather than from a modern piano.

A Japanese tour group pushed into a small room in which I was viewing the objects. Several of the ladies were startled when I said “sumimasen” in an effort to extricate myself from their group!

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.