Your July 17 edition of "Nonfiction in Brief" contained a review of Maynard Solomon's "Beethoven Essays" by Sonja Bolle. In it, the following statement was made: ". . . and his pretentions to nobility (the 'Von' was not his by birthright)."
Beethoven's name was not Von Beethoven but Ludwig van Beethoven and certainly his birthright! The family was of Dutch origin and retained their Dutch name after settling in Germany. The Dutch "van" has nothing to do with nobility--it merely means "from." Beethoven means "beet farm." The name tells us that this great composer was the descendant of Dutch beet farmers.
Beethoven was a proud, independent man, a democrat, who never considered the nobility or royalty superior species. He demonstrated this many times, as when tearing up the dedication of his third symphony after Napoleon crowned himself emperor. (Beethoven admired Napoleon only when he thought him to be a revolutionary.)