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Counterpunch

Thanks to Filmmakers, Composer's Life Still a Mystery : Beethoven's Racial Ties Misrepresented Again

February 13, 1995|KWAKU PERSON-LYNN | Kwaku Person-Lynn, Ph.D, is on the faculty at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Africana Studies. and

In an age where history is seriously being rewritten, we are still inundated with false characterizations of significant historical figures. Today, we have a movie, "Immortal Beloved," that is a depiction of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, considered the greatest European classical composer ever. Again, the world is being fed false information regarding the cultural character of this great man. Let's get straight to the point, Beethoven was a black man. To be more specific, his mother was a Moor, that group of Muslim Africans who conquered parts of Europe--they made Spain their capital--for some 800 years.

Of course, readers will look at this and think I have really blown a tube in my head, but this is based on years of research. As I tell my students, "Do not believe anything I tell you unless you investigate and verify for yourself."

Let's look at what some of Beethoven's contemporaries and biographers say about his appearance, and they are all white Europeans. Frau Fisher, a close friend of Beethoven, described his "blackish-brown complexion." Frederick Hertz, German anthropologist, used these terms to describe him: "Negroid traits, dark skin, flat, thick nose."

Emil Ludwig, in his book "Beethoven," says: "His face reveals no trace of the German. He was so dark that people dubbed him Spagnol (dark-skinned)." Fanny Giannatasio del Rio, in her book "An Unrequited Love: An Episode in the Life of Beethoven," wrote, "His somewhat flat broad nose and rather wide mouth, his small piercing eyes and swarthy (black) complexion, pockmarked into the bargain, gave him a strong resemblance to a mulatto." C. Czerny stated, "His beard--he had not shaved for several days--made the lower part of his already brown face still darker."

Short descriptions of Beethoven, from various sources, are as follows: Grillparzer, "dark"; Bettina von Armin, "brown"; Schindler, "red and brown"; Rellstab, "brownish"; Gelinek, "short, dark."

Newsweek, in its Sept. 23, 1991, issue, stated, "Afrocentrism ranges over the whole panorama of human history, coloring in the faces: from Australopithecus to the inventors of mathematics to the great Negro composer Beethoven."

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Of course, in the world of scholarship, there are those who take an opposite view. In the book "The Changing Image of Beethoven" by Alessandra Comini, an array of arguments are presented. Donald W. MacArdle, in a 1949 Musical Quarterly article, came to the conclusion that there were "no Spanish, no Belgian, no Dutch, no African" in Beethoven's genealogy. Dominque-Rene de Lerma, a great musical bibliologist, came to the same conclusion.

Through personal research, I am convinced of Beethoven's "dark skin" and Moorish ancestry.

What all this comes down to: We have all been tricked. It is no secret that scholars, writers, critics and Hollywood have changed history for their own biased purposes. But people of color now have an army of sophisticated scholars to combat false information that has been accepted as normal.

It is hoped that the revealing of this argument will motivate others to critically look at all information flowing in our brains for authenticity. Hollywood is notorious for changing facts. I am not saying to hate Hollywood, but we do have to hold it accountable for disseminating false information, especially when it changes the course of history by which our children are influenced.

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