Maria Madalena van Beethoven
Maria Magdalena van Beethoven (1746-87) Beethoven’s mother.
Maria Magdalena Keverich was the daughter of Heinrich Keverich, chief overseer of the kitchen at the palace of the Elector of Trèves at Ehrenbreitstein. It is this, no doubt, that led her future father-in-law to denigrate her as a chambermaid. In fact her family were well-to-do, including a number of wealthy merchants, court councillors and senators.
Maria married a certain Johann Laym, valet to the Elector of Trèves, in 1763 when she was sixteen. She bore him one son who died in infancy. In November 1765 her husband died. Thus, by the age of 18, Maria was already a widow and mother – which certainly counted against her when Johann van Be e thove n introduced her to his father, the Kapellmeister.
According to the Beethoven’s neighbour, Gottfried Fischer, the Keverich family – although they too were opposed to the marriage – would have given Maria a good wedding celebration in Ehrenbreitstein. But Kape llme is te r Bee thove n refused to go there, insisting the marriage ceremony be done with quickly in Bonn.
Maria’s unhappiness was compounded by the death of her first child by Johann, Ludwig, at only six days. Three of a further six children survived to maturity, the eldest being LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN.
It was clear to Maria from soon after her marriage that her husband would fail to fulfil his musical ambitions, and as he descended into alcoholism she resigned herself to an unhappy marriage. To a friend she described marriage as ‘a chain of sorrows’.
She was a good mother. In 1784, when the Rhine flooded their house on the Rheingasse, she gathered up her three children and directed them to safety across the roofs of neighbouring houses. But she found Ludwig difficult and distant, unable to comprehend the genius that set him apart from her and his brothers.
Maria died at the age of 40 of consumption on 17 July 1787. Two months earlier Ludwig was in Vienna where he had met Mozart, who agreed to take him on as a pupil. But his father wrote to him to say he must return to Bonn immediately as his mother was gravely ill.
Ludwig wrote after her death that he returned from Vienna to find his mother ‘still alive but in the most deplorable state; her disease was consumption, and about seven weeks ago, after much pain and suffering, she died. She was such a kind, loving mother to me, and my best friend’.
Fischer described Maria Magdalena van Beethoven as a ‘handsome, slender person, rather tall, longish face, a nose somewhat bent, spare, earnest eyes’. Frau Fischer recalled that she had never seen Frau Beethoven laugh;
‘she was always serious’.