Was Beethoven black?

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The question of Beethoven's ethnicity began with the Nazis, who wanted to be certain the composer's music was "the essence of Germanic and Aryan strength." They did extensive research into birth records and found him "pure." However, modern writers have made the claim that Beethoven was, in fact, Mulatto, and many books have been written on the subject.

To begin the question of Beethoven's ethnicity, we must look at his parents and grandparents. Proponents of the "Beethoven was Black" concept point out that the composer was Flemish, and Flanders had been occupied by Spain for 200 years. It's true that Spain was home to a number of Moors (people, usually Muslims, of North African descent), but it does not mean everyone under the Spanish flag was Moorish. Beethoven's ancestry is well-documented. His father Johann was half Flemish, half German. His mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich, was the daughter of Heinrich Keverich, chief overseer of the kitchen at the palace of the Elector of Treves at Ehrenbreitstein, in Germany. Beethoven was only 1/4 Flemish. The rest of his family, including his mother, from whom proponents claim his African ancestry originated, were German and of well-to-do stock. The Flemish connection only means there is a possibility of Spanish and/or Moorish influence. A small chance. Less than a quarter.

There is the argument of Beethoven's features. His teacher, Haydn, was famously called a "blackamoor," yet portraits show he had only a red tinge to his pockmarked cheeks. Alexander W. Thayer, one of the foremost authorities on Beethoven says, "Beethoven had even more of the Moor in his features than his master, 'Haydn.'"

Beethoven's contemporaries described him as having "thick, bristly coal-black hair," a "flat, thick nose," large mouth, and what is described as alternately "ruddy" or "swarthy" complexion. In the middle of Teutonic Germany and Austria, where the average citizen had light skin, blue eyes, and blond hair, he must have made a striking, memorable presence. But what constitutes "swarthy" amongst such a population might not be what modern people consider "negroid." It just meant he was darker than the pale-skinned Germans. A Californian with a tan would have been classified as "swarthy."

It's obvious from the documented ancestry and many paintings that Beethoven was not "out of Africa," but there are some who claim his mother's family was from the Caribbean, where black slaves and Natives worked in the oversea trades. However, there is absolutely no evidence toward this claim, let alone a blood connection to African slaves. Although there is some credence to the argument that portraits were idealized, ancestral documents could have been faked, and the African and Arabic presence in Europe was suppressed by the Inquisition, a lack of undeniable evidence does not immediately prove the opposite.

The question was brought to modern science, but recent DNA evidence was inconclusive. For more information, please refer to the related link from the Washington Post.

The research team also said that future DNA analysis might answer lingering questions about Beethoven's ethnicity. As a young man, the dark-complexioned Beethoven sometimes was called "the Moor," and some historians have questioned whether he had African blood. Walsh said his analysis of the hair strands showed "no wrinkles or bends" typical among people of African descent, but that more tests may be conducted.

All that can be concluded about the matter of Beethoven's ethnicity is that the master of music was indeed "exotic" in looks. He might have been darker than his contemporaries, but calling Beethoven "Black" would be extremely misleading. In that day, even most people claiming to be "Moors" had lived in Europe for hundreds of years and only had darker hair to prove their ancestry. If you can call a person numerous generations removed from an African ancestor "Black," then maybe--maybe--Beethoven was Black. Just as a person whose family has lived in America for 500 years, but had an ancestor who sailed over as an African slave on a Dutch frigate, might call themselves Black.
There is an obvious bias to the contributors perspective on the ethnicity and Racial origins of Beethoven. One need only look at representations of Jesus Christ (blonde and blue eyed) and then read the Bible's description in Revelations describe him as having: hair like "white wool", feet that of "burnished bronze". St.Martin de Porres who lived in the 1500s was Black but today his likeness is often depicted with straight hair and white skin. Many things to consider when we speak about the perception and negation of our Race and identity.

Despite who his ancestors were, one only has to listen to the symphonies and concertos, music the deaf composer probably never heard except in his own mind, to know that he was a genius who, to this day, transcends time, age, gender, and ethnicity. Listen, don't look. Music is colorblind.

Music is an instrument but people are not nor are they color blind. Rather they are often biased towards anyone challenging socially accepted standards and Race is one factor that upholds certain privileged groups over others.
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