Memes About Beethoven Being Black Are Taking Over The Internet, But Where Did The Theory Start?
"That Für Elise and Moonlight Sonata really hittin' hard right now, not gonna lie."
If you hop onto Twitter today, you’ll find countless videos of people dancing to classic Beethoven tracks — but why?
The theory that 18th century German pianist and composer Ludwig van Beethoven was black has been a long running myth. The theory again resurfaced this week after Twitter user @sshandinx shared a screenshot from an article that claimed that Beethoven was black.
BEETHOVEN WAS BLACK?? The plot thickens pic.twitter.com/qQMRiJhfI1
— shan 🪐 (@sshandinx) June 18, 2020
Where Did The Theory Come From?
The screenshot shared to Twitter actually comes from a 2015 Limelight article that refutes the claims that Beethoven was black.
Opening their article with the false claims of other sites, Limelight breaks down how the ‘Beethoven was black’ theory was based on pure speculation. However, there is one popular source that people are using to support the theory: a 2015 blog post by The Concordian, a student-run newspaper in Canada.
The article aptly titled ‘Beethoven may have been black’ suggests that the composer’s legacy was whitewashed and that he was “very likely a black man”. The argument is based on the idea that Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich, was of Moorish descent as she was born in the Flemish region of Northern Europe, an “area that was under direct control of the Moors”.
The origin of the word Moor comes from the Greek word “mavro” which directly translates to “black”. However, in history, the term Moor was more directly used to describe North African muslims of mixed Arab, Spanish and Amazigh descent.
To support the idea that Beethoven was indeed a black man, The Concordian uses the lack of photography during the 1700s as further proof. While portraits of Beethoven exist online, the site claims that because each painting is different, the depictions are not reliable.
Despite these portraits not being exactly the same, they do all feature very similar traits of a white man with brown-grey scruffy hair and a scowl on his face. However, The Concordian notes that there are a number of physical descriptions of Beethoven from “various credible sources” that are the opposite of how the composer has been depicted.
— Alyssa (@howtopless) June 16, 2020
Jamaican historian Joel Augustus Rogers, for example, popularised the theory in his 1934 book 100 Amazing Facts About The Negro With Complete Proof: A Short Cut to the World History of the Negro.
In his book, Rogers writes about German anthropologists referring to Beethoven having “dark skin” and a “flat, thick nose”. In the same book, Rogers talks about Frau Fischer, an alleged “intimate acquaintance of Beethoven” describing the composer as “short, stocky, broad shoulders, short neck, round nose, [and with a] blackish-brown complexion”.
The website Black History also writes that “some sources claim” that Beethoven was even “forced and/or pressured to wear white powder on his face to hide his ethnic origin when out in public”.
However the San José State University’s Beethoven Centre refutes the theory along with musicologists and historians as these conclusions focus on Beethoven’s possible loose Flemish and Moor connections above genealogical studies.
“This theory, however, is not based on genealogical studies of Beethoven’s past, which are available to the public. Rather, it is based on the assumption that one of Beethoven’s ancestors had a child out of wedlock,” the site writes. “It is important to note that no one called Beethoven black or a Moor during his lifetime.”
But with most things, facts and reasoning could not stop Twitter from having a field day with the mere possibility that Ludwig van Beethoven could be black.
Beethoven was black?? Lmfao y’all aint gonna hear the last of this from me
— Alyssa (@howtopless) June 16, 2020
And in just 24 hours, Twitter was flooded with memes celebrating Ludwig van Beethoven, the black 18th century composer and 21st century icon. Here are all the best ones:
Beethoven was black? pic.twitter.com/EG5HoV1uqr
— A Girl Has No Name (@_cherieldn) June 18, 2020
That für elise and moonlight sonata really hittin hard right now ngl
— HaziGirl (@hazigirl22) June 18, 2020
Mood when you learn that Beethoven was black pic.twitter.com/zrYY3NOKgs
— 🌹JNTX🌹 (@EYSP9377) June 18, 2020
big piano has tried for years to erase the blackness of our brother Beethoven or b. Hovin as we call him in the hood
— Desus Nice (@desusnice) June 18, 2020
girl yeah pic.twitter.com/8axWgYMhQK
— 𝕚 𝕤𝕨𝕖𝕒𝕣 𝕚 𝕕𝕠𝕟’𝕥 𝕘𝕚𝕧𝕖 𝕒 𝕤𝕙𝕚𝕥 ♥ (@ilydaija) June 18, 2020
so which one of us is related to beethoven
— jay (@JAYVERSACE) June 18, 2020
beethoven and zaytoven: pic.twitter.com/GcvGEj4KBZ
— eli (@supahotfire86) June 18, 2020
— Fatima (@fatima_rreyes) June 18, 2020
Beethoven in the 1800s: pic.twitter.com/iXKQN0UEQE
— 🐣 (@JuiceKing5x) June 18, 2020
Me listening to Beethoven after finding out he’s black pic.twitter.com/6kv4FR4rSi
— 👼🏾 (@ariieevanity) June 18, 2020
While there is no solid proof that Beethoven was black or not thanks to a lack of photography, there are some iconic black composers who you can listen to like Joseph Bologne, Francis ‘Frank’ Johnson and George Bridgetower.
I get this "Beethoven was black" idea is generally non-serious banter, but why waste all that effort to promote a silly conspiracy when you could instead be celebrating *ACTUAL* black contemporary composers like Saint-Georges, Johnson or Bridgetower who were phenomenal musicians? pic.twitter.com/oxUellCBjB
— Mr. Singh (@Chindiazindabad) June 18, 2020