This is the first in what I hope is a continuing series of Interesting Things I Forgot To Post – trips and stops and things that happened this year that I thought, “I should post about this,” but never seemed to get to.
This past summer, the weekend we went up to San Jose and Santa Cruz for Cori’s wedding was also fairly close to my birthday and The Beloved had scheduled a special treat for me: a visit to the Ira Brilliant Center For Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University.
If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that me and Louie (as he was often called during his life) go way back and so a chance to get to visit the university’s Special Collection was a real treat. They had several original manuscripts and scores (messy, clearly Beethoven needed Finale), instruments of the period including pianos and other keyboards from the 1820s (maybe I need a clavichord or harpsichord?), and a whole bunch of paraphernalia from his life and era.
I have to admit that I was a little too intimidated to play the instruments when the docent offered them to me. Swing and a miss by me, in retrospect. The Center also had a display that contained – and I’m not making this up – a lock of Beethoven’s hair. Yes, eww. But apparently, that was a thing back before you know, you could take a picture. Actually, there was a Beethoven death mask there, too, ensuring the hair wasn’t lonely in its creepiness.
The cool thing about the hair though was that a few years ago it was tested for lead levels (lead gets incorporated into hair readily as it grows and provided a lead-based timeline on the composer’s last weeks) and matched to visits by his physician. Apparently, his doctor was unwittingly poisoning him with his “medicine” — so that was a very cool intersection of history and modern analytical chemistry techniques.
If you are a Beethoven or Classical music aficionado and find yourself around the San Jose region, I highly recommend arranging a few hours to poke and plink around the Center.