Ludwig von Beethoven (1770 – 1827) is one of the most widely respected composers of classical music. He played a crucial role in the transition form classical to romantic music.
“Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy”
Beethoven was born 16 December 1770 in Bonn (now part of Germany) From an early age, Beethoven was introduced to music. His first teacher was his father who was also very strict. Beethoven was frequently beaten for failure to practise correctly. Once his mother protested at his father’s violent beatings, but she was beaten too. It is said, Beethoven resolved to become a great pianist so his mother would never be beaten.
Beethoven’s talent as a piano virtuoso were recognised by Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein. He sponsored the young Beethoven and this enabled him to travel to Vienna, where Mozart resided. It was hoped Beethoven would be able to learn under the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but it is not clear whether the two ever met. Mozart was to die shortly, but Beethoven was able to spend time with the great composed Joseph Haydn, who taught him many things.
Rather than working for the church, Beethoven relied on private donations from various benefactors. However, whilst many loved his music, they were often not forthcoming with donations and Beethoven sometimes struggled to raise enough finance. His situation was made more difficult by his mothers early death and his fathers descent into alcoholism; this led to Beethoven being responsible for his two brothers.
Beethoven was widely regarded as a great musician, though his habits were unconventional for the social circles which he moved in. He was untidy, clumsy and (by all accounts) ugly. All attempts to make Beethoven behave ended in failure. On one occasion, Beethoven pushed his way up to the Archduke saying it was impossible for him to follow the many rules of social behaviour. The Archduke smiled and said – ‘we will have to accept Beethoven as he is.’ Beethoven himself had great faith in his own capacities, referring to the princes at court.
“There are and always will be thousands of princes, but there is only one Beethoven!”
Beethoven’s music was also unconventional, he explored new ideas and left behind the old conventions on style and form. His freer and explorative musical ideas caused estrangement with his more classical teachers like Haydn and Salieri.
As a great tragedy for any musician, from his early 20s, Beethoven experienced a slow deterioration in his hearing, which eventually left him completely deaf.
Beethoven once said:
“Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.”
Yet, despite his deafness and the frustration this caused him, Beethoven was still able to compose music of the highest quality. He was still able to inwardly hear the most sublime music.
Beethoven was a supporter of the Romantic movement sweeping Europe. He was going to dedicate a great symphony to Napoléon, whom Beethoven believed was going to defend the ideals of the French Republic. However, when Napoléon’s imperial ambitions were made known, Beethoven scratched out his name so powerfully, he tore a hole in the paper.
Some of Beethoven’s most memorable musical gifts include:
- For piano: Sonata in C sharp minor, op. 27, nr. 2 “The Moonlight Sonata”
- For piano: Sonata in C minor, op. 13, “Pathetique”
- Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”; in E flat major (Op. 55)
- Symphony No. 5 in C minor
- Symphony No. 9 in D minor, including well known “Ode to Joy”.
- Missa Solemnis D Major, Op. 123
- Piano Concerto no. 5 “Emperor” in E flat major op. 73
Beethoven died on March 26th, 1827. The precise cause of death is uncertain, but, the accumulation of lead poisoning is believed to have played a role. Over 10,000 people are said to have lined the streets for his funeral. Though Beethoven had a difficult temperament, and although his music was sometimes too visionary for the general public, Beethoven was appreciated for his unique contribution to music.
Beethoven’s Famous Works
Greatest Hits Beethoven
Beethoven: The Man Revealed
Famous Classical Composers – A list of famous and influential composers throughout history, including the greatest composers, such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.