The Composer Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven (German, 1770-1827) was not only a virtuoso pianist and classical composer but he developed the music of the classical era to its highest level. In addition, he was the one who started the transition into the era of romanticism. He is one of the giants of classical music, and one of the most famous and influential of all composers. Among other works, he composed 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets.
Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor: Beethoven was in his thirties and already troubled with deafness. His Fifths is groundbreaking in terms of... more
The Childhood and Youth of Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was born as second child, but out of the 7 children of Johann and Maria Magdalena Beethoven, only Ludwig and two younger brothers survived infancy. His father Johann was tenor singer at the electoral court orchestra in Bonn and music teacher. He noticed the extraordinary talent of Ludwig van Beethoven early and organized his colleagues from the court orchestra to complement his music education for his son.
At the age of 7, Ludwig van Beethoven gave his first piano performance. At the age of 12, he became deputy of the court organist and at the age of 14, he became permanently employed as organist. One of his teachers at that time said that he will become another Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he continues like he started. Indeed, the electoral prince of Bonn supported a journey of Beethoven to Vienna to study with Mozart (1756-1791) for 3 months beginning of 1787 but is has been unclear, if the two ever met. In July of the same year, his mother died and his father started losing control over his alcohol consume. Ludwig van Beethoven continued working at the electoral court orchestra in Bonn and officially became head of the family in 1789 at the age of 19.
During a visit of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) at the court of Bonn in 1792, a second study tour for Beethoven to Vienna was agreed on although Mozart had already died. Since his father died by the end of the same year just after Beethoven had left and France invaded Germany by 1794 and put the electoral court to flight, Ludwig van Beethoven did not return to Bonn but permanently remained in Vienna, Austria. For two years, he studied with Haydn but there were conflicts between him and the famous, 60 year old composer due to Beethoven being very unconventional and self-confident.
The prince Karl Lichnowsky admired Beethoven’s talent and supported him financially so that Beethoven could develop his musical talent independently.
Beethoven seriously started composing at the age of 24 in Vienna in 1794. In the following years, he composed many string quartets and most of his 32 piano sonatas including his Pathetique Sonata Op. 13 and Op. 27 that includes the Moonlight Sonata, a name that was not from Beethoven.
By 1798, at the age of 28, he noticed first signs of his hearing defect. Nonetheless, he was able to compose 6 of his 9 symphonies between 1802 and 1812, including his most famous symphonies no. 3, 5 and 6, the two piano concertos no. 4 and 5, his only violin concerto and his only opera Fidelio. It was his most productive time where his style was most unmistakably developed already.
He was influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution and had a huge success in 1815 with his composition Wellington’s Sieg Op. 91 that featured the victory of England over Napoleon Bonaparte.
Starting 1813, he was using ear trumpet and in 1818 he already needed to communicate by writing and was depressed by his deteriorating hearing.
However, Beethoven still managed to compose until his death in 1827 quite some works including piano concerts and string quartets and wrote one of his most famous symphonies, his No. 9 and last Symphony Op. 125 in 1824.
During the first period, his compositions followed the style of Mozart and Haydn. Soon, he introduced new ideas. For example he developed the Minuet to a vivid Scherzo and he made the Finale that used to be a vivid ending to the culmination of the whole work that often surpasses the power of the first movement. Beethoven also started the development to express a specific state of mind throughout the whole work which he also reflected in the title of his work. This made the different parts of his works emotionally strongly related to one another and with this he paved the way to romanticism. His influence on subsequent generations of composers was profound.