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Learn about the German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, and his works & life.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Overview

  • Born: December 16, 1770 - Bonn, Germany
  • Died: March 26, 1827 - Vienna
  • Historical period: Classical
  • Compositional media: Orchestra, chamber music, keyboard, choral, opera

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    “Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of a woman.” - Beethoven

    Ludwig van Beethoven was an eminent composer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was born in Bonn, Germany in the year 1770. After a prolific career as a composer and with deteriorating health, the master passed away in the year 1827. He is considered to be a composer in the classical era. 

    Some of his most wonderful pieces were composed during the last decade of his life, even though he fought his whole adulthood battle against gradual hearing loss that led to complete deafness.

    Beethoven’s most famous works include:

    • Piano Sonata No. 15 (Pastoral) Movement I
    • Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathetique) Movement II
    • String Quartet No. 14 Movement I
    • Piano Sonata No. 31 Movement III
    • Symphony No. 9 Movement III

    To sum it up, the brilliant composer was responsible for the composition of:

    • 9 symphonies
    • 5 piano concertos
    • 1 violin concerto
    • 32 piano sonatas 
    • 16 string quartets 
    • Missa solemnis, a mass
    • Fidelio, an opera

    Ludwig van Beethoven: The Master of Symphony

    Historically, Beethoven is known and respected as one of the most talented and proficient composers. He is known to have started his musical career from a young age and even rumored to have taken lessons from Wolfgang Mozart.  

    Going deeper into Beethoven’s history, we come to know that his grandfather and namesake, Kapellmeister Ludwig van Beethoven was the most renowned and respected musician of Bonn. A child prodigy, the young Beethoven had his first performance in 1778, where his performance, though impressive, didn’t receive any major acclaim. 

    In the year of 1781, when he was 10 years old, Beethoven left school to learn music under the court organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe. It was then that the young boy was introduced to J.S. Bach, another musical genius. Eventually, when he was 12 years old, Beethoven’s first composition, which was piano variations using a theme by Dressler, an obscure composer, was published. 

    Upon the passing of Emperor Joseph II in 1790, Beethoven, then 19, composed a memorial piece in the honor of the late monarch, which was a great honor at that time. It was called Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, one of his earliest masterpieces. 

    Beethoven’s studies continued with Haydn for piano lessons, Antonio Salieri for vocal composition, and Johann Albrechtsberger for counterpoint. After the long wait, finally, his public performance happened in the year 1795 and was conducted in C major. Thereafter, he published 3 piano trios, known as Opus 1, and received huge critical and economical success. 

    April the 2nd, 1800, saw the master composer debut his Symphony No. 1 in C major in Vienna. It was at the Royal Imperial Theater. The Six String Quartets and The Creatures of Prometheus were published in 1801. When Napoleon became the Emperor in 1804, Beethoven composed Symphony No. 3 to honor. This was, however, renamed as the Eroica Symphony later. 

    The nearly lifelong struggle with health afflicted Beethoven greatly. He wrote about it in 1802 in what is now known as The Heiligenstadt Testament. 

    Symphonies No. 3 through No. 8, The Kreutzer Violin Sonata, Fidelio, and Moonlight Sonata are among his works which have been immortalized in the hall of universal fame. Though he never got married and he didn't have any child, Beethoven was known to have a romantic feeling towards a woman, Antonie Brentano. 

    It is noteworthy to mention about Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor, better known as Für Elise, was composed in the year 1810, as declared by Ludwig Nohl, who discovered it. Published in the year 1867, it could be a reference to Therese Malfatti, who turned down Beethoven’s love proposal to marry a nobleman. The version of Für Elise, that is popular today, is an earlier version provided by Ludwig Nohl. There is, however, a later version of it with major modifications transcribed by Barry Cooper. The major difference is, for example, evident in the first section, where each left-hand arpeggio doesn't start until the 2nd sixteen note beat of the measure instead of the 1st downbeat of the measure.

    Musicologist Rita Steblin believes that Beethoven dedicated Für Elise to the 13-year-old Elise Barensfeld, to whom he gave piano lessons as a favor to Therese Malfatti. 

    In the year 1824, The mass Missa Solemnis debuted and is widely accepted as one of his finest pieces, while the String Quartet No. 14 has 7 movements, which are performed without a stop. Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which was finished in 1824, is still his most famous and compelling achievement. It’s well-known choral section at the end, comprising of four vocal soloists and a chorus makes it the epitome of musical achievement and possibly the most well-known musical piece in history. 

    To sum it up, Ludwig van Beethoven has accomplished a great deal of work, despite illness and disabilities. The fact that his most revered pieces were written in the last years of his life when he was almost completely deaf, speaks a lot for his credibility and class. Mozart was a master of the art before him, but Beethoven achieved unparalleled fame over the 56 years of his troubled life, gifting the world with musical gems.

     

    References:

      

    The piano solo sheets of music of compositions by Beethoven available in multiple levels at Galaxy Music Notes