Ludwig Van Beethoven was 1 Of the 7 children born to Johann Beethoven, himself the only survivor of 3, only second-born Ludwig and 2 younger brothers survived infancy. Beethoven was baptised on 17 December 1770. Although his birth date is not known for certain, his family celebrated his birthday on 16 December.
Beethoven moved to Vienna in his early 20s and settled there, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. Beethoven’s hearing gradually deteriorated beginning in his 20s, yet he continued to compose masterpieces, and to conduct and perform, even after he was completely deaf. Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. Beethoven was a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, and remains one of the most respected and influential composers of all time.
Beethoven’s parents were Johann van Beethoven (1740 in Bonn–1792) and Maria Magdalena Keverich (1744 in Ehrenbreitstein–1787). Magdalena’s father Johann Heinrich Keverich had been Chef at the court of the Archbishopric of Trier at Festung Ehrenbreitstein fortress opposite to Koblenz. Beethoven was, like their first child Ludwig Maria, named after his grandfather Ludwig (1712–1773), a musician of Roman Catholic Flemish ancestry who was at one time Kapellmeister at the court of Clemens August of Bavaria, the Prince-Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, and who married Beethoven’s grandmother Maria Josepha Ball (1714–1775) in 1733.
Beethoven’s first music teacher was his father, who was a tenor in the service of the Electoral court at Bonn. Beethoven was reportedly a harsh instructor. Johann later engaged a friend, Tobias Pfeiffer, to preside over his son’s musical training, and it is said Johann and his friend would at times come home late from a night of drinking to pull young Beethoven out of bed to practice until morning. Beethoven’s talent was recognized at a very early age, and by 1778 he was studying the organ and viola in addition to the piano. Beethoven’s most important teacher in Bonn was Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was the Court’s Organist. Neefe helped Beethoven publish his first composition: a set of keyboard variations.
A portrait of the 13 year old Beethoven by an unknown Bonn master The young Beethoven’s talent was spotted in Bonn by Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein, who became one of his early patrons and, in 1787, enabled him to travel to Vienna for the first time, in hopes of studying with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is not clear whether he succeeded in meeting Mozart, or if he did whether Mozart was willing to accept him as a pupil; see Mozart and Beethoven. In any event, the declining health of Beethoven’s mother, dying of tuberculosis, forced him to return home after only about 2 weeks in Vienna. Beethoven’s mother died on 17 July 1787, when Beethoven was 16.
Due to his father’s worsening alcohol addiction, Beethoven became responsible for raising his 2 younger brothers.
In 1792, Beethoven moved to Vienna, where he studied for a time with Joseph Haydn: his hopes of studying with Mozart had been shattered by Mozart’s death the previous year. Beethoven received additional instruction from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (Vienna’s pre-eminent counterpoint instructor) and Antonio Salieri. By 1793, Beethoven established a reputation in Vienna as a piano virtuoso. Beethhoven’s first works with opus numbers, a set of 3 piano trios, appeared in 1795. Beethoven settled into the career pattern he would follow for the remainder of his life: rather than working for the church or a noble court (as most composers before him had done), he supported himself through a combination of annual stipends or single gifts from members of the aristocracy; income from subscription concerts, concerts, and lessons; and proceeds from sales of his works.
Beethoven’s patrons loved his music but were not quick to support him. Beethoven eventually came to rely more on patrons such as Count Franz Joseph Kinsky, (d. 1811), Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz (1772–1816) and Karl Alois Johann-Nepomuk Vinzenz, Fürst Lichnowsky, and as these patrons died or reneged on their pledges, Beethoven fell into debt. In 1807, Prince Lobkowitz advised Beethoven to apply for the position of composer of the Imperial Theatres, but the nobility who had newly been placed in charge of the post did not respond. Beethoven considered leaving Vienna: in the fall of 1808, he was offered a position as chapel maestro at the court of Jerome Bonaparte, the king of Westphalia, which he accepted. To persuade him to stay in Vienna, the Archduke Rudolf, Count Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz, after receiving representations from the composer’s friends, pledged to pay Beethoven a pension of 4000 florins a year. Only Archduke Rudolf paid his share of the pension on the agreed date. Kinsky, immediately called to duty as an officer, did not contribute and soon died after falling from his horse. Lobkowitz stopped paying in September 1811. No successors came forward to continue the patronage, and Beethoven relied mostly on selling composition rights and a smaller pension after 1815.
Beethoven in 1803 Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. Beethoven suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a “ringing” in his ears that made it hard for him to perceive and appreciate music; he also avoided conversation. Beethoven lived for a time in the small Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, just outside Vienna. Here he wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, which records his resolution to continue living for and through his art. Over time, his hearing loss became profound: there is a well-attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause of the audience; hearing nothing, he began to weep. Beethoven’s hearing loss did not prevent his composing music, but it made concerts—lucrative sources of income—increasingly hard.
Beethoven used a special rod attached to the soundboard on a piano that he could bite—the vibrations would then transfer from the piano to his jaw to increase his perception of the sound. A large collection of his hearing aids such as special ear horns can be viewed at the Beethoven House Museum in Bonn, Germany. Despite his obvious distress, however, Czerny remarked that Beethoven could still hear speech and music normally until 1812. By 1814 however, Beethoven was almost totally deaf, and when a group of visitors saw him play a loud arpeggio or thundering bass notes at his piano remarking, “Ist es nicht schön?” (Isn’t that beautiful?), they felt deep sympathy considering his courage and sense of humor.
Beethoven in 1823; copy of a destroyed portrait by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller as a result of Beethoven’s hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: his conversation books. Beethoven’s friends wrote in the book so that he could know what they were saying, and he then responded either verbally or in the book. The books contain discussions about music and other issues, and give insights into his thinking; they are a source for investigation into how he felt his music should be performed, and also his perception of his relationship to art. Unfortunately, 264 out of a total of 400 conversation books were destroyed (and others were altered) after Beethoven’s death by Anton Schindler, in his attempt to paint an idealized picture of the composer.
Beethoven’s personal life was troubled. Beethhoven encroaching deafness led him to contemplate suicide (documented in his Heiligenstadt Testament). Beethoven was often irascible and may have suffered from bipolar disorder and irritability brought on by chronic abdominal pain beginning in his 20s that has been attributed to his lead poisoning. Beethoven, nevertheless, had a close and devoted circle of friends all his life, thought to have been attracted by his reputed strength of personality. Towards the end of his life, Beethoven’s friends competed in their efforts to help him cope with his incapacities.
Sources show Beethoven’s disdain for authority, and for social rank. Beethoven stopped performing at the piano if the audience chatted among themselves, or afforded him less than their full attention. At soirées, he refused to perform if suddenly called upon to do so. Eventually, after many confrontations, the Archduke Rudolph decreed that the usual rules of court etiquette did not apply to Beethoven.
The women who attracted Beethoven were unattainable because they were either married or aristocratic. Beethoven never married, although he was engaged to Giulietta Guiccardi. Giulietta father was the main obstacle to their marriage. Giulietta’s marriage to a nobleman was unhappy, and when it ended in 1822, she attempted unsuccessfully to return to Beethoven. Beethoven’s only other documented love affair with an identified woman began in 1805 with Josephine von Brunswick, young widow of the Graf von Deym. It is believed the relationship ended by 1807 because of Beethoven’s indecisiveness and the disapproval of Josephine’s aristocratic family.
In 1812, Beethoven wrote a long love letter to a woman he identified only as “Immortal Beloved”. Several candidates have been suggested, including Antonie Brentano, but the identity of the woman to whom the letter was written has never been proven.
Beethoven in 1818 by August Klöber On 15 November 1815 Beethoven’s brother Karl van Beethoven died of tuberculosis leaving a son Karl, Beethoven’s nephew. Although Beethoven had shown little interest in the boy up to this point, he now became totally obsessed with the possession of this nine year old child. The fight for custody of his nephew brought out the very worst aspects of Beethoven’s character. In the lengthy court cases Beethoven stopped at nothing to ensure that he achieved this goal. At this time Beethoven stopped composing for long periods.
The Austrian court system had one court for the nobility, The R&I Landrechte, and another for commoners, The Civil Court of the Magistrate. Beethoven disguised the fact that the Dutch “van” in his name did not denote nobility as does the Germanic “von”, and his case was tried in the Landrechte. Due to his influence with the court, he felt assured of a favorable outcome. Beethoven was awarded sole guardianship. Karl’s mother, Johanna, a commoner and a widow with little money, was not only refused access to her son, except under exceptional circumstances, but Beethoven insisted that she pay for her son’s education out of her inadequate pension. While giving evidence to the Landrechte, however, Beethoven inadvertently admitted that he was not nobly born. The case was transferred to the Magistracy on 18 December 1818, where he lost sole guardianship.
Beethoven appealed, and regained custody of Karl. Johanna’s appeal for justice and human rights to the Emperor was not successful: the Emperor “washed his hands of the matter”. Beethoven stopped at nothing to blacken both their characters, as can be read in surviving court papers. When Karl could stand his tyrannical uncle no longer, he attempted suicide on 31 July 1826 by shooting himself in the head. Beethoven survived, and later asked to be taken to his mother’s house. This desperate action finally freed Karl from the bonds of Beethoven.
After Beethoven lost custody of his nephew, he went into a decline that led to his death on Monday 26 March 1827 during a thunderstorm.
This was Romain Rolland’s description of Beethoven’s final day:
“That day was tragic. There were heavy clouds in the sky… around 4 or 5 in the afternoon the murky clouds cast darkness in the entire room. Suddenly a terrible storm started, with blizzard and snow… thunder made the room shudder, illuminating it with the cursed reflection of lightning on snow. Beethoven opened his eyes and with a threatening gesture raised his right arm towards the sky with his fist clenched. The expression of his face was horrifying. His hand fell to the ground. His eyes closed. Beethoven was no more.”
Beethoven grave, Vienna ZentralfriedhofA Viennese pathologist and forensic expert Christian Reiter (head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Vienna Medical University) claimed that Beethoven’s physician, Andreas Wawruch, inadvertently hastened Beethoven’s death. According to Reiter, Wawruch worsened Beethoven’s already lead poisoned condition with lead poultices applied after repeated surgical draining of his bloated abdomen. Various theories attempt to explain how Beethoven’s lead poisoning first developed, and he was very sick for years. Reiter’s hypothesis however is at odds with Wawruch’s written instruction “that the wound was kept dry all the time”. Furthermore human hair is a very bad biomarker for lead contamination and Reiter’s hypothesis must be considered dubious, because of the lack of proper scholarly documentation in his article.
Ludwig van Beethoven: detail of an 1804 portrait by W.J. MählerBeethoven was attracted to the ideals of the Enlightenment and by the growing Romanticism in Europe. Beethoven initially dedicated his third symphony, the Eroica (Italian for “heroic”), to Napoleon, believing that the general intended to sustain the democratic and republican ideals of the French Revolution. But in 1804, when Napoleon’s imperial ambitions became clear, Beethoven took hold of the title-page and scratched the name Bonaparte out so violently that he made a hole in the paper. Beethhoven later changed the work’s title to “Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d’un grand’uom” (“Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”), and he rededicated it to his patron, Prince Joseph Franz von Lobkowitz, at whose palace it was first performed.
Beethoven gave, Vienna Zentralfriedof The fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony features an elaborate choral setting of Schiller’s Ode An die Freude (“Ode to Joy”), an optimistic hymn championing the brotherhood of humanity. Since 1972, an orchestral version of this part of the fourth movement, arranged by the conductor Herbert von Karajan, has been the European anthem as announced by the Council of Europe.
In 1985 it was adopted as the anthem of the European Community / European Union.
Scholars disagree about Beethoven’s religious beliefs, and about the role they played in his work: It has been asserted, but not proven, that Beethoven was a Freemason.
Like the earlier composer Handel, Beethoven worked freelance—arranging subscription concerts, selling his compositions to publishers, and gaining financial support from a number of wealthy patrons—rather than seeking out permanent employment by the church or by an aristocratic court.
Beethoven is acknowledged as one of the giants of Western classical music; occasionally he is referred to as one of the “three Bs” (along with Bach and Brahms) who epitomize that tradition. Beethoven was also a pivotal figure in the transition from 18th century musical classicism to 19th century romanticism, and his influence on subsequent generations of composers was profound.
Beethoven was one of the first composers of the post-Renaissance era to use, systematically, interlocking thematic devices, or “germ-motifs”, to achieve inter-movement unity in long compositions. Equally remarkable was his use of “source-motifs”, which recurred in many different compositions. Beethoven brought innovations to most of the genres in which he worked; for example, he introduced an elasticity to the previously well-crystallized form of the rondo, drawing it closer to sonata form.
Beethoven composed in various genres, including symphonies, concerti, piano sonatas, other sonatas (including for violin), string quartets and other chamber music, masses, an opera, and lieder. Beethoven is viewed as one of the most important transitional figures between the Classical and Romantic eras of musical history.
Working with the traditions of the classical sonata forms, he continued the work of Haydn and Mozart in expanding and loosening the structures and becoming increasingly reliant on motivic development.
Beethoven’s compositional career is usually divided into Early, Middle, and Late periods. In this scheme, his early period is taken to last until about 1802, the middle period from about 1803 to about 1814, and the late period from about 1815.
In his Early (Classical) period, while starting out under the influence of his great predecessors Haydn and Mozart, he explored new directions and gradually expanded the scope and ambition of his work. Some important pieces from the Early period are the first and second symphonies, the first 6 string quartets, the first 3 piano concertos, and the first 20 piano sonatas, including the famous “Pathétique” and “Moonlight” sonatas.
Beethoven’s Middle (Heroic) period began shortly after Beethoven’s personal crisis brought on by his recognition of encroaching deafness. It is noted for large-scale works that express heroism and struggle, many of which have become very famous. Middle-period works include 6 symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the 4th and 5th piano concertos, the triple concerto and violin concerto, 5 string quartets (Nos. 7–11), the next 7 piano sonatas (including the “Waldstein” and the “Appassionata”), the “Kreutzer” Violin Sonata and Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio.
Beethoven’s Late (Romantic) period began around 1815. Works from this period are characterized by their intellectual depth, their formal innovations, and their intense, highly personal expression. For example, the String Quartet, Op. 131 has seven linked movements, and the 9th Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement. Other compositions from this period include the “Missa Solemnis”, the last 5 string quartets (including the massive “Grosse Fuge”) and the last 5 piano sonatas, of which the “Hammerklavier” Sonata is the best known.
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