Ludwig van Beethoven

1820 portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis by Joseph Karl Stieler.
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German born composer who lived from 1770 to 1827. He is easily one of the most popular classical composers of our time. His work can be heard everywhere, from television commercials to sporting events to children’s movies to high school recitals. As with many of the popular composers of early western culture Beethoven owes much of his fame to being the right person at the right time. Beethoven’s music covers the transition from the Classical period to that of the Romantic period. A very important time indeed but it was also important because other composers had set the stage for Beethoven, works by Haydn and Mozart, whom were still composing and performing early in Beethoven’s life undoubtedly prepared him and his listener-ship for him to take on their cause.

Originally from Cologne, Germany Beethoven’s family moved to Bonn where he spent much of his child and young adult life. Named after his grandfather Ludwig van was born into a family of musicians. Both his father and grandfather performed as vocalists for the Elector of Cologne, a prominent court involved with the Holy Roman Empire. It was his families connections within the music community that enabled Beethoven to have access to some of the best teachers in Europe at a very young age. By the time he was nine Beethoven was performing in public as a concert pianist. When we was only eleven he began work as the Organist’s assistant for the Elector of Cologne. This achievement was a feat for someone of his age but Beethoven knew that in order to continue his music education he’d have to leave Bonn.

Beethoven moved to Vienna sometime in his twenties in hopes to study with Mozart. While he never did study with Mozart he was introduced to another pillar of the classical community, Haydn, and the two became friends. At any rate shortly after his arrival in Vienna Mozart passed away. This created a buzz about the town that perhaps Beethoven was destined to be Mozart’s successor. If not to fan the flames even more Beethoven began intensively studying Mozart for the next couple years and even composed music in his style. Prior to this Beethoven hadn’t been much of a composer but was primarily known for his performing abilities but under Haydn’s direction Beethoven began taking composing seriously. Within ten years Beethoven will have written a series of pieces that would cement his place in the 19th century music scene and even more highlight him as one of the greatest composers of Western music.

One fact that I find really interesting about Beethoven was that he had failed hearing for much of his life. Around the age of thirty he was almost deaf and by the age of 40 he was 100% deaf. I read a story of him performing a particular piano piece in front of an audience for the first time. Upon completion of the performance he rose an took a bow to the audiences raving applause. However Beethoven couldn’t hear the crowd and he broke down into tears. Due to these difficulties his last public performance was at the age of 41 in 1811. Things had gotten so bad that he had a rod attached to the sound board of his piano. The rod would come up and rest in a position where he could bite it as he played. The vibrations would give him an indication as to how he was playing and help with his performing. I don’t know of too many musicians that have tried to perfect oral intonation, truly a man ahead of his time.

Overall Beethoven led a pretty interesting life. I’d recommend anyone with minor interest to check out his biography. But even more then his biography he left us hundreds of spectacular music pieces to be performed the world over, check those out too.

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