Did you Know?
In the August of 1845, the Beethoven Monument was inaugurated in Bonn, his birthplace. This was the first time ever that a statue of a music composer was erected in Germany.
Beethoven, the composer, the pianist, the innovator, was a man who gave new horizons to the field of western classical music. He took symphony, sonata, concerto and quartet to new heights by making innovative fusions of instrumentals and vocals. This musical legend, whose career began as a child prodigy, suffered for most of his life from loss of hearing. During the last ten years of his life, he was completely deaf but, despite this, he composed some of his best and most popular works during that period.
» Early Life and Training
» Beethoven Goes to Vienna
» On the Peak of His Career
» Hearing Impairment
» Later Compositions
» The Demise
Early Life and Training
Ludwig van Beethoven
was born to Johann
and Maria van Beethoven
in a small town of Bonn in Germany. Though there are no exact written records of his birth date, we surely know from the documents of the Roman Catholic service at the Parish of St. Regius that he was baptized on 17th December, 1770, which means that he was born one day before, on 16th December, 1770 (in those days, children were baptized one day after they were born).
In an attempt to present Ludwig as a child prodigy, his father claimed that he was six years old, to match with Mozart's age at the start of his career. He was actually seven.
His father and grandfather were musicians themselves, and so they wanted young Ludwig to excel in the field of music. It was decided that Ludwig would be trained in music right from his childhood and so, his fate was sealed. His father was his first music teacher from whom he took basic lessons in keyboard. Though some believe that in order to make Ludwig perfect in music, his father thrashed the little boy whenever he made mistakes, there is not enough evidence to support this view. Beethoven was also trained by other local instructors such as his family friend Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer
, from whom he learned the piano, and one of his relatives Franz Rovantini
, who taught him violin and viola. Beethoven gave his first public performance in March 1778, when he was only seven years old. Thus began his journey as a child prodigy.
Then, in 1779, Beethoven was sent to learn music from Christian Gottlob Neefe
, the trainer who laid the foundation for his career. He learned every possible and minute musical detail from Neefe. In fact, Neefe was the one who taught him the fundamentals of composing music. The musical talent of Beethoven was quite obvious to Neefe and in 1783, he took Beethoven along to write a composition. He was only twelve years then. This became Neefe's first ever composition to be published. Subsequently, Beethoven also became Neefe's assistant and continued to be with him till the age of seventeen. He composed his first three piano sonatas during this time. His talent and dedication brought him to the attention of Maximilian Frederick von Königsegg-Rothenfels
, the Elector of Cologne and Bishop of Münster, who sponsored his further musical education.
Beethoven's father was a hardcore alcoholic and he further sunk into the habit after his wife's death, thus being incapable of caring for his sons.
In 1787, Beethoven went to Vienna in the quest of good opportunities and to demonstrate his talent in music. One of the main reasons why he went to Vienna was his wish to learn music under the able guidance of Wolfgang Mozart
, one of his idols. However, it is not clear as to whether he actually met Mozart in Vienna or not. But he had to return to Bonn in two weeks, when he learned about his mother's illness after which she eventually died. Following this tragedy, Beethoven had to stay back in Bonn for the next five years to take care of his younger brothers and his alcoholic father. During this period, Beethoven came in contact with many influential people. One of them was Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein
, who not only became one of his best friends but also his major patron.
Beethoven Goes to Vienna
Finally, in 1792, he took off for Vienna in search of good work in the field of music. Meanwhile, Mozart had died in 1791 and this incident had brought to an end, Beethoven's dream of learning under the master. However, he did study some of Mozart's works. Some of Beethoven's compositions from that period bear a very distinctive Mozartean influence.
Beethoven met Joseph Haydn in Bonn in 1790, two years before he left for Vienna. However, Haydn taught him only after he went to Vienna.
In Vienna, Beethoven tried to learn newer things in music and studied composition and counterpoint from well-known musicians such as Joseph Haydn
, Ignaz Schuppanzigh
, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger
and Antonio Salieri
. He even published some of his compositions at this time. Beethoven was a wise man and had a good foresight; he had understood that in his run to achieve a good position and become a successful musician, he needed to have extremely good relations with powerful people. These relations helped him on such a level that most high-profile people of Vienna including the Viennese Prince Karl Lichnowsky
, assured him a yearly income provided he agreed to stay in Vienna for the rest of his life.
His first musical concert in Vienna was held in 1795 where he played for the first time before a large audience, one of his own piano concertos. Shortly after this, his works were published, and were a great financial success. Ludwig van Beethoven was suddenly a big name in the world of music and he was also now a name on the list of 'the rich and the famous'.
On the Peak of his Career
The composition of the six string quartets was commissioned by the Bohemian Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz.
The influences of Mozart and Haydn on the works of Beethoven were obvious. Between 1798 and 1800, he composed his first six string quartets - musical ensembles, which are performed by four string instrumentalists including two violins, one viola and one cello, which were published later on in 1801. With the public performances of his First and Second Symphonies (which seemed to draw undeniable inspiration from Haydn and Mozart) in 1800 and 1803, he became an important milestone in the world of western classical music. He, then, came to be regarded as a 'true' successor of Haydn and Mozart.
Further, he also went on to compose piano sonatas, which were very popular during that time. One of the best works of Beethoven that holds ground even today, the Septet
, was also composed during this period. He gave a number of musical performances at this time, and was in very high demand from publishers and patrons alike.
Post the compositions and successful performances of some more of his piano sonatas (such as the 'Moonlight Sonata
') and his much acclaimed ballet called 'The Creatures of Prometheus
', his younger brother Carl played an important role in managing his financial affairs. All his important business dealings with publishers, organizers and the patrons were looked upon by Carl, whose skills made Beethoven's bank accounts even bigger. However, sometimes, Beethoven had to give in to some of Carl's requests against his own accord.
Beethoven wrote a letter to his "Immortal Beloved" in 1812. It may have been possibly addressed to Josephine.
Amidst of all these developments, Beethoven also gave music lessons to a number of people. He taught music to Ferdinand Ries
between the years 1801 and 1805. Ries, later became a renowned music composer composing a lot of sonatas, concertos and symphonies. He also wrote a book on the relationship between Beethoven and himself, which he named as Beethoven Remembered
. Carl Czerny
was another remarkable student of Beethoven, who later went on to become a composer, pianist and a renowned music teacher. Czerny's most celebrated works are his books for études for the piano
. In the year 1799, Anna Brunsvik
, a Hungarian countess, appointed Beethoven to teach piano to her daughters. He did his job well but fell in love with the youngest daughter Josephine
. But she soon got married to Joseph Count Deym
. Beethoven continued to train her in piano even after her marriage, but their relationship accentuated more after the death of her husband.
Beethoven was only 26 years old when he started suffering from hearing disorder. It has been stated that he suffered from a medical condition called 'Tinnitus
' in which one can hear 'ringing' sounds, even if there are none around him/her. Owing to this, he not only avoided meeting people and interacting with them, but he also faced a lot of difficulties in listening to music. Though the cause of his deafness in not exactly known, it has been suggested that his habit of putting his head in cold water in order to stay awake, especially during the night, may have been a primary cause.
Whatever the cause may have been, it is obvious that Beethoven was both troubled as well as irritated by his condition. We have references to the letters that he wrote in 1801, to his friends describing his sorry state and failure to come to terms with it. Though he left Vienna and went to live in Heiligenstadt, on its outskirts from 1802, on his doctor's advice, his 'Heiligenstadt Testament
' (a letter that he wrote to his brothers) documents his pathos and the growth of suicidal tendencies in his mind. After the failure of an attempted piano performance in 1811, however, he never ever gave any more public performances. By the year 1814, Beethoven turned completely deaf.
Beethoven's secretary destroyed many of his conversation books as he wanted the world to know only the positive side of his personality.
The conversation books of Beethoven are very rich documented evidences of what happened in his life after he lost his hearing ability. These books have preserved the conversations between him and his friends (his friends wrote what they wanted to say in these books as Beethoven could not hear them anymore). These books also give us valuable insights into how and what Beethoven thought about music on the whole and his compositions, in particular.
In 1822, Beethoven was commissioned to compose a symphony and three string quartets.
The English historian Thomas Fuller once quoted, "An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men"
. This holds so true in case of Beethoven. Even after turning completely deaf and being unable to give stage performances, he did not stop composing music. On the contrary, some of his best compositions belong to this period. In 1822, he composed an overture called 'The Consecration of the House
', which was largely influenced by the previous works of Johann Sebastian Bach
and George Frideric Handel
. It was received with great enthusiasm by the audience.
One of his greatest later works is a Mass named 'Missa Solemnis
', which was a sacred musical composition. It is considered to be one of his best works of music ever made. It was composed in the year 1824. After this, he composed some more symphonies and quartets, which were equally acclaimed by the audiences.
It is believed that Beethoven's last words while he was dying were arguably, "Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est" ("Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over").
All through this time, his health was deteriorating at an alarming rate and finally, on March 26, 1827, the legend breathed his last. He was only 56 years of age. The reports of the autopsy indicated that he was suffering from liver cirrhosis possibly caused by incessant consumption of alcohol. His funeral procession that was held in Vienna, on March 29, 1827, was attended by about 20,000 people, including common Viennese citizens. This shows how big a figure Beethoven was, because 20,000 was quite a big number at that time. His grave is located in the Währing cemetery, which is situated in the north-western part of Vienna.
Beethoven's death was a big loss for the international musical community and also for humanity, in general. With him, we lost a legend, arguably the greatest musician and composer of all time. He will always be remembered for his compositions, which serve as an inspiration, even today, for newer generations in the field. Beethoven has left behind a huge legacy, which is a treasure-house of musical knowledge, and it will always be a part of international musical heritage. No matter how high people climb, or how many awards they win, nobody can ever surpass the unparalleled talent of the man, that was 'Ludwig van Beethoven'!