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Beethoven

Ludwig Van BeethovenLudwig Van Beethoven 1770-1827

AT A GLANCE

Ludwig van Beethoven, the German musical genius, redefined the scope of western classical music by transforming it into a powerful medium of expression of philosophical thoughts as well as feelings. The mark of his genius lay in the way he refined his improvisations and established them as techniques, charted new territory and opened up hitherto unknown avenues for others to explore. He was the fountainhead of the Romantic Movement in music. And he achieved all this without repudiating the classical heritage. He took music, especially instrumental music; to such heights as to make a critic say "All arts aspire to the condition of music". What adds poignancy to his accomplishments is the fact that he was all the while waging a heroic struggle against advancing deafness; he composed some of his masterpieces in the last decade of his life after he became completely deaf.

LIFE

Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany, and baptized on December 17. Interestingly enough, till his 40th year Beethoven suffered from what is famous as his ‘birth – year delusion’ - he claimed to have been born in 1772.

Family Antecedents

Bonn was the seat of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne in the 18th century. Beethoven’s musically talented grandfather, Ludwig van Beethoven (Senior), had come from Flanders to settle in Bonn on the invitation of the Elector. He worked in the Elector’s choir, first as a baritone singer and then as Kapellmeister (band leader). He married a Bonn girl, Marie Poll. Of the several children they had, only one – Johann – survived.

Beethoven’s father, Johann van Beethoven, also took to music but his abilities were mediocre. He managed to become a tenor singer in the Electoral Choir due to the influence of Ludwig Senior. He married Maria Magdalena Keverich Laym, daughter of the chief cook at the Court of the Elector of Treves, Ehrenbreitstein. They had seven children of whom only three survived – Ludwig, Caspar Karl and Nikolaus Johann. The Beethoven family lived in the poorer part of Bonn. The rough-hewn rebellious streak in Beethoven was the result of this early influence.

Education

Beethoven had little formal education. He studied at the Tironicium for four years and had to drop out at the age of 11. He managed to get a smattering of Latin and French, but he could never spell correctly in any language. He was later exposed to a few good books, ranging from Walter Scott’s novels to Persian poetry.

Early Musical Training

Beethoven’s training in music started when he was just four to five years old. His father wanted to make a child prodigy of his son like Mozart. He forced young Beethoven to practise on the piano for long hours, so much so that Beethoven would start crying. But over a period of time, Beethoven developed a taste for music. Johann was confident enough of his eight-year old son’s talent to display him in a public concert on March 26, 1778. The success of this concert encouraged him to arrange music lessons for the child with other teachers.

The first tutor Beethoven had was Van den Eeden, a court organist too old to be of any help to him. The young Beethoven got to practise the organ everyday by playing for the morning mass in the churches of Bonn. His next tutor was Tobias Friedrich Pfieffer, a skilled pianist. Pfieffer and Johann would come late at night, totally drunk, and drag the poor little boy from bed to the piano. Beethoven found a better teacher in his maternal uncle Franz Rovantini who was the court violinist. But this came to an abrupt end with his death in 1781.

Court Apprenticeship

In late 1781, Beethoven became an apprentice of Christian Gottlob Neefe, the new court organist. Neefe trained Beethoven in playing the organ and the piano. He recognized his apprentice’s genius and made him his assistant as court organist in 1782. Neefe helped Beethoven publish his first composition Variations on a March by Dressler in 1783.

In 1784, Maximilian Francis became the new Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. He was a man of culture deeply interested in music. He transformed Bonn into a culturally vibrant city and invited several opera companies to Bonn. This is how Beethoven became familiar with the works of such composers as Gluck and Salieri. The court now had an orchestra of 31 pieces. Beethoven was appointed to play the viola at the age of 14 and was later made the deputy court organist. He was paid a salary of 150 gulden a year.

MAJOR WORKS

ORCHESTRAL MUSIC

Symphonies

Opus 21, 1800 First Symphony in C Major
Opus 36, 1802 Second Symphony in D Major
Opus 55, 1804 Eroica, Ninth Symphony in E Flat Major
Opus 60, 1806 Fourth Symphony in B Flat Major
Opus 67, 1808 Fifth Symphony in C Minor
Opus 68, 1808 Pastoral Symphony, Sixth Symphony No.6 in F Major
Opus 92, 1812 Seventh Symphony in A Major
Opus 93, 1812 Eighth Symphony in F Major
Opus 91, 1813 Battle Symphony (Wellington’s Victory or The Battle of Vitoria)
Opus 125, 1824 Choral Symphony, Ninth Symphony in D Minor

Concertos

Opus 15, 1798 Piano Concerto No.1 in C Major
Opus 19, 1798 Piano Concerto No.2 in B Flat Major
Opus 37, 1800 Piano Concerto No.3 in C Minor
Opus 56, 1804 Triple Concerto in C Major for violin, cello and piano
Opus 58, 1806 Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major
Opus 61, 1806 Violin Concerto in D Major
Opus 73, 1809 Emperor, Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major

Romances

Opus 50, 1798 Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F Major
Opus 40, 1802 Romance for Violin and Orchestra in G Major

Overtures

Opus 62, 1807 Coriolan, Overture in C Minor
Opus 138, 1807 Leonore 1, Overture in C Major

CHAMBER MUSIC

Opus103, 1792 Wind Octet in E Flat Major
Opus 81 b, 1795 Sextet for Horns and String Quartet in E Flat
Opus 16, 1796 Quintet for Piano and Winds
Opus 18, 1798-1800 Six String Quartets in F Major, G Major, D Major, C Minor, A Major, B Flat Major
Opus 29, 1801 String Quintet in C Major
Opus 47, 1802 Kreutzer, Violin Sonata in A Major
Opus 59, 1806 Three Razumovsky String Quartets in F Major, E Minor, C Major

PIANO MUSIC

Opus 27, 1801 Sonata quasi una fantasia, Piano Sonata No.13 in E Flat Major
Opus 27, 1801 Moonlight Sonata, Piano Sonata No.14 in C Sharp Major
Opus 57, 1804 Apassionata, Piano Sonata No.23 in F Minor
Opus 106, 1818 Hammerklavier, Piano Sonata No.29 in B Flat Major
Three sets of twenty-six Bagatelles
Four Rondos
Twenty sets of Variations

VOCAL MUSIC

Opus 86, 1807 Mass in C Major
Opus 80, 1808 Choral Fantasia, For piano, chorus and orchestra
Opus 83, 1810 Three Goethe Songs Wonne der Wehmut, Sehnsucht, Mit einem gemalten Band
Opus 98, 1816 Song Cycle An die ferne Geliebte
Opus 123, 1823 Missa Solemnis, Mass in D Major

THEATRE MUSIC
Opus 72, 1805, 1806, 1814 versions Opera Fidelio (Leonore)
Opus 43, 1801 Ballet Die Gaschöpfe des Prometheus
Opus 84, 1810 Play Egmont, Incidental music
Opus 113, 1811 Play Die Ruinen von Athen, Incidental music
Opus 117, 1811 Play König Stephan, Incidental music
Opus 124, 1822 Play Die Weihe des Hauses, Overture in C Major
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