Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

[bey-toh-vuhn; Ger. beyt-hoh-fuhn]
Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827, German composer. He is universally recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Western European music tradition. Beethoven's work crowned the classical period and also effectively initiated the romantic era in music. He is one of the few artists who genuinely may be considered revolutionary.

Life

Born in Bonn, Beethoven showed remarkable talent at an early age. His father, a court musician, subjected him to a brutal regimen, hoping to exploit him as a child prodigy. While this plan did not succeed, young Beethoven's gifts were recognized and nurtured by his teachers and by members of the local aristocracy. In 1787 Beethoven first visited Vienna, at that time the center of the music world. There he performed for Mozart, whom he greatly impressed.

In 1792 Haydn invited him to become his student, and Beethoven returned to Vienna, where he was to remain permanently. However, Beethoven's unorthodox musical ideas offended the old master, and the lessons were terminated. Beethoven studied with several other eminent teachers, including Antonio Salieri, but was developing according to his own singular genius and could no longer profit greatly from instruction.

Both his breathtaking piano virtuosity and his remarkable compositions won Beethoven favor among the enlightened aristocracy congregated at Vienna, and he enjoyed their generous support throughout his life. They were tolerant, too, of his notoriously boorish manners, careless appearance, and towering rages. His work itself was widely accepted, if controversial, and from the end of the 1790s Beethoven was not dependent on patronage for his income.

The year 1801 marked the onset of Beethoven's tragic affliction, his deafness, which became progressively worse and, by 1817, total. Public performance eventually became impossible; but his creative work was not restricted. Beethoven never married; however, he was stormily in and out of love all his life, always with women unattainable because of marriage or station. His personal life was further complicated when he was made the guardian of his nephew Karl, who caused him much anxiety and grief but to whom he nevertheless remained fondly attached. Beethoven died, after a long illness, in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm, and legend has it that the dying man shook his fist in defiance of the heavens.

Compositions

By the 19th cent., Beethoven's work could already be divided into three fairly distinct periods. The works of the first period include the First (1800) and Second (1802) Symphonies; the first three piano concertos (1795-1800); the first group of string quartets (1800); and a number of piano sonatas, among them the Pathétique (1798) and the Moonlight Sonata (1801). Although the compositions of the first period have Beethoven's unmistakable breadth and vitality, they are dominated by the tradition of Haydn and Mozart.

Beginning about 1802, Beethoven's work took on new dimensions. The premiere in 1805 of the massive Third Symphony, known as the Eroica (composed 1803-4), was a landmark in cultural history. It signaled a definitive break with the past and the birth of a new era. The length, structure, harmonies, and orchestration of the Eroica all broke the formal conventions of classical music; unprecedented too was its intention—to celebrate human freedom and nobility. The symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon, who at first symbolized to Beethoven the spirit of the French Revolution and the liberation of mankind; however, when Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor, the disillusioned composer renamed his work the "Heroic Symphony to celebrate the memory of a great man."

The works of Beethoven's middle period, his most productive, include the Piano Concertos No. 4 (1806) and No. 5 (Emperor Concerto, 1809); the Razumovsky Quartets (1806); his Ninth Sonata for violin, the Kreutzer Sonata (1803), and his one Violin Concerto (1806); the Fourth through Eighth Symphonies (1806-12); a number of piano sonatas, among them the Waldstein and the Appassionata (both 1804). His sole opera, Fidelio, was produced in its first version in 1805 and in its final form in 1814. Beethoven wrote four overtures for the opera, three of them known as the Leonore Overture. He also composed overtures to Collin's Coriolan (1807) and to Goethe's Egmont (1810). From about 1813 to 1820 there was some slackening in Beethoven's productivity, probably due in part to difficulties concerning his nephew.

Beethoven's final period dates from about 1816 and is characterized by works of greater depth and complexity. They include the demanding, nearly symphonic Hammerklavier sonata (1818) and the other late piano sonatas; the monumental Ninth Symphony (1817-23) with its choral finale based on Schiller's Ode to Joy; and the Missa Solemnis (1818-23). The last five string quartets and the Grosse Fuge (also for quartet), composed in his last years, are considered by many music lovers to be Beethoven's supreme creations, and by some the most sublime music ever composed.

An extraordinarily prolific composer, Beethoven produced, in addition to the works mentioned, sonatas for violin and piano and for cello and piano; string and piano trios; music for wind instruments; miscellaneous piano works, including the popular bagatelle Für Elise (1810); over 200 songs; a number of shorter orchestral works; and several choral pieces.

Beethoven's influence on subsequent composers has been immeasurable. Aside from his architectonic innovations and expansion of the classical sonata and symphony, he brought to music a new depth and intensity of emotion that was emulated by later romantic composers but probably never surpassed.

Bibliography

See his letters, ed. by E. Anderson (3 vol., tr. 1961); biographies by A. F. Schindler (tr. 1966), M. Solomon (rev. ed. 1998), and L. Lockwood (2002); studies by D. F. Tovey (1945), W. S. Newman (1971), and R. Kamien (1992); E. Forbes, ed., Thayer's Life of Beethoven (2 vol., rev. ed. 1967); H. C. R. Landon, ed., Beethoven: A Documentary Study (1970); D. Arnold and N. Fortune, ed., The Beethoven Reader (1971); M. Cooper, Beethoven's Last Decade (1985); M. Solomon, Beethoven Essays (1988) and Late Beethoven (2003); S. Burnham, Beethoven Hero (1995).

Ludwig van Beethoven (English ; , 16 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. He 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.

Born in Bonn, then in the Electorate of Cologne (now in modern-day Germany), he moved to Vienna in his early twenties and settled there, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. Beethoven's hearing gradually deteriorated beginning in his twenties, yet he continued to compose, and to conduct and perform, even after he was completely deaf.

Biography

Early life and talent

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 was born in Bonn, Electorate of Cologne, in 1770. Of the seven children born to Johann Beethoven, himself the only survivor of three, only second-born Ludwig and two younger brothers survived infancy. Beethoven was baptized on 17 December 1770. Although his birth date is not known for certain, his family celebrated his birthday on 16 December.

Beethoven's first music teacher was his father, who was a tenor in the service of the Electoral court at Bonn. He 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 Ludwig 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. His 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.

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 two 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 two younger brothers.

The move to Vienna

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. His first works with opus numbers, a set of three piano trios, appeared in 1795. He 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. He 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.

Loss of hearing

Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He 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. He 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.

As a result of Beethoven's hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: his conversation books. His 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.

Character

Beethoven's personal life was troubled. His 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. Nevertheless, he 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. He 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.

Romantic difficulties

The women who attracted Beethoven were unattainable because they were either married or aristocratic. Beethoven never married, although he was engaged to Giulietta Guiccardi. Her 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. His 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.

Custody struggle

On 15 November 1815 Beethoven's brother Karl van Beethoven died of tuberculosis leaving a son Karl, Beethoven's nephew. Although Beethoven had apparently shown little interest in the boy up to this point, he now became obsessed with obtaining custody of this nine-year old child from its mother, Johanna - whom Beethoven despised and considered an unfit parent. 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. During 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. Owing to his influence with the court, Beethoven felt assured of a favorable outcome. Beethoven was awarded sole guardianship. 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 her name, 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. He survived, and later asked to be taken to his mother's house. This desperate action finally freed Karl from the clutches of Beethoven.

Illness and death

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.

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. 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.

Beliefs and their musical influence

Beethoven was attracted to the ideals of the Enlightenment and by the growing Romanticism in Europe. He 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. He 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. 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: see Ludwig van Beethoven's religious beliefs. 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.

Music

Media
Piano solo'''
Chamber music
Beethoven is acknowledged as one of the giants of classical music; occasionally he is referred to as one of the "three Bs" (along with Bach and Brahms) who epitomize that tradition. He 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.

Overview

He 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. He 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. He 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.

The three periods

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 six string quartets, the first three piano concertos, and the first twenty piano sonatas, including the famous "Pathétique" and "Moonlight" sonatas.

His 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 six symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the fourth and fifth piano concertos, the triple concerto and violin concerto, five string quartets (Nos. 7–11), the next seven 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 Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement. Other compositions from this period include the "Missa Solemnis", the last five string quartets (including the massive "Grosse Fuge") and the last five piano sonatas, of which the "Hammerklavier" Sonata is the best known.

Cinematic depictions

The composer has been depicted in a number of biopic films for both theatrical and television release. They include a 1909 silent film from the French writer/director Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset, Beethoven, starring Harry Baur as the composer and a 1927 German film from Hans Otto Löwenstein, Das Leben des Beethoven. Another French writer/director, Abel Gance, made a film in 1936, Un grand amour de Beethoven (Harry Baur once again starred as the composer); the film has been praised for its depiction of Beethoven's struggle with deafness and touches upon the romantic themes from the composer's life, which would later be explored in the 1994 film Immortal Beloved. In 1949, Austrian Walter Kolm-Veltée shot Eroica, a black-and-white movie about Beethoven's life and work. Also of note is the Emmy Award winning 1992 television movie, Beethoven Lives Upstairs, a 1985 film Le Neveu de Beethoven (or Beethoven's Nephew), which deals with the composer's custody battle for his nephew, and the 2006 theatrical release of Copying Beethoven from director Agnieszka Holland, with Ed Harris starring as the composer. On the comedic side, Clifford David played the composer in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in 1989.

Beethoven's music has been used in the soundtracks of over 250 films and television programs. In 2007 the critically acclaimed play 33 Variations by Moises Kaufman was first produced at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. The play depicts a modern-day researcher struggling to understand the process of creativity as she delves into how Beethoven composed his Diabelli Variations. In September 2008 the dance play Ward 9, set to an all-Beethoven score, will be performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

References

Further reading

  • Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Ludwig van Beethoven's Leben, 5 vols., Berlin 1866–1908 (vols. 4 and 5 posthumously ed. by Hugo Riemann).
  • Joseph Kerman and Alan Tyson (and others): "Beethoven, Ludwig van", Grove Music Online ed L.Macy (accessed ), grovemusic.com, subscription access.
  • Albrecht, Theodor, and Elaine Schwensen, "More Than Just Peanuts: Evidence for December 16 as Beethoven's birthday." The Beethoven Newsletter 3 (1988): 49, 60–63.
  • Bohle, Bruce, and Robert Sabin. The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians. London: J.M.Dent & Sons LTD, 1975. ISBN 0-460-04235-1.
  • Clive, Peter. Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-816672-9.
  • Davies, Peter J. The Character of a Genius: Beethoven in Perspective. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. ISBN 0-313-31913-8.
  • Davies, Peter J. Beethoven in Person: His Deafness, Illnesses, and Death. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. ISBN 0-313-31587-6.
  • DeNora, Tia. "Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna, 1792–1803." Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995. ISBN 0-520-21158-8.
  • Geck, Martin. Beethoven. Translated by Anthea Bell. London: Haus, 2003. ISBN 1-904341-03-9 (h), ISBN 1-904341-00-4 (p).
  • Hatten, Robert S Musical Meaning in Beethoven. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32742-3.
  • Kropfinger, Klaus. Beethoven. Verlage Bärenreiter/Metzler, 2001. ISBN 3-7618-1621-9.
  • Martin, Russell. Beethoven's Hair. New York: Broadway Books, 2000. ISBN 978-0767903509
  • Meredith, William. "The History of Beethoven's Skull Fragments." The Beethoven Journal 20 (2005): 3-46.
  • Morris, Edmund. Beethoven: The Universal Composer. New York: Atlas Books / HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0-06-075974-7.
  • Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. (Expanded ed.) New York: W. W. Norton, 1998. ISBN 0-393-04020-8 (hc); ISBN 0-393-31712-9 (pb).
  • Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven, 2nd revised edition. New York: Schirmer Books, 2001. ISBN 0-8256-7268-6.
  • Solomon, Maynard. Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. ISBN 0-520-23746-3.
  • Stanley, Glenn, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-521-58074-9 (hc), ISBN 0-521-58934-7 (pb).
  • Thayer, A. W., rev and ed. Elliot Forbes. Thayer's Life of Beethoven. (2 vols.) Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09103-X

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