Ludwig van beethoven, 1770 – 1827
Life a young musician
Born in Bonn on 1770, Beethoven’s life as a musician began under the rigid training of his father, Johann, a local musician and singer of Bonn. His father was a drunkard and was immensely frustrated that he would never be as good as the brilliant Mozart. He was left under the sole training of the local church organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe. At only 12 years old, some of his music was already published including the Variations for Piano in C minor.
Local musicians and aristocrats who did not fail to recognize the talent in him continued the training for the young boy that his father had given up. In 1787, he visited Vienna for the first time and his exposure to the music-loving aristocracy of Vienna prompted him to compose and publish his own music. It was during his stay in the city that he first met Mozart, though for only a brief period of time, because he needed to leave Vienna the moment news of his dying mother has reached him (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2005).
Life back in Bonn was never easy for him. He had to supervise the family household and financial resources. The sudden responsibility that the death of his mother caused taught him to be more independent, even during later in his life. His father’s attitude towards him never changed and that relationship drove him to enhance his craft in music.
When he returned to Vienna after five years, Mozart had already passed away. His training continued, this time, under Franz Joseph Haydn. However, their ideas and musical style rarely coincided that made him turn to other great musicians, like Antonio Salieri and Johann Albrechtsberger, for further training.
The Three Periods
First Period (1792 – 1802)
There were three periods in Beethoven’s career. The first period, also called the Viennese period, began in 1792 when Beethoven studied and learned the rules and techniques of music and composition. The city of Vienna had been the home of the great musicians and composers in Europe for over a hundred years. Haydn introduced Beethoven to the public and taught him of popular styles according to the public’s taste and favorites (McGlaughlin, 2005).
When Beethoven’s unique and beautiful style started to come out and developed, his masters recognized this and thus, they encouraged and supported him to begin a series of original compositions. However, this development in him convinced him to give up all his trainings due to his financial insufficiency to pay for his tuition. His first music published in Vienna included three piano trios opus (op) 1 and three piano sonatas op. 2. His originality and brilliance showed most in the piano sonatas. In 1795, he had his first public appearance, performing the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, which impressed the city of Vienna and urged him to compose three piano concertos, two symphonies, and six string quartets.
One of his compositions in this period was the Piano Sonata in C minor, known as the Pathetique, which most highlighted Beethoven’s powerful expression through his music. Pathetique, composed in 1799, and the melodramatic Moonlight, 1801, were a fresh innovation of classical style. His emotions were truly displayed through these compositions, which some critics have traced to a streak of rebelliousness that were not visible in Mozart’s or Haydn’s music. While Haydn wrote music for his performances and concerts, Beethoven’s drive to compose emanated from the unpredictable and passionate emotions he felt. He was a man of nature, he consistently took time to appreciate the country, and listen to the different sounds of the woods.The long walks provided him with inspirations for a new composition that by the time he got home, his ideas flowed through easily and endlessly. He was a musician who understood beauty in perfection, evident in his burning desire to change and rewrite a piece until he was completely satisfied with the way it perfectly matched his moods.
In 1798, Beethoven started to become aware of the sudden change in his hearing. There was a humming in his ear that he thought would go away. Unfortunately, it didn’t and by the end of the century, his hearing was completely gone. He considered this as the ultimate failure and curse for a musician and composer. This period of personal crisis in his life brought him to depression. He even contemplated suicide, and feared that his deafness would eventually end his life and career in music. The death of his brother made him the sole guardian of his nephew Karl, a depressed kid who also tried to end his life due to his uncle’s inefficiency. He made a letter addressed to his remaining brothers and told them agonizingly that his deafness might eventually kill him (Seattle Opera, 2007).
Later on, Beethoven was grateful not to give in to his depression. He felt blessed to have been given such great talent that he fully embraced what he was, including the loss of his hearing. Along with determination to continue living, it was this tremendous acceptance of himself that he finally started to create a series of the greatest pieces in the history of music, his symphonies.
Beethoven’s works during the first period were the First and Second Symphonies, a powerful and dramatic expressions of what he has gone through in life (Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, 2007). The Second Symphony spoke of his agonies and rage over his sudden loss of hearing, and the music flowed into a beautiful revelation of what life still has to offer him and his art. It was almost an innovation in the classical period rich with expressive range.
Middle Period (1803 – 1815)
Beethoven was very successful at the turn of the century. He was famous and noted for the great volume of originals he composed and published. Also known as the Heroic period, the middle period spanned the release of six symphonies, three concertos, an opera, and two sonatas.
Beethoven’s composition of the classical Second Symphony introduced him to a more mature style. His Third Symphony in E-flat major, the first among the only three Symphonies that were given a title, was dedicated to Napoleon, whom he saw and admired as the great hero of Europe. Originally written without a title, he later named it as Eroica when Napoleon betrayed his people. The music spoke beautifully of a painful experience that has taught him to appreciate life (Greenberg, 2006).
It was also a silent encouragement and dedication to the Viennese people who have experienced struggles under the French. Eroica was a work of self-worth, heroism and patriotism that has inspired Vienna and the world for over a hundred years. It was a reminder of the revolutionary work of a man who was considered as both a conqueror and a traitor. Completed in 1804, it was the longest piece created by a composer during the Classical period. He introduced more instruments that varied according to the dynamic twists of themes, range, and weight of the piece.
Eroica was the symbol of an end and a beginning of a new period. Due to its orchestration and length, it was the first music that has defied all the rules of classical composition. In 1805, he premiered the Symphony, a sign of a new era in music (McGlaughlin, 2005).
The Fourth Symphony was never as overpowering as the Eroica. Its structure had gone back to the traditional style of music, which the listeners have claimed to be a remnant of the Third Symphony. The Fifth Symphony was a dynamic and fast rhythm of loud instruments and orchestration. It was his breakaway from tradition to indulge himself in the wonders and fascinating process of self-expression. Heavy drama was infused into a more upbeat structure.
In the Sixth Symphony, Beethoven went back to his deep love and appreciation of the country. The sound was a break from the rich drama of the Fifth Symphony. The second symphony to have a name, Symphony no. 6 in F major was a beautiful description of the sounds of nature. Named as Pastoral, Beethoven recalled the solitary walks in the woods, consciously aware and keen of the presence of the animals and the sounds of rain and thunder. It was a perfect image of an environment untamed by time.
Beethoven’s failed relationship with the woman whom he considered immortal beloved inspired the dance-like structure and rhythm of the Seventh Symphony. Some have claimed the girl to be Antonie Bretano who was married to a rich businessman. Beethhoven wrote a letter for her, telling her of his passionate love. The letter, however, was never sent. He poured out his grief and heartaches to the Seventh Symphony, to which the pace and sound was an opposite of the anguish he felt. His hearing was almost in decline during this period, which motivated him more to create and to compose extraordinary styles and techniques.
After the Seventh Symphony in 1812, Beethoven experienced again another personal crisis that led to the decline of his career in music. A failed concert due to his illness brought him to another depression, which was also triggered by the failure in his relationship with a woman he dearly loved. Issues with his nephew persisted and eventually led to some legal actions. Nevertheless, his perseverance prevailed which resulted to a more profound style of composition (Greenberg, 2007).
Symphony No. 8 was an unconventional style that emanated laughter and gay. It was a painful reminder of his loss over his beloved, and a thanksgiving for the revival of his career. Released in 1814, the Eight Symphony was a tale of both a style and experiment of genius and madness during the classical period. It was the first composition considered modern, a new piece in the genre of Romantic period. The structure of the symphony, which remarkably displayed the range, harmony, rhythm, and length, clearly marked Beethoven’s unique and signature style in composition.
He also composed and produced his only opera, the Fidelio, which was originally written in 1805 but has been revised twice due to his dissatisfaction with the earlier arrangements. The story was believed to be a political representation of the life of ordinary people in 19th century Europe. The main character of the story was a woman named Leonore. Many have agreed that she was Beethoven’s image of a perfect woman in his life, although none of his partners ended up in marriage with him. The story of Fidelio was not only about loyalty and responsibility for one’s country, but it was also a tale of the wonders and strife of love between married people. Finally, the opera achieved the master’s perfection and was successful in its last version in 1814.
His career has slowed down between the years of 1813 – 1820 with his problems concerning his nephew Karl (McGlaughlin, 2005).
Late Period (1816 – 1826)
Beethoven’s final loss of career began after 1815 when he was endlessly plagued by struggles with his complete loss of hearing and his disappointment in failed relationships. Vienna’s taste in music has dramatically changed, and the public started to prefer the operas and songs. This bitter disinterest from the people resulted to a change in compositions and pieces in his music (Grove Concise of Dictionary of Music, 2007).
Symphony No. 9, named as Choral, was a revolutionary piece of music that adopted all art forms – literature, dance, drama, and song. Symphony No. 9 in D major was forever remembered as the music that introduced the beautiful lyrics of Ferdinand Schiller’s Ode to Joy. It was, according to Beethoven, a time for a change, one that would inspire generations of musicians around the world. The powerful voices of the vocalists in the chorus were heard during the last part of the piece.
From the year 1816 up to the last days of his career in music, Beethoven’s works became more profound and complex. Perhaps that is why the Choral was so monumental that almost everyone today, most especially musicians and composers, knows the song Ode to Joy by heart (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2005).
The late period also marked the release of other piano sonatas, the Missa Solemnis, and five string quartets.
Other Compositions during the Periods
Beethoven was most remembered for his nine symphonies, which gave birth to a new and unique style of musical arrangement. Each symphony had a story of its own to tell, reminiscent of the dramatic life that the brilliant composer has led. His 16 quartets, which Haydn and Mozart have introduced before him, were more developed and distinct than his masters (Seattle Opera, 2007). Beethoven’s style gave the piano a new modern image, evident in his piano concertos, piano sonatas, and piano repertoire.
Beethoven mostly dedicated his sonatas to very important persons he met and knew in his life. Until today, Beethoven’s sonatas have been a true epitome of the piano’s versatility. With 32 sonatas created and published during his entire career, Beethoven also wrote small sonata pieces for a solo or a blend of two instruments. He created his first piano sonatas as a dedication and appreciation for his first professional teacher, Haydn. One sonata written between 1796 and 1797 was dedicated to a certain Countess Babette von Keglevics, whom Beethoven has known. Published as Op. 7 in E-flat major, the four-movement sonata was hailed as a masterpiece due to its perfect balance and harmony. Op. 10, which has three sonatas in C minor, F major, and D major, was written for another Countess, Ann Margarete, von Browne (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2005).
The very popular Pathetique sonata, op. 13 in C minor, never lost its arresting sound for listeners until today. It was in Pathetique that Beethoven experimented with both drama and rage in his compositions (Grove Concise Dictionary of Music). The piece was dedicated to an important supporter of his music. Beethoven’s op. 26 in A-flat major was believed to be inspired by Mozart’s Sonata in A-major. Here, he avoided the plain sonata form at the beginning of the piece, and instead placed a set of variations together. The op. 27 has two sonatas, E-flat major named “Quasi una fantasia” and in C-sharp minor, or the famous dramatic Moonlight.
During his middle period, it was evident in Beethoven’s compositions the signs of the arrival of a new era in music – the Romantic period. The Waldstein, op. 53 in C major, was written for Count Ferdinand von Waldstein. The sonata was quite lengthy, which was a style he applied in almost every composition he made at that time. His Appassionista, op. 57 in F minor, with three movements beautifully blended with each other, was perhaps one of his best sonatas. The op. 54 in F major, however, was one of the weakest sonatas, with its virtuoso element, a lengthy first movement and shorter second movement with an introduction to a third movement. Beethoven also wrote a sonata, op. 81a in E-flat major, for a friend who passed away. The sonata was only one, with three titled movements, Farewell, Absence, and Return, respectively.
When Beethoven was completely deaf during the late period, it was his solitary moments that inspired him to create unconventional music, with forms, structures, and rhythms that defied the classical rules of style. He wrote his shortest sonata, and perhaps his shortest piece, in op. 101 A-major. This was the piece he dedicated to a favorite student, Dorothea von Ertmann. His last sonatas, op. 109 in E major, op. 110 in A-flat major, and opus 111 in C minor, were composed and published between 1821 and 1822 (Nomoto, 1998).
Classical Music and Composers
Beethoven broke the tradition of classical music that Haydn and Mozart established. While he has introduced a style so unique and fresh to the symphonic world, it is also important to familiarize the great musicians before him who have inspired greatness in him and those who have been influenced in turn by his work of genius (Vienna.org, 2007).
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was the most famous musician during the Baroque period. He was oftentimes called the father of piano. His skill in the piano was a gift he shared with the local church of Eisenach, his hometown. He was known most for his piano playing than for his compositions. He rarely found the importance and use of his pieces, which he destroyed after being used. He has great passion for the fugue style, a composition based on two or more themes. Though some composers didn’t place a high significance on the fugue, Bach’s brilliance in his work The Art of Fugue, showed the complexity of the style.
Before Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) was teaching private lessons to aspiring musicians like Beethoven, he was known for his wonderful and angelic singing voice. However, the voice along with his childhood, have diminished, and ended his aspirations to become a singer. He then turned instead to composing music. He and Mozart are among the first musicians who have introduced the string quartet. His experience and teachings made him a great mentor for Beethoven and Mozart (Vienna.org, 2007).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) was best remembered for his fast tempo music, an expression of his love for comedy and laughter. He was called the prince of Classical music. He started writing songs at age 5, and later toured Europe with his family. Like Beethoven, he also became a student of Haydn, and later in his career, wrote operas. Beethoven may not have agreed to include comedy in his music, but Mozart found satisfaction in a gay performance. Mozart was a musical genius; his ideas flowed through easily from his mind that made him compose more than a hundred classical originals. He mastered the scale in piano and incorporated it in almost all his music. Beethoven was only a young man when Mozart trained him for a short time. Unfortunately, Mozart died poor at an early age (AEIOU.htm, 2007).
Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849) was also at his best in piano playing. He studied music at the age of 13. It was his genius that forever changed the limited perception of the public towards the piano. Before him, people saw classical music as a simple sound played on the piano. But Chopin introduced diverse music while playing the instrument. Chopin’s songs and compositions, including the Grand Valse Brilliante and the Fant-Impromptu op. 66, were mostly played on the piano. Like Mozart, he was also a poor man who supported himself by teaching music lessons, selling his music, and giving private performances for the aristocrats’ homes.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) was a musician who preferred the styles of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven for inspirations in his musical style. By the time he became famous for his compositions, he was already in the Romantic period, yet he chose the classical style for expressing his brilliance. His experiences in music came from the shows he frequently performed for public bars and brothels. The lively and loud atmosphere in this environment impelled him to write dance and party tunes. When he took composition as a serious path to follow his passion, he gave up the life in the bar. He created four symphonies during his days, including two piano concerti, violin concerto and the clarinet quintet. Like Beethoven, he also has the style of blending tunes and rhythms in his orchestra, some that have been found too difficult to understand and play.
Beethoven and His Music
The arrival of the 19th century brought some changes in the people’s preference for classical music. Vienna and Europe have been experiencing great political changes, to which Napoleon has played a big part. There were some social adjustments, as well, with the people’s attitudes and values turning towards a more conservative style. Beethoven has not escaped these changes. Being a troubled man himself for his deafness, the relationship with his nephew, and his failed affairs with women, he has channeled all these frustrations to create the most remarkable music the world has ever known. Perhaps all these changes have encouraged him to take a break from his music and isolate himself once again (Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, 2007).
He may have experienced some career decline but in the end, he made an extraordinary departure from the music world – he left everyone with the breathtaking Symphony No. 9. Vienna had the first experience with the Symphony. The piece made them look back at the times when the great Beethoven ruled and conquered. Although some musicians have never quite understood the purpose of complexity in the composition, they were conscious of how beautiful the music was (Greenberg, 2006).
Beethoven was the first musician in the classical period who broke the traditional and standard rules set and followed by Haydn and Mozart. He created the most complicated and the longest symphonies, with Eroica being twice as long as the pieces composed by the two musicians. He infused a richer and deeper emotion and harmony to his experiments with instruments and structure. The musicians in the Romantic period who lived after him, including Mozart and Franz Lizt, were inspired to carry forward the unconventional and expressive attitudes of Beethoven.
An analysis of Beethoven’s music shows that he was a man not only distressed by personal crisis but by political issues as well. The Third Symphony was the most expressive piece of a political revolution that affected the people of Europe. He made it a lengthy story that perfectly depicted the great conquests and victories of a leader, Napoleon, and his betrayal to the people, by eventually changing the name into Eroica, or memory of a hero. The Ninth Symphony, or the Choral, celebrated the gift of life, and man’s adoration and supplication to a higher being that provides and creates the gift (Greenberg, 2006).
The opera Fidelio was Beethoven’s personal contribution to the opera world which at that period has already been widely appreciated by the Europeans, especially in Italy and France. Germany at that period places no significance to German operas, due to the highly acclaimed operas created and performed by the Italian. Beethoven however, atypical of his nature, took a great step and broke away from traditions and standards by creating an opera. Today, Germany considers Fidelio as one of the earliest form of operas created by a German. Fidelio was a story of a couple that involved politics, freedom, responsibility, heroism, and love. However, due to its vivid display of violence in some parts, the government almost never allowed to have it shown. A comparison of the Fidelio to other operas, say of Mozart’s, we can see the huge difference in how they prefer the tone and mood of the story. While Mozart characterized a story in an opera with more humor and fun, Beethoven never even considered adding comical and jest in his pieces. The ending of the story of Fidelio involved action and heartwarming scenes that were devoid of any amusing feelings.
After Beethoven’s time, which gave entry to the Romantic period, operas have been the primary form of art favored by the composers and the public. That is why the operas that were known until today are those created during the Romantic period. Beethoven was the musician who respected and adhered to the Classical period style but was also daring and reckless enough to inaugurate a style that was the pathway towards the Romantic period. His early period compositions were lovingly dedicated to the Classical period and to the masters who trained him, Haydn and Mozart, but his works, during the middle and final period, especially the Ninth Symphony and the string quartets, became the standard of Beethoven’s style. He was the first composer and musician who changed the instrumentation and orchestration of a symphony that the people usually have been aware of (AEIOU.htm, 2007). After the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven has started to fade away from the public’s view. He got seriously ill in 1826, when his body experienced complications due to pneumonia, cirrhosis, and dropsy. Nobody but his friends knew he was dying, but they all expected him to pass away anytime by then. In the end, his special friend Huttenbrenner made an official testimony and declaration of the great musician’s death. Beethoven died on March 27, 1827 with a strong conviction that he made an impact in the world.
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