Introduction To The Composer | Ludwig van Beethoven
The exact date of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth in not known for certain, however, surviving documents indicate that his baptism occurred on December 17th, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. During this time, baptism followed very shortly after birth which may put the composer’s actual day of birth on either the 16th or the 17th.
Argued by many to be one of, if not the greatest composer who has ever lived, the affects of Beethoven’s genius can still be felt to this day.
Like many great composers, Beethoven was born into a musical family. His father Johann van Beethoven, a singer and musician at the Electoral Court in Bonn, was committed to having Ludwig follow in the footsteps of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a child prodigy. However, Johann’s severe alcoholism and bullying, abusive personality proved him to be an unsuited and incompetent teacher for the blossoming Ludwig. Beethoven soon went on to study with other Bonn court musicians such as composer and organist Christian Neefe.
In 1787, at the age of 16, Beethoven travelled to Vienna with the hopes of studying under Mozart. Unfortunately, the trip was cut short when his mother unexpectedly died of tuberculosis leaving the young Beethoven to deal with the families finances and his father’s alcoholism.
By 1797, Beethoven found himself back in Vienna, the city where he would remain for the rest of his days. It was here where Beethoven studied with the likes of Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri.
Around the turn of the 19th century, Beethoven’s hearing started to diminish. Devastated by his impending deafness, he penned the now-famous, “Heiligenstadt Testament”, named after the town in which it was written. In this letter to his two younger brothers Kaspar Karl and Nikolaus, Beethoven spoke about his anguish, depression, and contemplation of suicide stating, “For me, there can be no pleasure in human society, no intelligent conversation, no mutual confidences”. The letter was never sent however and was not found until after his death. By the year 1820, Beethoven was completely deaf.
Beethoven’s contribution to the progression of music history cannot be overstated. His stubborn personality, tampering with conventional musical ideals, and lifelong commitment to perfection left such a mark on future composers that it even took Johannes Brahms 20 years to publish his first symphony for fear that it would never live up to Beethoven’s greatness.
Some of Beethoven’s chief major works consists of nine symphonies, including the famous 9th Symphony whose 4th movement features the choral adaptation of Schiller’s “Ode To Joy”. Also five piano concertos, 1 opera titled “Fidelio”, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 1 violin concerto, and his Mass in C, “Missa Solemnis”.
Beethoven lived with ill health for most of his life. However, after the attempted suicide of his beloved nephew Karl in 1826, his health began to rapidly decline. After months of suffering from liver disease, Beethoven passed away on March 26th, 1827, at the age of 56. It was estimated that 10,000 people attended his funeral.