Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized December 17, 1770, Bonn, Germany – died March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria) was a German pianist and a very prolific composer. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, Beethoven remains one of the most famous, influential and greatest musical geniuses of all time. He produced many symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, violin sonatas, masses, several overtures and an opera. Beethoven continued to compose even while losing his hearing and created some of his greatest works after becoming totally deaf.
Family and early life
The Beethoven biography starts with his baptism which was performed in 1770, December 17. It has been suggested that his date of birth could be December 16, 1770 because in those days children used to be baptized a day after their birth as decreed by the Catholic Church.
Beethoven was the eldest of three children of Johann and Maria Magdalena van Beethoven. Ludwig had seven siblings: Caspar Anton Carl, Nikolaus Johann, Ludwig Maria, Maria Margarita, Anna Maria Francisca and Franz Georg van Beethoven, and Johann Peter Anton Leym. Of the seven children, only Ludwig, the second-born, and two younger brothers (Caspar Anton Carl and Nikolaus Johann) survived infancy.
Ludwig’s mother, Maria Magdalena van Beethoven, was a gentle, retiring woman, with a warm heart. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was a musician at the court of Bonn, who liked to drink. Ludwig’s father was his first music teacher, who taught him to play piano and violin. Beethoven’s musical talent was obvious at a young age. Ludwig’s father had hopes of making money by exploiting his son as a child prodigy.
A local musician, Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer, gave him formal piano lessons; Gilles van Eeden, the court organist in Bonn, instructed Beethoven in keyboard playing and in music theory; Franz Rovantini gave him violin lessons; a violinist, Franz Ries, also taught Beethoven. Under the guidance of the professional musician Nikolaus Simrock, Beethoven learned to play the horn.
Ludwig attended a Latin grade school. In 1781, at the age of 10, Beethoven withdrew from school to study music full time with Christian Gottlob Neefe, the newly appointed Court Organist. He was Beethoven’s first full-time teacher. Gottlob Neefe quickly recognised Beethoven’s prodigious talent and secured for him the position of assistant Court Organist. Beethoven even filled in as church organist when Neefe was out of town. At the age of 12, Beethoven published his first composition, a set of piano variations on a theme by an obscure classical composer named Dressler and in the 1780s he produced the seeds of a number of later works. As Beethoven developed, it became clear that to reach artistic maturity he would have to leave Bonn for a major musical centre.
Years in Vienna
In March 1787 Beethoven travelled to Vienna for the first time, apparently in the hope of studying with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The details of their relationship are uncertain, including whether or not they actually met. Beethoven learned that his mother was dying, the only person in his family with whom he had developed a strong and loving relationship. He was forced to return home, thereafter, his mother died and his father lapsed deeper into alcoholism. The next five years Beethoven spent in Bonn taking care of his two younger brothers. His father died in 1792.
In 1792, Beethoven moved to Vienna and began studying with the most eminent musicians of the age. One of his teachers was the organist of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, a learned contrapuntist of the old school who equipped him with the comprehensive technique that he needed. Beethoven studied vocal composition with Antonio Salieri, the imperial Kappellmeister, and piano with Joseph Haydn, a prominent composer.
Beethoven was probably first introduced to Joseph Haydn in late 1790, when the latter was travelling to London and stopped in Bonn around Christmas time. They met in Bonn on Haydn’s return trip from London to Vienna in July 1792, and it is likely that arrangements were made at that time for Beethoven to study with the old master. From 1790 to 1792, Beethoven composed a significant number of works that demonstrated his growing range and maturity.
By 1793, aged just 22, Beethoven often played the piano in the salons of the Viennese nobility. He often performed the preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and quickly established himself as a piano virtuoso.
Beethoven won many patrons among the leading citizens of the Viennese aristocracy, who provided him with lodging and funds, allowing Beethoven, in 1794, to sever ties with the Electorate of Cologne. Beethoven made his long-awaited public debut in Vienna on March 29, 1795.
Just like his teachers, Beethoven became a music teacher to many people including Countess Anna Brunsvik’s daughters who was from Hungary. He also taught other students like Ferdinand Reis and Carl Czerny who went ahead to do great works like teaching and composing music. His students also had a great impact in the music industry in those times.
In the next three years he undertook concert tours in Berlin and Prague and might have travelled more widely still had the international situation permitted. In 1800, he launched a public concert on the grand scale, in which one of his own piano concerti, the Septet (Opus 20), and the First Symphony were given, together with works by Haydn and Mozart. The event contributed a great deal to the spread of Beethoven’s fame abroad. His Second Symphony was premiered in the year 1803. These two symphonies made him gain a wider recognition than before such that he was regarded to be one of the most influential as well as one of the most important composers of his generation at his age right after Haydn and Mozart.
Beethoven’s ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus (Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus) was created in collaboration with choreographer Salvatore Vigano. Commissioned in 1800, the ballet was the composer’s first major work for the stage. Premiered in Vienna’s Burgtheater on March 28, 1801, Prometheus was initially a great success, and within a few years it had been performed dozens of times. In the spring of 1802 he completed the Second Symphony.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, (composed between 1822 and 1824) is one of his greatest compositions and one of the greatest symphonies ever composed. It was first performed in Vienna on 7 May 1824. Symphony No. 9 is also known as the choral symphony as its final movement features four vocal soloists and a chorus who sing a setting of Schiller’s poem Ode To Joy (An Die Freude).
From 1803 to 1812, he composed an opera, six symphonies, five string quartets, four solo concerti, several piano sonatas (including the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas), six-string sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four trios, four overtures, two sextets and 72 songs. The most famous among these were the haunting Moonlight Sonata, symphonies No. 3-8, the Kreutzer violin sonata and Fidelio, his only opera.
Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor for solo piano, commonly known as For Elise (Für Elise) is one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s best known compositions. The popular piano piece was not printed during his lifetime, however, and was first published in 1867 in an edition containing many mistakes.
Health problems and death
Beethoven’s hearing began to deteriorate in his mid-20s, after already building a reputation as a musician and composer. By 1814 he was totally deaf, which for any other composer would have been the end of his career. However, Beethoven was not any other composer and he kept producing more work.
Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827 at the age of 56.
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