Just about everyone has heard of Beethoven. Some may not know much about him, while others may have read extensively about his life. But who was Beethoven really? This page will talk about his life, his music, his feelings, and his spiritual beliefs.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. Beethoven's father, a singer and an alcoholic, recognized Beethoven's talent at an early age. But his father was not very successful at exploiting his son's talent.
In 1787, Beethoven visited Vienna and played for Mozart, who was very impressed and realized that Beethoven would someday be famous. A few years later, Beethoven moved to Vienna. He began to play for the aristocrats, who were impressed even though the young man had few manners. Sadly, Beethoven began to go deaf in the late 1790s (when he was only in his late twenties.) At first, he tried to conceal his deafness. But after struggling through an orchestra rehearsal, the players realized what was wrong. Their conductor was deaf. It is hard enough for anyone to be deaf. But for a musician, particularly a conductor, it was the worst possible thing. Unfortunately, this affected Beethoven's disposition. Beethoven, previously proud, independent, and odd, became suspicious and irritable.
For the last years of his live, Beethoven was completely deaf. This reduced his social life but not his composing. Beethoven was not on good terms with his family. He was bringing up his nephew, but he was never very close to the boy. Beethoven was not very fatherly by nature.
Near the end of 1826, Beethoven caught a serious cold. The illness evolved into pneumonia and then dropsy. He died during a storm on March 26, 1827.
But Beethoven lived on through his music. He wrote nine symphonies, many operas, sonatas, and chamber music.
Beethoven was basically optimistic. He had faith in morals. Joy is the dominant theme in most of his works. Even the pieces that start off dark and depressing end in glory.
Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, Eroica, depicts the heroism that he believed was in Napoleon. He even was going to name his 3rd Symphony for the great general. But when Beethoven found out that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, he went into a furious rage and ripped up the title page. But the piece still displays Beethoven's intense nationalistic feelings.
Beethoven believed in many ideals of the Enlightenment. He valued freedom, dignity of the individual, and heroism. These ideals are characterized by the French Revolution.
I recall a story that my very first piano teacher told me once. Beethoven's 9th Symphony was incredibly moving. When Beethoven's arms came down to signify the end of the masterpiece, he stood there facing the orchestra. Finally someone went up to the podium and turned Beethoven around. What Beethoven saw in that emotional moment was that the audience was giving a standing ovation. You see, Beethoven couldn't hear the applause and wouldn't have turned around. But he did, and Beethoven then knew that everyone loved his fabulous symphony.
Click to hear some of Beethoven's music. It's a little rickety right now, but I'm working on a better format for hearing the midi files. Or, just leave your browser here to keep hearing his "Moonlight Sonata."
Beethoven's 5th Symphony