Bonn 1770 - Vienna 1827

Ludwig van Beethoven

To introduce Beethoven briefly is very difficult task: we can only hope to share some ideas, trusting that the reader will do their own more in-depth reading from the vast bibliography of information of the composer; it is important to understand this musical giant, both from a historical and musical viewpoint as well as understanding the culture of the time and his own personality in general. The Beethoven family, of Flemish origin, were musicians: Ludwig van Beethoven himself was a child prodigy but he had a very poor and unhappy childhood, exploited by a violent father who treated him as if he were a freak. Among the possible teachers of Beethoven, according to the hypothesis of Giorgio Taboga (although unsubstantiated by historians), may have been Andrea Luchesi who would have taught him during his time in Bonn at the height of his success and imparted invaluable knowledge. Beethoven had a fortunate meeting with Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, who became his protector and patron, allowing, for example, for him to study with Haydn in Vienna 1792-94, and introducing him to the aristocracy of the capital. The Viennese period was a happy one for the composer: he was appreciated for his ability to improvise and his pianistic talent allowed him a certain level of financial stability, which he used to help his family in Bonn. During this Viennese period Beethoven wrote: three trios for piano, violin and cello; the first six string quartets; the Septet for strings and winds (which was widely popularity at the time); the Piano Sonata no. 8 – Pathetique; the early piano sonatas; Piano Concerto No. 1 and his first symphony: the latter were presented, at the stroke of the new century, as part of the Beethoven Academy, namely a concert which he organised in order to have only his works performed, a clue as to the importance that he had acquired as a composer. In the meantime his studies led him not to the Greek classics, but more and more towards Sturm und Drang, Goethe and Schiller, and the ideals of the French Revolution. This happy period of happiness for Beethoven ended sadly with the discovery of his deafness, when the composer famously wrote the ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’ (named after the suburb of Vienna in which he resided), addressed to his two brothers, which was found alongside the mysterious ‘Letter to the immortal beloved’ almost by accident after his death. In it the composer ‘challenges’ his absurd fate which condemns him to complete deafness and, at the abrupt end to his career as a pianist, the increasing difficulty of human relationships. Thus began the so-called Heroic Period which is full of masterpieces: the Violin Sonata no.5, known as La Primavera; Piano Sonata no.14 or the Moonlight Sonata; the Second Symphony; and the Third Piano Concerto . The Third Symphony is called ‘Eroica’, initially dedicated to Bonaparte, but at the start the second period of the composer’s life (1802-1812) it was simply called ‘heroic’.  Deemed too long by the public at its debut in 1807, this famous work was not immediately well received. In this decade we also find many other masterpieces: the Piano Sonatas – n.21 op.53, dedicated to his patron Waldstein; the famous n.23 called Appassionata (1803); no. 26 called les adieux; the Archduke Trio; Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello; Piano Concerto no. 4; and the beautiful fifth concerto called Emperor; the Violin Concerto; and the Fourth but especially the Fifth Symphony, in which the heroic style reached its peak. Beethoven continued to work on other celebrated pieces, namely the Sixth (Pastoral Symphony) and the Seventh symphony which Wagner later defined as the apotheosis of dance. Finally, the composer made his operatic debut with Fidelio but the negative reception of this masterpiece deeply upset the composer who decided not to continue composing in this genre with the exception of a few small projects. In 1812, there was the famous Teplitz incident: in short, the meeting between the two Greats, Goethe and Beethoven, who do not get along: Beethoven deeply offended Goethe by refusing to bow to some members of the imperial family. He stood straight, well aware that the ‘nobels’ got their status as a birthright, but he declared, “everything I am, I earned by myself – there will always be countless noblemen, but there are only two of us.” This was the era that some biographers call the dark years, marked by many dramatic events suffered in solitude, his complete deafness, and lack of inspiration. Nevertheless in this period he wrote the two Sonatas for Cello and Piano Sonata n.28. The last decade of his life however, 1818-1827, began with an impressive array of masterpieces, often not appreciated by his contemporaries, and a return to Christianity. Some examples from this period include the Missa Solemnis which he considered “my best work, my greatest job,” and of course the Ninth Symphony: his greatest legacy left to humanity and one of the greatest works of all time. He also left great piano sonatas such as the Piano Sonata no. 29 Op. 106 called Hammerklavier, and works n.30, 31, 32;  Variations on a Theme by Diabelli; the last five almost experimental string quartets (n. 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16); and the Grand Fugue. In 1825 he moved back to Vienna, where he died at the age of 56. He was buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna where more than twenty thousand people attended his funeral. For a list of his full works and reviews, we refer the reader, as mentioned previously, to more thorough and appropriate literature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *