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1770 1827

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven, Ludwig van
  • The most famous and influential composer in music history. His life and music provided the template for musical Romanticism.

Vital Statistics

Born: Dec. 17, 1770 in Bonn, Germany
Died: Mar. 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria, of cirrhosis of the liver and lead poisoning
Nationality: German
Genre: Classical
Performed as: Pianist (soloist)
During the composer's lifetime: The American and French Revolutions, and Napoleonic Wars took place.

Biographical Outline

  • First gig: Assistant court organist, Bonn, ages 14-22.
  • Vienna: Moves there in 1792 to study with Haydn. Establishes himself as a star pianist.
  • Deafness: In 1801, Beethoven confides to a couple of trusted friends that he is experiencing deafness. By 1818, he is totally deaf.
  • Heroic decade: 1802-1812: Beethoven produces many of his most famous compositions. His “heroic style” expands and, in some ways, redefines the instrumental genres of his time.
  • High-level contacts: Beethoven dedicates many of his famous works to his major aristocratic patrons. These include Count Waldstein, Count Rasumovsky, Prince Karl Lichnowsky and, later on, the Archduke Rudolph.
  • Resurgence: After a creative trough, Beethoven forges a distinctive late-period style, beginning with the “Hammerklavier” piano sonata (1818).
  • The Ninth: Beethoven had long wanted to set the poet Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” to music. In 1823, he finally accomplishes that goal by finishing the Ninth Symphony. It is first performed on May 7, 1824, conducted by Beethoven.
  • Quartet consolation: Though Beethoven is beset with illness in his last years, he composes a final series of five string quartets in 1822-26.

Fun Facts

  • Poor Education: Beethoven was not well-educated, nor was he good-looking. He had a forceful, magnetic personality and many friends, but was hot-tempered, often ill-mannered, and suspicious.
  • Politics: Beethoven was initially a supporter of Napoleon, and meant to dedicate the Third Symphony to him. The dedication was angrily crossed out when Napoleon declared himself Emperor, in 1802. Beethoven remained loyal to his friends in the high Austrian nobility.
  • Unrequited love:The “Immortal Beloved” addressed in an 1812 letter that Beethoven saved but never sent, was Antonie Brentano, wife of a Frankfurt businessman.
  • Hearing loss:As he grew more deaf, visitors to Beethoven wrote their conversation down for him to read. About 140 “conversation books” are known to exist, though Beethoven’s personal secretary destroyed some of them and tampered with others after the composer’s death.
  • Auctioned works:Beethoven’s estate, including his music sketchbooks and manuscript scores, were auctioned off after his death. Together, they brought a moderate amount of money, 1,140 florins (about 17,600 modern Euros).
  • Funeral:Beethoven’s funeral procession, on March 29, 1827, was witnessed by 10,000 or more people.

Recommended Biography

  • Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (1977, revised 1998), Schirmer Books.
  • Esteban Buch, Beethoven’s Ninth: A Political History, translated by Richard Miller. University of Chicago Press, 2004 (paperback edition).

Explore the Music

  • A list of non-masterpieces by Beethoven would be much shorter than the list of famous works. Musicians are familiar with most of his lesser works. To do, once before you die: Hear the Ninth Symphony live in concert

Recommended Websites

Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2 (Complete) look inside Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2 (Complete) By Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Edited by Willard A. Palmer. For solo piano. Masterworks; Piano Solo; Solo. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Form: Sonata. Classical Period. SMP Level 10 (Advanced). Single piece. Standard notation, fingerings and introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 23 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.2502)

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48 Famous Studies (1st Oboe Part) look inside 48 Famous Studies (1st Oboe Part) Edited by Wilhelm Ferling and Albert Andraud. For 2 oboes or saxophones (1st oboe part). Woodwind Solos & Ensembles - Oboe Method/Studies. Classical. Grade 3. Performance part. 47 pages. Published by Southern Music Company (SO.B103)

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