Ludwig van Beethoven – The Life and Creation of the Great Composer

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Born on the 16th December 1770 at Bonn, Beethoven is considered to be a brilliant composer who, through his entire creation, fully contributed to the development of the universal music and the improvement of genres and musical forms.

Origins and background

His father and grandfather were musicians of the court in Bonn and little Ludwig, whose talent came to light since he was 4, was destined to the same career. He studied with different teachers the piano, organ, violin and viola, excelling at playing the first two.

At the age of 11 he became the pupil of the composer Christian Gotthof Neefe, organist and band master of the court, who not only broadened his musical background, but also encouraged him to compose. Though he was still a child, he soon became Neefe’s assistant at the organ, as well as in the Elector’s personal theatre orchestra and of some other families, being later hired as a band master.

With the help of the Elector and some other noble families from Bonn he was sent to study in Vienna where he had as teachers Haydn, Albrechtsberger, Schenk and Salieri. Here, he was firstly remarked as a skilled pianist, gifted with an unusual expressive power, which allowed him to present his own creations.

Character and personality

His artistic personality was doubled by a passionate and unflinching temper which didn’t allow him to be intimidated or humiliated. Though he was supported by a series of aristocrats, he didn’t service anyone, defending ceaselessly his position as an independent professional musician. He is the first great example of this in the history of music, but the conditions of the feudal settlements were to impede him in finding the material stability and peace of mind to freely compose, until the end of his life.

Contemporaneous with the French Revolution from 1789 and the national independence current, which tormented the European peoples in this period, he understood the time’s call and expressed the new ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity, becoming a fighter through art, to accomplish humanity’s most noble aspirations.

Having appeared in the Viennese Classicism’s magnificent period, represented by Haydn and Mozart, he determinedly took over the achievements since, creatively developing them, widening the frame of the classic forms, using new templates, more suitable to the contemporary way of thinking and feeling, bringing in music the force of an impetuous dynamism which passionately revealed the dramas of the human existence. Also, through his language and through considerably increasing the number of the orchestra’s instruments he contributed to the extraction of the music out of the saloons’ privacy.

Musical Creation

According to Harold Schonberg, Beethoven’s creation can be divided in three periods of time:

– A first period including approximately twenty works is marked by the appeal to old forms, but prefigures the explosive force to come, here, eloquent examples being the minuet from the 1st Symphony, which prepares the future scherzos or slow motion from the Sonata for piano opera 10 no. 3, with a writing characterized by a direct affective involvement, suggesting an almost romantic tune.

– The second period begins with the 3rd Symphony when Beethoven appears as an expert of form, who establishes his own rules, the form of sonata being the one that was to determine the creative evolution of the composer.

– The third period includes the last five chords quartets, the piano sonatas “Diabelli Variations”, “Missa Solemnis” and the 9th Symphony when music is written not to be to someone’s liking, but to justify his artistic and intellectual existence, appealing to concepts and symbols.

Beethoven’s Legacy

Through his entire attitude towards music it is natural that he gave a direct programmatic significance to some of his works, among which the most important are: The 3rd Symphony in C major op. “Eroica”, The 5th Symphony in A minor op. 67, The 6th Symphony in D major op.68 “Pastorala”, The 9th Symphony with choir and vocalists in B minor op. 125, the overtures “Coriolan”, “Egmont” and “Leonora”.

His creation also covers: the opera “Fidelio”, the ballet “Prometheus’ Beings”, the scene music for the drama “Egmont” by Goethe, “King Stephen” and “Athena’s Ruins” by Kotzebue, vocal-symphonic works like the oratorio “Jesus on the Olive Mountain”, “Fantasia for Piano, Choir and Orchestra”, “Missa solemnis”, concert works (a concert for violin, two romances for violin, five concerts for piano, treble concert for piano viola and cello), various vocal parts accompanied by orchestra, fanfare music, works for various instrumental room formations (from trio to octet, where the chords quartets are an important stage in this type’s literature), a great number of instrumental compositions among which there are 10 sonatas for violin and piano, 4 sonatas for cello and piano, a sonata for horn and piano, 32 sonatas for piano (The Sonata in A major op. 53 “Waldstein”, The Sonata in D minor op.57 “Appassionata”)etc.

His creation seems even more impressive considering that this genius was struck by deafness since he was 29, affection which became total after approximately a decade, stopping him from singing in public. The pains caused by this illness and the multiple sentimental and family disappointments determined him to gradually isolate from the world but didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most loved figures in the history of music.

The difference between Beethoven and other great composers who preceded him is that he considered himself an artist and stood up to defend his rights. He was an artist, a creator and that is why he considered himself superior to kings and aristocrats.

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