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Ludwig van Beethoven

1770-1826

Beethoven PortraitFor many he represents the highest level of musical genius. His unique stature is comparable to Shakespeare's in literature and Michelangelo's in painting. He is the composer of some of the most beautiful and influential pieces of music ever written. Ludwig van Beethoven created a bridge between the eighteenth century classical period and the new beginnings of the Romanticism.

Beethoven was born in December of 1770 in Bonn, Germany. Historians do not know his exact birth date but many sources list either December 16, the day before his family baptized him, or Dec. 17, the day of his baptism. Like Bach and Mozart before him, he came from a family of musicians, His grandfather Ludwig was the music director at the court in Bonn. Beethoven was the second oldest child to Johann van Beethoven, a court musician and an obscure tenor who held a low position in the court. He was said to be a violent and intemperate man who returned home late at night drunk, and dragged young Ludwig from his bed to "beat" music lessons into the boy's sleepy head. Despite these abuses the young Beethoven developed a sensitivity and vision for music.

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Ludwig gave his first public performances as a pianist when he was eight years old. At eleven he received training in piano performance and composition from Christian Gottlob, a court musician in Bonn. When he was around twelve, he had his Nine Variations for Piano in C minor published. In the early part of 1787 he went to study in Vienna, a noted musical center where then Count Waldstein became Ludwig's piano teacher, a friend and a patron. There he met the great Mozart, who received the boy doubtfully, but when Ludwig started playing, his talent was evident.

The first concert of his own responsibility occurred on April 2, 1800, he launched his First Symphony and introduced his world famous Septet in E flat. One year later Beethoven felt the first symptoms of deafness. Doctors could not do anything to stop its progress or to relive Ludwig from physical and emotional torture. His career as a virtuoso pianist was brought to an end. In the summer of 1803 he began work on his Third Symphony - the "Eroica", a landmark in music history. For the next few years in Vienna, from 1804 to 1808, Beethoven lived in what might be described as a state of dull confusion. He completed his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies by the summer of 1808.

The Ninth Symphony, also called "Choral," was completed in 1823, by which time Ludwig was completely deaf. Four years later in March Beethoven died. Thirty thousand people mourned the composer at his funeral three days later. He was buried in Wahring Cemetery. In 1888 his remains were moved to Zentral-friedhof in Vienna, a great resting place for musicians.

Beethoven mostly used classical forms and techniques, but he gave them new power and intensity. He sought perfection and he achieved it in his music.

Sources:

Forbes, E. (1967). Thayer's Life of Beethoven (2v). Princeton, rev.

Solomon. M. (1997) Beethoven. Schirmer, New York.

Thayer, A. W. (1973). Life of Beethoven. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.

Tovey, D. F. (1963). Beethoven. Oxford, London.


Edited by: Marta Maslowski, Von Steuben High School, Chicago IL
Researched by: Michael Policarpio, Von Steuben High School, Chicago IL
Written by: Magdalena Maslowski, Von Steuben High School, Chicago IL
December 15, 1998

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