Ludwig van Beethoven is regarded as a piano virtuoso and as one of the biggest composers in history. He is known not only to classical instrument players, if you are interested, here you can find the best cheap keyboard piano, but also to people with little or no musical culture.
Beethoven was born around December 16th, 1770, in Bonn, Germany. Even though his date of birth is unknown, documents show that the composer was baptized on December 17th. At the time, newborn babies were baptized within the first 24 hours after their birth.
Later in life, Beethoven is cited as mistakenly saying that he was born in 1772. However, documents show that this is not true. The cause of this misunderstanding might be linked to his father’s habit of presenting Beethoven as much younger than he was.
Ludwig van Beethoven came for a dysfunctional family. His father, Johann van Beethoven was a court singer that battled alcoholism all through his life. His mother, Maria Magdalena van Beethoven whom Beethoven described as his best friend, was a sensitive woman that the composer loved deeply.
His grandfather, Kapellmeister Ludwig van Beethoven, the main source of pride for the young composer, was an eminent musician from Bonn. The Beethoven family had seven children, but only two of them survived into adulthood.
Beethoven’s passion for music started in his childhood. His first teacher was his father, who saw in his talented son a new Mozart. At just seven years of age, at Cologne, young Beethoven gave his very first public performance. Soon after, the musician became the pupil of Gottlob Neefe, an acknowledged and renowned musician of those times.
Neefe is the one who taught Beethoven how to play the organ and who educated him on the topic of philosophy. At age 12, Beethoven published 9 Variations in C Minor for piano, his first work. One year later, in 1783, Neefe wrote and published a news article about his pupil in which he praised this talent. In the same year, the composer became a continuo player at the Bonn opera.
In 1784, at the recommendation of Gottlob Neefe, Beethoven was appointed assistant organist at the court of Maximillian Franz. In this position, he was able to frequent new social circles where he met the Von Breuning family, The Ries family, Franz Gerhard Wegeler and violinist Karl Amenda.
Given his prestige and his new monetary situation, Beethoven became the main financial support for his family.
In 1787, Maximilian Francis, the brother of Joseph II and the archbishop elector from Bonn, impressed by Beethoven’s talent, sent the young composer to study in Vienna, under the guidance of Mozart. Mozart was impressed by Beethoven’s ability to improvise and learn. However, Beethoven’s trip to the capital was cut short due to his mother’s death.
In the next five years, Beethoven remained in Bonn. Here, he played viola at the theatre orchestra and continued to make new acquaintances with influential people. After meeting Joseph von Breuning’s widow, Beethoven became a music teacher for her family and other wealthy pupils. In 1788, the composer met Ferdinand von Waldstein, an important figure of Viennese aristocracy.
Working with Haydn
At the death of Joseph II, in February 1790, Beethoven was invited to compose a funeral ode for the political leader. He also composed a musical piece for Leopold II, Joseph’s successor. Even though the pieces were never publicly performed, they were heard by Haydn.
In 1792, Haydn took Beethoven as his pupil. The same year when the composer left Bonn for Vienna, the French Revolution armies stormed into the province. At Vienna, the composer studied under Haydn, Albrechtsberger and, later on, Salieri. His skill and inventivity made him a well-liked figure in the city. In 1795, Beethoven gave his first performance in Vienna at the Academy and, then, embarked on a tour through Prague, Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin, and Budapest.
In 1801, Beethoven spoke for the first time about his fear of going deaf. In his words, his deafness was a sign of the cruelty of life. In 1802, he expressed his disgust about the idea of living as a deaf musician. To capitalize on the little time he had left, as his hearing worsened, he composed some of the most appreciated pieces of music from his repertoire, including symphonies and sonatas for piano.
In 1809, at the prime of his creation, Beethoven decided to leave Vienna following an invitation from Jerome Bonaparte. However, his wealthy admirers, including his friend Countess Anna Marie Erdody presented him with an annual grant that provided him with the necessary means to stay in the city without having to worry about his monetary means. Because of this grant, Beethoven became one of the first independent composers in the world.
In July 1812, Bettina Brentano introduced Beethoven to Goethe. Even though they admired each other, the two never became close friends. In the same year, the composer lost his annual grant and, once again, his financial independence was at risk.
On 15th of November 1815, the only surviving brother of the composer, Kaspar Karl died. He left behind his wife and a 9 years old son whom Beethoven had to look after. The relationship between Beethoven and his extended family was tense and filled with troubles.
In 1826, the composer became ill. Due to other illnesses that he was suffering from, he died the following year on March 26th, at the age of 56.
His musical work
A prolific composer, throughout his life, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas, 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, one opera, and numerous chamber works. What makes his compositions so well regarded is the fact that they encapsulated the idea of exploring and innovation. When compared to the works of other composers of his time, his creations were bolder, louder and more thrilling than any of them.
Beethoven’s work is usually classified into three periods. The first period is defined by the first symphony that he wrote, but it mainly consists of chamber music. His style is greatly influenced by other famous composers such as Mozart and Haydn.
His music compositions from this period share a couple of similar characteristics, including the use of crescendo and the infiltration of various techniques that keep the audience engaged such as rhythmic ambiguities and the use of accents.
The second period is marked by Beethoven’s departure from the norm of traditional 18th-century music. This is the most prolific period in his creation and the most popular and praised one. Now, his skill and inventiveness are clear and all his compositions are powerful and very engaging.
The last period of creation illustrates the composer’s interest in folklore. All his compositions from this period share the same sense of growth. Throughout his work, Beethoven enriches the field of music because of what the specialists call his architectonic use of tonality.
What makes his work even more remarkable is the fact that Beethoven spent the last 10 years of his life being completely deaf. However, this did not stop him from composing and writing music. His last public appearance when he performed his creations was in 1814.
Because he left school at age 11, Beethoven never learned how to multiply or how to divide. Mathematics proved difficult to him throughout his entire life.
Beethoven had a sickly constitution since childhood. Apart from deafness, he also suffered from rheumatism, rheumatic fever, hepatitis, cirrhosis, colitis, skin disorders, and typhus. It is believed that this deafness was caused by an illness that he had when he was young. At age 27, he began hearing a constant buzzing.
His father saw in him a prodigy, from the early days. Because he wanted to make his son a new Mozart, he would beat and force him to play and practice day and night.
When writing the Ninth Symphony, the composer was inspired by Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”. It is said that he wanted to put the poem in music form since he was a child.
Eroica, or Symphony no. 3 was written by the composer as an ode to Napoleon. Even though the composer became disillusioned when Napoleon named himself an absolute monarch, the piece became a defining work for the German enlightenment period.
Beethoven’s burial was an event in Vienna. More than 10,000 people chose to come to the funeral procession. As a sign of respect for his passing, the theaters in Vienna were closed on the 29th of March, 1827.
Beethoven music facts
Beethoven enjoyed playing the violin at a young age, and he often improvised rather than playing the notes from a score. His father wasn’t a big fan of that since he wanted his son to excel at music, and he often fought with him on that, telling him that his improvisations won’t amount to anything. In hindsight, we now know just how wrong he was.
There are many speculations regarding the first time that the young composer started writing his first composition on paper. There’s no exact information regarding this, but the only piece that’s available dates from 1782, and it is titled 9 Variations on a March by Dressler.
It is possible that Beethoven started composing much earlier than that and that he simply didn’t keep his ideas on paper. There’s still a lot that’s not known about Beethoven. Even so, even at the age of 12, he set himself apart from other musicians since his music was in C minor, which is difficult to play even for a proficient player, let alone a 12 years old.
One of the most surprising fun facts about Beethoven is that his music is filled with jokes. People nowadays may not find Beethoven’s music amusing, but Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 8 are, in fact, full of witty jokes.
It is difficult to understand the musical syntax because we need to remember, when was Beethoven born? The answer is 1790, and that’s more than 200 years ago. It is understandable that people nowadays can’t register the punch lines in Beethoven’s music, and there’s nothing that can ruin a joke more than having to explain it.
Symphony No. 9 and the “Ode to Joy” have played a huge role in shaping the face of classical music since, at that time, the idea of using a choir with singers didn’t feel right with most composers. However, it all paid off, and both pieces continue to inspire both composers and listeners to this day.
Even after the composer gained notoriety and became famous in his own right, he still had to keep up working hard in order to maintain a comfortable living situation. However, a small group of Viennese nobles decided to support Beethoven with an annual salary so that he could stay in Vienna as a resident composer and virtuoso for them.
Beethoven was the first musician to receive a salary and retain his independence since he was paid to compose whatever, and most importantly, whenever he wanted. That didn’t mean he got lazy since, at the time of his death, his compositions numbered no less than 722 works.
One interesting fact about Beethoven is that even after he lost his hearing, he still managed to retain his perfect pitch. This has allowed him to continue to compose for years, despite no longer being able to hear his music properly.
There’s also a rumor that Beethoven had a little ritual before composing, namely to dip his head in cold water. Could this be something that he thought helped him with his hearing loss or just a simple good-luck ritual? Nobody knows, and it is likely to remain a mystery.
After losing his hearing, the composer didn’t communicate with his friends using sign language. Instead, he carried conversation books in which his friends could write answers to his questions or have full conversations.
Nobody knows when Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday is, despite December 17th being the most widely used date. All that is known for sure is that the composer was born in December 1770, but the actual date of his birth continues to remain unknown despite some very well-thought theories made by historians.
Beethoven’s romantic life
Beethoven never married, and his romantic life was a bit shaky since while he did develop some romantic attachments, many of them remained unconsummated mostly due to his social background. Was Beethoven poor? He was born in a family with a relatively modest social background.
It didn’t matter that he managed to achieve musical success since, at that time, it was difficult to escape the stigma that came with being born in a poor or modest family. This means that despite his frequent pursuits of well-born women, most were unrequited and futile.
One of the biggest mysteries surrounding Beethoven’s romantic life is the identity of the “Immortal Beloved”. The composer penned a fervid and passionate love letter that became famous, and he addressed it to his “Immortal Beloved”.
The letter was found in a hidden drawer after Beethoven’s death in March 1827. The letter had ten pages, and it revealed his desire for a woman who remained unnamed. Most historians believe that the letter was never sent, but some believe that the letter in Beethoven’s drawer was the original and that a copy was delivered to the unnamed woman.
It is even more difficult to tell who the letter was intended for since, while there is a date for the letter, July 6 and 7, there is no year included. This made it impossible to tell when it was written.
It was almost 150 years later, in the 1950s, that visual clues allowed the letter to be dated to 1812. Even so, the identity of the “Immortal Beloved” is still unknown to this day, and it remains one piece of Beethoven history that sparked a lot of speculation from historians and fans alike.
Ludwig van Beethoven siblings
As we mentioned earlier, Beethoven had seven siblings, but only two of them survived infancy. The two siblings were Kaspar Anton Karl and Nikolaus Johan. Out of the two siblings, it was Kasper who tried to follow in Beethoven’s footsteps and did a bit of musical composition.
Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to impress. Even so, there are some theories saying that parts from the Bagatelle collection were not written by Ludwig but by his brother Kaspar.
Nikolaus Johan was the youngest brother, and he studied pharmacy, a career that he pursued by opening his own pharmacy in Linz in 1808. After the death of Ludwig van Beethoven, Nikolas spent a lot of time attending concerts of his brother’s music in front seats as an honored guest.