A Complete History of Beethoven


Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 to Johann van 
Beethoven and his wife, Maria Magdalena. He took his first music 
lessons from his father, who was tenor in the choir of the 
archbishop-elector of Cologne. His father was an unstable, yet 
ambitious man whose excessive drinking, rough temper and anxiety 
surprisingly did not diminish Beethoven's love for music. He studied 
and performed with great success, despite becoming the breadwinner of 
his household by the time he was 18 years old. His father's 
increasingly serious alcohol problem and the earlier death of his 
grandfather in 1773 sent his family into deepening poverty.

 At first, Beethoven made little impact on the musical society, 
despite his father's hopes. When he turned 11, he left school and 
became an assistant organist to Christian Gottlob Neefe at the court 
of Bonn, learning from him and other musicians. In 1783 he became the 
continuo player for the Bonn opera and accompanied their rehearsals on 
keyboard. In 1787, he was sent to Vienna to take further lessons from 
Mozart. Two months later, however, he was called back to Bonn by the 
death of his mother. 

 He started to play the viola in the Opera Orchestra in 1789, 
while also teaching in composing. He met Haydn in 1790, who agreed to 
teach him in Vienna, and Beethoven then moved to Vienna permanently. 
He received financial support from Prince Karl Lichnowsky, to whom he 
dedicated his Piano Sonata in C minor, better known as The Pathétique 
?. He performed publicly in Vienna in 1795 for the first time, and 
published his Op. 1 and Op. 2 piano sonatas. His works are 
traditionally divided into three periods. The first is called the 
Viennese Classical, the second is the Heroic, and the third is Late 
Beethoven. In the first period, his individuality and style gradually 
developed, as he used many methods from Haydn, including the use of 
silence. He composed mainly for the piano during this period. These 
works include Symphony no. 1 in C (1800), his first six string 
quartets, and the Pathétique (1799). His Moonlight Sonata in C# 
minor (1801) is known as the first of Heroic Beethoven. 

 Beethoven learned that he would become deaf in 1802 and suffered 
sever depression. His composing skills were not affected by his 
deafness, but his ability to teach and perform was inhibited. It is 
said that he became deaf from his habit of pouring cold water over his 
head while composing, to refresh himself, and then not drying his 
massive amounts of hair afterwards. He wrote his only opera, Fidelio 
in 1805. The main theme of the opera revolves around fidelity, which 
reflects his personal desire to marry. Other works in the Heroic 
period include the Kreuzer Sonata (1803), symphonies 3 - 7, the Violin 
Concerto in D major (1806), the Razumovsky Quartets (1806), the 
Emperor Concerto (1809) and the Archduke Trio, Op. 97 (1811).

 After 1813, during his Late period, Beethoven composed inwardly. 
He was totally deaf, as this is sometimes known as the "silent 
period." Some say that Beethoven was composing music for a different 
age. His life became more chaotic and he composed less and less. In 
his works, he used more miniaturization and expansion. The music 
began to become "odd" as he began to experiment with the number of 
movements, contrast in volume and dynamics, harmonic predictability, 
sonata movements and trills in his works. Beethoven became 
increasingly argumentative as he was further tormented by his 
deafness. Goethe described his attitude as aggressive, and perhaps 
understandable, but not easy to live with. He gave his last 
performance in 1814, on the piano, but continued to be a respected 
composer in Viennese society. Some of his late achievements include 
the Diabelli Variations (1820-1823), the last piano sonatas and six 
string quartets, the Mass in D major, Missa Solemnis (1823), the 
Choral Symphony, no. 9 (1824), in which he set Schiller's "Ode to Joy" 
in the final movement. At Beethoven's death in 1827, Franz 
Grillparzer best described him during his funeral address when he 
said: "despite all these absurdities, there was something so touching 
and ennobling about him that one could not help admiring him and 
feeling drawn to him."


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