Ludwig van Beethoven
1770 - 1827
Ludwig van Beethoven (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis, and one opera, Fidelio.
(b. Bonn, December 17, 1770; d. Vienna, March 26, 1827)
GERMAN-BORN COMPOSER AND PIANIST, the most important and influential musician in history. As he always took pains to admit, he was no Mozart; yet his father tried to turn him into one anyway, leaving emotional scars that would mark him for life. More than almost any other figure in the canon, Beethoven willed himself to achieve high artistic standing. Though he would reject Napoleon's imperial ambitions, he subscribed to the Napoleonic idea of "self-made greatness" and consciously shaped his growth as an artist through unrelenting work, high aspirations, and powerful, inwardly directed thought. In a career marked by unparalleled artistic achievement, he became music's great individualist and the prototype of the Romantic composer, in whose works personal liberation and spiritual triumph were evoked through transcendence of formal and stylistic limits. Beethoven's formative years were spent in Bonn, where he acquired remarkable proficiency at the piano and, thanks to instruction from Christian Gotdob Neefe, a solid foundation as a composer. In 1784 he was appointed to assist Neefe as deputy court organist, and from 1788 he played viola in court-sponsored opera and concert performances.
In November 1792, with Bonn and much of western Germany under French occupation, Beethoven made his way to Vienna. Encouraged by his Bonn patron, Count Waldstein, to "receive the spirit of Mozart from Haydn's hands," he studied on and off with Haydn, took lessons from Salieri in vocal composition, and, for about a year (1794-95) received instruction in counterpoint fromjohann Georg Albrechts-berger, all as part of a well-planned campaign to advance his art by attacking the most important musical forms—the string quartet and symphony—not frontally but obliquely. His first published works were sets of piano trios and piano sonatas, which served both to announce his arrival on the musical scene and as studies for those larger forms. Thus began a lifelong pattern of using the piano sonata as a laboratory, to break new ground, consolidate ideas, and lay the foundation for his most significant works in other forms. Of his first 28 opuses, 20 involved the piano in one way or another.
In Vienna, Beethoven found patrons and princes who were willing to support him, especially Prince Karl Lichnowsky (the dedicatee of the Op. 1 Piano Trios, who gave Beethoven lodgings and from 1800 a pension), Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz (whose orchestra gave the first performance of the Eroica Symphony, and who served as one of the guarantors of Beethoven's annuity from 1809), and, most important of all, Archduke Rudolph, the son of Emperor Leopold II, who studied with Beethoven from 1803 and received the dedications of several of his works. Beethoven capitalized on his brilliance as a pianist to achieve some of his early triumphs, playing his Concertos in С major, Op. 15, and B-flat, Op. 19, on several occasions and becoming renowned for his ex tempore improvisations.
Beethoven's life and work are traditionally divided into three periods. The early period, which culminated in 1803-04 with the Symphony No. 3, in E-flat, Op. 55 (Eroica), marked Beethoven's conquest of the Classical style as exemplified by the works of Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven's relationship with that style was, from the beginning, subversive. While he strove to match the expressive and topical richness of Classical discourse, he also sought to make of it something surprising, to transform its poise and elegance into music that was unstable and dynamic, to deepen the argument, enlarge the scope. In works like his Op. 18 string quartets and Symphony No. 2—which display his mastery in two of the major forms of Classicism—he nonetheless managed to whip the tablecloth out from under the place settings of the style by willfully manipulating its protocols through excessive repetition of figures, disruption of flow, and the use of violent accents. The watershed year 1800 saw the completion both of the Symphony No. 1, in C, Op. 21, and the six string quartets of Op. 18. In addition to these works and the Eroica Symphony, the most important compositions of the early period were the Piano Sonatas in С minor, Op. 13 (Pathetique), and C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight), the Violin Sonata in A, Op. 47 (Kreutzer) , and the Piano Concerto No. 3, in С minor, Op. 37.
By 1802, Beethoven had confided to a few close friends and to his brothers (in the "Heiligenstadt Testament," named for the Viennese suburb where he wrote it) that he was losing his hearing. Beethoven may have needed crises to advance his art, but deafness tested him to the very core of his being. He responded to the disaster by plunging into his work, forging scores of an increasingly bold cast. Having to rely on what he could remember and imagine, rather than on what he could hear, he became more subjective in his thinking and put himself and his emotions at the center of his music. A lesser figure might have made a wholesale retreat into the safe territory of a familiar style, but Beethoven sought freedom on the musical frontier, where he could, to an increasing degree, make his own rules. The works of Beethoven's middle period (1804-05 to 1812) are characterized by emotional directness, heightened expressiveness wedded to a feeling of rhetorical urgency, and, in most cases, the expansion of form to meet the needs of content.
The most important works of the middle period—the Fifth Symphony (1808), the Sixth Symphony (Pastorale; 1808), the first Razumovsky Quartet (Op. 59, No. 1), the opera Fidelio (1805-06, rev. 1814), and the Emperor Concerto (1809)—represent a new direction, revolutionary in its aims and methods. In their formal schemes and long-range harmonic thinking, for example, both the Fifth Symphony and the Pastorale are truly something new under the sun. The Fifth—which begins with urgency and foreboding and ends in triumphant celebration—is a metaphor for transcendence and probably the most influential piece of music ever written. The Pastorale, also ajourney, but of a very different kind, is contemplative, impressionistic, and expansive; it breathes to life a whole universe of tonal possibilities and is the forerunner of all the pieces written down the years that treat sound as a constructive element. Struggle is often encountered in the works of Beethoven’s middle period, expressed through conflicts in key relationships and disruptive rhetorical gestures. With Fidelio and the Emperor Concerto, written against the backdrop of the Napoleonic conquest of Europe, Beethoven’s music seems to give voice to a particularly intense mode of human and political conflict, conveying, in the words of Leon Plantinga, something of the “nobility of character required to prevail.” Other important works of the period include the Violin Concerto (1806), the Fourth Piano Concerto (1806), the Seventh Symphony (1812), the Eighth Symphony (1812), the Archduke Trio (1811), and the Piano Sonatas in C, Op. 53 ( Waidstein), F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata), and E-flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux).
“Music is like a dream. One that I cannot hear.”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No 6 in F Major, op 68 "Pastoral"
Although the five country scenes, including a vivid storm, were inspired by Beethoven’s love of nature, he emphasized that this was “more the expression of feeling than tone-painting”. It was first given in December 1808 at an epic concert which included the premieres of the Symphony No. 5, Piano Concerto No. 4 and Choral Fantasy.
1. Awakening of pleasant feelings upon arriving the country-Allegro ma non troppo
2. Scene at the Brook-Andante molto mosso
3. Peasant's Merrymaking-Allegro
4. The Storm-Allegro
5. Shepherd's Hymn after the Storm-Allegretto
Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92
1 Poco sostenuto -- Vivace
3 Presto -- Assai meno presto (trio)
4 Allegro con brio
Symphony No 8 in F major, Op 93
1 Allegro vivace e con brio
2 Allegretto scherzando
3 Tempo di Menuetto
4 Allegro vivace
Symphony No 9 in D Minor, Op 125, "Choral"
Possibly the most iconic work of Western music the “Choral” still stands as a colossus against which all subsequent symphonies have been judged. Having first wanted to set Schiller’s Ode toJoy in 1793, Beethoven was eventually commissioned to write the work in 1822 by the London Philharmonic Society. It was first performed in Vienna in 1823.
FIRST MOVEMENT (ALLEGRO MA NON TROPPO, UN Р0С0 MAESTOSO, 16:00) Opening mysteriously, this settles into a dark and forceful sonata style. Among many surprises is a fortissimo repeat of the opening bars in the major key at the recapitulation.
SECOND MOVEMENT (MOLTO VIVACE. 16:00) Beethoven creates a large-scale movement from very economic and energetic material. After experimenting with timpani as a feature in the Violin and “Emperor” concertos, here he gives them a major role.
THIRD MOVEMENT (ADAGIO MOLTO E CANTABILE, 14:00) This
sublime adagio is actually two sets of variations on two alternating themes. Two startling interruptions for the new valved horn come near the end.
FOURTH MOVEMENT (PRESTO, ALLEGRO, 23:00) Fragments
of earlier movements are heard before instruments, then voices, settle on Schiller’s Ode to Joy celebrating the universal brotherhood of mankind in a hitherto unprecedented choral addition to a symphony.
1. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
2. Molto vivace-Presto
3. Adagio molto e cantabile-Andante moderato
4. Presto-Recitativo-Allegro assai-Allegro assai vivace-
Alla marcia-Andante maestoso-Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato-Allegro ma non troppo-Prestissimo
Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op 58
1 Allegro moderato
2 Andante con moto
3 Rondo (Vivace)
Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat (Emperor)
At the time, the most “symphonic” and longest piano concerto ever written, Beethoven’s final work in this genre was nicknamed the “Emperor” by the composer J Cramer in response to its grandeur. Unusually starting with flourishes for piano, it also broke with tradition by dispensing with an improvised cadenza in favour of an already written one. Too deaf to perform it himself, Beethoven had it premiered by his pupil, Carl Czerny. It was instandy hailed as a masterpiece.
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61
The score for this concerto was finished only two days before the first performance, and was virtually read at sight. Not an immediate success, Beethoven arranged it for piano, but the original became popular after the 13-year-oldJosephJoachim performed it in London with Mendelssohn in 1844.
FIRST MOVEMENT (ALLEGRO MA NON TROPPO, 25:45) Beethoven developed Mozart’s concerto style on an unprecedented scale in this movement, unusually giving prominent roles to the timpani and woodwind.
SECOND MOVEMENT (LARGHETTO, 10:00) Beginning with an ethereal set of variations accompanied by muted strings, the movement ends with a brief cadenza which leads directly into the finale.
THIRD MOVEMENT (RONDO, ALLEGRO, 9:30) A cheerful and traditional ending, with only a brief moment of Beethovian pathos in the minor key, concludes this eloquent work.
String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat, Op. 130
This work was commissioned by the Russian prince, Nicholas Galitzin. The finale was originally what is now known as Beethoven’s Crosse Fuge, Op. 133, but he replaced it with the shorter present Allegro after the premiere.
FIRST MOVEMENT (ADAGIO MA NON TR0PP0, ALLEGRO, 14:00) In this sonata-form movement, Beethoven explores aspects of both the adagio introduction and the subsequent allegro, only uniting the disparate elements in the short development and coda sections.
SECOND MOVEMENT (PRESTO, 2:00) In this very brief scherzo the first violin takes the lead in the humorous trio section.
It also includes a number of very surprising chromatic scales.
THIRD MOVEMENT (ANDANTE CON МОТО MA NON TR0PP0, Р0С0 SCHERZ0S0, 6:00) Not quite a slow movement, this sunny music is more in the spirit of a “divertimento”.
FOURTH MOVEMENT (ALLA DANZA TEDESCA, (ALLEGRO ASSAI, 3:00) Although lyrical, with its rhythmic lilt and regular pulse, the rustic German origins of this music are never far away.
FIFTH MOVEMENT (CAVATINA, ADAGIO MOLTO ESPESSIVO, 8:00) A cavatina is an operatic song in simple style. Certainly the first violin retains the simple, operatic-style melody throughout, but Beethoven’s almost too-intimate expression of feeling is far removed from the world of the stage. Perhaps most extraordinary is the unsettling middle section, marked “beklemmt” (“oppressed”) in the score.
SIXTH MOVEMENT (ALLEGRO, 9:00) Having replaced the Grosse Fuge ending, Beethoven did not live to see this, his shorter, but very stark and gripping alternative performed.
Great Fugue, Op. 133
Piano Trio No. 6 in B flat major op. 97 "Archduke"
Beethoven dedicated more than 20 works to Archduke Rudolph, but, as one of the finest piano trios ever written and with its grand manner, this richly deserves its aristocratic sobriquet. It was the work he chose for his last public appearance as a pianist in 1814.
"Fidelio" - overture
For his only opera, Beethoven set the story of an old French libretto, Leonore, ou L’amour conjugal, which reflected his belief in the triumph of free will, liberty, and human goodness. He revised Fidelio, as he renamed it, twice over ten years and wrote three more overtures. The first three Leonora overtures are often performed alone.
OVERTURE AND ACT ONE |78:00|Jaquino, a prison gatekeeper, wants lo marry Marcellina, but she loves Fidelio, who works for the jafier, Rocco, her father. However, Fidelio is really Leonora
a woman in disguise looking for her husband, Florestan. The prison governor is indeed holding him illegally. His decision to murder Florestan to avoid ministerial criticism is overheard by Leonora, who decides to rescue her husband.
ACT TWO (46:00) In his cell, Florestan muses on his fate. As Leonora and Rocco enter, he asks for food and she recognizes her husband. The governoi then enters to kill Florestan, but she holds him off with a pistol. The minister’s arrival ensures Florestan's freedom and the townspeople rejoice as the corrupt governor is arrested.
Sonata for Violin and Piano No 9 in A, Op 47 - "Kreutzer"
Beethoven dedicated this piece to Rudolphe Kreutzer, a famous violinist living in Paris, perhaps because he was considering a visit there even though he had composed it for British violinist, (ieorge Bridgetower. Avoiding the piano-centred style of his previous works in the genre, here there is a real equality in the virtuosity of the two instruments; indeed, the score bore the subtitle “written in a molto concertante style, as though a concerto”.
00:00 - I. Adagio sostenuto - Presto - Adagio
11:48 - II. Andante con variazioni
27:12 - III. Presto
The first composer to establish a freelance career from the outset, Beethoven's refusal to be subservient to aristocratic patrons marked the change in the role of the musician from servant to autonomous cultural arbiter, and thus created a model of aspiration followed by almost every subsequent Classical musician.
Leonore 3 - overture
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2 No.1
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2 No.2
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2 No.3
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major, Op. 7, "Grand Sonata"
Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10 No.1
Piano Sonata No. 6 in F major, Op. 10 No.2
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10 No.3
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, "Pathétique"
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No.1
Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14 No.2
Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major, Op. 22
Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat major, Op. 26, "Funeral March"
Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major, Op. 27 No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, "Moonlight"
Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28, "Pastoral"
Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31 No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2, "Tempest"
Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31 No. 3, "The Hunt"
Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, "Waldstein"
Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata"
Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major, Op. 78, "A Thérèse"
Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major, Op. 79
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81, "Les adieux"
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90
Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106, "Hammerklavier"
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Op. 110
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
In this sonata, composed in 1804—05. Beethoven brought piano virtuosity to a new level of complexity, powerfully fusing it with his new, heroic style. Although the subtide was not his own (it was added by the publisher), Beethoven seems to have approved of it. This violent, impassioned piece was one of his favourite works in the medium.
Life mask made in 1812
While his isolation gave Beethoven creative freedom, he paid a terrible price in loneliness, frequent plunges into depression, and bouts of poor health. During 1809-12 his misery deepened. The Napoleonic wars reached Vienna, bringing with them currency fluctuations that undermined Beethoven’s finances; his one great love interest turned to dust, and a family dispute alienated him from his brother Johann. The next few years, fallow ones for the composer, were stressful as well due to his preoccupation with the upbringing of his nephew Karl, who was left in his care. The darkly handsome, well-dressed, socially active young man of the portraits painted around 1800 became the wild, unkempt, irascible figure seen in images from 1815 on. But by 1817, even though he was almost totally deaf and his physical health was clearly in decline, Beethoven began to recover his spiritual equilibrium and with it the urge to compose. He set himself a new goal: the creation of a body of monumentally ambitious works equal to those of Bach and Handel in their scale and contrapuntal intricacy. Between 1818 and 1826—from a man who was virtually unable to communicate, who needed to carry around conversation books so that other people could “talk” to him—there poured forth a series of astonishing, visionary compositions, works whose audacity and complexity determined the course of musical thought for the remainder of the century.
Beethoven in 1814. Portrait by Louis-René Létronne.
In these works, unfettered by preconceptions regarding structure or content, Beethoven began to treat form in a schematic way; the number of movements in his late sonatas and string quartets varies markedly, as does their length. Fugal procedure acquires a new importance, and the inner workings of the music at times become more important than the outward effect. In the outstanding works of this period, particularly the Ninth Symphony (1824), the Missa Solemnis (1823), the Hammerklavier Sonata (1818), the three piano sonatas of 1820-22 (Opp. 109-111), the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, and the five string quartets of 1825-26 (Opp. 127, 130, 131, 132, and 135), the frame of reference is elevated from the individual to the universal, from the subjective to the metaphysical. Paradoxically, these would be the most “personal” scores Beethoven ever composed. The message of the Ninth Symphony is clear: having believed all his life in the ideals of the French Revolution, and having seen them undone by the Congress of Vienna, he rose a final time to their defense. Here is Beethoven at his most revolutionary, transforming the symphony, for the first time in its history, into an act of moral philosophy and personal confession. By choosing Schiller’s ode “To Joy” as the text, sung by chorus and soloists in its final movement, he came as close as words would allow to summarizing his own spiritual credo.
Beethoven in 1815 portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler
Beethoven’s life work, particularly his late style, represents the single greatest paradigm shift in musical history. It ushered in the modern world of subjective expression, in which content dictates form (a fact recognized by many, including Proust in his A la recherche du temps perdu). As he grappled initially with the achievements of Mozart and Haydn, and later with those of Bach and Handel—seeking first to emulate, then to surpass them—he created music that seems ever more surprising, personal, and forward-looking. Reinventing himself as an artist, not once but several times, and struggling to reach more deeply into the truth of things as he saw and felt it, he expressed feelings of hope, transcendence, celebration, release, and affirmation in ways that had never before been encountered in music. The power of sound was unleashed for the first time (think of the opening chords of the Eroica Symphony, or the cataclysmic beginning of the Ninth), but more important was the power of the ideas he unleashed.
Death mask by Josef Danhauser
Throughout his life Beethoven remained a figure of the Enlightenment and an ardent believer in the principles of liberty, equality, and the brotherhood of man. These beliefs resound in his music, and in an unusually compassionate way. The profound personal isolation he endured over most of his life made him one of the most urgent and emotionally communicative artists in history, with a generosity of spirit such as only a few mortals have ever expressed. Where Bach’s music looks up, and Mozart’s outward, Beethoven’s almost always looks inward first, then reaches out—coming from the heart, as he once said, so that it might go to the heart.
Beethoven's grave site, Vienna Zentralfriedhof
Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman
A portrait of the 13-year-old Beethoven
by an unknown Bonn master (c. 1783)
Portrait of Beethoven as a young man
by Carl Traugott Riedel
A bust by Hugo Hagen based upon Beethoven's life mask