Ludwig van Beethoven

I. Introduction

            Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer who brought about gigantic alterations in the nature and techniques of music—an achievement matched by few other artists. He found music a rococo-dramatic art, the orchestra a relatively small ensemble, and the piano a newly established successor to the harpsichord. By his aggressive, iconoclastic, even egotistic nature, and by his huge ability to manipulate and balance musical ideas and forces, Beethoven marked his later creations with his own stormy, tender, lyrical, and intellectual character. By employing textless music to communicate philosophical ideas and to serve as autobiography, he pushed music far along the road toward 19th century romanticism and bequeathed to his successors the portrait of the great creator as culture hero. He expanded the size of the orchestra and the possible length of orchestral compositions, preparing the way for Schubert, Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, and Richard Strauss. He went far toward establishing the piano as the foremost musical instrument. Not a great craftsman when handling the human voice, Beethoven excelled in all other branches of music. The taste of the 20th century inclines to call Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven the greatest of all musical creators (Newman, 67-68).

            Thesis Statement: This study scrutinizes the life of Ludwig van Beethoven and be aware of his unusual or significant contributions to music.

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II. Background

A. Early Years

            Beethoven was born at Bonn, probably on December 16, 1770, and was baptized on December 17. Of Flemish-German descent, he was the second of seven children of Johann van Beethoven, who sang tenor in the chorus of the elector of Cologne. Ludwig’s mother was Maria Magdalena Laym. The boy demonstrated musical talent as early as his sixth year, and his father tried to develop him into a child like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At 10, Ludwig was sent to study with Christian Gottlob Neefe, the elector’s court organist. Neefe nourished him on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and wrote in 1783: “If he goes on as he has started, he will certainly become a second Mozart (Bekker, 114-116).

III. Discussion

A. His contributions

·         Middle Period

Beethoven’s personal eccentricities, his proud boorishness, and even his lack of personal cleanliness were accepted as the marks of the genius he was. A short, muscular, stocky man, he had a bush of wild hair and fierce, piercing black eyes in a notably ruddy face. His upper-class friends suffered at his hands but stubbornly remained faithful to him. They supported him by providing comfortable lodgings, by giving him money, and by patronizing his concerts and publications. By 1804, he was composing such of his great piano sonatas as the Waldstein and the Appassionata, and probably had embarked on his only opera, Fidelio.

            Meanwhile, by 1805, Beethoven had begun to sketch his Fifth (C Minor) Symphony, his Fourth (G Major) Piano Concerto, and the first of his Rasoumovsky string quartets. In 1806, in the midst of the Napoleonic disorders, he composed his only violin concerto, first heard on December 23 of that year. While Beethoven worked on the concerto, his desk was littered with advanced sketches of his Fourth Fifth, and Sixth symphonies. The Fourth was first heard in the spring of 1807; the Fifth (C Minor) and Sixth (Pastoral, F Major) were played at a concert on December 22, 1808, which included half a dozen others of his works (the premieres of the Choral Fantasy and the Fourth Piano Concerto) (Grove, 24-36).

            On completing his Third (Eroica) Symphony, in E Flat, in 1804, Beethoven had inscribed it to Napoleon, thinking of him as a democratic liberator; this inscription he later angrily struck out. Nevertheless, he seriously considered, as late as 1808-1089, an offer from Jerome Bonaparte, king of Westphalis, to become his Kapellmeister at Kassel. Hearing of this, three of Beethoven’s Viennese patrons, including the young Archduke Rudolf, joined to offer him a yearly income, and he decided not to emigrate (Grove, 24-36).

·         Last Works

            Between 1817 and 1823, Beethoven completed the last 5 of his 32 piano sonatas. In 1818, he began a mass intended for use at the installation of his friend Archduke Rudolf as archbishop of Olmutz (Olomouc). He did not complete it until February 27, 1823; the Missa solemnis was first sung at a private performance in ST. Petersburg on April 6, 1824. Beethoven had planned a symphony in F minor. He worked at it desultorily in 1823, when he seriously set to work to complete it. He decided to make its last movement a choral setting of Friedrich von Schiller’s Ode to Joy and pronounced the Ninth Symphony complete on September 5, 1823. He had accepted 250 from the Philharmonic Society of London in return for a promise that it would receive his new symphony in manuscript. But he had also promised the premiere to Berlin and had dedicated the symphony to the King of Prussia. When his Viennese patrons insisted that it be heard in Vienna first, he yielded, salving his conscience by sending the actual autograph score at London. The first hearing of the Ninth Symphony occurred in Vienna on May 7, 1824 (Anderson, 23-27). When the audience broke into frantic applause, the deaf Beethoven was unaware of the enthusiasm until someone turned him around so that he could see the demonstration.

IV. Conclusion

            As a conclusion, custom long has divided Beethoven’s numerous works into three periods. These inexact, overlapping categories represent actual changes in styles. The first period shows Beethoven as the direct heir and imitator of Haydn and Mozart. Opening about 1800, the second period, far more idiosyncratic, includes the majority of his most popular works: symphonies Nos. 2 to 8 inclusive, Fidelio, the last three piano concertos, the violin concerto, the Leonore, Egmont, and Coriolan overtures, the Rasoumovsky string quartets, other chamber music, and 14 of the piano sonatas. The third of the Beethoven periods, one of distillation and summation, encompasses the Ninth Symphony, the five final string quartets, and the Missa solemnis. Critics still discuss whether or not Beethoven’s deafness influenced the special character of his later works.

Reference:

Anderson, Emily. The Letters of Beethoven, 5 vols. Pp. 23-27 (London and New York, 2001).
Bekker, Paul. Beethoven, tr. By M.M. Bozman, pp. 114-116(London 2005).
Grove, George. The Life and Works of Beethoven, pp. 24-36 (New York 2003).
Newman, Romain. The Unconsciousness Beethoven, pp. 67-68 (London and New York, 2004).

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