Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven

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Ludwig van Beethoven was, and remains today, an Olympian
figure in the history of classical music. His influence on the
last 150 years of music is unequalled; while generaly a
member of the Classicist fold, he was in fact the first
Romantic, and pre-figured virtually all music that followed the
Romantic era as well. Perhaps no other composer in history
wrote music of such exhilarating power and expressiveness;
certainly no other composer did so against greater odds.
Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770. His father, a music
enthusiast, dreamed of molding his son into the next Mozart.
Beethoven never exhibited the astonishing prodigy
characteristics of his predecessor, but he was unusually
talented, learning the piano, organ and violin at an early age.
At 14, he was already proficient enough on the organ to
receive a professional appointment. His family life was
chaotic; his father was an alcoholic, and his mother died
suddenly when he was only 17. After that tragedy, his
domestic situation declined even more, and this condition -
combined with support from Haydn - compelled him to leave
home in 1790 and travel to Vienna to study composition. In
Vienna, Beethoven first studied with Haydn, but eventually
became frustrated with that great composer's teaching
methods, moving on to study with other composers. He
performed frequently in salons of wealthy nobility, but
strangely enough, did not perform in public until he was 25.
But from this point onward, he was embraced by both the
common folk and the aristocracy of Vienna, so much so that
he never had to rely on court appointments or private patrons
for his livelihood. He did receive stipends from admirers and
friends, but he remained independent of the shackles of
conditional patronage that frustrated so many of his
contemporaries. Beethoven was lucky in one sense; he rose
to prominence in the musical world at a time when social
strata were becoming more flexible, and the emerging power
of the middle class provided him many opportunities for
performances of his music for public audiences. This,
combined with lucrative publishing arrangements, allowed him
to live relatively well. He was not ignorant of the benefits of
aristocratic support, however; throughout his career, he
cultivated a romantic, moody and mercurial image with the
upper class and leveraged this persona to achieve a social
status equal to the Viennese nobility. Beethoven was a
master symphonist - the master symphonist in the eyes of
most musicians and composers. His compositions for
orchestra were revolutionary in his day; while he adhered to
Classical musical forms, his melodies and orchestration were
of such unprecedented power and beauty that they
astonished even the most hardened listeners.

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Only his music
achieved the unique combination of primal force and spiritual
elevation that remains legendary to this day. In other forms -
music for solo piano, violin sonatas, string quartets, and one
opera, Fidelio - the same qualities prevailed. Always
profound, inspiring and essentially tragic, his music defined
the limits of human expressiveness in sound.

Early in the 19th century, as his career was reaching its zenith, Beethoven began to realize
that he was growing deaf. This woeful affliction advanced quickly, throwing the composer into
deep depression and making him increasingly unable to conduct and perform his works. He
curtailed his public appearances and communication, eventually resorting to a notebook to
communicate with his inner circle of friends and colleagues. His desperately agitated mind
began to produce music that alarmed and terrified his contemporaries. By 1820 he was
completely deaf, and he had become a recluse.

Beethoven was a fascinating composer for so many reasons; among them the method with
which he composed. Unlike Mozart, he did not write completed works in his head he slaved
over each composition, filling innumerable sketchbooks with his struggles to produce
perfection. For this reason - combined with his lifelong policy of taking only the best
commissions - he was far less prolific than Mozart. But no matter - the music he did leave us,
from solo to chamber to orchestral works, is the most substantial and profoundly moving
expression we may ever hear.

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