"With whom need I be afraid of measuring my strength"
-Beethoven on his contemporary composers
The last of our fabled three classical composers would be the
ever-famous Ludwig Van Beethoven. His influential music is
everywhere. Who doesn't recognize the powerful opening
"Da-da-da-dumm" to the popular Fifth Symphony. Many snippets from
his beautiful masterpieces adorn commercials, ads, and movies. His
music however transcended the times. While Wolfgang A. Mozart and F.
Joseph Haydn had shown that melody itself could only hold the
attention of the audience for a few minutes and thus used the
tension between the harmonic devices to sustain more beautiful
music, Beethoven went to next level with his symphonies by
inserting large spanning uninterrupted passages of imaginative
music. These all-encompassing passages along with the divine
melodies rise the question: "Was Beethoven the best composer
Beethoven was born in Bonn in Germany on December 16th or 17th, 1770, his mother, the daughter of the court cook, a singer in the service of the Elector of Köln (Cologne). His father was weak-spirited and drank excessively causing extremely humiliating scenes during Beethoven's childhood, but he recognized the boy's talent and locked him in a room to practice for hours, trying to force genius into him. However he was disappointed when the young Beethoven failed to emulate Mozart as a child prodigy.
He was considered a late-bloomer in terms of a child prodigy. He did not begin his debut until the age of eight. However, the people were not very impressed. Nevertheless, Beethoven soon held positions as harpsichordist in the court theatre and assistant organist in the Electoral chapel, where he obtained his first lessons in composition from the court organist. He was earning substantial wages for a teenager in those days and by the time he was seventeen we went to Vienna to study under Mozart.
Mozart predicted great success for the youngster. That was definitely comforting to this extremely talented individual who was beaten by his father. However, before formal instruction could begin with Mozart, he was whisked away to Bonn, for his mother was dying. Upon returning, Mozart was dead. Haydn could not teach the boy, for he was top headstrong and in terms of personality, they were opposite extremes. Nonetheless, Beethoven was soon taken under the wing of Johann Albrechtsberger and was soon accepted into the Viennese elite. However, not many could put up with his mercurial temperament. He was messy, rude, egotistical and unconventional with the times. He was not accepted by polite society, but having the gift of musical ingenuity was perhaps a more respectable trait during that Golden Age in Vienna.
Contrasting to Mozart, Beethoven always lived in some state of wealth. As his stock rose in Vienna, his performances on the piano during social gatherings began to draw more and more money. These incoming commissions allowed him to live in comfort in the expensive city of Vienna by his early twenties.
But soon the most depressing tragedy occurred. In the prime of his life, be began to hear a humming and ringing in his ears that began to grow louder and louder with each passing month. By about 1802, in a state of desperation in which he contemplated suicide, Beethoven retired to the secluded village of Heiligenstadt where he would remain composing the rest of his life. Before the onset of deafness, he had already completed two piano concertos and a few piano sonatas, violin sonatas, and cello sonatas. In 1800 in completed his first of the immaculate nine symphonies and his first set of string quartets. But the next ten years would give the world the beautiful masterpieces which made Beethoven's name famous throughout the world during his time and still in ours.
His withdrawal into the secluded village however did not stop him from attempting to make a family for himself. He continually tried out various women and occasionally a few of his older piano students. However, no one ever grew on him, and he lived his life without a mate. He never married, yet he was happy and content. His music flourished throughout his life and unhappiness was never inferred from any of his pieces.
But, as all lives come to an end, on March 26th, 1827, at the
age of 56, on a stormy day, Beethoven finally passed away. For all
his rudeness and indifference for polite society, thirty-thousand
people still attended his funereal. The tombstone stated simply his
birth and death dates and the single word "Beethoven." Among the
torchbearers was Franz Schubert and
doubtlessly the torch was passed from one generation to the
During the period known as the middle years, he composed the second through eight symphonies. In particular, the third symphony, nicknamed Eroica, where his famous span of attention-grabbing uninterrupted music was first introduced to the world. This symphony was longer, more daring musically, and more powerful than any symphony previously written ever. The pastoral sixth symphony was also a beautiful piece of music. Also his only opera, Fidelio, was composed during this time. The famous Rasumovsky String Quartets were concocted during this time. These works are considered part of the most difficult music in the string quartet repertoire. The music from this time on was revolutionary, and not only in technique. Beethoven's expanded forms broadened the scope for emotional expression, giving voice to the revolutionary spirit of the age.
In his later years, his music becomes deep, rich and very
dimensional. The fantastic ninth symphony brings closure to a
flawless set of symphonies. No longer was there composing under
previous bounds of the classical era, but rather he was composing
with disregard for what had been thought the limitations of the
performer or the liking of the audience. He was composing for
himself and the ages. The final quartets which completed the
sixteen phenomenal entourage of chamber music along with the 32
piano sonatas gave us a glimpse of Beethoven's true composition
brilliance. In particular, he spent all of 1818 composing the
Hammerklavier Sonata which was nearly an hour long. It was depicted
as a gargantuan piece from a titan among composers. His ability to
build large-scale musical structures that lasted for hours was
among the rarest gifts that the world has ever seen.
His Famous Compositions
His notable pieces are quite possibly all of his pieces. In
particular however are his nine symphonies. The Eroica (no. 3), the
Fifth, the Pastoral (no. 7) and the final symphony are very moving.
Any of his piano concertos are highly recommended pieces for
listening. But his sonatas and string quartets are where his
melodies and harmonies become truly enjoyable. The final string
quartets (no. 10-16) display Beethoven in its purest form. The
previously mentioned Rasumovsky String Quartets display the some of
the most difficult passages in the string quartet repertoire. In
particular, his Seventh Quartet and his
are most highly regarded as they are part of The Fifteen Greatest. His vast
collection of piano sonatas are highlighted by Pathetique,
Moonlight, Waldstein, Les Adieux, and Appassionata. Also his
creative scale structures can be seen in overtures such as Egmont,
King Stephen, and the Ruins of Athens. In conclusion, when one
composer's highly regarded pieces include a majority of his total
compositions, we are forced to believe that he most definitely is
one of the greatest composers ever.
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