The Greatest Composer Beethoven

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“The instrumental music of the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven forms a peak in the development of tonal music and is one of the crucial evolutionary developments in the history of music as a whole. ” ~ Unknown Mozart aside, Ludwig van Beethoven is the most famous classical composer of the western world. Beethoven is remembered for his powerful and stormy compositions, and for continuing to compose and conduct even after he began to go deaf at age 28. The ominous four-note beginning to his Fifth Symphony is one of the most famous moments in all of music. He wrote nine numbered symphonies in all. Beethoven never married. After his death his friends found letters to a lover he called "Immortal Beloved," whose identity has never been discovered. The English phrase "Immortal Beloved" is a translation of the German, "Unsterbliche Geliebte"... Beethoven's precise date of birth is unknown; he was baptized on 17 December 1770, and it is presumed he was born on 16 December. He studied first with his father, Johann, a singer and instrumentalist in the service of the Elector of Cologne at Bonn, but mainly with C. G. Neefe, court organist. At age 11 he was able to deputize for Neefe; at 12 he had some music published. In 1787 he went to Vienna, but quickly returned on hearing that his mother was dying. Five years later he went back to Vienna, where he settled. He pursued his studies, first with Haydn, but there was some clash of temperaments and Beethoven studied too with Schenk, Albrechtsberger and Salieri. Until 1794 he was supported by the Elector at Bonn: but he found patrons among the music-loving Viennese aristocracy and soon enjoyed success as a piano virtuoso, playing at private houses or palaces rather than in public. His public debut was in 1795; about the same time his first important publications appeared, three piano trios and three piano sonatas. As a pianist, it was reported, he had fire, brilliance and fantasy as well as depth of feeling. It is naturally in the piano sonatas, writing for his own instrument, that he is at his most original in this period; the Pathetique belongs to 1799, the Moonlight to1801, and these represent only the most obvious innovations in style and emotional content. These years also saw the composition of his first three piano concertos, his first two symphonies and a set of six string quartets. In 1802 it was a year of crisis for Beethoven, with his realization that the impaired hearing he had noticed for some time was incurable and sure to worsen. That autumn, at a village outside Vienna, Heiligenstadt, he wrote a will-like document, addressed to his two brothers, describing his bitter unhappiness over his affliction in terms suggesting that he thought death was near. But he came through with his determination strengthened and entered a new creative phase, generally called his ‘middle period’. It is characterized by a heroic tone, evident in the ‘Eroica’ Symphony in Symphony no. 5, where the sombre mood of the C minor first movement ultimately yields to a triumphant C major finale with piccolo, trombones and percussion added to the orchestra, and in his opera Fidelio. Here the heroic theme is made explicit by the story, in which a wife saves her imprisoned husband from murder at the hands of his oppressive political enemy. The three string quartets of this period are similarly heroic in scale: the first, lasting some 45 minutes, is conceived with great breadth, and it too embodies a sense of triumph as the intense F minor Adagio gives way to a jubilant finale in the major, embodying a Russian folk melody. Fidelio, unsuccessful at its premiere, was twice revised by Beethoven and his librettists and successful in its final version of 1814. Here there is more emphasis on the moral force of the story. It deals not only with freedom and justice, and heroism, but also with married love, and in the character of the heroine Leonore, Beethoven's lofty, idealized image of womanhood is to be seen. He did not find it in real life: he fell in love several times, usually with aristocratic pupils, and each time was either rejected or saw that the woman did not match his ideals. In 1812, however, he wrote a passionate love-letter to an ‘Eternally Beloved’, but the letter was never sent. With his powerful and expansive middle-period works, which include the Pastoral Symphony, Symphonies nos. and 8, Piano Concertos nos. 4, and 5 and the Violin Concerto, as well as more chamber works and piano sonatas. Beethoven was firmly established as the greatest composer of his time. His piano-playing career had finished in 1808. That year he had considered leaving Vienna for a secure post in Germany, but three Viennese noblemen had banded together to provide him with a steady income and he remained there, although the plan foundered in the ensuing Napoleonic wars in which his patrons suffered and the value of Austrian money declined. The years after 1812 were relatively unproductive. He seems to have been seriously depressed, by his deafness and the resulting isolation, by the failure of his marital hopes and by anxieties over the custodianship of the son of his late brother, which involved him in legal actions. But he came out of these trials to write his profoundest music, which surely reflects something of what he had been through. There are seven piano sonatas in this, his ‘late period’, including the turbulent ‘Hammerklavier’ op. 106, with its dynamic writing and its harsh, rebarbative fugue, and op. 10, which also has fugues and much eccentric writing at the instrument's extremes of compass; there is a great Mass and a Choral Symphony, no. 9 in D minor, where the extended variation-finale is a setting for soloists and chorus of Schiller's Ode to Joy; and there is a group of string quartets, music on a new plane of spiritual depth, with their exalted ideas, abrupt contrasts and emotional intensity. The traditional four-movement scheme and conventional forms are discarded in favour of designs of six or seven movements, some fugal, some akin to variations, some song-like, some martial, one even like a chorale prelude. For Beethoven, the act of composition had always been a struggle, as the tortuous scrawls of his sketchbooks show; in these late works the sense of agonizing effort is a part of the music. Musical taste in Vienna had changed during the first decades of the 19th century; the public were chiefly interested in light Italian opera and easygoing chamber music and songs, to suit the prevalent bourgeois taste. Yet the Viennese were conscious of Beethoven's greatness: they applauded the Choral Symphony, even though, understandably, they found it difficult, and though baffled by the late quartets they sensed their extraordinary visionary qualities. His reputation went far beyond Vienna: the late Mass was first heard in St Petersburg, and the initial commission that produced the Choral Symphony had come from the Philharmonic Society of London. When, early in 1827, he died, 10 000 are said to have attended the funeral. He had become a public figure, as no composer had done before. Unlike composers of the preceding generation, he had never been a purveyor of music to the nobility: he had lived into the age - indeed helped create it - of the artist as hero and the property of mankind at large.
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