van Beethoven was a German composer of classical music, who lived
predominantly in Vienna, Austria. Beethoven is widely regarded as
one of history's supreme composers, and he produced notable works
even after losing his hearing. He was one of the greatest figures
in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras
in music. His reputation has inspired—and in many cases intimidated—composers,
musicians, and audiences who were to come after him.
his most widely-recognized works are his Third, Fifth, Sixth and
Ninth symphonies (the latter containing the "Ode to Joy");
Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor"); a Violin Concerto;
the Pathétique, Moonlight, Appassionata, and Hammerklavier
piano sonatas; and the bagatelle Für Elise .
Beethoven was born at 515 Bongasse, Bonn, Germany, to Johann van
Beethoven (1740–1792); and Magdalena Keverich van Beethoven
(1744–1787) in 1770. Many reference works show 16 December
as Beethoven's date of birth, since he was baptized on 17 December
and children at that time were generally baptized the day after
first music teacher was his father, a musician in the Electoral
court at Bonn and an alcoholic who beat him and unsuccessfully
attempted to exhibit him as a child prodigy like Mozart. However,
others soon noticed Beethoven's talent. In 1787 young Beethoven
went to Vienna for the first time. While in Vienna he played songs
for Mozart. Mozart was very impressed with Beethoven's performance.
He was given instruction and employment by Christian Gottlob Neefe,
as well as financial sponsorship by the Prince-Elector. Beethoven's
mother died when he was 17, and for several years he was responsible
for raising his two younger brothers.
moved to Vienna in 1792, where he intended to study with Joseph
Haydn. Haydn didn't like Beethoven's unorthodox music ideas so
he terminated his lessons. Beethoven quickly established a reputation
as a piano virtuoso, and more slowly, as a composer. He settled
into the career pattern he would follow for the remainder of his
life: rather than working for the church or a noble court (as
most composers before him had done), he was a freelancer, supporting
himself with public performances, sales of his works and stipends
from members of the aristocracy who recognized his ability.
career as a composer is usually divided into Early, Middle, and
Late periods. In the Early period, he is seen as emulating his
great predecessors Haydn and Mozart while concurrently exploring
new directions and gradually expanding the scope and ambition
of his work. Some important pieces from the Early period are the
first and second symphonies, the first six string quartets, the
first two piano concertos, and the first twenty piano sonatas,
including the famous Pathétique and Moonlight.
Middle period began shortly after Beethoven's personal crisis
centering around deafness. The period is noted for large-scale
works expressing heroism and struggle; these include many of the
most famous works of classical music. Middle period works include
six symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the last three piano concertos,
triple concerto and his only violin concerto, five string quartets
(Nos. 7–11), the next seven piano sonatas including the
Waldstein, and Appassionata, and his only opera, Fidelio.
Late period began around 1816 and lasted until Beethoven died
in 1827. The Late works are greatly admired for and characterized
by their intellectual depth, intense and highly personal expression,
and experimentation with forms (for example, the Quartet in C
Sharp Minor has seven movements, while most famously his Ninth
Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement).
This period includes the Missa Solemnis, the last five string
quartets and the last five piano sonatas.
the depth and extent of Beethoven's artistic explorations, as
well as the composer's success in making himself comprehensible
to the widest possible audience, the Austrian-born British musician
and writer Hans Keller pronounced Beethoven "humanity's greatest
personal life was troubled. Around age 28, he started to become
deaf, which led him to contemplate suicide (see the 1802 Heiligenstadt
Testament). He was attracted to unattainable (married or aristocratic)
women, whom he idealized; he never married. Some scholars believe
his period of low productivity from about 1812 to 1816 was caused
by depression resulting from Beethoven's realization that he would
quarrelled, often bitterly, with his relatives and others (including
a painful and public custody battle over his nephew Karl); he
frequently treated other people badly. He moved often and had
strange personal habits, such as wearing filthy clothing even
as he washed compulsively. He often had financial troubles.
listeners perceive an echo of Beethoven's life in his music, which
often depicts struggle followed by triumph. This description is
often applied to Beethoven's creation of masterpieces in the face
of his severe personal difficulties.
was often in poor health, especially after his mid-20s, when he
began to suffer from serious stomach pains. In 1826 his health
took a drastic turn for the worse. His death the following year
was attributed to liver disease, but modern research on a lock
of Beethoven's hair taken at the time of his death, and a few
pieces of his skull shows that lead poisoning could well have
contributed to his ill-health and ultimately to his death (the
levels of lead were more than 100 times higher than levels found
in most people today). The source of the lead poisoning may have
been fish from the heavily polluted Danube River and lead compounds
used to sweeten wines. It is unlikely that lead poisoning was
the cause of his deafness, which several researchers think was
caused by an autoimmune disorder such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
The hair analysis did not detect mercury, which is consistent
with the view that Beethoven did not have syphilis (syphilis was
treated with mercury compounds at the time). The absence of drug
metabolites suggests Beethoven avoided opiate painkillers.
died in 1827, after a long illness, in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm,
and legend has it that the dying man shook his fists in defiance
of the heavens. His last musical sketches belong to the composition
of a string quintet in C Major.
style and innovations
Beethoven is viewed as one of the most important transitional
figures between the Classical and Romantic eras of musical history.
As far as musical form is concerned, he built on the principles
of sonata form and motivic development that he had inherited from
Haydn and Mozart, but greatly extended them, writing longer and
more ambitious movements. But Beethoven also radically redefined
the symphony, transforming it from the rigidly structured four-ordered-movements
form of Haydn's era to a fairly open ended form that could sustain
as many movements as necessary, and of whatever form as necessary
to give the work cohesion.
beliefs and their musical influence
Beethoven was much taken by the ideals of the Enlightenment and
by the growing Romanticism in Europe. He initially dedicated his
third symphony, the Eroica (Italian for "heroic"), to
Napoleon in the belief that the general would sustain the democratic
and republican ideals of the French Revolution, but in 1804 tore
out the title page upon which he had written a dedication to Napoleon,
as Napoleon's imperial ambitions became clear, renamed the symphony
as the "Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il Sovvenire
di un grand Uomo", or in English, "composed to celebrate
the memory of a great man". The fourth movement of his Ninth
Symphony features an elaborate choral setting of Schiller's Ode
An die Freude ("Ode To Joy"), an optimistic hymn championing
the brotherhood of humanity.
disagree on Beethoven's religious beliefs and the role they played
in his work. Beethoven was born and raised a Roman Catholic, and
he composed many religious works, among them the Mass in C and
the Missa Solemnis. Lyrics references within his Ninth Symphony
are both deistic (Cherub and God), and pagan/mythological (Elysium).
It is also documented that Beethoven never attended church and
he had a mistrust of priests. Beethoven's teacher Joseph Haydn
said he considered Beethoven an atheist, while his friend and
biographer Anton Felix Schindler felt he was "inclined towards
deism." It is also known that Beethoven became enamored with
Pantheism as espoused by Goethe and, as evidenced by the Ninth
Symphony, Schiller. Of Goethe, Beethoven said, "he is alive,
and he wants us all to live with him. That is why he can be set
faith in God as experienced through art is an important theme
in his conversation books, his belief that art is a force unto
itself, and that "God is closer to me than others of my art,"
infuse his search for redemption through and in music. This view
seems to be complementary to Pantheism, and not necessarily the
view and faith he was born into.
Beethoven was on his deathbed, his friends convinced him to allow
a priest to administer the last rites even though he supposedly
protested. Upon the priest finishing the rites and leaving the
room Beethoven uttered the words, "applaud, my friends, the
comedy is over." Not only is it disputed as to whether or
not this event took place, it is also disputed as to whether Beethoven
was referring to the rites or to his life.
further afield, Beethoven evidently had an interest in Hinduism.
According to the Web site "A Tribute to Hinduism", "He
was first introduced to Indian literature by the Austrian Orientalist,
Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), who founded a periodical
for the dissemination of Eastern knowledge in Europe as early
as January 1809 ... The fragments of Indian religious texts that
have been discovered in the Beethoven manuscripts are partly translations
and partly adaptations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita."
A continuing controversy surrounding Beethoven is whether he was
a Romantic or a Classical composer. As documented elsewhere, since
the meanings of the word "Romantic" and the definition
of the period "Romanticism" both vary by discipline,
Beethoven's inclusion as a member of that movement or period must
be looked at in context.
we consider the Romantic movement as an aesthetic epoch in literature
and the arts generally, Beethoven sits squarely in the first half
along with literary Romantics such as the German poets Goethe
and Schiller (whose texts both he and the much more straightforwardly
Romantic Franz Schubert drew on for songs) and the English poet
Percy Shelley. He was also called a Romantic by contemporaries
such as Spohr and E.T.A. Hoffman. He is often considered the composer
of the first Song Cycle and was influenced by Romantic folk idioms,
for example in his use of the work of Robert Burns. He set dozens
of such poems (and arranged folk melodies) for voice, piano, and
on the other hand we consider the context of musicology, where
Romantic music is dated later; the matter is one of considerably
greater debate. For some experts, Beethoven is not a Romantic,
and his being one is a myth; for others he stands as a transitional
figure, or an immediate precursor to Romanticism, the "inventor"
of the Romantic period; for others he is the prototypical, or
even archetypal, Romantic composer, complete with myth of heroic
genius and individuality. The marker buoy of Romanticism has been
pushed back and forth several times by scholarship, and it remains
a subject of intense debate, in no small part because Beethoven
is seen as a seminal figure. To those for whom the Enlightenment
represents the basis of Modernity, he must therefore be unequivocally
a Classicist, while for those who see the Romantic sensibility
as a key to later aesthetics (including the aesthetics of our
own time), he must be a Romantic. Between these two extremes there
are, of course, innumerable gradations.
to Beethoven's music yields another possible scholarly analysis:
there is definitely an evolution in style from Beethoven's earliest
compositions to his later works. The young Beethoven can be seen
toiling to conform to the aesthetic models of his contemporaries:
he wants to write music that is acceptable in the society of his
days. Later, there is much more iconoclasm in his approach, like
adding a chorus to a symphony, where a symphony had until then
only been a purely instrumental genre. This means that the question
changes from whether Beethoven was a classicist or a romantic,
to: where is the pivotal moment that Beethoven tilted from dominant
classicism to dominant romanticism?. Most scholars seem to concur:
the presentation of the 5th and 6th symphonies in a single concert
in 1808 is probably closest to that pivotal point. In the 5th
symphony, he let a short pounding motto theme run through all
movements of the composition (unheard of until then). Then the
6th symphony was the first example of a symphony composed as "program
music" (what in Romanticism became standard practice), and
it broke up the traditional arrangement of a symphony in four
movements. Yet, after that, Beethoven still wrote his very "Classical"
8th symphony and some innocent-sounding chamber music for the
English market. However, by the end of the first decade of the
19th century, Beethoven the romantic was without a doubt primary.
contrast, Carl Dahlhaus argues that the evolution of Beethoven's
style actually takes him past Romanticism to a place where he
was separate from the music of his contemporaries. Dahlhaus points
out that our understanding of Beethoven as a Romantic composer
derives largely from Beethoven's early middle period, which contains
the Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 5. Beethoven's impact on other
Romantic composers, however, is taken largely from works between
Ops. 74 and 97, of the second half of the so-called middle period.
Dahlhaus argues that the tradition of Romantic music is essentially
a tradition of Schubertian music, and that Beethoven's influence
on Schubert is largely taken from Ops. 74 to 97. By the time Beethoven
reaches the late period, he is such an individual as to be best
understood as no longer belonging to the same genre as his Romantic
Some musicologists consider him a unique titan (e.g. Ernest Ansermet
in his massive "La Musique dans la conscience humaine"),
others (e.g. Carl Dahlhaus) see him as one genius among others,
being themselves part of the "Demythisierung" (demythification)
after 1945. Being said not to be as universal as Mozart concerning
forms of music (Alfred Einstein), he is considered the most universal
and forceful concerning the classical style and its Faustian ethos
(Ernest Ansermet). Beethoven is the composer who had the greatest
impact on following composers such as Brahms, Wagner, Schumann