Ludwig van Beethoven

(baptized 16 December 1770, Bonn - 26 March 1827, Vienna)



German composer and pianist, Beethoven was a crucial figure in the transition between Classical and Romantic eras in Western music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. Widely regarded as the greatest composer who ever lived, Ludwig van Beethoven dominates a period of musical history as no one else before or since.

Born in a family with musical background, Beethoven's talents emerged from an early age. He first studied music under his father who's didactic methods were harsh for a young boy. Beethoven's other teachers included the court organist Gilles van den Eeden, Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer (a family friend who taught Beethoven the piano), and Franz Rovantini (a relative, who taught him how to play the violin and viola).

On March 26th 1778, at the age of 7 years, Ludwig van Beethoven gave his first public performance at Cologne. Some time after 1779, Beethoven began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed the Court's Organist that year. Neefe taught Beethoven composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations (WoO 63). Beethoven soon began working with Neefe as assistant organist, at first unpaid (1781), and then as a paid employee (1784) of the court chapel conducted by the Kapellmeister Andrea Luchesi. His first three piano sonatas, named "Kurfürst" ("Elector") for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Friedrich (1708–1784), were published in 1783. Maximilian Frederick noticed Beethoven's talent early, and subsidised and encouraged the young man's musical studies.

Hoping of studying with Mozart, in March 1787 Beethoven traveled to Vienna for the first time. The details of their relationship are unclear, including whether or not they actually met. After two months Beethoven was forced to return to Bonn as he learned that his mother was severely ill. His mother died shortly thereafter which caused his father to lapse deeper into alcoholism. As of now, Beethoven was responsible for the care of his two younger brothers, he spent the next five years in Bonn working as a violist and organist at the theater orchestra. Following his encounter with Joseph Haydn in 1790 after which Haydn offered to take Beethoven as his pupil, in September 1792 the young composer moved to Vienna to study under the great Joseph Haydn. Beethoven did not immediately set out to establish himself as a composer, but rather devoted himself to study and performance. Working under Haydn's direction, he mastered his counterpoint skills under the erudite theorist and teacher Johann Georg Albrechsberger. He also studied violin under Ignaz Schuppanzigh and received occasional instruction from Antonio Salieri, primarily on Italian vocal composition style.

By 1793, Beethoven entered the Viennese musical life and had established himself as a piano virtuoso and also as a great improviser. His first public performance in Vienna was in March 1795, a concert in which he first performed one of his piano concertos. In 1800 his string and wind septet was played along with his first symphony, after which he played his first piano concert in C major and after the customs of that time, improvises on the piano.

At the peak of his creation, as his success increased continuously, the first signs of deafness appear. But that didn't stop Beethoven, between 1798 and 1800 he composed his first six string quartets (Op. 18) and in 1804 the no. 3 symphony  in E flat major (also named ”Eroica”) and his no. 23 piano sonata (also named ”Appassionata”) defining his own style. Meanwhile, Beethoven had finally finished his opera, Leonore, the only opera he ever wrote. He wrote and re-wrote four different overtures. The name of the opera therefore, changed to Fidelio, against the wishes of the composer. In the years that followed, the creative activity of the composer became intense. He composed many symphonies, amongst which were the Pastoral, the Coriolan Overture, and the famous Letter for Elise.

In the year of 1812, following Napoleon's first defeat in Russia, Beethoven composes his 7th and 8th symphonies. In his last years (1815-1827) following the progressive degrading of his hearing, his deepest works were composed. The downside of this was that he stopped performing (as a pianist) in public, being deaf he could no longer control the sound (he stroke the keys too hard in forte and too soft in piano).

Beethoven began a renewed study of older music, including works by J. S. Bach and Handel, that were then being published in the first attempts at complete editions. He composed the overture The Consecration of the House, which was the first work to attempt to incorporate these influences. A new style emerged, now called his "late period". He returned to the keyboard to compose his first piano sonatas in almost a decade: the works of the late period are commonly held to include the last five piano sonatas and the Diabelli Variations, the last two sonatas for cello and piano, the late string quartets (see below), and two works for very large forces: the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony.

The last public performance (in Beethoven's lifetime) of his works was in 1824, when his 9th symphony was played along with some fragments of his Missa Solemnis, having a tremendous success. The whole performance of his Missa Solemnis took place in 1824 in Petersburg, along with 3 more string quartets (op. 127, op. 130, op. 132) commissioned by Prince Nikolas Golitsin.

His last year of creation, 1826, is marked only by two quartets and one Andante, extracted from his sketch for a quintet. His last piece of music, entirely composed, is the string quartet op. 135. Ludwig van Beethoven's musical life can be fairly divided into 3 periods. The first period (1790-1802) containing his youthful compositions from while he lived in Bonn and his first years in Vienna, embraces the style of Haydn and Mozart. A iconic example of this period is represented by his string quartet in A major, op. 18.

The second period (1807-1812), the so called ”heroic cycle”, encompasses compositions like the 3rd symphony (Eroica), piano concerts number 4 an 5 (the ”Emperor”), the Appassionata piano sonata. All these works reflect the depth of the musical themes, the unprecedented dramatic contrasts and their harmonic novelty. The third period spans from 1813 to 1827. His compositions from this period are each presented with its own and strong personality, freed from the traditional conventions. Beethoven incorporates recitatives and arias in his instrumental music; in fugues, variations and lyric elements, always in search of new ways of expression.

His legacy is also significant as he played an important part in the transformation of the composer's role in society. The medieval composer, who was in service of the aristocracy or church, with the presence of Beethoven, the composer became an artist which created as an inner necessity and not because he was ordered so. His influence on the next generations of composers was enormous. Admired and regarded by composers such as Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Arnold Schoenberg, as the founder of a new musical era and a revolutionary figure in the history of music.

Here  you can find a complete list of Ludwig van Beethoven's works.