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Ludwig van Beethoven

(1770—1827) German composer


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(b Bonn, 1770; d Vienna, 1827).

Ger. composer and pianist who radically transformed every mus. form in which he worked. His paternal family were of Flemish stock, his grandfather having emigrated to Bonn where he became Court Singer to the Elector. Beethoven's father also became Court Singer, but was a coarse, drunken man, hopeful of exploiting his 2nd child Ludwig's mus. talents. Beethoven's early mus. education came from his father and several mediocre teachers. In 1779 he became a pupil of Christian Gottlob Neefe and his ass. as court organist in 1784. In 1786 he visited Vienna and may have extemporized for Mozart. On return to Bonn he found an understanding patron in Count Waldstein. For 4 years he was a violist in the court th. orch. in addition to other duties. In 1792 Haydn, visiting Bonn, saw some of Beethoven's early comps. and invited him to study with him in Vienna. There, despite his brusque and often uncouth manner, he was patronized by the aristocracy and lived for 2 years (1794–6) in the home of Prince Lichnowsky. His fame was entirely that of a virtuoso improviser at the kbd. Lessons from Haydn proved unsatisfactory and Beethoven went for theory to Schenk and later to Albrechtsberger and Salieri. His Op.1, 3 pf. trios, was pubd. 1795 and had immediate success.

Apart from occasional visits to the countryside Beethoven passed the rest of his life in Vienna. For 30 years he prod. mus. of all kinds in a steady flow. His first public appearance in Vienna was as soloist in his B♭ major pf. conc. in 1795. His 3rd Symphony (the Eroica), besides being a work of revolutionary import because it greatly extended the possibilities of symphonic form, was significant because it was originally ded. to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven erased the dedication when he heard that Napoleon had proclaimed himself emperor. In 1805 his only opera Fidelio, originally called Leonore, was performed but withdrawn for rev. after 3 perfs. and given the following year in a 2‐act version. His 5th and 6th (Pastoral) Syms. were f.p. at the same concert in 1808 and the 7th appeared in 1813, the year before the successful prod. of the further rev. Fidelio. In 1817 and 1818 he began work on his 9th Sym., which departed from all precedent by including a choral finale for solo vv., ch., and orch., and the Missa Solemnis. These were perf. in 1824. From 1824 to 1826 he comp. the last 5 of his 17 str. qts.

Beethoven's mus. may have sometimes been misunderstood in his lifetime but it was never neglected. However, his personal eccentricities and unpredictability were to grow, principally because of his discovery in 1798 that he was going deaf. It was not until 1819 that conversation with him was possible only by writing in a notebook, but in the intervening 20 years his affliction, though it varied in intensity, steadily worsened. Perhaps this is also why he never married, though he loved several women, and one in particular, the still unidentified ‘Immortal Beloved’ (Maynard Solomon, in his Beethoven, 1977, gives convincing but not incontrovertible reasons for believing that she was Antonie Brentano, wife of a Frankfurt merchant. She lived from 1780 to 1869. Beethoven dedicated the Diabelli Variations to her.) An indication of the esteem in which Beethoven was held is that in 1815 Vienna conferred its honorary freedom on him. When he died, his funeral at Währing was a nat. occasion. His grave is now in the Central Friedhof, Vienna.

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Subjects: music.


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