Hello everyone! Today is the 247th birthday of one of the greatest composers ever, Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven is my favorite composer, and I have been anxious to write this article since last January. In this article, as precedent dictates, I will describe (as briefly as I can), the life of Beethoven, and provide several of his pieces. Here's a little bit about Beethoven:
The Life of Beethoven
Ludwig Van Beethoven is believed by most scholars to have been born on December 16th, 1770 in Bonn Germany. His birth date is not recorded, but his baptism date is recorded to be December 17th, 1770. Traditionally, babies were baptized one day after birth in the Roman Catholic faith. Also considering the fact that his family and his teacher celebrated his birthday as the 16th, it is safe to assume that his birthday was 16th of December 1770. Beethoven first learned music from his father, later hiring local teachers, such as Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer (who provided keyboard lessons). Pfeiffer was an insomniac who constantly "dragged Beethoven from his bed to the keyboard" in a pattern of irregular night sessions. At a young age, his father realized the talent that Beethoven had. His father, knowing how successful Mozart's father had been, lied about Beethoven's age by claiming the seven year old pianist was six. Christian Gottlob Neefe taught Beethoven composition after 1779. Neefe also promoted the young prodigy as his assistant organist in 1781. He would not be paid for this job until 1784. His first three piano sonatas were dedicated to the elector Maximilian Frederick, who noticed Beethoven's gifts with composition early on. In 1787, Beethoven would take a short trip to Vienna , possibly to study with Mozart(@ned's favorite composer). Two weeks after his arrival, Beethoven returned home on news that his mother had grown ill. Shortly after he arrived home, his mother died. This drove his father deeper into alcoholism. As a result of this, Beethoven took responsibility over his siblings, becoming, in a way, their father figure.
In November of 1792, Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna. Shortly after his arrival, Beethoven learned that his father had died. Mozart died recently as well. In the years after his arrival, Beethoven would gain a reputation as "the next Mozart," and would draw influence from Mozart's works as a result of this. Before establishing a reputation as a composer, Beethoven first established a reputation as a performer. His reputation as a piano virtuoso would cement by 1793. During the period between 1793 - 1800, Beethoven would study with musical geniuses including Joseph Haydn and Anton Salieri. It is obvious that Beethoven took inspiration from figures such as Haydn, Salieri, and Mozart, but Beethoven's melodies, modulations, and emotion are distinctly his.
Beethoven attributed his own hearing loss to a fit he had in 1798 where he was interrupted from his work and fell over. When he got up, he could not hear. His hearing returned partially, then declined. However, many people believe Beethoven went deaf from typhus, auto-immune disorders, or even his habit of submerging his face in cold water to keep himself awake. Whatever the case, Beethoven realized by 1802 that his symptoms were not getting any better, and that he would eventually go completely deaf. At this point, he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament, which I explain in piece number 10. By 1814, Beethoven was almost completely deaf. He lost the ability to hear high frequencies first, so he would play lower. When a group of visitors heard him play loud arpeggio of bass notes at his piano in 1812, he said "Ist es nicht schön?" (Is it not beautiful?) demonstrating his sense of humor.
In his last months, Beethoven became bed ridden from what would later be known to be liver damage (due to alcohol consumption). He would die on March 26th, 1827 at the age of 56 during a thunderstorm. One friend who was there, Anselm Hüttenbrenner, remarked that there was a peal of thunder at the exact moment of death. Beethoven inspired many composers, including Franz Schubert who was a torch bearer at Beethoven's funeral and would be buried next to Beethoven a year later. The legacy Beethoven left behind can be matched by very few contributors in any field.
Here, I will provide links and commentary for 10 of Beethoven's compositions!
10. Violin Sonata no. 8 in G-Major, Opus 30
This was one of the first pieces I ever turned pages for. Over the summer, my teacher had asked me to turn pages for a concert on September tenth, and I happily accepted. In hindsight, it was quite an amazing experience, especially because of this piece. My teacher explained to the audience that this piece was written around the same time as the Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter that Beethoven wrote, but never sent, to his brothers around 1802, in which he admitted the sorrowful truth of his worsening loss of hearing. The doctors had told Beethoven that he would lose his hearing, and Beethoven wrote in the letter that he had contemplated suicide, but had decided against it because he felt he had more to achieve in his art. This could not have been more true, in 1802, he had not even completed his 3rd symphony. This piece, as my teacher stated, is quite elegant, and often referred to as the cocktail sonata by Violinists. It does not demonstrate these feelings that Beethoven had remotely. This piece brings back so many fond memories of my first experience turning pages, and meeting the acclaimed violinist, Barbara Govatos, who is a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and earned Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Juilliard School of music. Here is a recording of Marcantonio Barone, Piano, and Barbara Govatos, Violin, playing Beethoven's 8th Violin Sonata in G-major:
Movement 1 Allegro assai
Movement 2 Tempo di Minuetto
Movement 3 Allegro Vivace
9. Rondo a Capriccio "Rage over a lost penny"
I first discovered this piece at the end of 8th grade. I almost immediately printed the music, and asked my old teacher to teach me to play it. I stopped learning it at the end of the summer, when I took up lessons with Mr. Barone. I still enjoy listening to it though, and it is definitely one of the pieces that piqued my interest in classical music. The name Rage over a lost penny or Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice (The anger over the lost penny exhausted in a caprice) does appear on the original autographed manuscript, but not in Beethoven's handwriting. This was likely written by Anton Schindler, Beethoven's longtime friend and secretary. I enjoy this piece, and have often enjoyed remembering one of the comments I read on YouTube when I first heard this, "If this is what Beethoven writes when he loses a penny, I can't imagine what he would have written had he lost a hundred bucks." And what if he lost a bitcoin?!?
Anyway, here is the piece played by Alfred Brendel:
8. Piano Conerto no. 5 "Emperor"
This is one of my favorite Beethoven pieces. It was written between 1809 and 1811, and dedicated to Archduke Rudolf, Beethoven's patron and pupil. The archduke also premiered the piece as its first soloist. The name "Emperor" was not given by Beethoven, but by Johann Baptist Cramer. I love the energy, enthusiasm, and triumph that the first movement provides. It truly has a spectacular and regal beginning, ending with a more relaxing and pianist based theme. The second movement (21:10) is truly one of Beethoven's finest works. It is so beautiful, that the first time I listened to it, I was moved to tears. This movement often gives me nostalgia. The 3rd movement (30:30) is quite fast and exciting, that sounds like Sailing music. This performance is conducted by Leonard Bernstein, one of the greatest American composers, and is really quite exhilarating.
7. Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major "Sinfonia Eroica"
I love this symphony. It is quite ironic because this symphony was originally written for Napoleon Bonaparte. For one thing, he had almost sacrificed being paid for the symphony to dedicate it to Napoleon, but had decided only to name it "Buonaparte." He had given so much of his respect to Napoleon, comparing him to the greatest consuls of Ancient Rome. So, you can imagine the heart break Beethoven felt when he realized that Napoleon was no better than the tyrants he replaced. Here is what Beethoven's secretary said his reaction was when he learned that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor:
"So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be recopied, and it was only now that the symphony received the title Sinfonia eroica.
So, you could say that the news had a deep effect on Beethoven. Here is Beethoven's Eroica Symphony:
6. Sonata no. 14 in C# minor quasi una fantasia "The Moonlight Sonata"
This is likely one of Beethoven's most famous Sonatas, especially the 3rd movement. I remember when I played the first movement of this in 6th grade. When I first read through it, I arrogantly said "You can really hear the deafness." Later, after actually reading carefully through it, I realized that it was less Beethoven's deafness, and more my ability to overlook notes and dynamics. I also remember hearing the third movement of this in Williamsburg, Virginia last year played by a Harpsichord (on recording), that was cool. This sonata actually earned the name "Moonlight Sonata" from the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab in 1832. Rellstab noted that the first movement gave him a similar effect to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. I'd also like to note that I have seen a common misconception that this pianist is Lady Gaga. They do look similar, but this is Valentina Lisitsa, NOT Lady Gaga. Here is Sonata no. 14 in C# minor quasi una fantasia "The Moonlight Sonata" performed by Valentina Lisitsa:
5. Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 61
This is one of the best known Violin concertos. I'm sad to say that I had not heard this until gathering pieces for this article (Update, I just included it in my Weekly 7 on December third, but I wrote this part of the article back in November). I do quite enjoy it though. This is my music theory teacher's favorite Violin Concerto. When this piece was premiered in 1806 by Franz Clement, it was unsuccessful. It would remain in this state until, in 1844, Joseph Joachim revived it. It has since grown immensely. It is quite funny how these different figures overlap. Joseph Joachim is also known for being one of Brahms' closest friends, and introduced Brahms to Schumann. This Violin Concerto reminds me of some of the works of Haydn and Mozart, likely because Beethoven was still figuring out his compositional style, and drew from his previous studies of music by these composers (or with these composers in the case of Haydn). Here is Beethoven's Violin concerto in D Major:
4. Piano Sonata no. 6, Opus 10
I remember several weeks ago, my piano teacher showed me the first movement of this sonata as a good example of how to reuse themes. Beethoven is quite clever in bringing back material that does not seem significant to create new themes. For example, in the beginning, Beethoven uses a I6/3 arpeggio in a dotted rhythm in the melody. Several moments later, Beethoven uses the same arpeggio in a different key and different rhythm in what is quite obviously a new theme. I'd also point out the ending of the Exposition of this first movement. Beethoven uses the classic ending Scale degree 1, Scale Degree 5, Scale Degree 1, or C-G-C. Beethoven then uses this "arpeggio" as one of the main themes during his development phase. Beginning A-E-A. The development is at 2:29. Go to about 2:26 to hear the ending of the exposition. Here is Beethoven's 6th Piano Sonata:
3. Symphony no. 5 in C Minor
This symphony contains one of the most famous motifs in history. Beethoven incorporates this motif throughout the whole symphony, and it is quite a masterpiece in the eyes of any music theorist. Beethoven spent 4 years writing this work, and it became one of his most popular symphonies. Here is an interesting video of Leonard Bernstein showing what the first movement of this symphony would have sounded like with Sketches made by Beethoven throughout his time writing it (That other guy is wrong, Beethoven wasn't deaf yet, and didn't go blind at all):
Here is the whole Symphony conducted by Bernstein:
2. Sonata no. 8 Sonata Pathétique
This is Beethoven's most famous sonata after the Moonlight Sonata. Though, I personally like this sonata more. Pathétique means (according to answers.com)
The word 'pathétique' means moving, pathetic. The word 'pathetic' refers to being capable of, evoking, or marked by strong emotions such as melancholy, pity, sadness, sorrow, suffering, sympathy, tenderness.
So it means emotional. This is definitely one of Beethoven's most emotional sonatas. It (as well as some of Beethoven's other sonatas) also defied what had previously been known to be a "sonata." One Pianist, Ignaz Moscheles, found Beethoven's works when he was 10. He was unable to afford a copy, and copied it by hand from a library copy. He wrote:
(his piano teacher) warned me against playing or studying eccentric productions before I had developed a style based on more respectable models. Without paying heed to his instructions, however, I laid Beethoven's works on the piano, in the order of their appearance, and found in them such consolation and pleasure as no other composer ever vouchsafed me.
Anton Schindler, a later friend and secretary of Beethoven's wrote:
What the Sonate Pathétique was in the hands of Beethoven (although he left something to be desired as regards clean playing) was something that one had to have heard, and heard again, in order to be quite certain that it was the same already well-known work. Above all, every single thing became, in his hands, a new creation, wherein his always legato playing, one of the particular characteristics of his execution, formed an important part.
Even Beethoven's music was once considered rebellious. Beethoven took what music had already blossomed into, and tended it into something much more meaningful and emotional. Here is Beethoven's 8th Piano sonata:
1. Symphony no. 9, Opus 125
This is probably the most iconic symphony of all time. From the first movement to the fourth, every single movement cements how brilliant Beethoven really was. This entire symphony would have been written in silence for Beethoven, within the boundaries of his own mind. Let me tell you, he wrote something quite iconic. The 4th movement of this piece rocked the chains of history as the first instance in history where a major composer used a choir in a symphony. And how fulfilling that the theme of such a movement be joy? Beethoven used a poem written in 1785 and published in 1786 by Friedrich Schiller. This poem was entitled An die Freude (Ode to Joy). Here is a translation of the poem. I would recommend listening to all of the pieces on this list, but if you only have time for one. I would recommend this one! Here is Beethoven's 9th Symphony:
What would a Beethoven list be without Für Elise. Question for discussion "Who was Elise?"
Wikipedia (Heiligenstadt Testament)
Wikipedia (Piano Concerto no. 5)
Wikipedia (Piano Sonata no. 14)
Wikipedia (Violin Concerto)
Answers.com (Pathétique Definition)
Wikipedia (Piano Sonata no. 14)
**Schillerinstitute (An die Freude translation)
Previous Composer Birthdays (In order by how recent it was)
12/16 - Ludwig Van Beethoven
8/25 - Leonard Bernstein
6/11 - Richard Strauss
6/8 - Robert Schumann
5/22 - Richard Wagner
5/12 - Gabriel Fauré
5/7 - Johannes Brahms
5/7 - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
4/1 - Sergei Rachmaninoff
3/21 - Johann Sebastian Bach
3/4 - Antonio Vivaldi
3/1 - Frédérick Chopin
2/28 (29) - Gioachino Rossini
2/3 - Felix Mendelssohn
1/31 - Franz Schubert
1/27 - Wolfgang (Amadeus) Mozart
The Next Birthday will be Wolfgang (Amadeus) Mozart on January 27th (Possibly).
Thanks for reading this! As I said, Beethoven is my favorite composer, and I have been looking forward to making this article. Please let me know if you'd be interested in me continuing this series with 10 (More) Of Mozart's Compositions in Honor of His Birthday. See you later!
Also remember to check for: My weekly 7 post, As well as my composer birthday posts
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