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Portrait by Carl Stieler, 1819-1820

Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

"Braun von Braunthal met him in an inn a year later (1826). Beethoven was sitting in a corner with closed eyes, smoking a long pipe - a habit which grew on him more and more as he approached death. A friend spoke to him. He smiled sadly, drew from his pocket a little note-tablet, and in a thin voice which frequently sounded cracked notes, asked him to write down his request…"

Romain Rolland "Beethoven"


He had a life full of suffering and tragedy…

He was a son of nature, intended to love and to be loved…

The power, the thunderer, Prometheus of Music…

Board shoulders, athletic build body, always very rumpled wild black hair, melancholically sad eyes. Shakespearean King Leer...

Beethoven was a master symphonist - the master symphonist in the eyes of most musicians and listeners. His compositions for orchestra were revolutionary in his day; while he adhered to Classical musical forms, his melodies and orchestration were of such unprecedented power and beauty that they astonished even the most hardened listeners.

One of his the most famous motives - the theme of his 5th symphony is known, in his own words, as "Fate, knocking at the door." It seems fate really was knocking at the door for all of his life.

From his first years his life was not happy for him. Seeing the extensive musical talent of young Ludwig, his father, a music enthusiast, but an extremely crude and violent person, wanted to make him a next Mozart. Ludwig was only four years old when his father started to force him to play the harpsichord and violin for hours a day, shutting him alone in his room. But boy did not come to hate music. He was not as gifted as Mozart was, but he was unusually talented, learning the piano, organ and violin at an early age.

One of his first instructors, and the most significant in his life was a court organist and notable musician of the time, Christian Gottlob Neefe. Under his instruction, at the age of ten Beethoven published his first compositions (Nine variations in C Minor). "If I ever become anybody," Beethoven wrote to Neefe in October, 26 1873, "I shall owe it to you". *** At thirteen his teacher got him a salaried job in the court orchestra, where Ludwig obtained his profound knowledge of instrumentation.

At the age of 17 he left for Vienna with the hope of studying with Mozart. According to some sources Mozart took little notice of him, to others - he was impressed by Beethoven's improvisatory skills and said: "Watch this young man; he will yet make a noise in the world," but because of his mother's death Beethoven returned to Germany. In 1792, when he came back, never to return to his motherland for the rest of his life, Mozart was not alive any more. But he became a pupil of other famous musicians: Joseph Haydn gave him composition lessons, Johann Alberchtsberger - lessons of Counterpoint and Fugue, Salieri trained him in vocal writing.

Young Beethoven was accepted as the most important performing pianist of his time, giving concertos at the homes of music patrons. But his unbowed character could not live in frivolous Vienna. In 1809 he was given a salary from three richest noblemen with only one condition - to remain in Austria and compose. Despite his dislike of Vienna, Beethoven rejected the position of court musician for the King of Westphalia and became the first free composer in music history.

But fate was already knocking at his door: his hearing became gradually weaker. The first symptoms appeared in 1796. For several years he kept secret to himself, avoiding company so as not to be noticed in his infliction. In 1801 he could no longer hide and in the letter to his friends he wrote: "Your Beethoven is very unhappy. You must know that the best part of me, my hearing, has became very weak…How sad is my life…I'm deaf. Had my profession been any other, things might still be bearable: but if it is, my situation is terrible…" The tragic sadness was expressed in some of his work in this period: in the Largo of the Piano Sonata in D, opus 10 (1798), in the Sonata Pathetique, Op.13 (1799). It is important to notice that only opus 1 of his work was written before 1796, the next opus - the first three Piano Sonatas appeared in March 1796. So, almost all Beethoven's works are that of a deaf man.

Another kind of suffering was added to that: his was rejected by his dearest love, Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom in 1802 he dedicated his Piano sonata in c#.*** In some years he met Theresa von Brunswick - a women, who played a very significant role in his life, whom he will love until the end of his life, and to whom he will write the famous letter, overfill with tender and love - "Immortal beloved" (it is difficult to say why they were not married. Preferably, the main reason was the difference in those social positions).

Beethoven passed a terrible crisis, his deafness was more and more significant and the last hopes of recovering his health disappeared. At that time he wrote a letter for his brothers, Carl and Johann, known as "Heiligenstadt Testement", with the following direction: "To be read and carried out after my death". He was on the verge of suicide. "How humiliated I have felt if somebody standing beside me heard the sound of a flute in the distance and I heard nothing... If not for my music, little more of this and I would have ended my life... I have been stranger to the trill of joy for so long. When, O God, when shall I feel joy once more?" But his powerful nature could not give up under the weight of his suffering: "My physical beneath improves always with the growth of my intellectual force… Yes, I can fell that my youth is only just beginning... O, if I were only free from my deafness I would embrace the world!… No rest! At least, none that I know of except sleep;… I will wage war against destiny."

Up to about this year (1802) the first period of his creative work finished. he produced 6 string quartets, 10 piano sonatas, and 2 symphonies. He continued to maintain the basic Classical traditions of form yet his use of melody, rhythm and harmony expands upon the musical vocabulary of other composers of the time.

This second stage of Beethoven's musical development was stirred in part by the political unrest of the period. The democratic proclamations of the French Revolution was changing the face of Europe. The Symphony #3 "Eroica" was written for and around Napoleon Bonaparte.***

Beethoven deeply believed in the ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood for all men. He felt himself to be equal, if not superior, to the nobles to whom he was indebted and to whom he was expected to bow down. Bettina Brentano, who saw him at that time, says "no king or emperor was ever so conscious of his power."

A story is told that as he and the great German poet, Goethe, were walking through the street a Imperial family. "Duke Rudolph raised his hat to me, the Empress bowing to me first…" - wrote Beethoven the day after, "I amused myself in watching the procession pass by Goethe. He remained on the roadside bowing low, hat in hand. I talk him to task for it pretty severely and did not spare him at all". Some after Goeater said: "Beethoven is, unfortunately, possessed of a wild and uncouth disposition; he is not wrong in his finding the word detestable, but that is not the way to make it pleasant for himself or for others. We must excuse and pity him for his deaf", and ignored him completely.

Much of Beethoven's music from this period reflects his revolutionary spirit. It was the period, when in attempt to find his own style, he broke rules of classical composition. Webster's dictionary says, that term "classic" "denotes primary the principles and characteristic of Greek and Roman literature and art; considered as embodying formal elegance, simplicity, dignity and correctness of style". The second period of Beethoven creative work can not be considered as a purely classic. It was the beginning of his romanticism. E.T.A. Hoffmann, an important critic and creative writer of the time, wrote: "Beethoven's music sets in motion the lever of fear, of awe, of horror, of suffering, and awakens just that infinite longing which is the essence of Romanticism. He is accordingly a completely Romantic composer".

The fist two symphonies, in C and D, belong to school of Mozart and Haydn. In 1802 Beethoven said: "I am not satisfied with my work up to present time. From today I mean to take a new road". The third symphony was really an example of that new road. Some features can be noticed: the connecting of the second theme with the first, the second movement is of unusual form - a funeral march, unusually long third movement, which used to be the shortest and now raised to the level with others, the extraordinary importance of the coda, with the introduction of a new theme in it. The distinguishing element one can find: his melodies are much more emotional, the ones of his predecessors. A great amount of music was produced during this part of his life: 1 opera, 3 string quartets, 2 piano concertos, 5 symphonies, overtures and incidental music and numerous piano sonatas.

In about 1816, the third period of Beethoven's music began. His deafness became complete. Beethoven began to drink heavily causing severe inflammation of his digestive tract and liver damage which was eventually to be the cause of his death.

After the autumn of 1815 he could only communicate with his friends by writing, by this time dates the change of style in his music, beginning with Sonata op.101. He continued his earlier experiments, but with a new approach to the development of melodic themes. Before, short motives of three or four notes would be used in various ways; now, entire melodies would be worked, reworked and varied.

He also blurred the dividing lines of the sections within movements, developing a seemingly more complex form, and broke away from classical forms by writing a sonata in 2 movement and a string quartet in 7 movements.

At that period he wrote two the most massive of his works: 9th Symphony (Choral) and Messa Solemnis.

In Symphony #9 in D Minor, his last symphonic work, he adds a solo quartet and chorus. Never before had any composer added voices to a symphony. Many were to follow Beethoven's lead in the future. In this last big work he set Schiller's Ode to Joy to music, a poem which describes the eternal brotherhood of man. On 7 May, 1824, completely deaf, he conducted this symphony. He heard nothing when the audience was applauding to him, and even did not suspect, until he saw them, clapping their hands and waiving hats.

"On March 26 the Viennese heavens were split with lightning and growled with thunder. It was almost as the city was giving voice of grief. A peal thunder rumbled in Beethoven's death room. Ever the rebel, Beethoven feebly raised a defiant fist toward the heavens. Then he fell back, and died". This story has become part of his literature. The medical conclusion about the reasons of his death looked like the list of diseases. It was not easy to say what is healthy. Martin Cooper in his monograph gave a detail inscription of Beethoven's medical history: deafness, cirrhosis of liver, possibly venereal disease (syphilis?). And as a concluding phrase of his work he wrote: "He never did think much of us; perhaps we should leave him in peace"…

Beethoven last words were: "Plaudite, amici, commedia finita est" - "Friends applaud, the Comedy is over".

Not the comedy, but the tragedy.



To be added


  1. Romain Rolland "Beethoven".

  2. Goulding Phil Classical music. The 50 Greatest Composers and there 1000 Greatest Works.

  3. Indy, Vincent "Beethoven; a critical biography"

  4. Cooper, Martin. Beethoven: The Last Decade. 1817-1827.

  5. Grove, George "Beethoven and his nine symphonies"

  6. Landon, H. C. Robbins Beethoven : his life, work and world.