Ludwig van Beethoven,
born in Bonn, Germany, was the second-oldest child of
the court musician and tenor singer Johann van
Beethoven who drilled him on the piano to help him become a child prodigy. Ludwig
first performed publicly when he was
eight years old. At age 11, he began study with organist and
court musician Christian Gottlob Neefe.
A sketch by Lyser shows Beethoven walking
the streets of Vienna, deep in thought
In 1792 he moved to the musical center of
took lessons from Schenck, Albrechtsberger, Salieri,
and Haydn. By 1795 he become well known as a
pianist. He was particularly admired for his brilliant improvisations.
Several years later, Beethoven realized that he was
having difficulty hearing. He withdrew into increasing seclusion
for the public and from his few friends and
eventually became deaf.
is difficult to envision today the tremendous effect
that Beethoven's music had on the society in Vienna
during his day. The introduction of his Symphony
3, the Eroica, created
one of the greatest turning points in the history of
music. Up to the time of this great work, Beethoven's
work was stylistically in the vein of the music of the
time, a style led by Mozart and Hadyn, among others.
When in 1804 the Eroica was first private performed,
Beethoven issued in a new era of music: the Romantic
Era. Never before had music such as this ever
been played. It was filled with joy, rapture, sadness,
emotions never before expressed in music. This was a
clear voice of greatness beginning to speak.
The Fifth Symphony is a work of power
and grandeur, not of anger as some have stated. The
wonderful sixth symphony, featured in the Disney movie Fantasia,
is a healing journey of gentleness and pastoral beauty.
The seventh and the ninth (choral) are the other two
most respected of his symphonic works.
Beethoven's piano sonatas and
concertos are among the very greatest compositions ever
written for piano. The finest, beside the famous
"moonlight" sonata, are the Appassionata, the
temptest, Pathetique, and the Hammerklavier, but
there are others also. Beethoven's two masses, the Mass
in C and the so-called Missa Solemnis, are great works
of Art. The earlier Mass in C is beautiful, but the
latter is a powerful work of spiritual grandeur, the
likes of which never equaled by another composer.
Beethoven's last utterances, the great "Late"
string quartets were not understood by his
contemporaries. They are personal reflections of the
from Ferndinand Ries,
from the German
"Among all composers Beethoven thought most of
Mozart and Handel, and next came Bach. When I found him
with music in his hand or saw some lying on his desk, it
was sure to be a composition by one of these
while out walking with him, I mentioned two perfect
fifths, which stand out by their beauty of sound in one
of his earlier violin quartets, in C minor. [These were
forbidden by music theoreticians.] ....'Well, and who
has forbidden them?' he said. Since I did not know how I
was to take his question, he repeated it several times
until, much astonished, I replied 'It is one of the
fundamental rules.' Again he repeated his question,
whereupon I said: 'Marburg, Kirnberger, Fuchs, etc.,
etc,. all the theoreticians!' 'And so I allow
them!" was his answer.'"
times Beethoven was extremely violent. On day, at noon,
we were eating dinner in the Swan Tavern when the waiter
brought him the wrong dish. No sooner had Beethoven
remarked about it and received a somewhat uncivil reply,
than he took up the platter -- it was calf's lights with
an abundance of gravy -- and flung it at the waiter's
head. The poor fellow as carrying a whole slew of other
portions, intended for other guests, on his arm. The
gravy ran down his face, and he and Beethoven shouted
and abused each other while all the other guests burst
into laughter. Finally, looking at the waiter -- who
looked so comical licking up the gravy that trickled
down his face, attempting to curse, but having to lick
instead -- Beethoven burst out laughing himself."
Steibelt, the famous piano virtuoso, came from Paris to
Vienna, in all the glory of his fame, several of
Beethoven's friends were afraid that Beethoven's
reputation would be injured by the newcomer. Steibelt
did not visit Beethoven; they met for the first time in
the home of Count Fries, where Beethoven gave his new
Trio in Bb Major, Opus 11. Steibelt listened to it with
a certain condescension, paid Beethoven a few
compliments, and felt assured of his own victory. He
then played a quintet he had composed and improvised;
his tremulandos, at that time a novelty, made a great
impression on the listeners. Beethoven could not be
induced to play again.
days later there was another concert at Count Fries'
home. Seibelt again played a quintet with much success
and then improvised a brilliant fantasy for which he had
chosen the identical theme developed in the variations
of Beethoven's trio! This roused the indignation of
Beethoven and his admirers.
it came time for Beethoven to play, he seated himself at
the piano to improvise, which he did in his usual, I
might say unmannerly, fashion -- flinging himself down
at the instrument as though half-pushed. As he moved
toward the piano, he took up the violoncello part of
Steibelt's quintet, purposely put it on the piano-rack
upside-down, and then drummed out a theme from its first
measures with his fingers. Then, now that Steibelt has
been definitely insulted and enraged, Beethoven
improvised in such a way that Seibelt left the room
before Beethoven had finished, refusing ever to meet
Beethoven again, and even made it a condition that
Beethoven was not to be invited where his own company
Classical Music Page
Beethoven Reference Site
Life of Beethoven
Impressions By His Contemporaries
fait alors Beethoven? - Bien loin de se livrer au
désespoir, de vouloir en finir avec une vie
misérable qui ne lui offre plus aucun attrait
extérieur, il regarde en lui-même, dans cette âme
qu'il s'est toujours efforcé de diriger vers Dieu,
source de tout bien et de toute beauté. "Oui,"
disait-il à Stumpff en 1824, "qui veut toucher
les coeurs devra chercher en haut son inspiration.
Sans quoi il n'y aura que des notes - un corps sans
âme - n'est-ce pas? Et qu'est-ce qu'un corps sans
âme? De la poussière, un peu de boue, n'est-ce pas?
- L'esprit devra se dégager de la matière où, pour
un temps, l'étincelle divine est prisonnière. Pareil
au sillon auquel le laboureur confie la prècieuse
semence, son rôle sera de la faire germer, d'en
obtenir des fruits abondants, et, ainsi multiplié,
l'esprit tendra à remonter vers la source d'où il
découler. Car ce n'est qu'au prix d'un constant
effort qu'il pourra employer les forces mises à sa
disposition, et que la créature rendra hommage au
Créateur et Conservateur de la Nature infinie."
the book Beethoven
by Vincent d'Indy