Ludwig Van Beethoven's Short Biography


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Ludwig van Beethoven is remembered as one of many significant and influential composers of Classical music. According to records Ludwig was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, which means he was born on the 15th or 16th. Ludwig tried to prevent the marriages of his two brothers, Nikolaus Johann and Caspar Carl because according to him their brides were immoral. Caspar married Johanna Reiss, who was later convicted of adultery, and Johann was living in sin with his bride-to-be, Therese Obermayer. Like any temperamental artist, Ludwig had a lot of social problems, not the least of which was his ferocious fits of anger. Although he did not have the best personality or the best relationship with his brothers, he still enjoyed great success and recognition throughout his lifetime. They say that on the premiere of his Ninth Symphony he could not hear the crowd’s applause at the end and so he had to be turned around to see the joys of the audience.

Ludwig did not have the healthiest family life as a child and up to his last few moments. His mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich bore seven children with Ludwig’s father, Johann van Beethoven. Their first son died in less than a week after Ludwig van Beethoven Magdalena gave birth to two more sons who survived to adulthood and the last three children died at a young age (Lockwood 5). He respected his grandfather more, who was a successful court musician in Bonn, than his father who was “a minor musician in the court of the archbishop-elector of Cologne” (Eckley). His father had chronic alcoholism after his wife’s death in July 1787 and spent much of the family’s income. Due to his father’s inability to be a proper parent Ludwig virtually became an orphan at sixteen and a surrogate parent responsible for the welfare of three younger siblings (Lockwood 4). From his three younger siblings there were two boys and one girl who died of unknown causes two months after his mother at the age of one and a half. Within the three remaining brothers, the relationship between Kaspar Anton Karl, the second oldest, and Ludwig seemed more challenging than Nikolaus Johann, the youngest, and Ludwig. Karl was Ludwig’s agent for some time until Karl tried to publish some compositions under the name of his brother Ludwig (Elliott). Ludwig also did not approve of Karl’s wife because he thought their baby was another man’s, this led to Ludwig fighting for full custody of the child after Karl’s death from the same illness as their mother. The relationship between Ludwig and Nikolaus Johann was not as difficult as with Karl but it was still bumpy. Ludwig’s youngest brother wished to be known as Johann, in memory of their late father and trained as a pharmacist (Elliott). When Ludwig found out Johann was going to marry his housekeeper, Therese Obermeyer, he rushed to confront his brother and convince him that the housekeeper was unsuitable. Despite Ludwig’s disapproval, Johann married his housekeeper but the marriage turned out to be unhappy, the couple also did not have children. From an early age, Ludwig “lived in a womanless house, as he would all his life” (Lockwood 6) but he still yearned to find love in a relationship with a woman. This was a predicament because his mother was not only a parent but his best friend (Lockwood 6). Ludwig constantly struggled with his family and love life because of class until his last moments.

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Ludwig displayed his musical talents at an early age and was vigorously taught by his father, but he was later taught by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. At age 21, he moved to Vienna and studied composition with Joseph Haydn. Ludwig then gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist and was soon courted by Prince Lichnowsky for compositions. While composing Ludwig’s employees often caught the sharp end of his temper which as a result, he could never keep servants for any length of time. He would periodically check the quality of his morning eggs before they were cooked. If he found them unsatisfactory, he would throw the raw eggs at his staff. If a waiter brought him the wrong dish in a restaurant, he was not above sending it back to the kitchen via air. Aside from his temper in 1800, Ludwig created Symphony No. 1, this composition was distinguished for its frequent use of sforzandi, as well as sudden shifts in tonal centers that were uncommon for traditional symphonic form, and the prominent, more independent use of wind instruments (Brown). After this, his hearing began to deteriorate, but he continued to conduct, premiering his third and fifth symphonies in 1804 and 1808, respectively. His condition worsened to almost complete deafness by 1811, and he then gave up performing and appearing in public. During this period, Ludwig composed many of his most admired works, his Seventh Symphony premiered in 1813, with its second movement, Allegretto. He later composed his Ninth Symphony, which later gained fame for being among the first examples of a choral symphony. The compositional history of the Ninth Symphony is different from that of any other of Ludwig’s works. Setting it apart is the exceptionally long period of time that elapsed between the composer’s first tentative ideas for a setting of Schiller’s “A die Freude” in 1792 and the eventual fulfillment of that plan in 1824 in a context that even he did not anticipate (Levy 20). In 1826, his fourteenth String Quartet was noted for having seven linked movements played without a break and is considered the final major piece performed before his death a year later.

Ludwig remains the supreme exponent of what may be called the architectonic use of tonality. In his greatest sonata movements, such as the first allegro of the Eroica, the listener’s subconscious mind remains oriented to E-flat major even in the most distant keys, so that when, long before the recapitulation, the music touches on the dominant, this is immediately recognizable as being the dominant (Knapp). Of his innovations in the Symphony and quartet, the most notable is the replacement of the minuet by the more dynamic scherzo (Budden). He enriched both the orchestra and the quartet with a new range of sonority and variety of texture, and their forms are often greatly expanded. The same is true of the concerto, in which he introduced formal innovations that, though relatively few in number, would prove equally influential. In particular, the entry of a solo instrument before an orchestral ritornello in the Fourth and Fifth piano concert reinforces the sense of the soloist as a protagonist, even a romantic hero, an effect that later composers would struggle to reproduce (Knapp). The second movement of his Seventh Symphony, a piece that was often performed separately from the complete symphony and that may have been another of Ludwig’s most popular orchestral compositions. It also exerted an extraordinary influence on later composers, as the slow movements of Schubert’s “Great” C-major Symphony and E-flat Piano Trio, Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony, Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, and other works attest (Gibbs). He constantly pushed music into new areas, more than any other composer before him, he could take a simple idea and work it into a large-scale piece. After Ludwig, it was no longer possible to speak of music merely as “the art of pleasing sounds”. His instrumental works combine a forceful intensity of feeling with a hitherto unimagined perfection of design. He carried to a further point of development than his predecessors all the inherited forms of music, except opera and song, but particularly the symphony and the quartet.

Ludwig was the eldest surviving child of Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich. He went through hardships with his brothers, although he wanted the best for them, he constantly tried to prevent them from marrying the woman they loved. Ludwig did have a period of time where he considered marriage more seriously, but he still died without getting married. Widely regarded as the greatest composer who ever lived, Ludwig dominates a period of musical history as no one else before or since. His personal life was marked by a heroic struggle against encroaching deafness, and some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life when he was quite unable to hear. 

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