Born In: Bonn, Germany
Known as the ‘Shakespeare of Music,’ Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest composers ever. He was one of the pioneers of instrumental music in European culture and played a crucial role in the development of tonal music. Though deafness restricted him from being active socially, it never trammeled his creativity. During the premiere of his final masterpiece ‘Ninth Symphony,’ Beethoven had to turn around to view the clapping of the audience as he had become completely deaf by then. Despite his loss of hearing, he became a colossus of music, whose fame continues to soar even today. Influenced greatly by Mozart and Haydn, he enriched his style with the power of romanticism. The intricacy and vastness of his works went much beyond the age, baffled his contemporaries, and continue to mystify professionals and audiences alike. His operas, symphonies, and sonatas are still sung and performed all over the world.
Died At Age: 56
father: Johann van Beethoven
mother: Maria Magdalena Keverich
siblings: Anna Maria Francisca van Beethoven, Franz Georg van Beethoven, Johann Peter Anton Leym, Kaspar Anton Karl van Beethoven, Ludwig Maria van Beethoven, Maria Margarita van Beethoven, Nikolaus Johann van Beethoven
Born Country: Germany
place of death: Vienna, Austria
City: Bonn, Germany
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Ludwig van Beethoven was born into a musical family in Bonn. Although there is no record, most scholars accept 16 December 1770 as his date of birth. His family as well as his teacher Johann Albrechtsberger celebrated his birthday on this day.
The church records at the ‘Parish of St. Regis’ also show that Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on 17 December 1770. Since children at the time were baptized a day after their birth, it corroborates the assumption that he was born on 16 December 1770.
His father Johann van Beethoven was the son of Ludwig van Beethoven, the Kapellmeister at the court of the ‘Electorate of Cologne.’ Later, Johann van Beethoven was appointed as a tenor in the same establishment. To augment his income, he also provided keyboard and violin lessons but was better known for his alcoholism.
His mother Maria Magdalena nee Keverich was previously married to Johann Georg Leym, who died when she was 19 years old. Their son, Johann Peter Leym, also died in infancy.
With her second husband Johann van Beethoven, Maria Magdalena had seven children out of which Ludwig van Beethoven was born second. Since his elder brother, also named Ludwig van Beethoven, died in infancy, he became the eldest surviving child.
Among his five younger siblings, only two brothers, Kaspar Anton Karl Van Beethoven and Nikolaus Johann Van Beethoven, reached adulthood. His brother Franz Georg van Beethoven and sisters, Anna Maria Francisca van Beethoven and Maria Margarete Josepha van Beethoven, died in infancy.
Ludwig van Beethoven began his music training under his father. He learned clavier and violin from him from the age of five. However, Beethoven did not have a pleasant experience learning from his father as he was regularly flogged and locked in a cellar for making the slightest of mistakes.
His father, who wanted to make another Mozart out of him, would beat him up brutally while yelling he was an embarrassment to the family. Weeping, the boy would continue to play until he reached the notes while standing on a tool.
Apart from studying music from his father, he also took lessons from Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer, a family friend, who would often drag him out of his bed in the middle of the night to practice playing the keyboard. Another important teacher of Beethoven during this period was Gilles van den Eeden, a local church organist.
On March 26, 1778, Beethoven gave his first public performance at Cologne. Although he was seven years old at the time, his father declared his age to be six as Mozart had given his first performance at the age of six; his father did not want him to be any lesser than Mozart himself.
Sometime now, he was admitted to a Latin grade school called ‘Tirocinium.’ He was an average student, which led to the belief that he might have suffered from mild dyslexia during his early days. He had once said, ‘music comes to me more readily than words.’
In 1779, he was withdrawn from school to study composition with court organist Christian Gottlob Neefe. In 1783, with Neefe’s help, Beethoven wrote his first composition, which was later called ‘WoO 63’ (Werke ohne Opuszahl or Works without opus number).
Also in 1783, he composed three piano sonatas, collectively known as ‘Kurfurst,’ which he dedicated to the Elector Maximilian Friedrich. Impressed with his work, the Elector subsidized the young man’s musical studies.
By 1784, his father’s alcoholism worsened to such an extent that he could no longer support his family. Therefore, at the age of 14, Beethoven started his career. He successfully applied for the position of assistant organist at the court chapel, receiving a modest salary of 150 florins.
By 1787, the Elector sent Beethoven to Vienna; possibly to study with Mozart. But within two weeks, his mother fell seriously ill, which forced him to return home. His mother died soon after and his father’s dependency on alcohol worsened.
Ludwig van Beethoven now had to take care of his brothers and run the household, which he did by giving music lessons to the children of the late Joseph von Breuning. Gradually, he started teaching other wealthy pupils. Soon, the Breuning mansion became his second home.
In 1788, at the house of von Breuning, Beethoven met Count Ferdinand von Waldstein. Belonging to Vienna’s highest aristocracy, Waldstein not only had tremendous influence but also loved music. Eventually, he became one of Beethoven’s lifelong friends and financial supporters.
In 1790, Beethoven received his first commission, possibly on the recommendation of Neefe. He wrote two Emperor Cantatas (WoO 87, WoO 88) on the death of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, and the accession of Leopold II. However, they were not performed at the time and remained lost until 1880.
From 1790 to 1792, he composed a number of pieces, most of which are now listed under ‘WoO.’ In the late 1790, Beethoven was introduced to Joseph Haydn when the latter visited Bonn on his way to London. They met again in Bonn in 1792 on his return trip to Vienna.
In November 1792, sponsored by Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, Beethoven moved to Vienna to study under Haydn. Initially, he did not try to establish himself as a composer. Instead, he concentrated on studying counterpoint with him, concurrently receiving instructions from other masters.
He also started performing in various salons of the nobility, establishing himself as a piano virtuoso by 1793. The following year, as Haydn set out on another trip, the Elector expected him to return to Bonn. His stipend was stopped when he refused to follow his orders.
On March 29, 1795, he made his public debut, possibly performing his first piano concerto. Shortly thereafter, he published a series of three piano trios, namely ‘Opus 1,’ earning great critical as well as commercial success.
In 1796, Beethoven traveled to northern Germany, visiting among other places, the court of King Frederick William of Prussia in Berlin. During this period, he composed the ‘Op. 5 Violoncello.’
In 1798, commissioned by Prince Lobkowitz, he started writing his first string quartets, which would later be numbered as ‘Op 18.’ He completed the project in 1800. Meanwhile, in 1799, he completed ‘Opus 20,’ one of his most popular works.
On April 2, 1800, he performed his ‘Symphony No. 1’ in C major at Vienna’s ‘Royal Imperial Theater.’ Although he did not like this particular work, it would later establish him as one of the most celebrated composers of his time.
In 1801, Beethoven published ‘Six String Quarters, Op 18,’ establishing his mastery over the Viennese form of music which was developed by Mozart and Haydn. Also in the same year, he composed his first ballet ‘The Creatures of Prometheus,’ which received 27 performances at the ‘Imperial Court Theater.’
In the spring of 1802, he completed his ‘Second Symphony.’ However, it premiered almost a year later in April 1803, earning him a huge profit. Also in 1802, his brother Kaspar began to manage his financial matters, securing better deals from his publishers.
In 1798, Ludwig van Beethoven started experiencing hearing loss. By 1802, his condition had become so severe that he felt suicidal. In April 1802, he moved to Heiligenstadt, located just outside Vienna, trying to come to terms with his deafness. Remaining there till October, he decided to live for his art.
Despite his growing deafness, he started producing astonishingly large volumes of music. From 1802 to 1812, he composed five sets of piano variations, seven piano sonatas, six symphonies, four solo concerti, four overtures, four trios, five string quartets, six string sonatas, two sextets, one opera, and 72 songs.
In 1808, Beethoven received an invitation for the directorship of Kapellmeister. To keep him in Vienna, his wealthy patrons pledged him an annual salary of 4,000 florins. Thus, he became the first musician to be freed from the drudgery of service which allowed him to concentrate full-time on composing.
This period between 1802 and 1812 is known as his ‘middle’ or ‘heroic’ period. Most popular among his works from this period were ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ ‘Kreutzer’ violin sonata, the opera ‘Fidelio,’ and his symphonies, numbering three to eight.
In 1815, he tried to perform for the last time but was forced to give up due to his loss of hearing. Gradually, he became short-tempered and miserable. His brother’s death in the same year added to his frustration. For the next three years, he produced little music.
In 1818, when he could no longer hear, he started communicating through writing, carrying with him a set of books, which later came to be known as ‘Conversation Books.’ These books later provided insights into his thinking and how he wanted his music to be performed.
In spite of his total loss of hearing and his preoccupation with legal battles with his sister-in-law, Beethoven continued to write. He composed a collection of songs as well as ‘Hammerklavier Sonata’ in 1818. In the same year, he also started working on his epic ‘Ninth Symphony.’
In 1819, he started working on the ‘Diabelli Variations’ and ‘Missa Solemnis.’ Unfortunately, due to ill health and legal battles, he could not complete the last mentioned work before 1823. Meanwhile, in 1822, the ‘Philharmonic Society of London’ commissioned him to write a symphony.
The commission spurred him to complete his ‘Ninth Symphony.’ It was performed first on 7 May 1824 at the ‘Kärntnertortheater’ to a standing ovation and was performed again on 24 May 1824. It was his last public concert.
Also in 1822, Prince Nikolas Golitsin of St. Petersburg had commissioned him to write three string quartets. In 1824, after completing the ‘Ninth Symphony,’ Beethoven produced a series of string quarters, collectively known as ‘Late Quartets.’ This was his last major work.
Ludwig van Beethoven is best remembered for his ‘Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125.’ Today, the work is considered to be the best-known work in the entire Western musical canon. In 2001, its original hand-written manuscript was added to the ‘United Nations Memory of the World Programme Heritage’ list.
Ludwig van Beethoven could not develop a lasting relationship with any woman and remained a bachelor till his death. His sole heir was his nephew Karl.
Before his death in 1815, his brother Kaspar left Beethoven and his wife in charge of Karl. After Kaspar’s death, Beethoven fought a legal battle with his sister-in-law, ultimately winning the sole custody of his nephew.
In December 1826, Beethoven became seriously ill and died three months later on 26 March 1827. Autopsy reports revealed significant liver damage as well as dilation of the auditory and other related nerves.
His funeral, which took place on 29 March 1827, was attended by around 20,000 people. After a requiem mass at the church of the Holy Trinity, his mortal remains were buried at the Währing cemetery. In 1888, his mortal remains were moved to Zentralfriedhof.
On 12 August 1845, the ‘Beethoven Monument’ was unveiled in Bonn. The city also has a concert hall named ‘Beethovenhalle,’ while his birth house at Bonngasse 20 has been turned into a museum.
The largest crater in Mercury, located at latitude 20°S, longitude 124°W, has been named after him.
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