One of the major players in Classical music, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist. He was a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in music, and is widely considered one of the greatest composers of all time.
Beethoven's musical talents were obvious at a young age. He was born in the small German city of Bonn, and recognized early as a child prodigy. His music studies were intense, vigorous, and harsh, often reducing him to tears. He studied violin, viola, and organ, with his primary instrument being the piano. At age 21, he moved to Vienna and began studying composition with the renowned Joseph Haydn. By the 1790s, he had gained significant notoriety for his compositions, improvisation abilities, and as a piano virtuoso. When he was just 26, he began noticing a buzzing in his ears. A few years later, he had about 60% loss of hearing, and by the age of 44, he was almost completely deaf. The cause is unknown, but theories range from typhus to auto-immune disorders, inner legions of the ear, and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake.
In Beethoven's early works (also known as the Early Period, 1792-1802), when he could hear the full range of frequencies, he made use of higher notes in his compositions. Rooted in the Classical traditions of Joseph Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven uses the language of Viennese classicism, emphasizing clarity, restraint, and balance. As his hearing declined, he began to use the lower notes that he could hear more clearly. In his Middle "Heroic" Period of composition (1802-1812), he began to break out of the conventions of classicism and wrote with a bolder, more individual tone. He explores human themes such as struggle, assertion, or celebration in large works. In his Late Period, his compositions became much more private, more contemplative, more visionary. He began to embrace a freedom from earlier structure, but maintained his notable musical depth.
In the last ten or so years of his life, he began carrying conversation books so his friends could write in them and he could know what they were saying. These invaluable resources contain discussions about music and other topics, which give incredible insights into his thinking, his relationship to art, and how he intended his music to be performed. In his lifetime, he composed nine symphonies, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, five piano concertos, one violin concerto, two masses, and the opera Fidelio.
Check it out! Give these incredible works a listen: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Waldstein Piano Sonata, Pathetique Sonata, Op. 13, and the well-known bagatelle, Fur Elise.
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