17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827
Ludwig van Beethoven is perhaps the most famous and influential of all the pianist composers of his time. He was considered instrumental in the transition of between the classical and romantic eras in Western Art Music.
Beethoven was born on December 16th, 1770 in Bonn (now called Cologne, Germany) to parents of Belgian descent. His father, Johann, was a musician at the court of Bonn, and his mother, Maria, whom he later deemed as his “best friend”, was described as a warmhearted gentle women. There were seven children born into this family, only three survived, in which Ludwig was the oldest.
Johann supplemented his income by teaching piano and violin and so took an interest in teaching Ludwig from a very early age. He began to see Ludwig as prodigy, a young “Mozart”. Ludwig gave his first public performance at the age of 7-1/2, in Cologne, however, his father exploited his son, announcing that he was only 6. Because of this, Beethoven was always thought of as being younger than he actually was.
Ludwig soon outgrew the teachings of his father and began to study with Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was the Court’s organist. Neefe taught Ludwig about composition and by March of 1783, had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations. He then began working with Neefe as an assistant organist and published three piano sonatas. By his teenage years, Beethoven had become influenced by the political philosophies of the time, such as freemasonry and Order of the Illuminati.
In 1787 Beethoven travelled to Vienna, as Vienna was becoming a beacon of culture and music. He had hoped to be able to study with Mozart. It is unclear if Beethoven actually met or studies with Mozart. After two weeks, Ludwig learned that his mother was dying and so went back home. His mother died shortly thereafter. His father turned to alcohol and left Beethoven to care for his younger siblings for the next five years.
He then returned to Vienna and was introduced to many influential people during this time. Franz Wegeler, a young medical student, introduced Ludwig to the von Breuning family, where he taught piano to some of the children. Beethoven would eventually come to marry one of the von Breuning’s young daughters. Everyone in the musical and aristocratic world would come to admire the young composer. They were indeed Beethoven’s greatest supporters. He often became angry with one or all of them, however, his talents often excused his excessive, impulsive behavior.
In 1796 Beethoven began to lose his hearing (the cause of this is unknown, but recent tests on Beethoven’s hair indicate he may have had lead poisoning). He was just 26 years of age. He also suffered from ringing in the ears, this made if hard for him to hear music. Because of this, he often avoided conversation.
In 1800, Beethoven organized a concert in Vienna, including among his other works, his first symphony. At the time, this symphony was considered strange, overly extravagant, and even risque. At this very young age, Beethoven was pushing the boundaries of music for the times.
In 1801, Beethoven confessed to his friend that he feared he was becoming deaf. On advice from his doctor, he moved to a small town called Heiligenastadt in an attempt to come to terms with his deafness. Over time, his hearing loss became profound. There is a well known story about Beethoven that at one of his concerts, he had to be turned around to hear the thunderous applause from the audience, but upon hearing nothing, he wept. However, it did not stop him from composing music. He continued to compose, although playing concerts became impossible, after an attempt to play his symphony #5 at a concert in 1811, in which he failed miserably, he never played publically again. He tried...