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Ludwig van Beethoven also known as Bethofen, Bethoven, Beethofen - View Sheet Music for this Artist
  • a.k.a.: possibly the greatest genius of classical music
  • German
  • 16th (?) December 1770 - 26th March 1827
  • You might know him for: Moonlight Sonata, Für Elise, Symphonies No. 5 and No. 9

Beethoven is the most performed composer of all time. This fact seems to be of statistical value only but in fact it shows that Beethoven's compositions have always been understood. His music is regarded as a world language that is more timeless than anything previous and comparable. No visitor entering his birth house and seeing the simplicity of his former dwelling can miss the symbolic significance for his journey through later life. From such confinement rose a human being to the most sublime freedom of spirit. Beethoven's father was also a musician, a tenor in the archducal band of Maximilian Friedrich.

Beethoven grew up in a proletarian rather than a bourgeois environment. His musical education began at the age of four and was often accompanied by tears. Beethoven's father was in the habit, after returning from the pub at midnight, of abruptly waking the child and forcing him to practice playing the piano. Beethoven played in public for the first time at the age of eleven; at thirteen he was an organist - but not a wunderkind. In 1787 Beethoven was allowed to go to Vienna on a stipend to take lessons from Mozart. These lessons lasted for only fourteen days as Beethoven's mother's serious illness and her early death called him back to Bonn. Following this trauma Beethoven went to university and was influenced by his reading of such famous authors as Homer, Shakespeare and Schiller. He also developed an enthusiasm for the ideas of the "Grande Revolution" which was nothing unusual for a young intellectual.

In 1792 Beethoven went to Vienna again to become Joseph Haydn's pupil. His dissatisfaction caused him to secretly take lessons from two other tutors. He developed into a brilliant pianist whose art of improvisation was greatly admired. Performing for the aristocracy was his main source of income for a long time. His first concert of his own improvisation, including his first symphony, did not occur until 1800. He obtained financial security when a lifelong salary of 4,000 florins yearly was granted by Archduke Rudolph (who was also his piano and composition student) and the Counts Kinsky and Lobkowitz. At the age of 30 the harbingers of physical ailments started to unfortunately appear, and his increasing deafness were to mark the autumn of his life and turn him into an eccentric.

Beethoven's 2nd Symphony (1803) was composed at a time when he was already despairing because of his imminent loss of hearing. As with many other works, hundreds of sketchbooks witness the complicated methods Beethoven used when composing. The fifth symphony saw its premiere on the 22nd of December 1808. There is probably no better known rhythmic figure in classical, if not all music, than the ba-ba-ba-bam of this symphony. Beethoven is supposed to have said about these beats: "This is how destiny knocks on the door". Ten years were to pass until the 9th Symphony was completed. Not that Beethoven was idle during that period. But Beethoven's deafness was now nearly total. The first performance of the 9th Symphony was celebrated by an enthusiastic audience that by now had recognised Beethoven as the greatest though not most accessible master of his time. At the concert it was obvious that he was very lonely. Eyewitnesses reported that not only did he fail to hear anything, but he also did not see anything of what happened around him either due to his total excitement. Beethoven had discovered his inspiration for the final movement of the 9th in Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy". Beethoven's choice of verses makes it clear that he strives for happiness on earth, for fraternity and for harmony with nature, for a new and better age of mankind. It is hardly surprising then, that the Chorus of the final movement of this symphony was to become the official anthem of the European Union.

Beethoven died on the 9th of May 1827, and was buried three days later. The funeral procession was one of the most impressive Vienna had witnessed up to then. The latest scientific research points to the fact that Beethoven's many ailments and his subsequent suffering were caused by a massive lead poisoning. Despite his musical genius, Beethoven never found a wife, with all of his offers of marriage being rebuked. Consequently he was to remain childless, and never found the family life he longed for.

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