Ludwig Van Beethoven


Portrait of Beethoven in 1804, by which point ...
Portrait of Beethoven in 1804, by which point he had been working on the 6th Symphony for two years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer born in Bonn. Generally regarded as one of the greatest classical composers of all time, Beethoven bridged the tight classical form he was born into with the emergent and wildly emotional romanticism that would follow.

Beethoven slowly became deaf and conducted his final performance while entirely deaf. He hoped to study under Mozart in Vienna in 1787 but it’s unclear whether or not this connection was ever made. While Mozart wrote symphonies relatively quickly, Beethoven worked on several belabored drafts before finding the best combination of notes. Although we don’t know if the two musical giants ever met, it’s clear that Mozart had a profound influence on Beethoven.

The opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, “da da da da”, is one of the most familiar, if not the most familiar of classical passages known to mankind. Beethoven wrote it while mostly deaf.

The fourth movement of his 9th symphony, “Ode to Joy,” was featured in the Stanley Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange and was played during an official birthday celebration for Adolf Hitler. It’s also become something of a cult classic in Japan.

Music historians are quick to point out that Beethoven could not have foreseen the many contradictory uses and abuses of his work, as outlined here: “‘Ode to Joy,’ Followed by Chaos and Despair” by Slavoj Zizek in The New York Times, December 24, 2007.

Beethoven’s piano sonatas display a complexity and range of emotion rarely found in that genre, the “Moonlight Sonata” perhaps being the most moving and memorable. He also penned and arranged many other types of music, from folk songs, opera, chamber music, choral, and, of course, symphonic music.

His life and death are dramatized in the film, Immortal Beloved (1994).

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