Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16: Ludwig van Beethoven was born on this date (possibly Dec. 17th) in 1770.

He died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56.

Beethoven is considered to have been the most crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, and remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in present-day Germany, he moved to Vienna in his early twenties and settled there, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. His hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf.

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Beethoven's grandfather was employed as a bass singer at the court of the Elector of Cologne, rising to become music director (Kapellmeister). He had one son, Johann van Beethoven - Ludwig's father -  who worked as a tenor in the same musical establishment, also giving lessons on piano and violin to supplement his income.

Ludwig was baptized in a Roman Catholic service on December 17, 1770, meaning he might have been born the previous day, the 16th of December.

Beethoven's first music teacher was his father. He had other local teachers as well: the court organist Gilles van den Eeden, Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer (a family friend, who taught Beethoven piano), and a relative, Franz Rovantini.

His musical talent was apparent at an early age. Johann, aware of Leopold Mozart's successes in this area (with son Wolfgang and daughter Nannerl), attempted to exploit his son as a child prodigy, claiming that Beethoven was six (he was seven) on the posters for Beethoven's first public performance in March 1778.
Beethoven at 13

Some time after 1779, Beethoven began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed the Court's Organist in that year. Neefe taught Beethoven composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations (WoO 63).

Beethoven soon began working with Neefe as assistant organist of the court chapel conducted by the Kapellmeister Andrea Luchesi. His first three piano sonatas, named "Kurfürst" ("Elector") for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Frederick, were published in 1783. Maximilian Frederick, who died in 1784, not long after Beethoven's appointment as assistant organist, had noticed Beethoven's talent early, and had subsidized and encouraged the young Beethoven's musical studies.

Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792. He was probably first introduced to Joseph Haydn in late 1790, and it is likely that arrangements were made at that time for Beethoven to study with the old master. In the next few years, Beethoven composed a significant number of works (none were published at the time, and most are now listed as works without opus) that demonstrated a growing range and maturity of style. Musicologists have identified a theme similar to those of his third symphony in a set of variations written in 1791.

Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a "ringing" in his ears that made it hard for him to perceive and appreciate music; he also avoided conversation.

The cause of Beethoven's deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to syphilis, lead poisoning, typhus, auto-immune disorder (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake.

Between 1798 and 1802 Beethoven tackled what he considered the pinnacles of composition: the string quartet and the symphony. With the composition of his first six string quartets (Op. 18) between 1798 and 1800 (written on commission for, and dedicated to, Prince Lobkowitz), and their publication in 1801, along with premieres of the First and Second Symphonies in 1800 and 1802, Beethoven was justifiably considered one of the most important of a generation of young composers following after Haydn and Mozart.
Portrait in 1804

He continued to write in other forms, turning out widely known piano sonatas like the "Pathétique" sonata (Op. 13), which Cooper describes as "surpass[ing] any of his previous compositions, in strength of character, depth of emotion, level of originality, and ingenuity of motivic and tonal manipulation".  He also completed his Septet (Op. 20) in 1799, which was one of his most popular works during his lifetime.
Portrait in 1820

When Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, (the cause is still being questioned), 20,000 Viennese citizens lined the streets for Beethoven's funeral on Thursday, 29 March 1827. After a Requiem Mass at the church of the Holy Trinity (Dreifaltigkeitskirche), Beethoven was buried in the Währing cemetery, north-west of Vienna. His remains were exhumed for study in 1862, and moved in 1888 to Vienna's Zentralfriedhof.

Friends and visitors before and after his death clipped locks of his hair, some of which have been preserved and subjected to additional analysis, as have skull fragments removed during the 1862 exhumation. Some of these analyses have led to controversial assertions that Beethoven was accidentally poisoned to death by excessive doses of lead-based treatments administered under instruction from his doctor.
 Beethoven composed in several musical genres, and for a variety of instrument combinations. His works for symphony orchestra include nine symphonies (the Ninth Symphony includes a chorus), and about a dozen pieces of "occasional" music.

He wrote seven concerti for one or more soloists and orchestra, as well as four shorter works that include soloists accompanied by orchestra. His only opera is Fidelio; other vocal works with orchestral accompaniment include two masses and a number of shorter works.

His large body of compositions for piano includes 32 piano sonatas and numerous shorter pieces, including arrangements of some of his other works. Works with piano accompaniment include 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas, and a sonata for French horn, as well as numerous lieder.
Beethoven also wrote a significant quantity of chamber music.

In addition to 16 string quartets, he wrote five works for string quintet, seven for piano trio, five for string trio, and more than a dozen works for a variety of combinations of wind instruments.


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