Ludwig van Beethoven – lonely giant


Ludwig van Beethoven, German composer and pianist (1770-1827), is still considered a giant of classical music. His family had Dutch roots, and Beethoven sometimes concealed the fact that the Dutch “van” in his name does not denote nobility as the German “von” does. In his late 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to experience hearing loss. Toward the end of his life, he was so deaf that he had to be turned around at the end of the premiere of his famous Ninth Symphony to watch the audience applaud because he could not hear them clapping, nor had he heard the orchestra playing.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Early Years

Unlike his grandfather, who was a renowned musician in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven’s father was a mediocre singer with a fondness for alcohol. He became young Beethoven’s first teacher and taught with brutality. Neighbors recalled that the small boy had to stand on top of a footstool to reach the piano keys, his father beating him for any hesitation or mistake. Ludwig van Beethoven not only often ended up weeping while playing the piano, his father also locked him into the cellar, beat him or deprived him of sleep when young Beethoven did not perform to his expectations.

In 1787, the then teenage Beethoven travelled to Vienna for the first time, hoping to study with Mozart. Two weeks later, his mother fell ill, and Ludwig returned to Bonn. Following his mother’s death, his father slipped even deeper into alcoholism, and Ludwig van Beethoven became responsible for the care of his two younger brothers. He spent the next five years in Bonn. Despite these personal struggles, Beethoven composed a significant number of works during this period, showing influences of Mozart and Haydn. In late 1792, Beethoven left for Vienna for the second time to further his studies and established himself as a piano virtuoso.

In his late 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to notice some hearing loss. Over time, the loss became profound and Beethoven fell into depression. He wrote to a friend, “I must confess that I lead a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity; but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.” – losing-hearing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Middle Years

Despite his worsening deafness and many personal setbacks, (insurmountable class differences hampered his love life, one of his brothers passed away causing Beethoven to become entangled in a legal dispute with his sister-in-law over the custody of the couple’s nine-year-old son), Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated himself wholeheartedly to musical study. Between 1803 and 1812, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Later Years

In time, Beethoven’s hearing deteriorated to the point that conversation became so difficult that he had to make use of conversation books. He became lonely, short-tempered and absent-minded. Still, he continued to compose at a furious pace. Some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life when he was quite unable to hear. Works from this period are the most complex, such as the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, which features an elaborate choral setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode An die Freude (Ode to Joy), championing the brotherhood of humanity. Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827 at the age of 56.

Ludwig von Beethoven’s Major Works

His works include 9 symphonies, 7 concerti, 1 opera, 2 masses, 32 piano sonatas, 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas, 1 sonata for French horn, 16 string quartets, 5 string quintets, 7 piano trios, 5 string trios, many chamber music pieces and many others.


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