This year the world was going to celebrate Beethoven’s 250 birth anniversary. Poor Beethoven. His birth anniversary was almost completely forgotten because of the terrible COVID-19 pandemia, what is understandable, though.
As a classic music amateur, specially of Beethoven’s music, I would like to share a series of posts on Beethoven’s life and work. Ludwig van Beethoven is considered one of the most important classical music composers, ever. For example, the BBC music magazine website classical-music.com considers Beethoven as the 3rd most important composer, after Johann Sebastian Bach and Igor Stravinsky.
The information that will be shared in the posts about Beethoven was collected from different books, cited at the end. The posts will be divided by different periods of Beethoven’s life.
One really interesting book is John Stanley’s “Classical Music”, that discusses the birth of music, music styles, musical instruments, cultural influences on music and presents a historical contextualization for each music period. It is very well written for those who don’t know much about classical music and want to learn more about it.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn Germany. His grandfather, Lodewijk van Beethoven, settled in Bonn as a musician. Ludwig’s father, Jan van Beethoven, married Maria Magdalena Keverich. Of the couple’s seven children, only three will survive to the adult age: Ludwig, Karl and Johann.
Like his grandfather and father, Ludwig was doomed from an early age to become a musician. However his early musical education was unfocused, hard and slow because of his father’s character, and because Ludwig’s formal education was very poor. From the age of eleven he dropped from all schooling. Two fortunate meetings will help him find his way. The first with Christian Gottlob Neefe, who became his teacher in 1782 and gave him the book of J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. In 1782, Ludwig at eleven years old published his first work, the nine variations for keyboard on a Dressler step.
The second meeting was with Franz Gerhard Wegeler, a medical student who became Ludwig’s close friend. Wegeler introduced Beethoven to the family von Breuning, in a very cultivated and liberal environment. Beethoven then learned about the German writers of the Auflckirung and the Sturm and Drang, in particular Klopstock, Goethe and Schiller. He shared pre-revolutionary aspirations which were embraced by the most progressive intelectuals of the German bourgeoisie.
Beethoven was awarded with the title of second organist of the court when he was thirteen years old. He became assistant organist, repetitor (clavicembalist) at the theater and orchestral musician. Since he was the first-born among his brothers, he became rather serious, very introspective, focused and concentrated, with mood swings and with a tendency to melancholy.
In 1874 the new prince-archbishop Archduke Maximilian Franz arrived in Bonn. The archduke soon perceived young Beethoven’s gifts, took him under his protection and sent him to Vienna for a study trip in 1787, expecting him to become a Mozart’s pupil. However, the meeting of Beethoven and Mozart was not very pleasant. Mozart did not gave him much attention, even though he recognized Beethoven’s talent. Beethoven was back to Bonn after less than two weeks in Vienna because of his mother’s death, when he developed a disposition to melancholy.
Beethoven continued to his efforts on his education and became enrolled in literature courses at the University of Bonn in 1789. He approached Schubert, Schumann, Haydn and Mozart, with literary interests that included German-speaking writers, such as Goethe and Schiller, as well as Plutarque, Shakespeare and mystics of India.
Beethoven adopted the name of Tondichter (poet of sounds), aiming to establish a connection between the poets of speech and his romantic conception, reflecting in a music expressing verbal poetry of feelings. Beethoven’s efforts were to create a music which as not an end in itself, but with a meaning to reveal the human intense expressions. Such intense feelings also resulted of his engagement in music as a revolutionary expression. One of his professors, Euloge Schneider, was a supporter of the French Revolution. Beethoven became committed to the revolutionary soul that shaked the old world. He remained with such ideals for the rest of his life.
Beethoven was still a beginner composer when at twenty years old, with a strong character and personality that lead him to develop a unique originality. He composed a funeral cantata on the death of Joseph II in 1790. In 1792 Joseph Haydn became aware of one of Beethoven’s cantatas and encouraged him to strength his studies. In November 1792 Beethoven left Bonn to Vienna, where he will remain until his death.
To be continued…
Menuhin, Y. and David, C. W., “A música do homem”, Martins Fontes, 1990. This is a portuguese translation of “The Music of Man”, by the same authors, published by Methuen Publications, Agincourt, Canada, in 1979. The Brazilian Portuguese technical revision of this book was by Isaac Karabtschevsky, who was artistic director of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra between 1969 and 1994.
Robertson, A. (editor), “Chamber Music”, Penguin Books, 1957.
Rushton, J., “Classical Music”, Thames and Hudson, 1986.
Mellers, W., “Man and His Music, Vol. III – The Sonata Principle”, Barrie & Jenkins, 1988.
Belgodere-Johannès, V. “Histoire de la Musique”, Librairie Renouard, Henri Laurens, ed., 1947.
Stanley, J., “Classical Music”, Reader’s Digest, The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc, 1994.
Various newspapers articles collected during over 30 years, unfortunatelly unclassified.