Ludwig Van Beethoven (Von Beethoven)

The Life And Heartaches Of Ludwig Van Beethoven

If you turn on the TV in any country in the world, and listen for a while, you will hear a bit of Beethoven played. OK it may be a parody of it in a soap opera but the tunes written 200 years ago are still good today.

If you get Classic music from the UK on FM and the net you will know that every Easter a poll is taken of the 2 million or so listeners who decide which are the ‘top’ 300 classical pieces of music that people want to listen to. Ludwig van Beethoven came second this year, with Mozart first. He would have been pleased if he was still alive, of course, because Mozart was his original inspiration. Mozart, despite the fact that he died at a much younger age, was a prodigious composer. Rather like Bach he could knock out a sonata before dinner-time or a whole quartet in a few days (when pressed). Beethoven, on the other hand really grafted hard to put together something new in the musical community. He would often, particularly in more complex music, have many draft ideas written down before finalising orchestration, which could take months.

Beethoven, once he was able to get away from his family, went about things in a different way from his mentors. (Haydn, his teacher, helped him to be one of the foremost pianists of his time, the forte-piano being a newly invented instrument whose refinements lead to the pianoforte we know today).

Ludwig van Beethoven became a known name in music at the time. He was one of the first ‘independent’ composers, making his money from concerts, music and conducting, rather than from the patronage that many previous successful composers enjoyed (or worked very hard to keep). However his music inspired several people over his life to sponsor him both before and after his deafness created new problems. Money was difficult at times purely because he would spend whatever he had and either hope for more or have to work very hard for it. During his several depressive periods a shortage of money could not have helped.

After a spell of, perhaps understandable, depression at his deafness he studied hard to be able to keep composing. He was familiar with Bach’s keyboard works, and having studied composition and counterpoint with Handel, he went ahead to change music, in its classical form, into new music for the 19th Century.

His music is generally thought by music critics nowadays to be the transition between the ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ genres, but of course these apparently sacrosanct terms belie the truth. Beethoven gave to other composers the ability to develop music for the new century whilst giving his audience something to really enjoy. Some of his later works could not really be called ‘romantic’ perhaps? Different though.

Early works, if not known by the listener, could be confused with Hayden and Mozart, but his ‘middle’ period showed a vast development of the symphony as well as his technique on the piano (an instrument still in its comparative infancy), whilst at the same time taking music for small ensembles such as quartets and sonatas to new heights.

By 1811 he had stopped performing, his deafness being too severe, but his genius and musically technical brilliance did not in any way prevent his composing ability. He was able to ‘hear’ the music in his head and his mind. He even went on in his ‘late’ period to compose new styles of music which were greeted with great accolade by contemporary composers, although initially less so by some of his audiences, perhaps because they did not appreciate the subtleties of these new forms. This would come later.

This great composer, and indeed Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the truly ‘Great’ composers of all time, died at the age of 57 after a lifetime of illness and during a thunderstorm. If you listen to his music you may consider this an appropriate finale to a somewhat tempestuous life.

20,000 people turned up for his funeral in Vienna, his home of choice.
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