the biographical sketches
"He was an artist, but he was a man as well. A man in every sense, in the highest sense. Because he withdrew from the world, people called him a misanthrope, and because he was aloof from sentimentality, people called him unfeeling. Ah, one who knows himself to be hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points are the most easily blunted, or broken. An excess of sensitivity avoids a show of feeling! He fled from the world because in his loving nature, he found no weapon with which to oppose the world. He withdrew from mankind after he had given them everything and had received nothing in return. Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live, until the end of time. " -Excerpt from the funeral oration written by Franz Grillparzer
Ludwig van Beethoven, (1770-1827), German composer, considered one of the greatest musicians of all time. Having begun his career as an outstanding improviser at the piano and composer of piano music, Beethoven went on to compose string quartets and other kinds of chamber music, songs, two masses, an opera, and nine symphonies. His Symphony No. 9 in D minor, opus 125, (completed in 1824), perhaps the most famous work of classical music in existence, culminates in a choral finale based on the poem, “Ode to Joy”, by German writer, Friedrich von Schiller. Like his opera, Fidelio, opus 72, (completed in 1805; revised in 1806, and 1814), and many other works, the Ninth Symphony depicts an initial struggle with adversity and concludes with an uplifting vision of freedom and social harmony.
Beethoven was born in Bonn. His childhood and adolescence was made difficult by the harsh discipline and alcoholism of his father. At the age of 18, after the death of his mother, Beethoven placed himself at the head of the family and took responsibility for his two younger brothers, both of whom followed him when he moved to Vienna, Austria. In Bonn, the most important composition teacher of Beethoven was the German composer, Christian Gottlob Neefe, with whom he studied during the 1780s. Neefe used the music of the German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, as a cornerstone of instruction, and he encouraged his student to study with the Austrian composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whom Beethoven met in Vienna in 1787. Beethoven made another journey to Vienna in 1792. He studied with the Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn, and lived in Vienna for the remainder of his life. The combination of dramatic power and dreamy introspection in the music of Beethoven, made a strong impression on the Viennese aristocracy. It helped him to win generous patrons. Yet, just when his success seemed certain, he was confronted with the loss of his hearing. A sense on which he depended. Beethoven expressed his despair in the Heiligenstadt Testament, a document that was written to his brothers in 1802. The impairment gradually halted his career as a performer. However, the compositional achievements of Beethoven did not suffer from his hearing loss. Instead they gained in richness and power over the years. His artistic growth was reflected in a series of masterpieces. The Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, opus 55, (the Eroica, completed in 1804), Fidelio, and the Symphony No. 5 in C minor, opus 67, (completed in 1808). These works embody the second period of Beethoven's work, the heroic period.
By 1810, Beethoven was especially drawn to the poetry and drama of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They met in 1812, through the initiative of Bettina Brentano, a literary friend of Goethe. Bettina’s sister-in-law, Antonia Brentano, was possibly the intended recipient of Beethoven’s famous letter, addressed to his Immortal Beloved. The letter was written in July 1812, and marks the collapse of Beethoven’s hopes of marriage. After this disappointment, Beethoven declined significantly, and during 1813 he was depressed and unproductive. Beethoven’s fame reached its peak in 1814. The enthusiasm for his music was mostly for works like Wellington’s Victory, opus 91, (completed in 1813; also known as the Battle Symphony), and other patriotic pieces including The Glorious Moment, opus 136, (completed in 1814). His enhanced popularity made a successful revival of Fidelio . During the last decade of his life, Beethoven was almost completely deaf and he was socially isolated. He became the guardian of his nephew Karl, after a lengthy legal struggle. There was enormous friction between the two. In spite of those difficulties, between 1818 and 1826, Beethoven wrote a series of ambitious compositions: the Sonata in B-flat major, opus 106, (Hammerklavier, completed in 1818), the Missa Solemnis in D major, opus 123, (completed in 1823), the Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli in C major, opus 120, (completed in 1823), the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, opus 125, (completed in 1824), and his last string quartets. He was plagued by serious illness, but Beethoven maintained his sense of humor. He continued to work until he became ill with pneumonia in December 1826. He died in Vienna in March 1827.
The music of Beethoven is generally divided into three creative parts. The early part extends to 1802, when the composer made reference to a new way with his art. The middle part extends to 1812, after the completion of his Seventh and Eighth symphonies. The late part emerged gradually. Beethoven composed its pivotal work, the Hammerklavier Sonata, in 1818. Beethoven’s later style is very innovative and his last five quartets, written between 1824 and 1826, can be regarded as the onset of a fourth part. Although the music from the early period is sometimes described as imitative of Mozart and Haydn, much of it is original. Especially the works for piano. His early piano sonatas often have a bold quality, which is set into relief by the inwardness of the slow movements. The Sonata in C minor, opus 13, (Pathétique, completed in 1798), is the most famous of these sonatas. It transfers Haydn’s practice of slow introductions to the genre of the sonata. The title refers to a quality of pathos, or suffering, which is felt in the slow introduction, and is twice recalled in the end of the first movement. The main body of this brilliant movement conveys resistance to the suffering that dominates the introduction. Beethoven sought a variety of new approaches to musical form. In the Sonata in C-sharp minor (Moonlight, 1801), he begins with a slow movement. Typical sonatas began with a fast movement. The placid motif of broken chords is reinterpreted as a forceful configuration in the final movement. It incorporates the entire keyboard. The sonatas of opus 31, from 1802, have unique openings. The Sonata in G major, opus 31, No. 1, begins with strong shifts of key.
This is in contrast to the usual practice of remaining in the same key to anchor the listener. The opening theme of the Sonata in D minor, opus 31, No. 2, (Tempest), is divided into contrasting segments. Each segment is in a different tempo, whereas the customary practice was to play the entire theme at the beginning of a movement. In the Eroica Symphony, Beethoven again tried to expand the prevailing musical forms. Composers usually organized their movements into three parts. The exposition introduced the musical themes. The development takes these themes into other keys and modifies them. The recapitulation restates the themes in the original key. The opening theme of The Eroica is begun by two emphatic chords, and then it lingers on a mysterious moment of harmony. This is not reinterpreted until the recapitulation. The development section is twice as long as any other symphony of the time. Beethoven introduces new material after its rhythmic climax. This new material is resolved in a recapitulation in the coda. Usually, the coda follows the recapitulation. The four movements of the Eroica have the following expressive associations: struggle, death, rebirth, and glorification. In its narrative design, the Eroica is connected to the ballet music of Prometheus, opus 43, (completed in 1801). Beethoven borrowed the theme for the finale of Eroica from Prometheus. This movement of the symphony expresses the exaltation of Prometheus in a series of variations on a theme. Beethoven had originally intended to dedicate the work to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven angrily withdrew this dedication after learning that Napoleon had taken the title of emperor.
The other instrumental works from the time of the Eroica also try to expand the formal framework that he inherited from Haydn and Mozart. The Piano Sonata in C major, opus 53, (Waldstein, completed in 1804), and the Piano Sonata in F minor, opus 57, (Appassionata, completed in 1805) employ bold contrasts in harmony. They use a broadened plan, in which the slow movements flow directly into the final movements. The Symphony No. 5 in C minor, opus 67, (completed in 1808) has the most concentrated theme. Variants of the motif of four notes that begins this symphony, are present in all of the four movements. The dramatic turning point in the symphony comes at the transition to the final movement. A sense of foreboding, gives way to a triumphant breakthrough, and the music is reinforced by the entrance of trombones. Beethoven used the polarity between the dark sound of C minor and the radiant effect of C major. One masterpiece was the technically difficult Hammerklavier Sonata, (completed in 1818). He correctly predicted that it would be played fifty years later. Another was the Diabelli Variations. This work for piano transforms a trivial waltz by Anton Diabelli into an astonishing series of pieces. Each one with a unique character. Some are humorous. These works incorporate fugues which reflects Beethoven’s interest in the music of J. S. Bach. Beethoven’s second mass, the Missa Solemnis in D major, opus 123, (completed in 1823), also has formidable technical challenges. The enigmatic last quartets of the Ninth Symphony are equally difficult.
Beethoven combined the classical style with the older tradition. He mixed the lively contrasts and symmetrical forms of Mozart with the unified musical character of J. S. Bach. Beethoven gave voice to the feelings of subjectivity and individualism that emerged in the wake of the French Revolution. Injustice and tyranny were disdained by Beethoven. He used his art to sing the praises of the Enlightenment. His angry cancellation of the dedication of the Eroica Symphony reveals his refusal to compromise his principles. Beethoven created music in spite of his hearing impairment. This adds to his ability to inspire posterity. Later generations will find a challenge in the extraordinary complexity of his music. His artistic achievement throws a long shadow over the 19th century and beyond. He has set a standard that all composers will have to consider. The challenge of the Ninth Symphony: the ultimate development of a symphony.
Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Edited by Michael Hawes