Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer, born in 1770 and died in 1827 while completely deaf (Kinderman 22). Beethoven was a key figure in Western art music and was monumental in the musical transition between the Classical era and the Romantic era.
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His hearing problem set in his early twenties but it never deterred him from composing quality music. He continued to compose and perform even after he went completely deaf. Entirely, he composed nine symphonies and his most popular symphonies are No’s 3, 5 and 9 (Grove 27).
Analysis of the symphonies
Beethoven is one of the greatest composers of music in both the classical and modern music era. This is so because of his great symphonies. He only composed only nine symphonies, each of which is unique in a distinct way and composed in a different key. His most popular symphonies are No’s 3, 5 and 9 (Simpson 19). The histories of these three symphonies are familiar to almost every classical music enthusiast, but the other six are not very well known.
Symphony No. 1, Op, C Major
Beethoven started composing this symphony in 1799 and premiered it in 1800, one year later in Vienna. Relative to the other eight symphonies, this one has the most moderate sound (Lockwood 41). When it first premiered, the audience was surprised because they were used to listening to pure classical music, unlike this one that started on a dissonant chord.
Symphony No. 2, Op. 36, D major
Before its completion in 1802, Beethoven had been working on it for three years. This was a critical time in his life because his hearing ability was slowly diminishing. Musical critics believe that the mellow and ‘sunny’ nature of this piece was a direct reflection of his will to overcome his predicament (Morris 33). He was even suicidal because of the hearing problem but others refute these claims.
Symphony No. 3, Op. 55, E-flat Major
This symphony is also called Eroica and it debuted in August 1804. From the writings of Lobkowitz, Beethoven first performed it in 1805 in Vienna. The performance was a bit off the point because the audience did not fully grasp the content of the symphony (Grove 31). This sparked debate with some claiming that it was his best work while others claimed that it expressed a longing for originality that never was.
Symphony no.4, Op. 60, B-flat Major
This symphony was composed in 1806 and is one of Beethoven’s simple symphonies (Grove 36). This is because of his interruption while he was working on it. After beginning work on it, he was commissioned to work on a symphonic request from the count of Sicilia. The reason behind suspending his symphony for the Count’s is not clear.
Symphony No. 5, Op. 67, C Major
This symphony was composed between the years 1804 and 1888 and played first in 1808 at a theatre in Vienna (Lockwood 53). Of his entire symphonies, this is the most popular. This may be due to the familiarity in its four first notes. This symphony premiered together with symphony 6 but their numbers were switched.
Symphony No.6, Op. 68, F major
This is also referred to as ‘pastoral.’ (Lockwood 56) When it premiered, it was recorded as ‘recollection of country life’ on the performance program. Even though this symphony is believed to contain some of Beethoven’s most powerful writing, it was not well received by the audience. This may have resulted from the previous symphony that is the most popular with most classical music lovers. Despite bad reception, it is played in many places throughout the world.
Symphony No. 7, Op. 92, A Major
The composition of this symphony was finalized in 1812 and it premiered at the University of Vienna, one year later in 1813. It is widely considered a symphony that evokes dance moves. Wagner gave the title “apotheosis of dance” to the symphony owing to its consideration as a dance symphony.
Symphony No.8, Op. 93, F major.
This is the shortest symphony that Beethoven composed and runs for only 26 minutes. As such, it is widely known as “the little symphony in F Major.” In addition, this symphony is often times disregarded because of its shortness that many consider as simple. Beethoven composed it at the age of 42 and premiered it together with symphony 7 two years after he composed it.
Symphony No. 9, Op. 125, D Minor.
This is also referred to as “choral” and was Beethoven’s last symphony (Grove 42). Beethoven composed it in 1842, a time when he had gone fully deaf. In this symphony, the human voice and the sound of the instruments were integrated at the same level. The premiere was so dramatic that when the performance was over, he went conducting and his soloist had to intervene. This marked a triumphant and glorious end for one of the greatest composers of all time.
Ludwig van Beethoven is on of the greatest composers of all time and composed nine symphonies, all distinct in their structure. Of the nine, three are the most popular, 3,5 and 9, 5 being the most popular of the three (Grove 24).
He marked the transition between the classical era and the Romantic era. His hearing problem set in his early twenties but it never deterred him from composing quality music. He continued to compose and perform even after he went completely deaf. He performed his last symphony while entirely deaf and it marked his glorious end.
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Grove, George. Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies. London: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Print.
Kinderman, William. Beethoven. California: University of California Press, 1995. Print.
Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven: The Music and the Life. New York: W.W, Norton, 2005. Print.
Morris, Edmund. Beethoven: The Universal Composer. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.
Simpson, Robert. Beethoven Symphonies. New York: Ariel Music, 1986. Print.