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Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer of the transitional period (Solomon, 1998). Beethoven was born on 17 December 1770 in Cologne, Germany and died on 26 March 1827 in Vienna, Austria (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011). History judges Beethoven as the greatest composer to have ever lived. This unmatched praise comes out of the fact that Beethoven dominated the musical history of his time in an extraordinary manner.
Beethoven conveyed the philosophy of life through his music compositions. Historically, Beethoven’s composition borrows attributes from the Classical era composers like Haydn and Mozart. Moreover, Beethoven’s art extends a spirit of humanism and incipient nationalism that had just surfaced at the end of the Classical period (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
The humanism and incipient nationalism theme is visible in the works of other composers like Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller both from Germany (Mai, 2007). Other than extending the theme of humanism and incipient nationalism, Beethoven also radically changed morality as portrayed by Kant (Mai, 2007). Furthermore, he also changed the ideals of the French revolution, extending an emphasis on the importance of a passionate concern for the observance of individual freedom and dignity (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Some of Beethoven’s compositions strongly assert the human will. Beethoven was not a Romantic composer; however, there are characteristics in his works that indicate his influential role on how the works of the Romantics turned out. According to Beethoven, music embodied more emotions than a painting would do. Therefore, he explored all the available scopes of compositions that he could.
The result of this endeavor was an overall expansion of the various scopes such as sonata, symphony, quartet and concerto (Ludwig van Beethoven’s biography, n.d). His attempts were the first for any composer and therefore Beethoven is arguably the innovator. Another important innovation credited to his name was the first combination of vocal and instrumental music (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Another first for Beethoven was his struggle against life’s disadvantages and the fact that he literally lived from the proceeds of his music without having to do composition when he did not feel like doing them. In this regard, it is worthwhile to observe that Beethoven suffered from an encroaching deafness condition, and most of his notable compositions occurred during his last 10 years of living when he could practically not hear.
Beethoven sold his works and offered them commercially for publication. Other than that, he received regular payments pegged only on his compositions. Thus, Beethoven saw no need to engage in other economic activities to sustain him.
The Life and Work of Beethoven
Beethoven comes from a family of singers. Notably, his grandfather settled in Bonn and sung at the choir of the archbishop-elector of Cologne (Ludwig van Beethoven’s biography, n.d). Moreover, Beethoven’s father also followed the example of his grandfather and sung at the electoral choir. The tale of Beethoven is not unique; it is common for children to pursue similar professions with their parents.
However, even though Beethoven seemingly had an easy start in music having his family’s approval, material support did not come easily. He was born in a well to do family that later become gradually poor. Poverty of the family started with the death of Beethoven’s grandfather and was accelerated by his father plunge into alcoholism (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
This poverty consequence must have had the harshest effect on Beethoven. He was forced to leave formal schooling at the age of 11 and assumed the responsibilities of feeding his family soon afterwards when he became 18 years old (Mai, 2007).
Bonn’s Influence on Beethoven
Much of the success of Beethoven musically came after he reached his adolescence. Before reaching puberty, his father really wanted him to turn into a child prodigy like Mozart without success. This came after Johann, his father, noted that Beethoven was quickly grasping his way around the piano (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Another contributor to Beethoven’s development of his music career came from the political decisions of the ruler of Bonn. As Beethoven grew up, Bonn, his hometown, was transformed into a cultural capital city by Maximilian Francis who was a brother to Joseph II the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1780 (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
It was not as a surprise to anyone that the new ruler transformed the once sleepy town into a culturally vibrant city. Most notable is the ruler’s decision to limit the power of the clergy and the creation of a new university in Bonn. These two developments attracted notable literature contributors of the time because of its suitable conditions for literary works (Mai, 2007).
During this transformational Bonn city, the Christian Gottlob named Neefe, a protestant, as its organist. Neefe later interacted with Beethoven and became his teacher. Neefe was not a renowned musician; in fact, he was most influential to Beethoven in the shaping up of his ideals rather than in his music compositions. Nevertheless, Beethoven communicated his emotions through his music. Neefe become instrumental in assisting Beethoven to publish his first surviving composition.
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Neefe was a man of high ideals and wide culture, coupled with immense experience in letter writing, composition of songs and light theoretical pieces. This capacity enabled him to assist in the publication of Beethoven’s first work in 1793. During this time, Beethoven had worked for Neefe for almost a year, serving in the capacity of an assistant court organist.
A major break for Beethoven, which would be much celebrated by Johann, his father, given the amount of attention he had offered in coaching him as a child, came in 1787. After the publication of his first composition, Beethoven became relatively known and was appointed the continuo player to the Bonn opera (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011). Later on in 1787, the archbishop-elector, Maximilian Francis decided to reward the extraordinary talent of Beethoven for the benefit of the whole city’s cultural progress.
He sent Beethoven to the same university as Mozart in Vienna. Unfortunately, Beethoven could not complete his studies after the death of his mother. However, for the brief moment that he was in Vienna, he managed to convince Mozart that his ability to improvise would make him a great name in the world of music (Morris, 2005).
While back at Bonn for five years that followed his leave from Vienna, Beethoven assumed more duties playing at the theatre orchestra and started making worthy acquaintances. At first, he became a teacher of four children of a former Bonn chancellor (Solomon, 1998). Out of this arrangement, the new job presented him with a friendlier home than his own.
In addition, from the association with the chancellor’s four children, Beethoven was able to get more wealthy pupils for his class. Furthermore, out of favorable circumstances, Beethoven happened to play at the Breuning circle. During his performance, part of the audience was Waldstein, a member of the highest Viennese aristocracy (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011). Waldstein was a music lover (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Walden’s admiration for Beethoven’s work led him to extend exclusive invitations to Beethoven to perform at high society functions such as the funeral of Joseph II, the Holy Roman Empire’s ruler. However, his compositions were not performed at the funeral as players found some sections too complicated to grasp under a short practice time (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Later in the 19th century, discovery of the manuscripts by Beethoven led to their first even known performance (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011). Before that, a renowned composer, Haydn, was impressed by the composition and took Beethoven as his pupil (Solomon, 1998). In 1792, Beethoven left Bonn during the French Revolution and never went back.
Genuine students of Beethoven hold great value to his works composed while he still lived in Bonn than those he composed while in Vienna. A major contributing fact to this observance is that at Bonn, Beethoven had a more severe clash with life’s experiences that made his emotions so deep thus making his compositions quite rich and attractive to the students of his music. His compositions done while he was in Bonn embody his struggles to get used to his inadequate training and natural difficulties (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Out of Bonn, Beethoven most notable influence was in his use of sudden pianos; unexpected outbursts and wide leaping arpeggio, having concluding explosive impact that later become known as the Mannheim rockets. After his departure from Bonn, the general style of Bonn changed into a preoccupation with extremes of soft and loud played in contradiction to the musical phrasing (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Influencers of Beethoven beyond Bonn
Most notable influences for Beethoven musically were the popular music and folk music of his time. An examination of Beethoven’s mature music reveals instances of major influences from heavy Rhineland dance rhythms. Other than that, Beethoven assimilated idioms from Italian, French, Slavic and Celtic.
Beethoven’s work shows a mild disregard for the harmonic procedure of folk melody. Beethoven also had an impingement from French music through his strong links with its capital Paris. From the Bonn national theatre, Beethoven also found French inspirations because it relied on repertories translated from French. Beethoven’s work shows a favor for the forward march of the French Revolution because of the sympathy that Bonn had for the French Revolution (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
Beethoven grew with the piano teachings of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who was the head of the expression music during its period as a major influence. The intellectual climate that raised Beethoven contributed to his ready acceptance and improvisation of the piano teaching more than other notable composers, such as Mozart and Haydn, did (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
During this period, music was viewed as an assortment of feelings. While Neefe, Beethoven’s master, valued feelings in theory, Beethoven saw feelings in their practicality of everyday life. Perhaps that is the reason why some scholars identify his music as Romantic (Morris, 2005).
It would be expected that Beethoven would compose a lot of music based on solo performance because of the fact that his father and grandfathers were singers. However, Beethoven moves radically from this notion instead, favoring plural voice. Beethoven varied major themes of his time and presented them in a plural voice such that this feature became a recognizable attribute of his piano technique. His radically approach came from the view of compositions as the works of an artist rather than a musician (Solomon, 1998).
While in Bonn, Beethoven had become a piano dazzling. He was a prodigy at extemporization surpassing Mozart. Beethoven moved audiences to their tears with so much ease comparable to other great pianists of his time. The aristocracies of Vienna were moved by this power and readily took him immediately when he moved to Vienna. The acceptance by the aristocracy made his music a favorite pastime for the whole of Vienna (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2011).
While in Vienna, Beethoven had another secret teacher in Vienna because he had more difficulties to deal with than Haydn could handle. Antonio Salieri was one of the secret teachers of Beethoven, he taught him vocal compositions (Morris, 2005). In 1795, Beethoven had his first public performance in Vienna. During this time, he also participated in a benefit concert for Haydn who had since moved to London. As the century ended so did Beethoven’s first part of his life, marked by his unfortunate problem of deafness (Mai, 2007).
Difficulties in Beethoven’s Mature Career
Many people wonder how Beethoven who was already known as a great a musician and composer would function musically without a hearing ability. During this period, Bonn appears as having a huge importance allocation by Beethoven because the first persons he confides in, about his condition, are from Bonn (Ludwig van Beethoven’s biography, n.d.).
When the deafness became acute, Beethoven started using notebooks to interact with his visitors and most notable were his responses in written form. Beethoven resolved to rise above the difficulties presented by his deafness. However, he was very bitter of the loss of hearing. According to Beethoven’s accounts of his deafness, the cause was his treatment for a stomach condition (Ludwig van Beethoven’s biography, n.d).
Doctors advised him to have cold baths, which greatly improved his wretched belly condition; however, the treatment came at the expense of his ear problem, which got worse with every additional cold bath. Beethoven noted that winter baths had the most horrible effect such that he had to seek additional medication to address the problem of his ear. Notable, he wrote that his ears sung and buzzed constantly (Ludwig van Beethoven’s biography, n.d.).
As a mature composer, Beethoven was very anxious of monetary compensation attributable to the fact that he had no other income source other than his music (Mai, 2007). The instance of going deaf and having little money to live on pushed Beethoven into depression.
What pushed him beyond his struggle were his personality and the fact that he considered himself as an artist more than a composer (Solomon, 1998). Thus, his outlook of life and music came from an intellectual engagement in his mind. Even the expression of emotions in his music had to be channeled through carefully crafted thoughts (Solomon, 1998).
This essay has demonstrated beyond doubt why Ludwig van Beethoven is a respected and renowned composer. Moreover, it presents a deeper look at the major influencing factors of his career such as his health condition. The reader would appreciate Beethoven as a genius by looking at his struggles, how he used his limited but critical opportunities to further his career. Lastly, this essay presents a critical link to understanding Beethoven; that of an artist and a musician.
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Mai, F. M. (2007). Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven. Montreal: McGill-McQueen’s University Press.
Morris, E. (2005). Beethoven, the universal composer. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Solomon, M. (1998). Beethoven (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Prentice Hall International .