Composer in Focus – Ludwig van Beethoven

Name: Ludwig van Beethoven
Dates: 1770-1827
Country of Birth: Germany
Musical Era: Classical/Romantic

Swift on the heels of Mozart was another giant of classical music, the mighty Beethoven; though it may be true that this next wünderkind was a more reluctant musical genius.  Coming from a musician father and grandfather, and showing much promise at the keyboard, Beethoven was thrust into a strict regime of music lessons.  It was an intense beginning for the young musician, one which would seemingly characterise his life and work.   Beethoven truly was a virtuoso pianist and at age twelve had penned some pieces for the keyboard, though it would be years before he would call himself a composer and see his works published.  Like Mozart, Beethoven saw in Vienna a Mecca of sorts, a city of culture where he could fine tune his craft; so it was to the Austrian capital that he travelled to do just that in his early twenties.

Just as Mozart was taking his final bow from the world’s stage, Beethoven was finding his feet and with lessons from the likes of composers Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri, he was soon becoming noted as the late Wolfgang’s true successor.  It wasn’t until 1795 that Beethoven gave his first official public performance; thereafter he was in demand, as was his music, which was published in earnest.

Beethoven’s life and work seemed to be on track, though it was continually interrupted (and inspired) by illness, death and doomed romances.  This saw peaks and troughs in the composer’s output throughout his working life and contributed to the distinct trio of phases in his work, the last being that much more emotional and inward-looking as he faced deafness, more bereavement and family troubles.  While the cause of his deafness has been the source of much debate, the tinnitus he suffered from the age of 26 grew steadily worse until he lived and worked in a total sonic blackout, making public appearances and performance almost impossible.

Beethoven saw out the Classical era and ushered in the Romantic period, redefining the symphonic genre, not to mention the string quartet.  The breadth, intensity and artistry of his music has inspired almost every musician and composer who has dared to pick up where he left off.

Key works… Symphony No 5, Symphony No 7, Symphony No 9, Piano Sonata No 14 ‘Moonlight’, The ‘Late’ Quartets, Fidelio

Did you know?  Beethoven’s birthday isn’t actually known, though it is presumed to be 16 December – the day before he was baptised (in 1770), as was the tradition then.  He wrote just one ballet score, The Creatures of Prometheus, and a single opera, Fidelio.

Beethoven in Bristol (June 2016)
Thurs 9 May, 1pm /
Daniel Tong & Krysia Osostowicz –  ‘Sonata in A Op 12’ & ‘Sonata in G Op 96’ (St George’s)
Thurs 12 May, 1pm /
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – ‘Symphony No 7 (Allegretto)’ (Colston Hall)
Thurs 19 May, 7.30pm /
Beethoven Evening w/Tasmin Little – ‘Violin Concerto No 5’ & ‘Symphony No 9’ (Colston Hall)

Learn more about Mozart and listen to playlists at classicfm.com