Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist crucial to the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras. He is regarded as one of the most important and influential musical figures of all time.
Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age as a child prodigy. He moved to Vienna (where he lived until his death) at the age of 21 and studied composition under Joseph Haydn, gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. His long-term benefactor Count Waldstein suggested in his farewell letter to Beethoven that through Haydn’s hands and diligent hard work he would receive the spirit of Mozart who along with Beethoven’s father had recently passed away. Clearly this had an effect, as the work from this period is distinctly Mozartean in character.
His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Missa solemnis, and one opera, Fidelio.
He was the first composer to use a choir in a symphony, in the last movement of his famous Ninth Symphony where he set the words of Friedrich von Schiller as an ‘Ode to Joy’. Nowadays this is well known as the European anthem.
It is undeniable that his immediate predecessors Mozart and Haydn had an influence on Beethoven. However Beethoven’s melodies, musical development, use of modulation and texture, and characterisation of emotion all set him apart. Building on their example Beethoven continually strove to stretch the bounds of music to new limits.
Each of his nine symphonies is completely different from any previous one, and he showed similar originality in every major genre of the time. He achieved his goal through a combination of natural genius and sheer hard work: every one of his major compositions is the result of painstaking refinement, evident in the many thousands of pages of musical sketches that he wrote.
The quality of his music has ensured his lasting reputation. Its combination of beauty and unpredictability, extreme emotional depth and intellectual rigour, across so many genres, is regarded as unsurpassed.
Many of Beethovens most admired works were created in the last 15 years of his life when he was almost completely deaf.
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- Collection 1 #59
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