Ludwig van Beethoven, the struggler, the endurer of suffering, lonely and heroic? We have the tendency to create simple pictures of historical personalities, but be careful! One citation from the composer can already change our perspective about his music: “Last year I was improvising on the piano… I suddenly saw that the fools were crying. I ran away and never played for them again.”
How important it was to Beethoven that we view his art as “real” work! His compositions, particularly the late piano sonatas and string quartets, are pinnacles of Western music. But they are the result of long and difficult struggle. His mother died young, his father, who had beaten Beethoven into practicing for hours, succumbed to alcoholism. In spite of this, Beethoven became an outstanding pianist. At the age of twenty-three, the native of Bonn found a home in Vienna, along with financial support from aristocratic, art-loving patrons. And this was in spite of constantly changing apartments and embattled relations with his family and servants. When he was twenty-six, he started noticing the first signs of hearing problems, which would eventually turn him into an unsociable and suspicious man. But as he lost more and more of his hearing, his inner suffering was no longer what was important, but what he wanted to communicate to us. His gradual loss of hearing was a life-changing experience, but according to renowned Beethoven biographer Lewis Lockwood, “It had no lasting effect on his work.” His artistic striving was not directed toward his suffering, but toward surpassing, transcending human existence. Ludwig van Beethoven was a master builder who created architecture that resonates with the soul. His work still shines today in all its colors.
1782-1783 Lessons in figured bass, piano, and organ with Christian Gottlob Neefe.
1794 visits Vienna a second time and becomes a pupil of Joseph Haydn.
1795 Beethoven appears before the public, as both composer and pianist, with his Piano Concerto in B-flat major, op. 19. Publication of his opus 1, three piano trios.
1800 First Symphony, Septet op. 20, Piano Concerto No. 2.
1803 Premiere of the Second Symphony, Second Piano Concerto, and Oratorio "Christus am Ölberge". Begins the “Eroica” Symphony. Beethoven is full of enthusiasm for Napoleon Bonaparte.
1804 Napoleon is crowned emperor and Beethoven turns away from him. He withdraws his dedication of the “Eroica” to Bonaparte.
1811-1812 7th and 8th symphonies. Meeting with Goethe. Letters to the “Immortal Beloved” (the information varies according to the researcher).
1813-1814 The 7th Symphony is premiered to resounding success. First meeting with Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, inventor of the ear trumpet.
1818 Publisher Anton Diabelli requests variations (including from Beethoven) on a waltz of his own composition. Beethoven writes the “Hammerklavier” Sonata. He sends begging letters to publishers, E.T.A. Hoffmann starts championing Beethoven’s works. Conversation notebooks.
1819-1822 The last piano sonatas, Bagatelles, complete deafness.
1824 On May 7, the Ninth Symphony is premiered.
1827 Beethoven dies on March 26. The burial is held on March 29. Twenty thousand people accompany Beethoven’s mortal remains to the cemetery.
Did you know?
According to rumor, the “van” in his name was very helpful to Beethoven, since in Vienna society it was believed to be an aristocratic title. However, it only testifies to his Flemish ancestry. Beethoven himself did not make any efforts to clear up this misunderstanding.
Throughout his life, he placed great value on expanding his limited general education, intensively studying the works of Kant, Goethe, Schiller, and Herder; he was also familiar with Shakespeare’s dramas and the Bhagavad Gita.
At the age of 31, Beethoven wrote to his boyhood friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler: “The envious demon, my bad health, has put a bad spoke in my wheel, namely: for three years, my hearing has become weaker and weaker ... only my ears, they still keep buzzing and humming day and night ...”
Beethoven held the view that “life” was to be dedicated to the “sublime,” and should become “a sanctuary of art”; in addition, he hoped for a life worthy of an artist of his stature, “…even with auxiliary means, if they can only be found!” Here he was referring to the so-called “ear machines.” Johann Mälzel, the inventor of the metronome, provided Beethoven with this means in 1814: an ear trumpet.