Beethoven Biography – History of Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven
Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven is a well known musical virtuoso who conquered the musical world. His effects and contributions to the musical world are still felt even though he departed from this world and went ahead to dance with the angels.

Early Life And Family

This musical legend was a German composer as well as a pianist. His baptism was performed in 1770, December 17th. It has been suggested that his date of birth could be 16th December 1770 because in those days a child used to be baptized a day after their birth as decreed by the Catholic Church. For this reason, a lot of scholars are settled on this being the birth date of Ludwig Van Beethoven and especially because his parents used to celebrate his birthday on this date. His birth date that was marked with joy and celebrations little did the parents know that a legend has been born. Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in Bonn which was then a capital of Electorate of cologne.

Parents of Beethoven
Parents of Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven was named after his grandfather who was also a musician. His grandfather was from Mechelen town located in the Flemish region which is currently Belgium. When he attained the age of 21 years, he relocated to Bonn. As a musician, his first job was as a bass singer working in the Elector of Cologne Court and by 1761 he was made the director of music. Soon after he became one of the ‘big fish’ in the music industry and he thrived.

Ludwig’s grandfather only had one son, Johann who was born in 1740 and lived up to 1792. He was also a talented musician. Contrary to his father, he was a tenor and also worked at the Elector of Cologne court. As a way to increase his income, he also taught piano and violin lessons. It is noted that he had alcohol issues as he just could not resist it. When Johann was of age, he married Maria Magdalene Keverich in the year 1767. Mary was known to be very gentle as well as very warm at heart; qualities that made her a great mother judging from how much she was loved. The product of this union was Ludwig Van Beethoven and his siblings.

Johann and Maria had a total of seven children and out of the seven only three survived. It is s unfortunate that Ludwig Van Beethoven had the misfortune of witnessing some of them die. The siblings were; Kaspar Anton Karl Van Beethoven, Johann Peter Anton Laym, Anna Maria Francisca Van Beethoven, Nikolaus Johann Van Beethoven, Franz Georg Van Beethoven and Maria Margarita Van Beethoven, in no particular order. While four dies, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Kaspar Anton Karl, and Nikolaus Johann lived to see better days.

From the family background highlighted above, we clearly get to see where Ludwig Van Beethoven got his musical talent. Born in a family of musicians, there was bound to be a musical genius, a virtuoso from among the kids. Lucky enough the talent laid heavily of Ludwig Van Beethoven. The two brothers also were talented but it could not compare to how good Ludwig was and the impact he made in the society even up to date.

As a young boy, Ludwig Van Beethoven was sickly and throughout his life, he suffered the following. He suffered from rheumatism, jaundice, rheumatic fever, ophthalmic, inflammatory degeneration of the arteries, chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, skin disorders, Syphilis, infectious hepatitis, a number of infections, obsesses, typhus, just but to mention a few.

Personal Life and Character

Beethoven Life and Character

 

Ludwig Van Beethoven was thought to be bipolar. He became irritable in his twenties and this was thought to be because of the abdominal pains he had. More often than not he was described to be irascible. At one particular time, he contemplated suicide but did not attempt. He always displayed strength in his personality. He had a deep dislike for authority and social rank. He always demanded respect for himself and his work. At some occasions, he refused to perform when called to because of a chatty audience. He always required the total attention of people in the audience before he could go on.

Love Life

Ludwig Van Beethoven is not known to have a very active love life throughout his life. This can mostly be attributed to the class difference between him and the ladies that he fancied. For some ladies, he was handsome and very attractive yet some other described him as ugly and repulsive. All the ladies he wanted were simply out of his social league.

In the year 1801, Ludwig fell in love with a lady, Countess Julie Guicciardi whom he met while he was teaching Josephine Brunsvik how to play the piano. Even so, he had no intentions of marrying her because of the difference in social class. It was just not going to happen no matter how bad he wanted to. He composed his Sonata no. 14 and dedicated it to her.

Later, after Josephine Brunsvik’s husband passed on, Ludwig and Josephine has a mutual attraction but these feelings never amounted to much as she was later married off to Baron Von Stackelberg. This is because she would have lost custody of her kids had she married a commoner. He, later on, fell in love with another lady called Therese Malfatti who was dedicated to Fur Elise and even went ahead to propose to her. Unfortunately, he was turned down and this can be linked t the fact that he was a commoner.

Education and Musical Training

Ludwig Van Beethoven became the best pianist as well as a composer of his time through hard work and a love for music. As a young child, he only attended school for a short while. While at the age of 11 years, Ludwig had to drop out of school (formal school) so that he can offer a helping hand to his father and consequently increase the income of the family. His father was constantly under the influence of alcohol and the family was left to suffer. This was such a noble gesture even though no child should ever have to sacrifice school for the well-being of their family.

The school is very important and vital in the development of a child. It is a funny thing to note that Ludwig actually never got to learn about multiplication or division which is basic math. Some people say that if he had to do any multiplication, the best way out for him was to put down all the numbers and add them together so as to arrive at an answer. This is what lack of education can do to a person. Even so, this was not a factor to keep him from developing his talent. If anything, it was a door swung open for him by the heavens.

Young Beethoven
Young Beethoven

As a young kid, Ludwig Van Beethoven had a very noticeable musical talent as he showed a lot of interest in music. His father noticed this and become his very first teacher who would teach him all about music when he came from work on the court. In an era which Mozart dominated the music industry, Johann, his father sought to make Ludwig a prodigy. While his tuition began at the age of five, he faced a lot of difficulties trying to be the best his father needed him. More often than not, the tuition regime was always harsh and very intense. For a child his age, this could have been seen as child abuse as most of the times he would end up in tears because of what he went through. There were instances where he would be dragged out of bed and taken to play the keyboard at a very ungodly hour of the night. This was simply too much for a kid of his age. Well-being father wanted to make a music prodigy and he would do it regardless of the cost.

While he was seven and a half years, on March 26th, 1778, Ludwig was ready for his very first performance out in the open for a large number of people at Cologne. In this time, his father introduced him to the public as a six-year-old boy and this actually messed up Ludwig’s mind when it came to his age. He ended up thinking he was younger than he was thanks to his father. Even to the time when he saw his certificate of baptism copy, he still had a tough time believing it was his. He thought it belonged to his older brother who dies shortly after his birth.

Other than his father, Ludwig Van Beethoven has several other teachers that included Gilles Van Den Eeden who worked at the court as an organist, Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer who was a good friend to the family and taught Ludwig all about the keyboard, and Franz Rovantini who was a relative that instructed Ludwig on how to play the violin and the viola. All these teachers did well in giving his good ground to start his musical journey as a young talented kid. Other than them, he also had training by some of the best musicians in that time. These well-known teachers opened him up to a whole new world that made him the virtuoso we still talk about up to date.

Christian Gottlob Neefe was one of the great teachers that Ludwig Van Beethoven passed through in his journey to success. He was the organist of the court as appointed in that year, 1779. He probably was the first teacher that taught Ludwig about the composition of music. After teaching him and training him for a few years, Ludwig started working as Gottlob’s assistant in the office of an organist, appointed after being recommended by him. Even so, he was not paid as from the year 1781 but later on; he became a paid employee in the year 1784. After working with Gottlob for a while, Gottlob helped him to write his first composition as well as getting it published. This composition was simply a variation set of the keyboard, these variations were in C minor and they were nine in total; this was in the year 1783.

With all the talent that Ludwig had, Gottlob went ‘all in’ for him, and made study materials from the works of renowned philosophers available to him. These works were from ancient philosophers as well as the modern ones who were trending at that time. This massive knowledge played a great role in molding Ludwig into the excellent composer he was. Because he managed to impress Gottlob with his talent, Gottlob could help but mention in a musical magazine that if Ludwig continued the way he did, he will definitely be the new Mozart of his age. It is exciting to note that what Ludwig’s father, Johann, saw in his, Gottlob also saw the same thing; a boy who would grow to be just like Mozart, a music virtuoso, a music genius.

While working at the Court as an assistant organist, Ludwig composed piano sonatas that were three in number and he called them “Kurfurst” (Elector). These piano sonatas were dedicated to Maximilian Friedrich who was the Elector and they were published in the year 1783. What a noble gesture from Ludwig to Freidrich and this made Maximilian notice the massive talents that Ludwig had. He, therefore, decided to subsidize and also encourage the young man to keep up with his study of music.

After the death of Freidrich, he was succeeded by Maximilian Francis as the Elector of Bonn. He came with changes that were positive and would later be very beneficial in the life of Ludwig. These changes were based on what his Brother Joseph had implemented in Vienna. Maximilian Francis a type of reform that would see to it that the support for education and the arts was increased in Bonn and this reform was on the basis of Enlightenment Philosophy. The ideas that came with this reform impressed Ludwig that he was definitely influenced by them at one level or the other. At around this time also, ideas connected to freemasonry had also taken root among some of the elite members of the society as most of them took part as members of the order of Illuminati. Since Gottlob was part of this group of people and many other people who were within the circle of Beethoven’s associates, he was influenced by the ideas also at some points.

In the year 1787, Prince Maximilian Franz had noticed the great talent that Ludwig had and therefore sent him to Vienna so that he can get the chance to further his musical study under Mozart who was the very best in the industry. Vienna was practically the heart of music and culture and this would have been a great opportunity for Ludwig. What happened after Ludwig got to Vienna is something that is really not clear. Even so, it was noted by other that Ludwig Van Beethoven has an appointment and was scheduled to perform in front of Mozart. Up to date no one really knows how the meeting went down but speculations go round that Mozart made a comment that implied that people should watch out for Ludwig Van Beethoven as he would give them something to talk about. In the event that this is true, then it means that Mozart was impressed with what he saw that day.

Mozart
Mozart

It was not so long after Ludwig had been in Vienna that he got a letter that called him back to Bonn as his mother was ailing and the odds of her living for a long time were very little. For this reason, Ludwig Van Beethoven had to go back home. On July 17th, 1787, Ludwig’s dear mother passed on and this took a toll on him because he loved his mother so much that at one point he said she was his best friend. This was a hard blow for him but even so, he survived the pain. His father, however, did not take the news as expected. His wife’s death led him to indulge in alcohol even more. He became less of a father to his children as he could no longer support them in anything including financially and soon enough Ludwig had to fit the shoes of a ‘father figure’ for his siblings. He stayed in Bonn for five years so as to provide for his siblings.

In the year 1789, Ludwig was forced to take a legal action against his father as the responsibilities dumped on him were too much. He managed to get the court to order that half of what his father makes be paid to him directly so that he can take care of his siblings in a better way. To supplement what he was getting from his father, Ludwig used to play the violin as part of the Court’s orchestra. In this period, Ludwig benefited a lot as he got to hear a lot of different operas and he familiarized himself with them. Some of the operas were Mozart’s works and they used to be performed at the court giving him a great opportunity to familiarize with Mozart’s works.

As from 1779, Ludwig had a great opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the greatest people in the society as well as the music world. He was introduced to a number of people who contributed a lot into who he became in life. The influences these people had in his life was just amazing and it built him up to a wholesome in depended individual; a music virtuoso. One of the people that he met and became great friends with was a young medical student called Franz Wegeler who presented him with an amazing opportunity when he introduced him to the Van Breuning family. Ludwig managed to secure a position as a piano teacher to the children of that family. He also met a man who later became his long life friend as well as one of the people who offered him financial support when he needed it. This friend was Count Ferdinand Von Waldstein.

Musical Development

In the year 1790 up to the year 1792, Beethoven had put his knowledge in composition to work and composed a number of works that were simply great. Even so, they were never published for one reason or the other. Currently, these musical works that he came up with are listed in the ‘works without opus number’. This works demonstrated just how he had grown and matured musically.

Beethoven Musical Development
In 1791, Ludwig composed another set of variations and musicologist studied them and noticed some similarities between them and the ones in his Third Symphony. Cantatas were commissioned to mark the death of Franz Joseph II in the year 1790 as well as the accession Of Leopold II on the throne of a Holy Roman Emperor. Even so, WoO 87 and WoO 88, which are the Emperor Cantatas, scored by Beethoven were not performed and were said to be lost until the 1880s.

In 1792, Ludwig Van Beethoven went back to Vienna after he had received a grant from the Prince Elector. This grant was for two years and this meant that in those two years, Ludwig had to grasp all he could from the masters that he would later come into contact with. His friend Waldstein wrote to him telling him that “he should receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands” as he was the one who trained and nurtured Mozart. Also in a farewell note by Count Waldstein, he wrote to Ludwig telling him, “Through uninterrupted diligence, you will receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands”. These words were exactly the kind of words that Ludwig needed to strengthen him.

As history has it, the very first encounter between Ludwig and Joseph Haydn was in the year 1790 when Haydn was traveling to London and stopped in Bonn in December when it was Christmas time. In July 1792, the two had another encounter that resulted with Ludwig being Haydn’s student.

When he had just arrived in Vienna following the grant he had been awarded, he learned that his father had died. His death did not affect him as much as that of his mother did. This is probably because of the influence each parent had on him and his life. He also learned that Mozart was no more. Over the following years, the feeling that Ludwig was the successor of Mozart in the music world grew so much as he displayed the talents and mannerist in terms of music as Mozart displayed. After all, he was under training by the master that trained the deceased.

In Vienna, Ludwig did not really indulge deeper into composition but did more of studying and performing. He particularly desired to gain mastery over Counterpoint under the leadership of his master, Haydn. Ignaz Schuppanzigh was also his teacher and under his leading and instructions, he was able to master the violin and improve on the skills he had. Between the years 1802 and the year 1809, Ludwig established a relationship with Antonio Salieri who instructed him on a number of occasions concerning Italian Vocal style of composition.

At around 1794, Haydn departed to England and the Elector expected that he would return home, at Bonn. After all, the study grant was to cover two years. Even so, this did not happen as Ludwig had other plans that would grow his musical talent as well as musical career. His study on Counterpoints continued under Johann Albrechtsberger and some other well-known teachers. With the financial support from some of the elite Viennese members who had recognized the great talent he had, Ludwig was able to stay in Vienna without necessarily struggling. Some of these supporters were Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowitz, Prince Karl Lichnowsky, and even Gottfried Van Swieten.

By the year 1793, Ludwig had begun making a name for himself around Vienna because of his exquisite music that most of the noble people in the society loved and enjoyed. In this very year, he was known as Vienna’s piano virtuoso and a publisher by the name Nikolaus Simrock, who was also his friend, started publishing his works. Not much of his work was published in this year and the reason being that they would have a greater effect and a bigger impact when they get published later.

Beethoven

In the year 1795, Ludwig had his first performance in Vienna organized. In this concert, he performed one of his Piano Concertos. His works had a very closely knit tie to Mozart and Haydn works but what made them unique is the fact that they were described to be overly extravagant and to a greater extent risqué. Shortly after this, he went ahead to publish the first of his compositions and he assigned an Opus number as well as his three piano trios, opus 1. These published works were in honor of Prince Lichnowsky and were consequently dedicated to him. They were a great success and they opened financial doors for Ludwig, something that was simply amazing because he could now live comfortable for a year in Vienna without having to depend on anyone for help.

Ludwig’s first symphony was premiered in the year 1800 and his second symphony in the year 1803. These two made him gain a wider recognition than before such that he was regarded to be one of the most influential as well as one of the most important composers of his generation at his age right after Haydn and Mozart. His compositions had characters of strength, they had a very deep emotional root, had the sense of originality such that you would just know he is the composer by just listening and they also had great manipulation of their tone. In his entire life, the Septet was one of his greatest works that he completed in the year 1799.

To premiere his First Symphony, Burg Theater was hired to bring to life the works of Ludwig on stage. This was in the year 1800. During this premiere, Ludwig staged his Septet as well as famous works by Mozart and Haydn. The influence of these two could be felt in Ludwig’s works but even so, his personal touch was what set him apart from the influence. His musical melodies, the development of the music, the modulation of the music, the texture of the music and the emotional characteristics his music bore set him apart from the rest. By the end of that year, the demand for Ludwig and his work grew as more people became accustomed to his works as well as his musical features that set him apart from Mozart and Haydn. Thereafter, Ludwig has some other concert performances that had great financial returns that he was even able to charge thrice the amount he usually charged for his tickets.

Just like his teachers, Ludwig was not selfish with the massive knowledge he had gotten over the years, he became a music teacher to many people including Countess Anna Brunsvik’s daughters who was from Hungary. He also taught other students like Ferdinand Reis and Carl Czerny who went ahead to do great works like teaching and composing music. His students also had a great impact in the music industry in those times.

From the year 1802, he published more of his works as his relationship with publishers improved. This can be credited to the efforts of his brother Carl who played a great role in the financial management of Ludwig’s affairs.

Ludwig Van Beethoven grew to become one of the great people when it comes to classical music. He was greatly known for his improvisation and he was really good. Some of his greatest works were his nine symphonies, his piano sonatas, the violin sonata, string quartets, the piano concerto and many other compositions. To get the full list of his music, visit imslp.org and you will get all his works.

His Role in His Brother’s Life

In the year 1812, Ludwig went to visit his brother (Johann) with the main agenda of convincing him to drop his relationship with Theresa Obermayer for a simple fact that she had an illegitimate child and had also been convicted of theft but his plan failed as the two married.

After a while, his brother fell ill. He was suffering from tuberculosis and therefore Ludwig was obliged to take care of him and his family. Due to the expenses, he had to incur while doing all these, he was financially drained. In the year 1815, his brother Carl died leaving his family under the care of Ludwig.

Custody Battle

Now that Carl had left the parenting of his young son to Ludwig and his wife, Ludwig sought to get complete custody of his nephew. He always though Carl’s wife to be immoral and consequently unfit to take care his nephew, Karl. He wanted to be named the sole guardian of the boy. For a while, he had troubles because Carl’s will have outlined that the two should have joint custody over baby Karl. Even so, in the year 1816, he managed to get Karl from the mother and the case got fully resolved in 1820.

During the fight, Ludwig tried all he could to ensure that he got the custody. He even went as far as disguising the fact that ‘Van’ as in his name denoted a commoner, unlike Von which denoted a member of a noble family. For a period of time, he had an influence on the court because of his supposed nobility but when he could not prove that he was from a noble family to the Landrechte, his case was thrown back to the magistracy and lost the battle in 1818. Even so, he did not faint. He appealed and he later got sole custody.

As his nephew lived with him, he felt like Ludwig always interfered with his life and this had a negative influence on him that he contemplated suicide. In the year 1826, Karl attempted to kill himself by aiming at his head and pulling the trigger. It seemed that the pressure was simply too much. Even so, he survived the ordeal and was taken to his mother’s place where he fully recovered from the injury. Karl later insisted on joining the army and the last time he saw his uncle was in the year 1827.

Illnesses, Deafness, and Death

In the year 1811, Ludwig Van Beethoven was struck down by a serious illness. He suffered from severe headaches and very high fever. He was advised by his doctors to take a trip and spend some time in Bohemian spa town found in Teplitz. After this period he seemed better. This was during spring. The following winter he fell ill again when he was working on his seventh symphony. He was then ordered to spend the following spring back at the spa. While in the spa, he wrote a beautiful letter hat spoke his love to his ‘immortal beloved’. There have been speculations that this letter was meant for either of the women he had fallen in love with. These are Julie Guicciardi, Therese Malfatti, and Josephine Brunsvik. Even so, there is no concrete evidence to support whom it was meant for.

While Ludwig Van Beethoven was 27 years old, he started hearing a constant bussing sound in his ears. While at the age of thirty he wrote to his doctor friend letting him know what was happening to him and particularly that his hearing has been growing weaker and weaker by the day. He had been having troubles hearing the orchestra while in theaters unless he got really close. He also had troubles hearing the high notes as well as the voices of the singers. If people spoke in low tones and softly, he also had a tough time hearing them.

For a while, he tried to keep this devastating news to himself because if it got out, his musical career would have suffered a great deal. The fear in him would not let him tell people of the problem he was going through. He had developed a habit of secluding himself and avoiding social gatherings so as to minimize the chances of people noticing his persistent hearing problems.
Up until 1812, Ludwig Van Beethoven was able to hear some speech as well as music. Even so, when he got to the age of 44 years, things have gotten so bad that he almost could not hear any kind of sound be it speech or music.

The main reason that led to his deafness has been a real source of controversies. A times it is attributed to a fall he had that led to him going deaf, a times it is attributed to syphilis, some other times Ludwig attributed it to gastrointestinal problems, other theories have it that it was lead poisoning or the constant plunging of his head in very cold water in an attempt to keep himself awake or maybe typhus. Regardless of all these, when an autopsy was carried out after his death, it was found that his inner ear was distended and that there was a lesion which developed over time.

This deafness affected him a great deal both in his personal life as well as his career. This problem even brought him troubles while raising his brother’s son, Karl as he had difficulties communicating with a child.

Before Beethoven died, he had been bedridden for a number of months. His cause of death has been thought to be due to excessive consumption of alcohol, syphilis, infectious hepatitis, Whipple’s disease, sarcoidosis and lead poisoning; same causes that are suspected to lead to his deafness. Even so, the autopsy also revealed that his liver was badly damaged by the excessive alcohol he took.

Beethoven

Finally, on March 26th, 1827, Ludwig Van Beethoven died. A funeral procession was done in his honor and there was a total of approximately 20, 000 people in attendance. Franz Schubert was one of his torchbearers and he later died and was buried next to Beethoven. He was buried in a Wahring cemetery where he had a dedicated grave and in 1862, the remains were exhumed for the purposes study purposes.

Some of Beethoven’s Great Works

Symphony No. 5

Moonlight Sonata

Für Elise

Symphony No. 9

References:

Wikipedia

Biography.com