Essay: Beethoven

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  • Beethoven
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Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in a family of musicians, at the royal court of Cologne. His name was given after his grandfather, who was Flemish and settled in Bonn in 1732. He was a bass player at court, and later, starting in 1761, he became maestro of the chapel.

Beethoven’s father, (undoubtedly talented) Johann, was not only incapable of being a positive influence on his genius son’s education, but at times, he was outright prejudicial.

In 1767 Johann married Maria-Magdalena Kewerich, the daughter of the chief cook at the Coblenz court. She was a nineteen year old widow. Maria-Magdalena was one of the most radiant figures in Beethoven’s childhood.

Ludwig spent the first years of his childhood with his family, in a harmonious and fruitful atmosphere. Johann Beethoven had a good financial situation at the time, although somewhat moderate.

When Ludwig turned five, the Beethoven family moved to Rhine Street, in the house of a baker named Fischer. The Rhine’s right bank revealed itself before the widows of the house, with its small villages and fields, as well as the seven mountains rising ahead. Ludwig was sometimes completely captured in a deep meditation upon looking at the marvelous river.

Even as a child he stood apart through a rare capacity to focus and through his introvert nature. One must not picture Ludwig as a self-encased melancholic, he was a vigorous youngster not much different from other scoundrels his age.

Until the age of ten, Ludwig went to primary school, but the years he actually spent in school gave him little knowledge. He could not further his studies due to his families poor financial status.

By the age of twelve his studies lacked any systematic organization. Among his teachers there was one of the courts musicians, an Eden, followed by actor Tobias Pfeifer and Franciscan monk Willibald Koch.

In March 1778, Johann forced Ludwig to hold a concert in Kolen. At that time Beethoven was eight years old.

Beethoven finds his first real teacher in 1782, Christian-Gottlob Neefe, the musical director of the national theatre in Bonn. As a true scholar, Neefe became a mentor for Beethoven, showing him the advance ideas of his century.

After leaving Bonn, Beethoven reached Vienna ready to set a new life for himself. It takes him around three months to settle all the arrangements (accommodation, his piano, and the arrangements with Haydn), Beethoven’s new teacher. Lessons with Haydn lasted for over a year, and were finished once the latter left London. It seems that although their relationship started out as affectionate, the lack of time and Haydn’s age, combined with Beethoven’s temper, diminished the quality of their lessons.

In his first years in Vienna, Beethoven manages to make his name known in musical circles. He frequently held concerts for the nobility of the time. He had somewhat closer relations to Prince Karl Lichowski and certain van Swieten. After finishing his lessons with Haydn, the composer starts to study with Johann Schenk, Alois Foster, Johann-Georg Allbrechtsberger, and Antonio Saliieri, with whom he was friends. Beethoven was a student of Vienna’s greatest pedagogues at that time.

Mozart and Haydn, his greatest predecessors, served as a paradigm of creative work in the new direction of Classicism. Albrrechtsberger thoroughly taught him the art of counterpoint, which brought Beethoven his glory. Salieri taught the young composer the artistic matters of the bourgeois musical tragedy. Alois Foster taught him the art of composition with quartets. The genius musician voraciously absorbed not only the progressive music of his time, but also the richest creative experience of the most erudite contemporary composers.

Beethoven’s fame was growing by the day, on March 29th-30th, 1795, Beethoven was invited to his first “Academy”, December 16th, 1795, despite the tense relationship between the two. In the same period, Beethoven had satisfaction of yet another victory. For the artist’s annual ball, Vienna’s most acclaimed composers wrote dances waltz, ecossaise, German dances, quadrille, minuet, etc. The dances of Haydn, Kozeluch, Dittersdorf and others were successful, but were never performed twice. Beethoven’s dances, written in 1795, were very much treasured- after two years they were reiterated with the same success, and, they were even printed in transcripts for piano.

In February 1796, Beethoven went on tour in Prague and Berlin, accompanied by Prince Linhnowsky. He was very successful in both cities, holding a concert in Prague, and appeared in public twice having two piano concertos (Op.15 and Op. 19). Beethoven was favorite in Vienna’s musical life and in the whole of German countries. Joseph Wolffl, Mozart’s student was the only one who could compete with Beethoven- the pianist. Unmatched clarity and precision, serenity, grace, beautiful, moderate sonority, technical perfection, lack of “romantic fantasies” in the sense of diminishing sounds, so much in fashion the time- they all made Wolffl’s performance truly remarkable. However, Beethoven was still superior because he was not only an outstanding pianist, but also a genius creator.

In a span of five years (1795-1799) Beethoven created various works. The most important of them were the piano sonatas. In the same period, he came up with the ideas for the extraordinary string quartets (Op.18) and for Symphony No.1. These works that promoted a whole new instrumental style.

The period between 1805-1815 was full of artistic maturity. This is when he wrote many of his most valuable works: Symphony IV, Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 7, numerous piano (Op.78, 79, 81), overtures and quartets.

On a personal level, things were not going so well. In 1806, when deafness set in, Beethoven said, “May your deafness not be a secret, not even where art is concerned”.

Whereas love is concerned, Beethoven continuously looked for happiness without much success, however, after his relationship with Guilietta Giucciardi, he was captivated for several years by a certain countess Josephine Deym. This young widow was one of Giulietta’s cousins and the sister of Franz and Therese Brunswick. For a while, Josephine took piano lessons with Beethoven and was a good singer. The composer shared with her his most intimate thoughts. In 1805, their relationship altered, perhaps because her family would not have accepted a marriage between Beethoven and Josephine.

It is likely that during the 1806-1809 period, a close friendship developed between the composer and Therese Brunswick. To this day, the exact nature of their relationship is uncertain. However, it’s certain that this remarkable woman was devoted to Beethoven her whole life, and for a while she even responded to his passionate feelings. Apparently, love was not to bring Beethoven long lasting happiness. After having been rejected, Beethoven started thinking more seriously about moving to another city.

In the fall of 1808, he was offered a position as chapel maestro at the court of Jerome Bonaparte, the king of Westphalia. His repulsion towards Vienna and the significant financial advantages promised at Kassel, determined Beethoven to accept the position. In order for Beethoven to accept the position in Vienna, they pledged to pay a pension of 4000 florins a year. Beethoven accepted and remained in Vienna, but even from the start his pension came irregularly, and came to an end in September 1811.

In 1815, after insistent pressure Beethoven for several years received a large amount of money. Which should have covered his debts. This period was somewhat better financially since the composer received some money through selling his author’s rights to editors.

Beethoven’s life was marked by the event in 1810 that caused him such suffering. Spring of 1809, the forty-year old composer fell in love with a student- the beautiful eighteen-year-old Therese Malfatti. The composer considered the esteem and devotion Therese held for him to be love. Confident in his future with this young girl, Beethoven even thought of marriage.

His wish never came true. In fact, in the spring of 1810, he was invited to the Malfatti household for a party thrown by Therese’s father for his acquaintances and business partners. Beethoven wanted to propose marriage to her on that night after playing a bagatelle he had composed especially for her. Unfortunately he got so drunk that night that he was unable to play or propose to her. All he could do is write Therese’s name on the title page of the bagatelle. He wrote: “Fur Therese”, but in almost illegible writing. When the manuscript was found it was published, but since the writing was so illegible, it became “Fur Elise”, Therese ended their relationship.

The last twelve years of Beethoven’s life was marked, by struggle with the wife of his brother Karl Kaspar, who died in late 1815, for custody of their son Karl. This boy caused Beethoven many troubles. Apparently, even though he was a gifted child, Karl had two major faults; he was lazy and dishonest. Beethoven’s fight with Johanna (Karl Kaspar’s wife) went on for five years. In the end, he gained custody of Karl.

Another important event of this period is Beethoven’s grand “Academy”, during which Symphony No.9 and three movements of the Missa Solemnis were first performed. The “Academy” took place on May 7, 1824 at the Karntnertor Theater and it was repeated on May 23, in the great hall of the Fort. The conductor was Umlauf; at the beginning of every part, Beethoven, (who sat by the stage), gave the tempos. The success was smashing. Despite the obvious negligence of the interpreters, who had been gathered in a rush, Beethoven’s compositions left a memorable impression on his audience. The soprano and alto parts were interpreted by two famous young singers: Henriette Sonntag and Caroline Unger.

At the end of the “Academy”, Beethoven received standing ovations. But word has it that he had his back to the public, plunged in deep thought in the silence caused by his deafness and could not see the audience. Caroline Unger took the composer’s hand and turned him to the public. The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven could then see the ovation gestures. The theatre house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause. Police agents present at the concert had to break off his spontaneous explosion of ovations. Beethoven left the concert deeply moved.

Beethoven gained practically nothing as a result of his success. The hard earned money was spent on treatments of health and on the raising of his nephew.

In the beginning of 1826, Beethoven’s medical condition worsened when Karl attempted suicide as a result of serious gambling debts. His adored nephew’s reckless gesture aged Beethoven even more. He never recovered from this absurd blow, unlike Karl who soon went back to normal. Seeing that he could not handle raising Karl alone, he asked his brother, Johann, to promise that after his death, he would take care of the child.

During his last days, Beethoven’s friends, Schinder, Hutenbrenner and Stephan Breuring, stood by his side. He spent the last days in a shabby room, in an unsuitable atmosphere for a sick person, far from his beloved nephew, and haunted by his misfortune. His physical state was more than deplorable; at night he suffered from insomnia and the gray sad mornings brought him no joy in the silent world he lived. His situation was worse by the day.

Just before his death he received a large amount of money from the London Philharmonic Society at the intervention of his student Moscheles. Schinder wrote that “Upon receiving this money, Beethoven could buy his favorite food and a comfortable armchair. Until then, he would deny himself even basic things he needed, so as not to touch the stock he wanted to leave as inheritance to his nephew Karl. Beethoven was very happy upon receiving this gift and he still hoped he could somehow return the favor. In his last letter to Moscheles, he pledged to offer the Philharmonic Society a new symphony.

The testament like a document was found in Beethoven’s room after his death. It was written in October 1802, in Heiligenstadt, a Vienna suburb where Beethoven stayed for a half of a year, at the indications of his doctor. The testament was addressed to his brothers Karl and Johann with the mention to be read and executed after my death.

While in Heiligenstadt, a small village in Duebling county, ( north of Vienna, not far from the Danube, under the hills of Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg), Beethoven loved to take long strolls in the surrounding forests. Nature was a very appealing to Beethoven as he could escape from the agitation of the city and relax in the peaceful atmosphere of the countryside.

The testament was unknown to anyone but, Beethoven, during his life, as many considered. It was the last letter of a man dieing or, even worse, trying to commit suicide. By reading the testament, we can notice how Beethoven rejects suicide as an option for a man of art such as himself. His written testimonial also reveals the fact that there have been six years since he had first experienced the hearing problems that compelled him to living a lonely, solitary life as far away from people as possible.

The year 1802, marked the culminating point of Beethoven’s crisis. He was in love with Giullieta Guicciardi. He felt he was loved back, but at the end of the year, their relationship cools off, which made Beethoven enter a deep depressive state. On October 10th, the composer ads a post-scriptum in which he manifests his disbelief in the chances of the improvement of his condition. Beethoven’s strong character overcomes this desperate state of mind. After the finalization of the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven starts work on the Symphony No.3, Eroica.

The musical knowledge he acquired and interpreted, together with an unmatched capacity to constantly work, make Beethoven is one of the most knowledgeable composers of his time.

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