Essay: 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”.

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