The Life Of Beethoven
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Ludwig Van Beethoven is certainly on any short list of the greatest composers. Like all supreme artists, this is not for his prodigious technical gifts alone, but for the depth of human experience and emotion that his music explores and the universality of its message. Beethovens struggles with his own fate and deafness are embodied in music that fearlessly continued to evolve throughout his life. His continued searching for deeper musical, philosophical and emotional truths brings to mind artists such as Shakespeare and Michelangelo.
Beethoven, the son of a rather dissolute court musician, was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. It is perhaps his early rebellion against the arbitrary strictness of a father who wanted to exploit his sons talents that formed Beethovens strong and difficult personality. He was truly a child of the revolutionary spirit that was spreading through Europe, and the first important composer to openly declare himself an artist serving a higher calling than the court or aristocracy.
Beethoven thus did not become the second Mozart, the darling of court society that his father hoped for. Rather he became an independent force, confident of his own powers, and one whose few lessons with the greats of the previous generation, including Haydn and Mozart, didnt ultimately mean much to him. He settled in Vienna in 1792, and his first public fame came as a piano virtuoso of unprecedented power, with a new and explosive kind of playing that was quite apart from the elegant fluency of Mozart and other virtuosos of the day. His virtuosity is certainly evidenced in his piano sonatas and particularly the five piano concertos, culminating in the Concerto No.5 in Eb(Emperor), which, like the concertos of Mozart, were originally conceived as apt calling cards for a composer/pianist.
Beethovens talents and brash confidence won the respect of a musical and enlightened aristocracy who treated him with a deference that Beethoven expected and demanded, and that would have shocked both Haydn and Mozart. While he probably could have survived by other means, he received financial support from a number of interested nobleman, but without sacrificing his independence.
Beethovens output is usually thought of as grouped in early, middle and late periods. The First Symphony (1800) begins the new century on a seventh chord (a mysterious dominant of the subdominant) that quickly challenges classical propriety (although such things had already been explored by C.P.E. Bach, perhaps the true father of the new music). The style of this music already sacrifices the elegance of Mozarts surfaces for power and energy, and Beethoven shows his attraction to the economic use of material favored by Haydn. Beethovens gruff humor probably owes more to Haydn as well, and by the Second Symphony, the minuet has been replaced with a weightier scherzo which is characteristic of the direction in which Beethovens symphonic thoughts are moving.
The Third Symphony (Eroica) is a watershed in western music history. The violent removal of the dedication to Napoleon is well known, but the universal heroism and grandeur of the longest symphony until the Ninth, remained and points the way to the noblest aspirations of the form in the 19th century.
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