Beethoven: The Greatest Composer Essay, Research Paper
Ludwig van Beethoven was, and remains today, an influential figure in the history of classical music. Perhaps no other composer in history wrote music of such inspiring power and expressiveness. His influence on the last 150 years of music is unequalled.
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. His father, a music enthusiast, dreamed of molding his son into the next Mozart. Beethoven never showed the impressive characteristics of Mozart, but he was unusually talented, learning the piano, organ and violin at a very early age. At 14, he was already skilled enough on the organ to receive a professional appointment (Beethoven). He held positions as an assistant organist in the electoral chapel where he obtained his first lessons in composition from the court organist. His family life was chaotic; his father was an alcoholic, and his mother died suddenly when he was only 17. After that tragedy, his family situation declined even more, and this caused him to leave home in 1790 and travel to Vienna to study composition.
In Vienna, Beethoven first studied with Franz Joseph Haydn, but eventually became frustrated with the great composer’s teaching methods and he moved on to study with other composers. He performed often in wealthy salons but interestingly enough, he did not perform in public until he was 25 years old (Beethoven).
Beethoven impressed many of his fellow composers including Mozart and while he was in Vienna, he had a chance to play for him. After Beethoven improvised brilliantly at the piano on a theme Mozart had given to him, the 30year-old Mozart ran excitedly into the next room and prophetically told his friends, “Watch that fellow – someday he’ll really make a name for himself!” (Grunfeld 76).
The early piano sonatas of Beethoven deserve special mention. Although his first published examples of concertos and trios and the first two symphonies are beneath the masterpieces of Mozart and Haydn, the piano sonatas bear an unmistakably Beethovian stamp: grandiose in scope and length, and innovative in their range of expression. The sonatas were able to move expression from terrible rage to peals of laughter to deep depression so suddenly. Capturing this unpredictable style in his music, a new freedom of expression which broke the bounds of Classical ideals, was to position Beethoven as a disturbed man in the minds of some of his contemporaries. Furthermore, he was to be seen as the father of Romanticism and the single most important innovator of music in the minds of those after him. (Bookspan 27).
Before Beethoven struck the new note of romance in music, songwriters generally used one of two patterns for their songs: (1) the simple folk-song pattern in which the same melody is repeated for each stanza of the poem, and which is called a strophic song; or (2) the elaborate pattern of arias in the Italian style of singing which is full of runs and trills (McGehee 406).
Beethoven has traditionally been referred to as music’s “bridge to romanticism,” and his major works consist of 9 symphonies, 7 concertos (5 for piano), 17 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 10 sonatas for violin and piano, 5 sonatas for cello and piano, an opera, 2 masses, several overtures, and numerous sets of piano variations (Winter 2). His musical style has ranged from Viennese classical style to looser Italian structures and has always carried a theme of creativity and expressive power.
Early in the 19th century, as his career was reaching its peak, Beethoven began to realize that he was growing deaf. This dreaded misfortune grew so quickly that it threw the composer into deep depression making it nearly impossible for him to conduct and perform his works. He cut back his public appearances and communication, eventually resorting to a notebook to communicate with his inner circle of friends and colleagues (Beethoven). His horribly miserable mind began to produce music that alarmed and terrified his contemporaries. By 1820 he was completely deaf, and he became a recluse. He died seven years later, in great emotional pain and resentment for the power that had robbed him of his ability to enjoy his own music. Tens of thousands witnessed his funeral procession.
Beethoven used a wide array of musical resources that were handed down to him from such composers as Mozart and Haydn, and even Baroque composers such as Bach and Handel. These resources allowed him to create the highly structured works that appealed largely to the free Romantic spirit and his music began what is better called “Beethovenism” rather than Romanticism (Beethoven). The greatest composers of the middle and late 19th century, such as Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, and Johannes Brahms all drew direct inspiration from the level of expression established by Beethoven. These Romantic composers were inspired while writing religious music. While they composed their Masses, they had before them the greatest example: Beethoven’s simple yet grand Solemn Mass in D (McGehee 294). Even today Beethoven’s works influence the orchestras and chamber music heard worldwide.
Ludwig van Beethoven was a fascinating and influential composer for so many reasons. His style and creativity were incredible, his feelings and desires of the human heart were inexpressible in words, and his talent is undoubtedly unsurpassed. Beethoven’s music has touched and influenced the ears and hearts of many for the past 150 years and will continue to do so for at least 150 more.