Ludwig van Beethoven has been called one of the greatest composers to ever live. His emotionally charged creations of poetry in music are world renown for their ability to spark feeling into the hearts of those listening. It is often wondered what emotional tragedy in Beethoven s life provoked him to write such awe-inspiring music. Beethoven had many distressing things occur in his life time that could be applied to his music but a major factor has always been his abusive father. As a result of the abuse of his alcoholic father Ludwig van Beethoven became one of the greatest composers by applying the emotions he felt when his father beat him to the music that he wrote.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 17th, 1770 in Bonn, Germany in a downtown alleyway(cowell). During the time of Beethoven s birth all life in Bonn was centered around the palace of the Elector of Cologne(Burke 32). His father, Johann van Beethoven, was a court tenor there(Burke 32). Ludwig s mother, Marie Magdalene Kerverich van Beethoven, bore two other children besides Ludwig. Kasper Anton Karl who was born on April 18th, 1774 and Nicholas Johann who was born on October 2nd, 1776 were the only other surviving children of Maria s six births besides Ludwig(Burke 32).
Ludwig began taking music lessons from his father at a very young age. By the age of five he was playing both the clavier and the violin(Solomon 16). Beethoven had few friends and spent little time playing with other children, although he did play with his brothers from time to time(Burke 33). Young Beethoven was extremely withdrawn from the world around him. Outside of music he understood nothing of a social life. (Solomon 20). Besides being uninterested in friends, young Ludwig was a poor student. His grasp of spelling and arithmetic was insubstantial, but he did learn Latin for the purpose of writing masses(Burke 34).
During this time in Beethoven s life his father was obsessed with making young Ludwig a musician. Johann Beethoven …conducted his son s musical education in a brutal and willful manner. (Solomon 16). Ludwig hated his father and his lessons hung over him like a threat. (Burke 34). A childhood companion of Beethoven s reported that Beethoven s father used violence when it came to making him start his musical studies, and…there were few days when he was not beaten in order to compel him to set himself at the piano. (Solomon 16). The father was not merely strict, but cruel. He treated him [Ludwig] harshly wrote court counselor Krupp and sometimes shut him up in the cellar. (Solomon 16). Beethoven s father was an alcoholic. When he wasn t doing music he was drinking(Burke 35). The beginnings of Ludwig s musical education were unhappy in as much as they were stringently based on his fathers ideas of what a genius should be and, what society s expectations of a musician were in the late 18th century. (Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html). The incredibly cruel part of Johann s plan was that ….his [Johann s] goal was to train his son as a competent court musician while simultaneously limiting his attainments so as to prevent Beethoven from surpassing him-which is to say, from rising to the level of his own father. (Solomon 17).
After several years Johann could not teach Ludwig anymore due to his lack of knowledge. So in the summer of 1779 eccentric actor and musician Tobias Pfeiffer came to Bonn and was invited to stay at the Beethoven s apartment(Solomon 17). Pfeiffer s main connection to the Beethoven family was that he was Johann s drinking partner(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html). M uer, a cellist in Bonn at the time relates the story …often, when Pfeiffer had been boozing with Beethoven s father in a wine tavern until 11 or 12 o clock, he went home with him, where [they found] Ludwig…in bed sleeping. The father roughly shook him awake, the
boy gathered his wits and, weeping, went to the piano, where he remained, with Pfeiffer seated next to him, until morning. (Solomon 17). Sometimes when Ludwig made mistakes his father and Pfeiffer would beat him on his ears(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html). This is said to be the cause of Beethoven s deafness later in life.
During the next couple of years young Beethoven began improvising on the piano. When his father saw him doing this he kept him on the violin, but he improvised on that too(Burke 36). Johann tried desperately to subdue his son s attempts at composition and improvisation. What silly trash are you scraping away at now? You know I cant bear that! Scrape according to the notes; otherwise your scraping wont be of much use. he would shout at his son(Solomon 16). Mastery of the art of Improvisation was the Hallmark of the 18th century viruoso and
composer. (Solomon18). When improvising and composing Beethoven set his feelings to music, indicating that he was unprepared to explore his emotions. Johann could see that his son was surpassing him and was not happy about this, but he had to let go.(Solomon 20)
Throughout his second decade young Ludwig began to establish a place for himself in his community(Solomon 20). At the age of eleven he began taking lessons from court organist Christian Gottolo Neefe(Funk and Wagnalls). Ludwig played his first concert when he was twelve, but his father said he was nine(Immortal Beloved). During this time in Ludwig s life he was slowly losing his father to alcohol, and essentially became the father of his younger brothers(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html). Also at this time Ludwig s first known compositions were published. He wrote three sonatas for piano dedicated to Elector Man Friedrich, a piano concerto in E flat major, and three quartets for piano and
strings. His works were quickly published as a result of his young age.(Solomon 20)
At the age of 12 Beethoven was appointed assistant court organist but remained unpaid. By the time he was 13 Ludwig s income supported the entire family, as well as his father s drinking habit(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html). Neefe helped young Ludwig a lot during this time. He encouraged Beethoven s composing and pushed his developmental motion during the early 1780 s, but more importantly Ludwig found a kindred spirit, a moral mentor, and perhaps a second father in Neefe(Solomon 21).
In 1787 Beethoven made his first trip to Vienna, Austria, one of the most musical cities of the time. While in Vienna Beethoven visited Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When he played for Mozart the great master ran into an adjoining room and said to his friends Pay attention to him-he will make a name for himself one day. (The World of Music 124) During his stay in Vienna Beethoven found out that his mother was dying and rushed home. When he got there he found that his father had become a hopeless alcoholic. His mother died soon after his return of tuberculosis; Ludwig was only 17. Johann was seen in the streets selling his wives clothes immediately following her death to pay for his alcoholism.(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html)
After the death of his mother Beethoven secured two pupils of a wealthy family. By now his father could not support the family. His two new students were named Stephan and Eleonore Von Breuning. While he was there their mother, Mrs. Von Breuning, introduced Ludwig to literature and cultured society to smooth out his rough edges. Ludwig and the Von Breuning family became lifelong friends(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html).
In 1792 Beethoven left Bonn once more and traveled to Vienna. Also during this year Beethoven began losing his hearing, but could not bring himself to admit it. In a letter written to his brothers called the Heiligenstadt testament Beethoven writes:
“Oh, you fellow men who think of me, or even denounce me as being morose, mean, or misanthropic, how much you wrong me! Since you do
not know the secret cause of what makes me seem that way…. I could not
bring myself to say to people ‘Speak louder, shout, because I am deaf.” How could I bring myself to admit to a weakness in the one sense which should be more perfect in me than in anyone else?… I must live as if in
exile; if I venture into the company of others a burning fear overcomes
me, that my condition might be discovered…. a little more and I would
have ended my life…only my art has held me back…. do not forget me in
my death – I deserve your remembrance because all my life I thought of you and your happiness…may you be so! .(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html) This passage describes Beethoven s feelings about his ever growing deafness. The deafness that was then the ruler of his dark emotions may have been caused by his father beating him on his ears when he made mistakes at the piano.
In march 1795 Beethoven appeared in his first public concert at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Beethoven s self-critical attitude can be seen in how long he waited until he could perform publicly. This also shows how apprehensive Beethoven was about his approaching deafness and keeping it a secret.(Schmidt-G rg 17)
By 1803 Beethoven s hearing was almost completely gone. During the past few years he had been carrying around ear trumpets to help him hear. But the ear trumpets
were not helping anymore(Schmidt-G rg 20). Ludwig began complaining to his friends about his failing hearing and now carried around a small chalk board so he could communicate(Immortal Beloved).
In November 1815 Beethoven s brother Karl died. When Karl died he left behind a son. Karl s son, also named Karl, was entrusted to Beethoven because his mother was incapable of caring for him due to her disagreeable lifestyle. Young Karl became Beethoven s only care in the world. All of his composing stopped. In 1818 a young law student named Anton Schindler came to be in Beethoven s social circle. He became a faithful helper and friend to Beethoven and also helped in the care of young Karl.(Schmidt-G rg 24)
The music Beethoven wrote has many themes, but one theme that is always present is that of an overbearing, demanding father and a timid, temperate son. In Christ on the Mount of Olives Beethoven views Christ s crucifixion as a sad but necessary submission to his father s will. The theme of the self-sacrificing son has its own possibilities of profundity and, in view of the shape of his own early biography, surely touched Beethoven deeply. O my father, oh see I suffer greatly; have mercy on me…Father! deeply bowed and weeping, thy son prays to thee…he is ready to die the martyr s death so that man, man, whom he loves, may be resurrected from death and live eternally… (Solomon 191) These passages relate to Beethoven s inner feelings about the way he was treated as a child.
Beethoven s music is enhanced with melodramatic motifs and underlying themes. His catchy melodies contain many patterns and redundancies(Oestreich). In the first symphony he wrote there are many classical elements that are not seen in the ninth symphony(Lipman 53). Beethoven s first was dedicated to Baron Von Swiethbegar in 1794. This great work is called the swan song of the 18th century
because it contains a happy, cheerful motif(The World of Music 138).
Symphony number two was dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky. This piece was strikingly modern and embodied new, more romantic styles. In this work Beethoven deviates from the accepted styles of Mozart and Haydn. This symphony is thought to symbolize Beethoven s struggle against deafness. In a Beethoven symphony we hear the passions of all human passions and emotions; joy, sorrow, love, hate, fear, hope, and so on, in innumerable shades and graduations, but all as it were abstract and without particularization; we hear simply their form without substance, as in a purely spiritual world. (The World of Music 136)
In Symphony number three, called eroica , you can see the theme of heroism. This symphony was written at the height of the French Revolution when Napoleon Bonaparte stood for the freedom of the French people. When Napoleon declared himself emperor of all he had won in battles Beethoven was very angered and changed the dedication from Dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte to In memory of Napoleon Bonaparte to show his regret that the young general had become exactly what he fought against(Immortal Beloved).
Symphony number five, perhaps Beethoven s most famous symphony, was dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz. This great work is thought to represent fate knocking with its famous opening four notes; three short and one long. This symphony reflects Beethoven s innermost thoughts and his secret pain. it is thought to be the outbreak of a rage, too long held in.(The World of Music 140)
Beethoven s music was transitional between Baroque music, which seeks stability in art, and a more romantic age where emotions rule(Mason http://www.altusdesign.com/beethoven/bio/essay.html). If you hear a marching band, you march. If you hear a waltz, you dance. If you hear a mass, you take communion.
It is the power of music; to carry one directly into the mighty state of the composer. The listener has no choice, it s like hypnotism… (Immortal Beloved).
Symphony number seven was dedicated to Count Moritz Romain Rolland. It has been called an orgy of rhythm. In this symphony beethoven perhaps most clearly shows his true nature. It is said Beethoven once stated I am a Baccus pressing out delicious nectar for mankind. Symphony number eight has a cheerful atmosphere, but is sometimes a little disturbing. It contains many delightful whims that excite peoples emotions and flare up their imaginations.(The world of Music 141)
Symphony number nine is another extremely famous work by Beethoven. This is Beethoven s only choral symphony, but by the time the great master wrote it he was completely deaf. It was performed for the first time on May 7th 1824. The romantic elements seen in the 9th symphony are not present in the 1st(Lipman 54). After this great work was done Caroline Vinger, one of the soprano soloists, had to turn Beethoven around to see the crowd applauding(Schmidt-G rg 30).
Ludwig van Beethoven died on March 26th, 1827. When approaching death he came to embrace life and the world(Lipman 55). The pallbearers that held up Beethoven s coffin were some of the finest musicians in all of Vienna(Oestreich). 30,000 people attended his funeral.
Beethoven touched many lives with the 9 symphonies, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, 5 piano concertos, 2 masses, and the opera he wrote. He has become the central composer of our western tradition(Lipman 55). Beethoven occupies a position looking at once backward and foreword in the middle of western musical development… (Lipman 55) Beethoven s life has been one filled with many tragedies and hardships. He persevered through his fathers abuse and his deafness as a result.
It is these hardships that have helped him to write such beautiful melodies and heartwarming harmonies.