Beethoven: His Greatest Creations Were The Ones He Would Never Hear Essay, Research Paper
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, and was baptized on Dec. 17, 1770. There is no record of his actual birth date. He came from a family of musicians. His father and grandfather worked for the Elector of Cologne. Beethoven’s grandfather, Lodewyk van Beethoven came from Belgium and joined the court orchestra in Bonn as a bass player and eventually became its conductor. Beethoven’s father Johann was a professional tenor at the court in Bonn and also played piano and violin. Johann was an ambitious, yet unstable man who drank excessively and had a volatile temper. Beethoven began to exhibit his outstanding musical talent at a young age. Because of this his father’s ambition, Beethoven was pushed to become a child prodigy. Johann eventually gave up on this prospect when Beethoven‘s recitals were only marginally successful. When he turned 11, he left school and became an assistant organist to Christian Gottlob Neefe at the court of Bonn. Beethoven learned much from him and the other musicians at court. In 1783 he joined the Bonn opera and accompanied their rehearsals on keyboard. In 1787, he was sent to Vienna to take further lessons from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Two months later, however, he was called back to Bonn by the death of his mother. His mother’s death exasperated his fathers drinking Johann soon become a very abusive alcoholic. Beethoven was forced to undertake the bulk of the family’s support by the age of 18. These circumstances of his youth might have contributed to Beethoven’s eccentric personality and to the perfection that he placed on himself and his music. “His idiosyncratic working methods, his mournful isolation through deafness and the nobility of his total dedication to his art was what endowed him as almost a mythical figure” (Hopkins, 1986). He started to play the viola in the Opera Orchestra in 1789, while also teaching in composing. Upon meeting Franz Joseph Haydn in 1790 Beethoven moved to Vienna permanently when Haydn who agreed to instruct him in Vienna. He received financial support from Prince of Vienna Karl Lichnowsky, to whom he dedicated his Piano Sonata in C minor (The Path?tique).
It was around this time that Beethoven’s began the first of his three major periods of work. Most critics and scholars divide Beethoven’s work into three general periods, omitting the earliest years of his apprenticeship in Bonn. Although some pieces do not fit exactly into the scheme, these divisions can be used to broadly categorize the composer’s work. The first period is know as his Viennese (or High) Classical period it lasted from about 1792 to about 1800 and consists of music whose most salient features are typical of the classical era. This first period is influenced heavily by Haydn’s instruction as well as Mozart’s. This is evident in Beethoven’s early chamber music, as well as in his first two piano concerti and his first symphony. Beethoven individuality and style gradually developed in this first period but in general the much of the music was based in many of Haydn’s methods such as the use of dramatic silence (Solomon, 1998). Beethoven added his own subtle additions, including sudden changes of dynamics, but for the most part was constructed and adhered to the sensibilities of the classical period. He composed mainly for the piano during this period. These works include Symphony no. 1 in C (1800), his first six string quartets, and the Path?tique (1799). Arguably Mozart was first to master the Viennese Classical style. However Beethoven can be given credit for extending it. He composed sonatas for the cello that in combination with the piano opened the era of the Classic-Romantic cello sonata. In addition, his sonatas for violin and piano became the cornerstones of the sonata duo repertory. By about 1800 his experimentation with additions to the standard forms made it apparent that he had mastered and reached the limits of Viennese Classical style (Solomon, 1998).
Beginning in the late 1790’s, an increasing buzzing and humming in his ears sent Beethoven into a panic, searching doctor after doctor for a cure. He would continue to search the rest of his life for a cure even after he had become completely deaf. By 1802 Beethoven was convinced that the condition not only was permanent, but also was getting progressively worse. This lead him write a document that would later be know as the “Heiligenstadt Testament” in October of that year. The Testament was intended to be read by his two brothers. In it Beethoven expressed his certainty of his growing deafness, his consequent despair, and suicidal considerations. He speaks of suicide in the same breath as a reluctance to die, expressing his helplessness against the inevitability of death (Solomon, 1998). He also states he would not surrender to that “jealous demon, my wretched health” before proving to himself and the world the extent of his skill. Beethoven keeping faith in his art and ability and coming to terms with his condition moves on to “develop all my artistic capacities.” Beethoven leaves what is beyond his control to what must be and tries to make a fresh start. However, despite it all, he reveals in the Testament a determination, though weak and exhausted, to carry on-”I would have ended my life …it was only my art that held me back”. He has set his tired old self (the almost-deaf and hopeless Beethoven) to rest so that he may rise and live again. So begins the second period of Beethoven’s work.
Beethoven’s second period of work is known as his Heroic period and it lasted from about 1801 to 1814. His Moonlight Sonata in C# minor (1801) is known as the first of Heroic Beethoven. His composing skills were not affected by his growing deafness, but his ability to teach and perform was inhibited. He wrote his only opera, Fidelio in 1805. The main theme of the opera revolves around fidelity, which reflects his personal desire to marry (Beethoven never married). Symphony No. 3 in E-flat (Eroica) composed in 1803 was one of the early principal works. In a musical perspective, the Symphony No. 3 established a milestone in Beethoven’s development and in music history. His manipulation of sonata form to embrace the powerful emotions of heroic struggle and tragedy went beyond Mozart or Haydn’s Viennese Classical style. Beethoven’s new path reflected the turbulence of the developing politics of the day (especially the Napoleonic Wars) ignited perhaps by the hopelessness he felt in himself. He took music beyond the Viennese Classical style which ignored the unsettling currents of Beethoven’s terror and anxiety. Indeed he placed tragedy at the center of his heroic style, symbolizing death, despair, and loss-paralleling his own sense of loss. But in addition, like his own triumph over suffering, there is hope, triumph and joy as expressed in the finale of the 3rd Symphony. Other works in the Heroic period include the Kreuzer Sonata (1803), symphonies 4 – 7, the Violin Concerto in D major (1806), the Razumovsky Quartets (1806), the Emperor Concerto (1809) and the Archduke Trio, Op. 97 (1811).
Since 1812 Beethoven’s life had been in a continuous state of crisis. This came from the guardianship battle he was having with his sister-in-law over his nephew Karl. It was also the great year of frustrated passion with Antoine Bretano, his famous ” Immortal Beloved” (Altman, 1996). In the final winning legal battle in April 1820, Beethoven felt the need to reconstruct his life and completing his life’s work. This final period of music called simply Late Beethoven lasted from 1814 to the end of his life. Beethoven gave his last performance in 1814, on the piano, but continued to be a famed and respected composer in till an after his death. Beethoven was totally deaf no later then 1819 and in order to have conversations with his friends, Beethoven had them write down their questions and replied orally. Because of Beethoven’s total loss of hearing this period of music is sometimes also known as his “Silent period” (Solomon, 1998). This period is characterized by even wider ranges of harmony and counterpoint. The last string quartets contain some of the composer’s most vivid new ideas. Beethoven created longer and more complicated forms of music. In his symphonies and string quartets, he often replaced the minuet movement with a livelier scherzo. Some say that Beethoven was composing music for a different age (Solomon, 1998). His life became more chaotic and he composed less and less. In his works, he used more miniaturization and expansion. The music began to become “odd” as he began to experiment with the number of movements, contrast in volume and dynamics, harmonic predictability, sonata movements and trills in his works (Hopkins, 1996). Beethoven became increasingly argumentative as he was further tormented by his deafness.
His last symphony, especially the choral finale, was not only Beethoven’s greatest piece during this period but the greatest in his lifetime. The Symphony No. 9 is also arguably one of the greatest in the history of music. Admired around the world, the symphony has been used countless times to underscore momentous occasions, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall (Hopkins, 1996). The Ninth Symphony was completed in 1824. It’s final movement, which is a triumphant setting to Schiller’s Ode to Joy, broke new grounds in terms of scale and introduced choral forces into the symphony for the first time(Hopkins, 1996). For years Beethoven had contemplated setting Schiller’s Ode to Joy, but when he decided to make this the setting to the final movement to his ninth symphony he was very uncertain as to how to introduce the voice. Although some of the ideas used in the Ninth Symphony appear in sketches as early as 1817, Beethoven only began concentrated work on the score in 1822. It occupied him throughout 1823, and he completed it in February 1824. The first performance took place at the Karntnerthor Theater in Vienna on May 7, 1824. Michael Umlauf was the real conductor, the orchestra leader was Schuppanigh and the dedication was to King Frederick William III of Prussia (Solomon, 1998). The first vocal soloists to perform this were Henriette Sontag (soprano), Karoline Ungersabatier (alto), Anton Haizinger (tenor), and Joseph Seipelt (bass). Only two rehearsals had been possible and may have been responsible for the performance’s mixed critical success. The symphony’s required orchestration includes: two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drums, and strings, plus soprano, alto, tenor, and bass solos and four part mixed chorus (Solomon, 1998).
The proper title of the Ninth Symphony is ‘ Symphony with final chorus on Schiller’s Ode of Joy’. There is no doubt that there were plans to make the last movement not a choral, but an instrumental one. Beethoven had once written an instrumental finale, but his dream of setting Schiller’s Ode to Joy overcame him. His personal life had a major influence outside of these personal things. In the Ninth Symphony there is a path from darkness to light. The first three movements are 1. Allegro ma non troppo un poco maestoso, 2. Molto vivace: Presto, 3.Adagio molto e cantabile-andante moderato. These first three movements involve so many different feelings. ” The first three movements of the Ninth Symphony spring from regions of the mind not directly involved with the emotional stresses of daily life” (Solomon, 1998). These movements fit in a somewhat traditional structure of fast, fast, slow. Throughout them there is an extreme fluctuation of feeling. Each movement has it’s own special quality. The first movement has a sort of dark tone to it, but a sense of power comes along. ” The first movement with its imprint of somber majesty, does not resemble any which Beethoven had previously written” (Berlioz 1988). The second movement has it’s own distinct qualities. The scherzo, which some have called “one of the greatest in existence” (Solomon, 1998). The sound of the first movement and the second are opposing ones. “The first is terrible and almost and imaginable sound, while the Scherzo is entrancing and delightful” (Solomon, 1998). Beethoven said that “The visions of the first three movements are such as to reduce man to the apparent size of a microbe; but a man conceived them so, let us all rejoice in our potentialities”. The third movement is the slowest of the movements. It complements the finale, which is very fast paced. The choral finale has a lot going on at once. The movement begins with the strings in the lead, they begin to create the melody. A shorter recitative can then be heard that reminds us of the first movement. Then there is a change of pace. There is a closing diminuendo and the wind instruments come in. There is a bass soloist now emulating the melody that the strings first played. Then the lower voices of the chorus repeat the last eight bars of the bass solo. Then the whole chorus joins in together. The music slows to the verse ” Seid umschlungen, Millionen!” (Be embraced, ye millions!), it is given at first by men’s voices, trombones, and low strings in unison. This section repeats, then the sound breaks off to a crescendo followed at a quick pace by the solo quartet. The music then returns to a light wood/wind sound. Then breaking off into a solo quartet to slow things down. After a break of silence the full chorus returns along with the full orchestra as the music crescendo moves to a fast paced ending. There is no doubt of the meaning of this piece ”the expression of joy”. Some of Beethoven’s other late achievements include the Diabelli Variations (1820-1823), the Mass in D major, Missa Solemnis (1823), six string quartets and last of the piano sonatas.
Beethoven died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. His funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners. Franz Grillparzer best described him during his funeral address when he said: “despite all these absurdities, there was something so touching and ennobling about him that one could not help admiring him and feeling drawn to him. The bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of his death were celebrated with new performances and recordings of all of the master’s old works (Solomon, 1998).
Altman, Gail S. (1996). Beethoven: A Man of His Word: Undisclosed Evidence for His Immortal Beloved. Tallahassee: Anubian Press.
Berlioz, Hector. (1988). A Critical Study of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies: With a Few Words on His Trios and Sonatas. New York: Reprint Services Corporation.
Hopkins, Antony. (1996). The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven. New York: Scolar Press.
Solomon, Maynard P. (1998). Beethoven. New York: Macmillan Library Reference.