Born: 1770, Germany
Died: 1827, Austria
Period: Classical, Romantic
The events of Beethoven's life are the stuff of Romantic legend, evoking images of the solitary creator shaking his fist at Fate and finally overcoming it through a supreme effort of creative will. Born in the small German city of Bonn on or around December 16, 1770, he received his early training from his father and other local musicians. As a teenager, he earned some money as an assistant to his teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe, then wasRead more granted half of his father's salary as court musician from the Electorate of Cologne in order to care for his two younger brothers as his father gave in to alcoholism. Beethoven played viola in various orchestras, becoming friends with other players such as Antoine Reicha, Nikolaus Simrock, and Franz Ries, and began taking on composition commissions. As a member of the court chapel orchestra, he was able to travel some and meet members of the nobility, one of whom, Count Ferdinand Waldstein, would become a great friend and patron to him. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 to study with Haydn; despite the prickliness of their relationship, Haydn's concise humor helped form Beethoven's style. His subsequent teachers in composition were Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri. In 1794, he began his career in earnest as a pianist and composer, taking advantage whenever he could of the patronage of others. Around 1800, Beethoven began to notice his gradually encroaching deafness. His growing despondency only intensified his antisocial tendencies. However, the Symphony No. 3, "Eroica," of 1803 began a sustained period of groundbreaking creative triumph. In later years, Beethoven was plagued by personal difficulties, including a series of failed romances and a nasty custody battle over a nephew, Karl. Yet after a long period of comparative compositional inactivity lasting from about 1811 to 1817, his creative imagination triumphed once again over his troubles. Beethoven's late works, especially the last five of his 16 string quartets and the last four of his 32 piano sonatas, have an ecstatic quality in which many have found a mystical significance. Beethoven died in Vienna on March 26, 1827.
Beethoven's epochal career is often divided into early, middle, and late periods, represented, respectively, by works based on Classic-period models, by revolutionary pieces that expanded the vocabulary of music, and by compositions written in a unique, highly personal musical language incorporating elements of contrapuntal and variation writing while approaching large-scale forms with complete freedom. Though certainly subject to debate, these divisions point to the immense depth and multifariousness of Beethoven's creative personality. Beethoven profoundly transformed every genre he touched, and the music of the nineteenth century seems to grow from his compositions as if from a chrysalis. A formidable pianist, he moved the piano sonata from the drawing room to the concert hall with such ambitious and virtuosic middle-period works as the "Waldstein" (No. 21) and "Appassionata" (No. 23) sonatas. His song cycle An die ferne Geliebte of 1816 set the pattern for similar cycles by all the Romantic song composers, from Schubert to Wolf. The Romantic tradition of descriptive or "program" music began with Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony No. 6. Even in the second half of the nineteenth century, Beethoven still directly inspired both conservatives (such as Brahms, who, like Beethoven, fundamentally stayed within the confines of Classical form) and radicals (such as Wagner, who viewed the Ninth Symphony as a harbinger of his own vision of a total art work, integrating vocal and instrumental music with the other arts). In many ways revolutionary, Beethoven's music remains universally appealing because of its characteristic humanism and dramatic power. Read less
Work: Sonata for Piano no 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a "Les Adieux"
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.26 In E Flat, Op.81a -"Les adieux" - 1. Das Lebewohl (Adagio - Allegro)
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.26 In E Flat, Op.81a -"Les adieux" - 2. Abwesenheit (Andante espressivo)
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.26 In E Flat, Op.81a -"Les adieux" - 3. Das Wiedersehn (Vivacissimamente)
About This Work
Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major ("Les Adieux"), Op. 81a, would seem to be a programmatic or semi-programmatic piece of music, but there is some disagreement over the authenticity of that program -- or at leastRead more
over the degree to which Beethoven desired that program to be publicly known. In the spring of 1809, the French army attacked Vienna, and Beethoven's friend, patron, and pupil Archduke Rudolph was forced to flee the city for many months. It is known that on May 21, 1809, Beethoven inscribed the words "On the departure of His Majesty the revered Archduke Rudolph" (originally in French) at the head of the score of his latest project, Op. 81a; but the first published edition of the sonata (1811) goes a step further, assigning to the sonata's three movements the titles "Les adieux," "l'absence," "et le retour" (the farewell, the absence, and the return), respectively. According to some, this assignment of a movement-by-movement program was at Beethoven's express directions; but other sources maintain that Beethoven was absolutely beside himself with fury that his publisher took such a liberty with his music. Whatever the case may be, there can be no doubt that Les Adieux is real and touching evidence of one friend's care for another, and it comes as no real surprise that the piece is far better known for its titles than for its superb music.
If the programmatic titles of the three movements are authentic, then it must be said that the idea of focusing the sorrow of farewell (the first movement, Adagio-Allegro) into an E flat major vessel is a brilliant one; for, against so warm a tonal background, the resigned falling chromaticisms introduced in the slow, 16-bar introduction and then taken up with a vengeance at the start of the symphonically-conceived Allegro pull the heartstrings far better and more believably than a melodramatic, minor-mode dirge could. The central movement is a slender Andante espressivo through the cracks of whose grim, dissonant C minor occasionally bursts a glimmer of brightness (the hope for reunion, or perhaps a warm memory, if one is following the program): twice a shimmering left-hand figuration provides the right hand with enough courage to come up with a lovely cantabile melody, first in G major, then later in F. A transition passage makes the way directly into the rousing third movement, Vivacissimamente.
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