Ludwig van Beethoven

Biography

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 was Read 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
Beethoven: Piano Concertos 1 & 5 / Roll, Shelley, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 04/12/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28850   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 4, Triple Concerto
Release Date: 08/09/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28700   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Diabelli Variations / Stewart Goodyear
Release Date: 09/02/2014   Label: Marquis  
Catalog: 81455   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Symphony No 6, Egmont Overture / Ermler, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 02/10/2009   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28010   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Piano Concertos 2 & 3 / Roll, Shelley, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 05/10/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28860   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123

 

About This Work
Past 50, Beethoven found himself deaf, eluded by true love, rejected by the nephew for whom he had assumed a paternal role, plagued by myriad illnesses. And yet, at that point in his life, the composer wrote on the score of his Missa Solemnis, Read more "to my God, who has never deserted me." What inner state brought humility forth from this Promethean figure, a recognition and awe of one's place in the cosmos from this fervent, defiant advocate of the dignity of humankind? In his faith he was as unshakable as Bach or Bruckner, but it was a faith forge-tempered by this inner state and fed by nature more so than scripture and spire. It was reflected in this opus 123 mountain-cathedral from the last great period which also saw the Ninth Symphony and the last quartets. Ironically, the disposition of the great mass was as earthbound as any promotional process, with the composer touting it as "the greatest work which I have composed thus far" to lure back publishers who had become wary of some of Beethoven's less ethical dealings. Here, it would seem, his word is genuine. With the "Alle Menschen" of the Ninth Symphony, the twin summits of the two mighty late works form a yin-yang of the composer's deeply held beliefs.

The composition of the great mass occupied Beethoven from 1818 to 1823, taking it well past the occasion for which it was composed, the installation of the Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmütz. To prepare, Beethoven immersed himself in church music history for one year. The result was the essence of the composer, reverently looking back while forging ahead. In addition to soloists and chorus, the mass utilizes an organ and expanded orchestra. The five main sections of the ordinary of the Roman Catholic mass are subdivided. The opening Kyrie is marked by dramatic ebb and flow, the interaction of chorus and soloist thoroughly integrated. This is followed by the jubilant Gloria, its unbridled ecstasy initially considered unsuitable for service, with virtual shouts of Gloria forming the coda. In the Credo, this core of the Catholic faith, Beethoven utilizes old church modes in harness with his own then-modern music idiom and employs these for vivid tone painting. A warmer ecstasy pervades the Sanctus; here is Man, childlike, reaching for the Creator; perhaps the most beautiful moment occurs in its Benedictus; the effect of the solo violin is like that of a long-sought peace, descending upon and infusing the soul like balm. The Agnus Dei commences dark and brooding, later becoming, ironically, martial in the Dona nobis pacem and the listener is reminded that nearly two decades of continental war had but recently come to a close. The soloists have the final impassioned word, Beethoven ending his mass with an affecting plea for universal peace.

-- Wayne Reisig, All Music Guide Read less

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