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 Concerto No 3; Mozart: Piano Concerto No 24 / Sudbin, Vanska
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1978   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas / Igor Levit
Release Date: 11/05/2013   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 370387   Number of Discs: 2
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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2 / Jean-efflam Bavouzet
Release Date: 01/28/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10798   Number of Discs: 3
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Beethoven / Alice Sara Ott
Release Date: 10/04/2011   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 001594502   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven, Berg: Violin Concertos / Weithaas, Sloane, 	Stavanger Symphony
Release Date: 01/14/2014   Label: Cavi Music  
Catalog: 8553305   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sonata for Piano no 32 in C minor, Op. 111

 

About This Work
Without doubt, this is one of the greatest piano sonatas ever written. While there are quite a few of Beethoven's own that are more popular, perhaps only one or two of them rival this one in sheer profundity. This sonata's stormy first movement and Read more its ensuing lengthy Arietta, which makes up the theme and variations second panel, take the listener into soundworlds previously unexplored by other composers, making this work one of the most influential musical creations ever. Not only did it help shape the course of piano music, it influenced the orchestral compositions of Franck, Wagner, Mahler, and many others. Prokofiev modeled the structure of his Symphony No. 2 directly on the sonata -- an Allegro followed by a long theme-and-variations second movement. The sonata begins with a grim introduction (Maestoso), typical of the composer's serious style, because it starts the narrative with a question, or dilemma, with dark, emphatic chords followed by trills, which introduce an added element of uncertainty. One might wonder whether the remainder of the movement will search out some answer to the apparent question, as in the "Pathétique," but that does not happen. It seems that a lack of a resolution reflects the composer's realization that vicissitudes of life may inspire questions which cannot be answered. The main body of the first movement, marked Allegro con brio ed appassionato, begins in a sinister vein on the bass notes with the appearance of the main theme, itself a dark, hesitant creation. After it is presented in full, the tempo slows, ushering in another idea. Tranquil and reassuring, this new idea is short-lived, and the main theme returns. After the narrative is repeated, with some alterations, the development section begins. Here, in the midst of much brilliant contrapuntal writing, the mood darkens, and an element of dramatic tension is introduced as the main theme goes through several transformations. When the alternate theme appears after a climactic episode, the atmosphere changes from somber to mysterious. There is no reprise as such, since the main material is not repeated, but rather is reviewed in partial form before reaching a final climax, after which the music fades slowly.

The second movement (Adagio molto semplice e cantabile) opens with one of the composer's most serene creations in any genre. The theme sounds peaceful and angelic, but almost static, too, in its glacial pacing. It strikes one as not the kind of melody that might yield variations of sundry character. This theme and the first three variations form the first section of the movement, wherein the atmosphere and character of the music change from the sublime to the almost giddily joyous and back to the sublime. It is the fourth variation that marks the second half of the movement, the most profound music in this work. After a series of trills, this section begins with the variation slowly emerging from a haze and transporting the listener to the highest levels of musical experience. Some view this long closing section as a "farewell" by the composer. Indeed, Beethoven seems to fashion a musical language transcending terrestrial constraints, and the notes appear to be ascending into the heavens as the ending approaches.

-- AllMusic.com Read less

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