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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: Creatures of Prometheus / Mackerras, Scottish CO
Release Date: 05/10/2005   Label: Helios  
Catalog: 55196   Number of Discs: 1
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Helene Grimaud Piano Recital - Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Rachimaninov
Release Date: 10/29/2013   Label: Kultur Video  
Catalog: 4891   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Op. 22, Op. 31 No. 3, Op. 101 / Angela Hewitt
Release Date: 12/10/2013   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 67974   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello & Piano / Steven Isserlis, Robert Levin
Release Date: 01/14/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 67981   Number of Discs: 2
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Beethoven: Trio; Brahms: Trio; Weber: Grand Duo
Release Date: 11/11/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 807618   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Coriolan Overture

 

About This Work
Shakespeare's Coriolanus was not the direct inspiration for Beethoven's overture of the same name; instead, the work was written to accompany Heinrich Joseph von Collin's all-but-forgotten drama Coriolan, which was revived in Vienna's Burgtheater in Read more 1807. Beethoven's music depicts the story of Coriolanus in an often stormy essay whose evolution mirrors the action in the drama.

In the drama, Coriolanus is a Roman patrician who has been banished from his native city as a result of his lack of concern for the starving people there. After taking up with the Volscians and plotting revenge, the proud and disgraced Coriolanus leads their armies against Rome. Upon reaching the border of his former city, he is approached by emissaries who plead with him to abandon his intentions to invade. Coriolanus, who has long waited for the day on which he will finally avenge his eviction and humiliation, sends them away and prepares for attack. A last effort to save Rome comes when his mother and his wife plead with him to desist. He is at last dissuaded from carrying out his plans, realizing they are now abhorrent to him. In Collin's play, he determines that he must regain his honor, which can only be effected by death at his own hand.

The sonata-allegro-form overture begins darkly, Allegro con brio, the strings thrice playing an intense unison C, each time answered by a single emphatic chord from the orchestra that rises higher with each response. The strings then take up a rhythmic, agitated figure which makes up the main part of the first subject. This music represents Coriolanus' proud character, his defiance and unsettled nature; it longs, half cries out, but manages to sound subdued, as though ruled by some dark inner constraint. A second theme appears, a memorable creation of great lyrical beauty that also possesses an unmistakably heroic element -- a trait nearly ubiquitous in Beethoven's middle-period works. A brief development follows, focusing mainly on the two-note motive that appears at the close of the second subject.

The recapitulation might almost be regarded as a second development, since the thematic material is presented quite differently this time and the key switches from C minor to F minor. The expansive coda makes use of the second theme group at its outset, then turns intense and grim. The music from the opening returns, but dissolves quickly into a dark haze, fading to uneasy silence. Many believe that this ending is a depiction of the actual death of Coriolanus; it may be, however, that it merely reflects his realization that he must die by his own hand to restore his tarnished honor.

The Coriolan Overture is one of the most frequently performed and recorded of Beethoven's orchestral works. It was premiered in March 1807 and first published in Vienna in the following year. The work is about nine minutes in duration.

-- Robert Cummings, All Music Guide Read less

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