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: Complete String Quartets / Belcea Quartet
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Zig Zag  
Catalog: 344   Number of Discs: 8
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Beethoven, Mozart: Violin Concertos / Schneiderhan
Release Date: 02/13/1996   Label: Dg The Originals  
Catalog: 447403   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 8, 14 & 23 / Alfred Brendel
Release Date: 10/25/1990   Label: Philips  
Catalog: 411470   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: Complete Works For Solo Piano Vol 13: The Rage Over A Lost Penny / Brautigam
Release Date: 06/10/2014   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1892   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Symphony no 9 "Choral"

 

About This Work
On May 7, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven experienced what must certainly have been the greatest public triumph of his career. The audience which gathered at the Hoftheater adjacent to the Vienna Kärtnertor heard not only the abridged local premiere Read more of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and Gloria were given) and Op. 124 Overture, but also the first performance of the composer's 'Choral' Symphony. The event was a rousing success; indeed, one of the most moving accounts of Beethoven's final years describes how the profoundly deaf composer, unable to hear the colossal response of his admirers, had to be turned around by one of the soloists so that he could see the hundreds of clapping hands!

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 started life as two separate works -- a symphony with a choral finale, and a purely instrumental work in D minor. He labored on these sporadically for almost 10 years before finally deciding (in 1822) to combine the two ideas into one symphony, with Friedrich von Schiller's Ode an die freude (Ode to Joy) -- a text he had contemplated setting for a number of years -- as the finale.

The finished work is of visionary scope and proportions, and represents the apogee of technical difficulty in its day. There are passages, notably a horn solo in the slow movement, which would have been almost impossible to play on the transitional valveless brass instruments of Beethoven's time. As Dennis Matthews writes: "As with other late-period works, there are places where the medium quivers under the weight of thought and emotion, where the deaf composer seemed to fight against, or reach beyond, instrumental and vocal limitations."

The Ninth also personifies the musical duality that was to become the nineteenth century -- the conflict between the Classic and Romantic, the old and new. The radically different styles of Brahms and Liszt, for instance, both had their precedents in this work. On one hand, there was the search for a broader vocabulary (especially in terms of harmony and rhythm) within the eighteenth century framework; on the other, true Romanticism, embracing the imperfect, the unattainable, the personal and the extreme -- qualities that violate the very nature of Classicism. When viewed individually, the first three movements still have their roots distinctly in the eighteenth century, while the fourth -- rhapsodic, and imbued with poetic meaning -- seems to explode from that mold, drawing the entire work into the realm of program music, a defining concept of musical Romanticism.

Beethoven's Ninth represents a fitting culmination to the composer's symphonic ouvre -- a body of work that is still unmatched in its scope and seminal ingenuity -- and remains a pillar of the modern symphonic repertoire.

-- All Music Guide Read less

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