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 No 3 & 4 / Bronfman
Release Date: 09/13/2005   Label: Arte Nova  
Catalog: 640100   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 5, Choral Fantasy / Bronfman, Zinman
Release Date: 11/14/2006   Label: Arte Nova  
Catalog: 825850   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Septet / Shaham, Bronfman, Zinman
Release Date: 04/11/2006   Label: Arte Nova  
Catalog: 640150   Number of Discs: 1
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The Beethoven Journey - Piano Concertos No 1-5 / 	Leif Ove Andsnes
Release Date: 10/27/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 305887   Number of Discs: 3
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Alessio Bax Plays Beethoven
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Signum U.k.  
Catalog: 397   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sonata Appassionata

 

About This Work
From the writing of his Heiligenstadt Testament in 1802 up to the composition of the "Appassionata" in 1804-1805, Beethoven produced some of his most pivotal works, music that foreshadows and heralds the arrival of what is commonly Read more identified as the "second" period of his creativity. Beethoven, it seemed, had turned inward and begun to produce music only he could fully understand. If he had resigned himself to the futility of his cosmic anger, he also determined to thrust his immense genius in the face of God and Man alike, accepting no limitations upon the magnitude or trajectory of his creativity. It was the Beethoven of these works who unleashed the "Appassionata" Sonata in 1805.

Opening with a dark, enigmatic theme -- one of the most striking curtain-raisers in any of Beethoven's sontatas -- the work abruptly explodes with what some have called shrieks of rage. The work makes immediate, fearsome demands upon the pianist, calling both for percussive handfuls of chords and accompanimental figuration demanding the utmost delicacy. The movement is driven forward with a demonic intensity and a daring harmonic sense; the opening phrase, as one example, is repeated a half-step higher in the second phrase, momentarily shrouding the tonal center in a strange, unsettling ambiguity. Prefiguring the dot-dot-dot-dash motive of the Fifth Symphony among its rhythmic materials, the "Appassionata" unfolds with a volatile, start-and-stop rhythmic scheme that lends it a particular sense of conflict and urgency. In one of the classic examples of Beethoven's organic motivic sense, the second theme of the first movement makes clear reference to the first; while the genesis of its rhythm and contour is obvious, Beethoven here transforms it into a lyrical and yearning if brief moment of respite.

The second movement, a relaxed andante, is a set of variations on a simple, chorale-like theme that retains a shade of the dotted rhythms of the first movement. The variations gradually increase in activity; a sudden reprise of the more sedate original theme and leads without pause to a savage, impassioned finale. Here, Beethoven makes formidable demands upon both instrument (especially the pianos of his own day) and player; the Presto finale is nothing so much as a pounding blur of fury. The sonata's "Appassionata" subtitle is not Beethoven's own; it was first applied by a Hamburg publisher in 1838.

-- Michael Morrison, All Music Guide Read less

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