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
Rudolf Serkin Plays Beethoven
Release Date: 11/06/2012   Label: Sony (Nax615)  
Catalog: 988302   Number of Discs: 11
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The Beethoven Journey - Piano Concerto No. 5
Release Date: 09/16/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 305886   Number of Discs: 1
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Leon Fleisher Plays Beethoven & Brahms
Release Date: 08/07/2012   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 1918052   Number of Discs: 5
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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 5 / Freire, Chailly
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002153402   Number of Discs: 1
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Pinchas Zukerman Plays Beethoven - The Violin Sonatas
Release Date: 08/26/2014   Label: Rca  
Catalog: 440142   Number of Discs: 4
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Work: Concerto for Piano no 2 in B flat major, Op. 19

 

About This Work
For almost two centuries, the original version of the Piano Concerto No. 2 was assigned to the year 1794, when Beethoven was 23 and needed a showpiece for his public debut in Vienna. He did introduce it in the Court Theater on March 29, 1795, during Read more the Lenten season when Hapsburg Catholicism banned all theatrical activity. But latter-day scholarship has determined that most of the B flat Concerto -- certainly the first two movements -- were written at Bonn in 1789 and 1790, three years after his curtailed first visit to Vienna, but three before his return in November 1792, with a letter of introduction from Count Ferdinand Waldstein and an invitation to study with Haydn. In other words, he was as young as Chopin when the latter composed his first concerto (which, further in common with Beethoven's B flat, was published out of sequence as No. 2). Whether or not Haydn saw it during the 14 contentious months that Beethoven was his pupil, we don't know.

Beethoven revised the concerto to include a new finale during his study year with Haydn. This was this version he introduced in 1795 and then further revised in 1798 for Prague, giving it still another finale. (The "official" First Concerto in C, published as Op. 15, wasn't composed until 1797.) To keep the B flat for his own use, he left the solo part un-notated until the Leipzig publisher Hoffmeister agreed to buy the work in 1801, for half the price of a new sonata. The composer didn't haggle: "I really don't give out as one of my best....Still, it will not disgrace you in any way to publish it."

Although the B flat has come down to us as one of the two runts in Beethoven's concerto litter (along with the "Triple"), it is nonetheless a work of substantial charm and considerable elegance, with several Haydn-like surprises including an abundance of themes. In the opening Allegro con brio movement, however, he followed Classical rules, concentrating on the two principal subjects of a double exposition (by the orchestra first, next by the soloist), then a development section, and finally a recapitulation. The main themes in their cheerful confidence are distinctly Beethoven's, though their working-out is clearly influenced not only by Haydn but also by the recently departed Mozart. The middle movement -- Adagio, in E flat major -- hints at the slow movement of the Fourth Concerto to come a decade later. It is, in effect, an accompanied fantasia that resembles a carefree theme and variations, with an attention-getting solo recitative-like passage at the end. The twice-rewritten finale, Molto allegro, combines sonata and rondo forms, with perhaps the nicest surprise of all saved for last: a brief solo rumination which the orchestra brusquely interrupts with a terminal tantara. Read less

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