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 1 & 5 / Roll, Shelley, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 04/12/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28850   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 4, Triple Concerto
Release Date: 08/09/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28700   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: Pathetique, Tempest & Moonlight Sonatas / Cristina Ortiz
Release Date: 03/08/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28170   Number of Discs: 1
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The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concertos No 2 & 4 / Andsnes
Release Date: 03/11/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 370548   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sonata for Piano no 17 in D minor, Op. 31 no 2 "Tempest"

 

About This Work
Written in 1802, the three sonatas of Beethoven's Op. 31 probably coincide with the drafting of his famous "Heiligenstadt Testament," in which he expresses despair at his enroaching deafness. If any of the composer's works from this year Read more indicate that he had embarked on a new path, it is the Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31/2. The composer famously dismissed an inquiry about the "meaning" of this work with the advice to read Shakespeare's The Tempest; given the music's overtly dramatic character, it is easy to see how Beethoven might have drawn parallels to, or even inspiration from, the Bard's famous romance.

The first six measures present two vastly different ideas: an ascending Largo arpeggiation of the dominant chord, juxtaposed against a frenetic repeated-note Allegro figure that descends and halts abruptly on another dominant chord. It is this passage, and not the ascending forte arpeggios in the bass that appear a few measures later, that forms the main substance of the movement's first theme group. This becomes clear when, in the recapitulation, Beethoven dispenses with the forte passage, connecting the main and secondary themes with new material, which in itself is not an unusual sonata-form procedure. The whole represents the most concentrated, motivically conceived movement Beethoven had yet composed.

The second movement, Adagio, is in B flat major; the movement's tonality is worthy of comment here, since it plays an important modulatory role in the third movement. Like the first movement, the second is a sonata-allegro and opens with a broken triad; unlike the first movement, however, it lacks a development section, and has clearly articulated first and second themes.

The D minor finale is again a sonata allegro. The first theme outlines the tonic triad, while the contrasting second theme moves in almost completely stepwise fashion. In the development section Beethoven employs the first theme exclusively, using repetition and prolonged harmonies to create an overpowering sense of anticipation. Portentously, Beethoven provides further development in a coda that is as long as the exposition.

-- AllMusic.com Read less

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