You are on page 1of 4

Minda Morgan Music History Liz Thacker 20 January 2011 Beethoven

As one looks back for truly inspirational composers throughout our history, Ludwig van Beethoven is indubitably one of the best-known and most acclaimed composers of his time. Coming from a very musical family, Beethoven began to study music intensively at age eleven when his father noticed his gift. Composing nine symphonies, eleven overtures, five piano concertos, one violin concerto, sixteen string quartets, five cello santas, the opera Fidelio, and the Mass in C Major, Beethoven had no problem making a living off of his commissions and public concerts. Although Beethoven was a very successful composer and musician, his life and career drastically changed when he started to lose his hearing around 1796. Beethoven became extremely depressed and started to seclude himself from society. Although this was something that truly affected his life in a way he never expected, Beethoven prevailed through this obstacle and continued to compose some of his most magnificat works. Although Beethoven left his name in so many ways with the Classical and Romantic era, his inspirational story and unbelievable compositions are what make him stand out to be a truly inspirational composer. Beethoven was naturally talented at composing and began at a very young age. Shrock states, the age of twelve he wrote his first composition- nine variations for piano on a theme by Ernst Christoph Dressler- and for the next four years he composed piano and other instrumental chamber works for local performances (Shrock, 443). Although Beethoven is

known for composing for all different types of musical genres, his compositions are divided into three different phases: early, middle, and late. In his first period Beethoven was just starting to compose and looked to Mozart and Haydn for inspiration and style. The largest compositions he made during this time were sonatas, variations, and shorter works for piano. Beethoven was very experimental in what he wanted and would often use strong contrasts of style or topic to delineate the form and broaden the expressive range (Hanning, 378). Some of his greatest works that came from this period were first and second symphonies, a set of six string quartets Opus 18, Sonate pathetique, Moonlight sonata and symphony No.1 in C Major. His second period of compositions began after he found out about his hearing loss. In this period Beethoven was known for writing many heroic themes that had expression of struggle to relate to what he was going through at this point in his life. This period was really hard on Beethoven and he began to suffer from a psychological crisis. Hanning asserts, In part because of his growing deafness, Beethoven carried a notebooks in which he scribbled bits of conversations... he notated themes and plans for compositions, worked out the continuity of each piece, and gradually filled in details (Hanning, 381). Because Beethoven kept these notebooks and wrote in such great detail, we can now look at these and follow his ideas and see how he reached their final form. Some of his middle period works include six symphonies (Nos. 38), the last three piano concertos, and his piano sonatas including Moonlight, Waldstien and Appassionata. The last period of Beethovens compositions are some of his best works and they were written when he was almost completely deaf. Although he did produce some of his best compositions during this time, this was Beethovens lowest point in his life dealing with family problems, ill health, and unfounded apprehensions of poverty (Hanning,390). Beethoven

continued to use new composition techniques in his music and new sonorities in his piano sonatas. The compositions show so much intellectual thought and expression and reflection on life. Some of the most famous works of this time include the The String Quartet, Op. 131, the Ninth Symphony, and Missa Solemnis. When looking back at what many people thought about Beethoven as a person, many disliked him. It is said that he came off as rude and arrogant but when looking into deeper research of what was going on within his life personally, it is clear that this was not the case. Hanning states, The impression Beethoven gave off as being moody and unsociable had much to do with his increasing deafness (381). In the autumn of 1802 Beethoven wrote a letter known as the Heiligenstadt Teastament to his brother that was to be read after his death. In this letter Beethoven talks about the pain he felt as he was loosing his hearing and how depressed and embarrassed he had become by his illness, ...what a humilation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepard singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents grew me almost to despair, a little more of that and I would have ended my life-it was only my art that held me back (381). Beethoven was at his lowest point in his life when he was almost completely deaf, but he held onto his music to pull him through the one of the hardest things that a composer or musician could ever have to face, His perseverance in the face of deafness combined with the sense of struggle and triumph depicted in much of his music, made him a heroic figure (Hanning, 378). Although Beethoven may not have ever thought losing his hearing would be something that had a silver lining inside, he now is known not only for his music, but for his perseverance through that time. His compositions are continually played and people look at his musical compositions in a different way knowing he could not always hear everything that was written.

As Beethoven once said, Let us all do what is right, strive with all our might toward the unattainable, develop as fully as we can the gifts God has given us, and never stop learning. Beethoven has changed the musical world for the better and is a great example of how we can prevail through anything life may throw at us.


Hanning, Barbara Russano, and Donald Jay. Grout. Concise History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. Print.
Shrock, Dennis. Choral Repertoire. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.