Ludwig van Beethoven: Biography, Essay, Speeches
Ludwig van Beethoven led a life that was superficially unspectacular but at the same time emotionally and spiritually intense. He created his masterpieces “in the face of severe personal adversity” (Wikipedia, 2006). One of those setbacks was Beethoven’s deafness. However, none of the difficulties prevented him from expressing his feelings and talent. The life story of Ludwig van Beethoven is a true example of the human spirit working through difficulties and limitations.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the small German town of Bonn in 1770. He was the son of Johann van Beethoven, a court musician from Belgium. Johann became his son’s first music teacher, but his limited musical talents and knowledge, as well as his excessive alcohol consumption, prevented him from making his son a new prodigy in the style of Mozart. When he was only 9 years old, Ludwig became a student of the organist Christian Gottlob Nefe and published his first sonatas in 1783 under the title “Curfürst” (Wikipedia, 2006).
Seeking to get closer to the vibrant musical life of the Austrian capital, Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792. Some scholars maintain that “Beethoven made a brief, fruitless trip to Vienna in 1787 to see Mozart” and that he impressed the famous composer with his music (Kinderman 1997:16). (Kinderman 1997:16) After his last move to Vienna, Beethoven managed to get a scholarship from his patron, the “elector” Maximilian Franz von Bonn, to finance his musical education.
Moving to Vienna
Although there are hypotheses that Beethoven himself wanted to study the music of Mozart, Haydn and later Albrechtsberger and Salieri were his teachers (Prevot 2001). Beethoven managed to make a name for himself in Vienna with his innovative, albeit disturbing music. His career began with the composition of Opus 1 and his first symphony, presented in 1800, which many considered “strange, excessively extravagant, and even risky” (Prevot 2001).
Despite the fact that his music seemed unconventional, Beethoven managed to find many admirers in Vienna who remained loyal to his followers. The list of nobles who financially supported the musician’s career includes “Prince Josef Franz Lobkowitz, Prince Karl Lichnowsky and Baron Gottfried van Swieten” (Wikipedia, 2006). Beethoven’s income also came from his teaching. Among his students were Ferdinand Ries, who later wrote a book about his collaboration with Beethoven, Carl Black, who later became a music teacher, and even Archduke Rudolf, son of the Austrian Emperor Leopold II. It was Archduke Rudolf who, along with three other aristocrats, offered Beethoven a “scholarship” to stay in Vienna in 1824, when the composer had received an offer from Hieronymus Bonaparte for a position at the court of Westphalia.
In 1803, Beethoven devoted much of his time to composing the Ninth (“Eroica”) Symphony, in which he decided to embark on a new path in his musical production, “to rise to the sublime heights that occupy a prominent place in the history of the symphonic genre” (Kinderman 1987:96). This period also marks the beginning of the composer’s heroic struggle against progressive hearing loss. The reasons for his deafness are unclear and have been attributed to a variety of causes, from syphilis to lead poisoning. Deafness was a challenge for the composer, who relied on his ears to master his art. It not only affected his creative process, but it also had a disastrous effect on his social life. To his friend Wegeler, he wrote in 1801:
I have not participated in social activities for almost two years now because it is impossible for me to tell people, ‘I am deaf.’” (Hamburger 1952:61).
Deafness, however, did not prevent composition. More than ever, Beethoven withdrew into music to find solace in other ailments. In the same letter, he wrote to Wegler, “I live entirely in my music” (Hamburger 1952:62). There is even speculation that the loss of his hearing led Beethoven to devote himself more to art, isolating himself from the human world. In any case, his ability to compose remained intact and allowed Beethoven to create other masterpieces, such as the Third through Eighth Symphonies, the Waldstein, the Appassionata, the Fidelio, and the Violin Concerto, which were written during the so-called heroic period or from mid-1802 to 1812 – precisely the time when he was increasingly deaf. Either way, this period is marked by the premiere of Beethoven’s greatest works, which became the pinnacle of his genius and, according to many, of the musical history of mankind.
Beethoven’s love and family life ….
Although it is widely believed that a love life can have a strong influence on an artist’s work, Beethoven’s relationship with women remains largely a mystery. Some scholars even claim that he “never had a love life,” while others argue that he had many alternating love affairs throughout his life (Stern 1994:97). His lack of romantic entanglements is partly due to his penchant for musical composition, which he is said to have found more important than romance.
A fascinating episode in his biography is the writing of a message to the “Immortal Beloved” during a hydrotherapy treatment in Teplitz in 1812, which later finds its way into the Heiligenstadt Testament (Prevot 2001). Since it was known that Beethoven was prone to have affairs with his female students, it was assumed that some of them were the recipients of this message. However, neither hypothesis has been adequately substantiated, and the mystery will likely remain unsolved for the time being.
Although the composer never married, an important event in 1815 made his parental concerns clear. After the death of his brother Caspar Karl, Ludwig van Beethoven became the guardian of his son Karl. Beethoven accepted this responsibility with great enthusiasm. He went to live with the child, who was then 9 years old, to protect him from the harmful influence of his mother Johanna. However, Beethoven’s difficult character, the generation gap, and Johanna’s attempts to bring the child back through litigation poisoned many years of Beethoven’s life.
The last few years
After receiving numerous invitations to play at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, Beethoven experienced one of the greatest moments of recognition in his life. However, his last period was not as productive as the previous ones. Among his most famous works of this period are “the five piano sonatas and the Diabelli Variations, the last two sonatas for cello and piano, and the last quartets” (Wikipedia 2006). The two most important works are the Misa Magnificat and the Ninth Symphony, which was premiered in 1824. This work brought the composer more recognition but little money.
Financial difficulties also struck the composer at the end of his life, as many of his patrons withdrew their support for various reasons. For example, Prince Lobkowitz experienced financial difficulties and Prince Kinsky was killed in an accident, after which his heirs decided to withdraw their support from Beethoven (Prevot 2001). The worsening financial problems were due to deteriorating health, including jaundice, which began to attack the composer’s liver in 1821. After a long battle with the disease, Beethoven died in 1827 and was buried in Vienna.
The work of Ludwig van Beethoven, though strange and frightening to many of his contemporaries, has become a world music classic and fascinates the minds of many. The fact that much of this work was done despite personal difficulties reinforces the interest in his work and his biography. Beethoven’s life is an example of a creator’s struggle to see his work completed despite inner contradictions and outside challenges. His life is an ode to the human spirit, which can overcome enormous obstacles to realize its calling.