Biographical Sketch of Ludwig Van Beethoven, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Grandson of a Flemish musician, there is no documented record of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, but it is known he was born in Bonn, Germany. There is record of his baptism in a Roman Catholic Parish of St. Regius cathedral on December 17th, 1770. This does imply that Beethoven’s birth could have been around this time as it was customary for children to be baptized the day after birth.  Based on this information historians identify Beethoven’s official birth date as December 16th 1770. He was born the son of Johanna van Beethoven, sibling of six others, only two of whom survived infancy.  Beethoven was the oldest and his brothers Casper Anton Carl and Nikolaus Johann were his surviving younger brothers.  In Beethoven’s final year of his life, 1826, he caught cold which progressed other illnesses he had accumulated throughout the years and end in his death in 1827.

Ludwig van Beethoven is undoubtedly one of the few genius classical musicians in history who truly lived up to the title. Over the course of Beethoven’s professional career, he composed 5 piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas, 9 symphonies, 10 violin sonatas, many string quartets, as well as other works. Beethoven made money through the sale of his works to patrons, and by giving private performances. While his live shows began to draw massive crowds near the middle to end of his career, and they proved to be very lucrative, this was also around the same time Beethoven began to lose his hearing. The end result was that he struggled with money his entire life.

Beethoven’s relationship with his nephew has been chronicled by numerous historians. It is also seen as the core source of many of his financial problems. As Prevot notes, “May 7th, 1824 was the date of the first playing of the ninth symphony and despite the musical difficulties, and problems in the sung parts, it was a success. Unfortunately it was not financially rewarding. Financial problems constantly undermined the composer (p3).” While having issues with money has always been a traditional setback of many of the great classical composers, specifically Mozart and Sebastian Bach, the author goes on to note that Beethoven’s lack of money stemmed more from caring for his sick nephew and less from his mismanagement. Prevot states, “he always had money put to one side, but he was keeping it for his nephew (p3).” Beethoven’s nephew was very ill and his medical bills were costly. Beethoven’s ultimate successes were all overshadowed by the illness of his nephew and his felt obligation to pay for his care.

Growing up, Beethoven’s love of music was not love at first sight. His musical training started with his father, Johann van Beethoven. His father was known to be a harsh instructor who was said to make his children practice for so long they would cry while standing at the piano. Beethoven’s first real instrument was the organ and his place to demonstrate his talents, the church, as Sonneck notes, “As Ludwig van Beethoven became more and more venturesome on the organ, he had a mind to play on a larger organ, and made an essay in the Minorite monastery. Here he won such a friendly footing with the organist, that he was taken on to play the organ regularly every morning at 6 am Holy Mass (Sonneck,, p5).” While Beethoven drew local attention of his small community in Bonn, which resulted in him being able to be instructed by numerous talented musicians of all instrumental masteries, the harsh training his father put him through at a young age resulted in Beethoven being fearless when it came to experimenting with new instruments and sounds, and at a young age people were already beginning to see signs of his future genius “In 1782, before the age of 12, (Beethoven published his first work, 9 Variations in C Minor, for piano on a march by Earnst Christoph Dressler. The following year, in 1783, Neefe wrote in the Magazine of Music, about his student. “If he continues like this, he will be, without a doubt, the new Mozart (Prevot, p2).” Beethoven’s professional career as a musician and composer could not fully start until he had escaped the shelter of Bonn.

Beethoven didn’t officially establish his professional musical career until he was in Vienna. It started with his introduction to the great master musician and composer Joseph Hayden in 1790. Beethoven would eventually study under Hayden. During this time, between 1790  to 1792, Beethoven focused mainly on the study of his musical craft. Then in 1793, Beethoven started to establish himself by becoming somewhat of a socialite and he built a reputation for playing preludes and fugues in the salons of Vienna. As the author Tia de Nora notes, “Beethoven´s eventual success was the product of social mediation, and it would be unfair, for example, to accuse Beethoven´s contemporary opponents of philistinism or musical ignorance or to argue that opposition to Beethoven consisted simply of conservative reactions (Tia de Nora, p5).” Vienna is where Beethoven found his voice and confronted the challenge gaining the attention of his contemporaries. He did this through networking first and playing second, “Beethoven made numerous acquaintances at Vienna. Everybody in the musical and aristocratic world admired the young composer. These music-lovers were Beethoven’s greatest supporters. He became angry regularly with one or another of them, often making honorable amends soon afterwards. His talent excused his excessive, impulsive behavior (Prevot,p3).” While he was empowered by the teachings of his new mentor Hayden and what was turning into his Vienna fan base, still at a young age he was starting to have trouble with his health. At the age of 26, in 1796 Beethoven began to suffer from tinnitus a sever ringing in his ears that made it difficult for him to hear music.  This also resulted in the antisocial behavior of avoiding conversations. Beethoven worked tirelessly to embody the work influence of Mozart and Hayden. He believed himself to be of that caliber and his work ethic supported this notion. Many historians believe that Beethoven’s hearing loss was the result of his habit to frequently submerge his head in water to stay awake.  Struggling with hearing loss was so difficult for Beethoven, he reportedly had thoughts of suicide. It also made performing live very complicated for him, so complex that in 1811 “Piano Concerto No. 5 the Emperor” ended up being his last live performance. During his prime years of composing between 1800 and 1811, Beethoven worked with a large scale-orchestra, while simultaneously producing sonatas like Sonata quasi una fantasia, most famously known as the “Moonlight Sonata.” He also completed the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus during this time. His work was acclaimed at this time as genius, despite the financial troubles and his lack of hearing, and the admiration of his fans and contemporaries grew in parallel to vast expansions in his talents.

It was between the years of 1811 to Beethoven’s final days in 1827 that he worked in what many historians call the middle period.  His health problems extended far beyond just his loss of hearing. Beethoven suffered from severe headaches, and during 1813 he went through a phase many identified as his emotional depressive period. Notable historians suggest that Beethoven was very critical of himself and his work. He was a perfectionist in every measure of his being. As Aaron Kozbelt notes in his work A Quantitative Analysis of Beethoven as Self-critic: Implications for Psychological Theories of Musical Creativity, “Explicit self-criticisms of 70 compositions were found in Beethoven’s letters or conversations, spanning his whole career and most musical forms. Beethoven’s positive or negative assessments are reliably associated with three citation measures of aesthetic success, and the likelihood of correct decisions strongly increased with age (Kozbelt, p144).” Here it is Kozbelt’s view that while Beethoven was excessively critical of his own work, he was also his best critic and supplied himself with honest, spot-on constructive critiques of his work. The author goes on to explain how Beethoven’s obsession with self criticism actually resulted in significant improvements in his works overtime. As the author notes, “The results support an expertise view of musical creativity in which knowledge and experience are likely to enable both progressively greater creative accomplishments and sounder self-criticism (Kozbelt, p144).” It is Kozbelt’s view that Beethoven’s expertise in his craft allowed him to view his work objectively and was ultimately the driving factor which led him to greatness.

In sum, by the time Beethoven had lived up to his title of “The new Mozart,” he was already composing in his final year. Beethoven’s funeral was held at the church of the Holy Trinity. An estimated 30,000 people attended. Historical composer Franz Schubert was one of the great musicians that served as his coffin bearers, and when he died only a year after he was buried right next to him. The great theater actor, Heinrich Anschutz read the funeral prayer, written by historical writer Franz Grillparzer in the front of the door of the cemetery. In the end, Beethoven’s funeral was very similar to his performances, grand and unforgettable.

 

Work Cited

Kozbelt, Aaron. “A Quantitative Analysis of Beethoven as Self-critic: Implications for Psychological Theories of Musical Creativity.” Psychology of Music 1st ser. 35 (2007): 144-68. Sage Journals. Web.

Prévot, Dominique. “Ludwig Van Beethoven´s Biography.” Luwig Van Beethoven´s Website. CopyrightDepot, Dec. 2001. Web. <http://www.lvbeethoven.com/Bio/BiographyLudwig.html>.

Sonneck, Oscar George Theodore. Beethoven: Impressions by His Contemporaries. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. Print.

Tia De Nora. Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna, 1792-1803. N.p.: University of California, 1997. Print.

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