Ludwig van Beethoven

 

Until the end of the eighteenth century, a musician in Europe was a skilled craftsman, basically a servant of the aristocracy. Ludwig van Beethoven saw himself as an artist and creator. He ended the Classical Era of European music (1750-1800) and began a new era where musicians were free to express themselves. The French Revolution brought about a new social order which greatly inspired him - he was the personification of the Revolution in music.

Born in Germany in 1770, Beethoven's alcoholic father thought that the young prodigy could be exploited and presented as "the next Mozart". The result was a permanent emotional scarring and an intense revolt against every kind of authority. 

Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" of 1804 effectively ended the Classical Era. With this work, Beethoven yanked Europe into the nineteenth century. Next came his only opera (Fidelio), string quartets, piano sonatas, and his magnificent Symphony No. 5 completed in 1808.

In the late 1790s, the first signs of a hearing problem appeared. For six years, he searched for cures and tried to convince himself that it would pass. Finally in 1802, as the symptoms worsened, Beethoven came to grips with the fact that his condition was incurable and deafness would result. His response was the famous Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802, part suicide note, but mostly a rage against his cruel fate. He was forced to give up his career as the leading piano virtuoso of his time, as well as conducting. In his last years, he composed his final five piano sonatas, string quartets, Missa Solemnis and his Symphony No. 9 written in 1824.

Ludwig van Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, in Vienna and twenty thousand people attended his funeral, a testimony to the changing status of the musician in European society. Just thirty-six years earlier no one attended Mozart's Vienna funeral! Beethoven is considered the composer of the most emotionally powerful body of music ever written.

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