The popular image of Beethoven as a morose individual who shunned society is only partly true. He did have a serious outlook on life, and in later years he had difficulty mixing with people because of his deafness, which emerged in his late twenties and gradually increased thereafter till his death. Yet he loved company, and had a ready wit. His letters contain many puns, and it was he who introduced the scherzo (literally, ‘joke’) into the symphony when he used one in his Symphony No. 2 instead of the customary minuet.
This Second Symphony already goes well beyond the models of Haydn and Mozart, the two chief influences on his style. Building on their example Beethoven continually strove to stretch the bounds of music to new limits, whether in his seven surviving concertos, 16 string quartets, 35 piano sonatas (including three very early ones) or other works.
Each of his nine symphonies (and an incipient tenth) is completely different from any previous one, and he showed similar originality in every major genre of the time, from his only opera Fidelio and his mighty Missa solemnis to his numerous settings of folk songs, which he treated in an entirely novel way. He achieved his goal through a combination of natural genius and sheer hard work: every one of his major compositions is the result of painstaking refinement, evident in the many thousands of pages of musical sketches that he wrote.
It is not always realised, however, that Beethoven was extraordinary in other ways too. Having no wife or family of his own, he spent enormous energy on helping his nephew, and he was deeply religious. Indeed his goodness and kindness were so evident to his contemporaries that at least three of them independently asserted that he was even greater as a human being than as a musician. Considering that many regard him as the greatest composer in history, such praise is astonishing.
Beethoven also responded strikingly to political upheavals – the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic wars. Although no political activist, he made his hatred of tyranny very plain in works such as Fidelio and his music for Goethe’s play Egmont.
Yet it is the quality of his music that has ensured his lasting reputation. Although its novelty initially puzzled some of his contemporaries, repeated hearings and study have shown that it is based on firm foundations. Its combination of beauty and unpredictability, extreme emotional depth and intellectual rigour, across so many genres, is unsurpassed and probably always will be.
Profile © Barry Cooper
- Clips (20)Latest ClipSymphony No.8 in F, Op 93
- TracksLast Played on BBC
- MoreSimilar Artists, Official Links
- Symphony No.8 in F, Op 93http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02v3ks4.jpg2015-06-16T02:22:00ZBeethoven - Symphony No.8 in F, Op 93http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p02v3mtsSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 24 mins
Symphony No.8 in F, Op 93
- Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3 in C minorhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02kq5qs.jpg2015-06-13T14:18:00ZWith Stephen Hough (piano) and the BBC NOW conducted by Thomas Sondergard. Live from Brangwyn Hall, Swansea.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p02tmwjrSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 38 mins
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor
- BEETHOVEN - Great Composers with Tom Servicehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02sxfwc.jpg2015-06-04T16:34:00ZTom Service introduces the composer who wanted people to hear music as if they were hearing it all for the first time and did it by innovating in every type of music he touched.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p02sxgzbSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 4 mins
BEETHOVEN - Great Composers with Tom Service
- Beethoven: Symphony No 3http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02j1b79.jpg2015-01-31T16:26:00ZNicholas Kenyon sifts through dozens of recordings of Beethoven's ground-breaking Symphony No. 3 and makes a personal recommendation.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p02j1b7bSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 55 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No 3
- Beethoven: Piano Trio in Dhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02fnwk6.jpg2014-12-20T16:04:00ZIn Building a Library Harriet Smith considers different recordings of Beethoven's Piano Trio in D major known as The Ghost.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p02fnwk8Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 48 mins
Beethoven: Piano Trio in D
- Beethoven: Symphony No.1http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01vlr2z.jpg2014-07-11T15:45:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Tom Service talks about Beethoven's 1st Symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022npdzSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No.1
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 3http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01sskbb.jpg2014-07-11T15:34:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Andrew McGregor talks about Beethoven's 3rd Symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022nnm9Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 4 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 4http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tn3p4.jpg2014-07-11T15:27:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Stephen Johnson talks about Beethoven's 4th Symphonyhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022nmzxSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 5http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01ssxq0.jpg2014-07-11T15:17:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Andrew McGregor talks about Beethoven's 5th symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022nmkrSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 7http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p020cp0g.jpg2014-07-11T15:10:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Andrew McGregor talks about Beethoven's 7th Symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022nm60Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 4 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 9http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zb5h7.jpg2014-07-11T15:04:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Andrew McGregor talks about Beethoven's 9th Symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022nm5qSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 4 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
- Beethoven: Triple Concertohttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01snyh4.jpg2014-07-11T14:42:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Stephen Johnson talks about Beethoven's Triple Concerto.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022nk8mSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 5 mins
Beethoven: Triple Concerto
- Beethoven: Missa Solemnishttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tnk4j.jpg2014-07-11T14:33:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Stephen Johnson talks about Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p022njsvSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 4 mins
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
- Eva Schloss on whistling Beethovenhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p0211xjd.jpg2014-06-16T10:22:00ZWriter Eva Schloss on her musical family and their Beethovenian catchphrase.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p0211xkcSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 2 mins
Eva Schloss on whistling Beethoven
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 2http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zvtlz.jpg2014-05-27T16:14:00ZRob Cowan compares recordings of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and makes a recommendation.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p01zvtn5Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour 5 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
- Harmonyhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zv313.jpg2014-05-27T09:41:00ZLeonard Slatkin and the BBC Philharmonic look at the musical element harmony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p01zv316Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 36 mins
- Shall We Dance?http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zv15m.jpg2014-05-27T08:53:00ZCharles Hazlewood reveals how dance music has inspired great works.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p01zv16cSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 31 mins
Shall We Dance?
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 5http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tnr0y.jpg2014-05-08T18:17:00ZStephen Johnson and the BBCSO with Grant Llewellyn explore Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p01yqtzmSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 55 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01vzwrz.jpg2014-05-08T16:49:00ZStephen Johnson explores Beethoven's Third Symphony in E flat, the Eroica.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p01yqpqlSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 43 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 2http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tnls1.jpg2014-05-08T15:57:00ZCharles Hazlewood explores Beethoven's Symphony No. 2.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/1f9df192-a621-4f54-8850-2c5373b7eac9?clipfocus=p01yqmnwSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 27 mins
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
Clips from Similar Artists