Music
Ludwig van Beethoven

Biography

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 ...

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Biography

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

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Tracks (45)

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Beethoven Symphony No 7 – 2nd movement
Beethoven Symphony No 7 – 2nd movement
Ceoltóir
Herbert von Karajan
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
9 Variations on 'Quant' e piu bello' by Paisiello for piano (WoO.69)
9 Variations on 'Quant' e piu bello' by Paisiello for piano (WoO.69)
Ceoltóir
Theo Bruins
Trio for strings (Op.9`1) in G major
Trio for strings (Op.9`1) in G major
Ensemble
Trio AnPaPie
Symphony No 5
Symphony No 5
Conductor
Ainars Rubikis
Orchestra
Royal Northern Symphonia
Symphony no. 8 in F major Op.93: 2nd mvt Allegretto Scherzando
Symphony no. 8 in F major Op.93: 2nd mvt Allegretto Scherzando
last_played_on
Quintet in E flat major Op.16 for piano and wind: 3rd movement; Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)
Quintet in E flat major Op.16 for piano and wind: 3rd movement; Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)
Ceoltóir
Ensemble
Les Vents Francais
last_played_on
Piano Sonata No.18 in E flat (Op.31 No.3)
String Quartet in E flat, Op 74 'Harp'
String Quartet in E flat, Op 74 'Harp'
Ensemble
Cavaleri Quartet
Creatures of Prometheus - Overture, Pastorale and Finale
String Trio Op 9, No. 2 in D major – 4th movt, Rondó - Allegro
String Trio Op 9, No. 2 in D major – 4th movt, Rondó - Allegro
Ensemble
Zimmermann Trio
last_played_on
Eroica from Symphony No 3 in E flat Op.55
Sonata in C sharp minor (Moonlight) Op 27 No 2
Sonata for piano no. 31 (Op.110) in A flat major, 1st mvt; Moderato cantabile...
Sonata for piano no. 31 (Op.110) in A flat major, 1st mvt; Moderato cantabile...
Ceoltóir
last_played_on
Quartet for strings in E flat major (Op.74) "Harp"
Overture from Die Geschopfe des Prometheus (Op.43)
Sonata for piano No.17 in D minor 'Tempest', (Op.31/2)
Sonata for piano No.17 in D minor 'Tempest', (Op.31/2)
Quartet in F minor Op.95 for strings
Quartet in F minor Op.95 for strings
Ceoltóir
The Revolutionary Drawing-Room
last_played_on
Concerto for piano and orch no. 1 (Op.15) in C major, 3rd mvt; Rondo
Concerto for piano and orch no. 1 (Op.15) in C major, 3rd mvt; Rondo
Ceoltóir
last_played_on
Duet for viola and cello (WoO.32) in E flat major
12 Variations on 'Ein Madchen oder Weibchen' for cello and piano (Op.66)
12 Variations on 'Ein Madchen oder Weibchen' for cello and piano (Op.66)
Ceoltóir
Miklós Perényi
Deszo Ranki
Egmont, incidental music: Overture (Op.84)
Song (Klaerchen) 'Freundvoll und Leidvoll' from Egmont
Egmont - Larghetto, Act 2
Egmont - Larghetto, Act 2
Orchestra
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor
last_played_on
7 Bagatelles, Op. 33: No. 5 Allegro ma non troppo
7 Bagatelles, Op. 33: No. 5 Allegro ma non troppo
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