Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven, Ludwig van, baptised Dec. 17, 1770, Bonn (Germany), d. Vienna, March 26, 1827, composer. Though rooted in Viennese Classicism, he became the pioneer of Romanticism. Born into a family of musicians he received instruction from his father (tenor in the electoral chapel at Bonn), from acquaintances of the Beethoven family and from approx. 1780 onwards from the court organist C. G. Neefe. From 1784 B.'s name appears on the payroll of the electoral chapel at Bonn (from 1783 in the absence of his teacher deputised at times); first publications appeared in Bonn; he was a close acquaintance of the Breuning family, which would later have an influence on his time in Vienna. 1787 he paid his first visit to Vienna to study under W. A. Mozart but after two weeks his mother's deteriorating health necessitated his immediate return. Dec. 1790 B. met J. Haydn in Bonn; Nov. 1792 B. eventually embarked on his second journey to Vienna to finish his studies under J. Haydn (B.'s patron Count Waldstein wrote to him on this occasion: "With the help of assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hands.") This tuition lasted only until 1794 when Haydn left Vienna for his second visit to England. B. then received tuition from J. G. Albrechtsberger and A. Salieri. Through the recommendations of his Bonn patrons and friends and especially as the protege of Count Waldstein the doors of Viennese society were opened to him. His at times idiosyncratic behaviour in the salons did nothing to diminish the appreciation of his stunning playing and improvisation; 1795 B. made his first public appearance at the Burgtheater in Vienna. His close association with the aristocracy and with Viennese society can be seen from the manifold dedications of his works (esp. to Breuning, Brunsvik, Kinsky, Lichnowsky, Lobkowitz, Rasumowsky, Archduke Rudolf). Many of the people favoured with dedications were patrons, whose support or employment, entailing only light duties, allowed him to lead the life of a free artist (e.g. Lobkowitz and Lichnowsky); especially worth mentioning is Archduke Rudolf who, from 1803 onwards, was not only a pupil of B. but also became one of his most generous patrons (the "Missa solemnis was composed for the occasion of his consecration as Bishop of Olomouc).

Impairment in his hearing, first detected in 1794, deteriorated rapidly from 1801 onwards (this ostensibly prompted him to draft the "Heiligenstadt Testament" of 1802) until eventually he went completely deaf around 1818 (he had given his last concert in 1815); before becoming completely deaf the use of "conversation books" became necessary. Today they are an important source for Beethoven researchers. 1815 B. took on the guardianship of his nephew Karl, which he took very seriously and weighed heavily upon him. When B. died after a long period of ill health his funeral was an artistic event for the Viennese. Numerous celebrities joined the funeral procession (including Franz Schubert) and the funeral oration, written by F. Grillparzer, was delivered by the actor H. Anschutz. In 1888 B.'s remains were removed from the cemetery at Wahring to a grave of honour at Vienna's main cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof.

With his symphonies and last string quartets, B. took the forms of music he inherited in a new direction, clearly embarking on the path of Romanticism: the highest manifestation of his art was the symphony, the ideal and aspiration of the music generation to come (e.g. of J. Brahms); B. symphonies mark the transition from classical forms to the great symphony of the Romantic era (he replaced the minuet with a scherzo), he introduced the formal innovation of incorporating choral effects into this hitherto purely instrumental genre, as in his Ninth Symphony. In his thematic work he explored every departure from the norm, shown in shorter expositions (as in the Third and Fifth Symphony), his predilection for harmonic crescendo came from the French composers of the time of Revolution, though he refined their bold technique by "aspiring to music as a vehicle of intense feeling rather than to the production of an image".