Triumphs and failures of Beethoven

Essay by daisymay March 2003

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BEETHOVEN, Ludwig van


The composer of some of the most influential pieces of music ever

written, Ludwig van Beethoven created a bridge between the 18th-century

classical period and the new beginnings of Romanticism. His greatest

breakthroughs in composition came in his instrumental work, including

his symphonies. Unlike his predecessor Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for whom

writing music seemed to come easily, Beethoven always struggled to

perfect his work.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, and was baptized on

Dec. 17, 1770. (There is no record of his birth date.) His father and

grandfather worked as court musicians in Bonn. Ludwig's father, a

singer, gave him his early musical training. Although he had only meager

academic schooling, he studied piano, violin, and French horn, and

before he was 12 years old he became a court organist. Ludwig's first

important teacher of composition was Christian Gottlob Neefe. In 1787 he

studied briefly with Mozart, and five years later he left Bonn

permanently and went to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn and later with

Antonio Salieri.

Beethoven's first public appearance in Vienna was on March 29, 1795,

as a soloist in one of his piano concerti. Even before he left Bonn, he

had developed a reputation for fine improvisatory performances. In

Vienna young Beethoven soon had a long list of aristocratic patrons who

loved music and were eager to help him.

Onset of Deafness

In the late 1700s Beethoven began to suffer from early symptoms of

deafness. The cause of his disability is still uncertain. By 1802

Beethoven was convinced that the condition not only was permanent, but

was getting progressively worse. He spent that summer in the country and

wrote what has become known as the "Heiligenstadt Testament." In the

document, apparently intended for his two...