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Sunday, 3 June 2012

Ludwig Van Beethoven

There is no actual record of Beethoven's birth. He is traditionally assumed to have been born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany because his baptism was recorded as taking place in a Roman Catholic service at the Parish of St. Regius on the following day, but the real natal date and hour are unknown. As an adult, Beethoven considered himself to be two years younger than his given age and obstinately evaded the question of his birth date.

If you met a woman who was pregnant, and she had eight children already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis; would you recommend that she have an abortion? If you said yes, you just killed Beethoven.

Ludwig's father was Johann Van Beethoven (1740-1792), a tenor singer in the service of the elector of Cologne. His grandfather was also a musician. His father declined into drinking and as a result young Ludwig's family became steadily poorer.

At the age of five, Ludwig's ambitious father made him practice the violin for much of the day. He was even locked in a cellar and deprived of sleep by his father for extra hours of practice. The hard graft worked - by the age of eight he was playing concerts.

Ludwig published his first composition and composed three sonatas aged thirteen.

A portrait of the 13-year-old Beethoven by an unknown Bonn master (c. 1783)

At the age of fourteen he met Mozart in Vienna who said, "Watch this young man. He is going to cause a stir in the world. Mozart proceeded (in 1787) to give him a few lessons in composition.

Beethoven had music lessons from Haydn from whom he learnt composition and harmony, but who failed to recognize young Ludwig’s genius. He later claimed "he had never learned anything from Haydn."

Beethoven moved permanently to Vienna when he was 22. He lived there comfortably from money for commissions, publishing his work and giving lessons.

He was the first ever full time composer. The broadening market for published music enabled Beethoven to succeed as a freelance composer, a path that Mozart a decade earlier had found full of frustration.

Beethoven had a huge quarrel with someone at a benefit concert in 1808, after which he talked of leaving Vienna. To keep him there as resident virtuoso and composer, a group of nobles banded together to provide him with an annual salary of 4,000 florins simply for staying in the Austrian city and composing whatever and whenever he wanted.

Beethoven was a short man, 5' 3¾" (1.62 m) with sallow complexion due to jaundice. His brown hair was thick and bushy (afro style). Many people looking at his portrait have assumed he is of African origin.

Ludwig van Beethoven: detail of an 1804–05 portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler

An untidy dresser, Beethoven had strange personal habits such as wearing filthy clothing while washing compulsively. He was unconcerned about his tramp like appearance and had such a disregard for personal cleanliness that his friends had to take away his dirty clothes and wash them whilst he slept.

Though often in love, Beethoven never got married. He tended to be attracted to unattainable women, who were aristocratic or married or both. The one person to reciprocate his declarations, the "Immortal Beloved" was one Antonie Brentano who was married to a Frankfurt merchant and a mother of four. In his letter to the "Immortal Beloved" (presumably never sent), he expressed his conflicting feelings for Antonie Beethoven's conscience prevented him pursuing the relationship.

In 1815, on the death of his older brother, Casper Carl, Beethoven devoted his emotional energies to a costly legal struggle with his sister-in-law for custody of her 9-year-old son Karl. The mother received a temporarily favourable ruling, and only the intervention in 1820 of Beethoven's most powerful patron, the Archduke Rudolph, won the composer custody of his nephew.

Originally Beethoven was most famous for tinkling the ivories as a pianist, especially for his improvising skills. Only later in his life was he hailed as a great composer as well.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major was an important display piece for the young Beethoven. He was the soloist at its premiere on March 29, 1795, at Vienna's Burgtheater in a concert marking his public debut. Prior to that, he had performed only in the private salons of the Viennese nobility.

Beethoven was known to play the piano with such force that the strings would snap. After 1805 he performed in public rarely because of his increasing deafness and he made his last performance in 1814.

Beethoven was perhaps the first composer to use brass instruments as part of the orchestral texture of a composition; they had previously been used only at special moments where they would stand out, or as solo instruments.

Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, premiered at Vienna's Theater an der Wien on November 20, 1805 with additional performances the following two nights. A story of a wife who dressed as a female jailer so she could join her husband in prison its underlying struggle for liberty and justice mirrored contemporary political movements in Europe. The success of the performances was hindered by the fact that Vienna was under French military occupation, and most of the audience were French military officers.

Stephan von Breuning helped shorten the work from three acts to two during the following year. After further work on the libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, a final version of Fidelio was performed at the Kärntnertortheater on May 23, 1814. The audience included a 17-year-old Franz Schubert, who had sold his schoolbooks for a ticket.

When Beethoven conducted and performed in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna on December 22, 1808, he premiered his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).

Beethoven composed his "Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor", better known as "Für Elise" on April 27, 1810. "Für Elise" (Or in English "For Elise") wasn't written for Elise at all. Beethoven's autographed manuscript reads: "Fur Therese am 27 zur Erinnerung and L v Bthvn" ("For Therese on the 27th April in remembrance of L. V Bthvn."), the Therese being Therese Malfatti (1792–1851), with whom Beethoven was in love. However the copyist misread Beethoven's untidy scrawl and gave his new piano piece the dedication "Für Elise."
First edition 1867

Therese Malfatti was a friend and student of Beethoven's to whom he proposed in 1810. Sadly, for Beethoven, she turned him down and later married the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik in 1816.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, popularly known as the Emperor Concerto was written between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna. The first performance took place on November 28, 1811 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under conductor Johann Philipp Christian Schulz. The epithet of Emperor for this concerto was not Beethoven's own but was coined by Johann Baptist Cramer, the English publisher of the concerto.

The first U.S. performance of a Beethoven symphony took place at Postlethwaite’s Tavern in Lexington, Kentucky in 1817. A small orchestra led by Austrian conductor Anthony Heinrich led a small orchestra through the composer’s Symphony No. 1

Ludwig van Beethoven's last complete symphony was the Symphony No. 9 in D minor. The symphony incorporates part of German writer Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" in its final movement. The words for "Ode To Joy", which are sung by four vocal soloists and a chorus, emanate a strong belief in mankind.

A page from Beethoven's manuscript of the 9th Symphony

Beethoven often poured ice water over his head when he sat down to compose, believing it stimulated his brain.

According to his friends, Beethoven was never able to dance in time with music.

While Ludwig van Beethoven was a brilliant composer, he never mastered spelling or simple multiplication.

Beethoven was keen on Homer and Indian theology for reading matter. Not a particularly avid reader he wrote in an 1820 letter, "I would rather write 10,000 notes than one letter of the alphabet"

Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who commissioned Beethoven's Mass in C major for his wife's name day, found it "unbearably ridiculous and detestable."

The opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was later used as a signature piece for the Allies during World War 2 since the notes unintentionally were Morse Code for the letter "V" (for "Victory").

Beethoven was known to pelt his housekeepers with eggs if they were not fresh.

Fond of coffee, the fastidious composer once disclosed he required precisely 60 beans to make a cup of his favorite hot drink.

Beethoven liked good wine, consuming a bottle with every meal, often in the Greek Tavern in Vienna. A near alcoholic in his later years, on his deathbed he spluttered "Wine is both necessary and good for me."

Beethoven often sat at restaurants and wrote music for hours. He would become so distracted, he would accidentally pay other people's bills.

Beethoven suffered increasingly from deafness. Originally in his late twenties it was an occasional loss of hearing, which developed into a constant ringing in his ears. By 1814 however, Beethoven was almost totally deaf with a constant ringing in his ears. For the last ten years of his life he could only communicate with guests by means of conversation books in which visitors write their remarks to him. Many of Beethoven'sgreatest works were written in his last 10 years when he was completely deaf.

After Beethoven went deaf, he found he could affix a metal rod on the top of his piano and bite down on it while he played, enabling him to "hear" a little through vibrations in his jawbone. The process is called bone conduction.

The German composer habitually spent the summer in the Viennese suburbs to get away from the adoring masses and his creditors —Heiligenstadt was a favourite choice—and moved back to the central city in the autumn. He moved 79 times occupying 44 dwellings in 35 years in Vienna. The state in which he generally kept his rooms gave this landlords good cause for grievance. They were littered with partly eaten meals and unemptied chamber pots.

Beethoven was a big spender and gave away lots of money. Despite being a big note in Vienna his last years were blighted by financial problems and he died in poverty. The London Philharmonic Society sent £100 to Beethoven when he was on his deathbed.

Beethoven in 1823 by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

Beethoven died on March 26, 1827 aged 57. It was a slow agonizing death. during a thunderstorm, having been bedridden for several months. His last words were "I shall hear in Heaven." An autopsy revealed significant liver damage, which may have been due to heavy alcohol consumption.

An estimated 20,000 people stood in reverence as his funeral bier passed through the streets of Vienna - Schubert was one of the pallbearers. Soldiers were needed to control grief stricken crowds. After nine priests blessed his body, he was buried in a grave marked by a simple pyramid that read simply, "Beethoven."

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