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Ludwig van Beethoven

Updated on December 23, 2010

1770-1827

Ludwig van Beethoven one of the greatest German composers, was born in Bonn. His greatness lies in the huge scope of his musical expressiveness and in his great technical inventiveness.

Ludwig's father was a singer. He hoped that his son might turn out to be a prodigy like Mozart, and earn him a fortune by performing on the piano. The father's tuition was rough and ready, and was given in more or less sober periods between bouts of heavy drinking. Ludwig made a great name as a brilliant young musician, but never rivalled Mozart's reputation as a 'wonder child'. By 1792, Ludwig had moved to Vienna, which became his home for life. Here his reputation as a pianist grew, until his ever-increasing deafness put an end to concert work.

About this time, he studied with Haydn for a brief period. The older man's influence can be heard in the early Beethoven symphonies. But in the later ones, culminating in the ninth and last (the Choral) he enlarges the scope of the symphony into something quite new. The middle and late period symphonies have a breadth of feeling and a richness of expression that is not found elsewhere in symphonic music. The orchestra for which he wrote these works was larger and had a greater variety of instruments than had been used before.

It was not only in the symphony that Beethoven added a new dimension to music. His piano sonatas explored the form and the instrument in a fresh and marvellous way. Again he seems to draw his inspiration from the depths of human feeling; equally effective in his sorrow as in his joy. This can be heard in his wistful Adieux sonata and his splendid Appassionata sonata. His technical accomplishments were no less impressive. His use of harmony was both individual and daring.

Chamber ensembles (trios, quartets, and so on) drew from him some of his most profound music. The late quartets (for two violins, viola, and cello) were very advanced music for his day, and many musicians today find that a lifetime is hardly enough to come to a full appreciation of these works

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