- A Biographical Sketch
CHILDHOOD - PRETEEN YEARS
December, 1770 - 1779 [From Birth through age 8]
also named Ludwig van Beethoven (1712-1773) was a musician from what
is now Belgium. At the age of 20 he moved to Bonn where he was employed
as a bass singer in the court of the Elector of Cologne. One year later (1733) he met and married Maria Josepha Poll. Of their three children, only one survived - Johann (1740-1793). As Johann grew he also demonstrated musical talent, allowing him to earn a living singing as a tenor and providing keyboard and violin lessons. Meanwhile, his father had risen in the court, becoming the music director by age
Beethoven's grandmother suffered from alcoholism
and was eventually institutionalized by her husband. Thus, Johann was raised solely by his domineering father in a relationship that has been described as strained.
At age 28 (1767) Johann met, and despite the disapproval of his father, married Maria Magdalena Keverich -- daughter
of the head chef at the court of the Archbishop of Trier. Three years
later, on December 16, 1770, a few years after their first born died
at 6 days of age, Ludwig was born. A few years later Ludwig's brothers, Caspar Anton Carl (4/8/1774) and Nikolaus Johann (10/2/1776) were born and also survived into adulthood.
a remarkable aptitude for music early on, with his father - a stern man and chronic alcoholic - beginning formal instruction of him by the age of five years. Musical education was thereafter supplemented by the Bonn court organist Gilles van
den Eeden, a family friend Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer who taught him
keyboard, and a relative Franz Rovantini who taught him to play the
violin and viola. Beethoven's lessons at this time are described as
harsh and intensive, including late-night instruction of the sleepy
Beethoven. Johann, well aware of the child prodigy Mozart being promoted
by his family, posted notices of Beethoven's upcoming first public
performance (3/1778) stating that the boy was six years old, when
he was actually seven at the time.
Beethoven's father, Johann drank chronically, while his wife - described as intelligent
and serious - suffered his frequent absenses with apparent
equanimity. The biographer Maynard Solomon, citing a neighbor's recolleciton, offers this glimpse of
their lives at this time [Beethoven, Pg13]:
he received his monthly salary or money from his pupils, he would
play a joke upon returning home: he would throw the money at his
wife's feet and say: 'Now woman, manage with that.' Then
she would give him a bottle of wine, saying: 'One cannot let men
return home with empty hands.' He said: 'Yes, empty hands!' She
responded: 'Yes, but I know that you prefer a full glass to an empty
one.' 'Yes, yes, the woman is right, she is always right.'
1780 - 1784 [Preteen Years, Ages 9 through 13]
offered lessons by the Bonn Court's Organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe.
One year later (1781), Beethoven became an unpaid assistant organist
with a salary beginning three years later (1784) within the court
chapel. By March 1783, he helped Beethoven write his first published
work - WoO 63.
his first three piano sonatas were published that year - dedicated
to the Elector Maximilian Friedrich (1708-1784), who, noting Beethoven's
talent, encouraged and supported his musical education. Maximilian
Frederich was succeeded by Maximilian Francis, who extended support
for the arts and for education as an adherent of Enlightenment philosophy,
under which Beethoven thrived.
and submitted a petition February 16, 1784 (age 13 years) for a paid
position as assistant count organist, stating that his father - a
now chronic alcoholic - was unable to provide proper support of the
Beethoven family. He was granted the position.
1787 - 1792 [Mid-teens through early adulthood, ages 16 - 21]
At the age of
16 years (March, 1787) Beethoven left Bonn briefly, traveling to Vienna
for the first time, probably in hopes of meeting with and possibly
studying with Mozart. Whether a meeting actually took place is unknown.
After only two weeks, Beethoven's mother became severely ill, prompting
his return to Bonn. She died shortly thereafter. Beethoven's father,
grieved, moved more deeply into alcoholism leaving the care of Beethoven's
two younger brothers to the sixteen-year-old for the next five years.
Beethoven met several people during those years who became lifelong
friends: Franz Wegeler, then a medical student, introduced him to
the well-off von Breuning family who afforded affection and support
to the young Beethoven, who soon began music lessons for their children.
noticed by Count Ferdinand von Waldstein who became a financial supporter
and lifelong friend.
for his brothers for the preceding two years (1789), Beethoven sought
and obtained a court order that half his father's salary would be
paid directly to him. In addition, income was derived from his playing
the viola in the court orchestra, where he met a boy of about his
age, Anton Reicha, a flautist and violinist - the nephew of the orchestra's
conductor - Josef Reicha.
From age 19-21
(1790-1792), Beethoven's creative output grew dramatically along with
his maturity. Leaders in Bonn commissioned the two Emperor Cantatas,
WoO 87 and WoO 88, to mark the death of Franz Joseph II in 1790 and
the accession of Leopold II as Holy Roman Emperor. These were not
performed at the time and were lost, then later discovered 90 years
in December, 1790, Haydn traveled from Vienna to London and stopped
in Bonn, where was introduced to Beethoven. On Haydn's July 1792 return
trip from London back to Vienna, again stopping in Bonn, they met
again and probably discussed the possibility of Beethoven beginning
studies with him in Vienna at a future date.
1792 - 1795 [Early Adulthood, Nov.1792 - Move to Vienna through 1795]
With help of
many, including The Elector of Bonn and Count Waldstein who wrote
to him "Through uninterrupted diligence you will receive Mozart's
spirit through Haydn's hands," Beethoven departed November 1792
for Vienna. He would live there for the remainder of his life. Shortly
after his arrival, news of his father's death in Bonn came to him.
Within a short time, his two brothers - now also young adults moved
to Vienna as well.
moving to Vienna, Mozart also died, prompting Beethoven to study his
work closely, and writing works that are seen to have a Mozartean
construction, yet with Beethoven's signature. Beethoven began studying
counterpoint with Haydn, violin with Ignaz Schuppanziah, and some
Italian vocal composition under Salieri. Haydn left for England 2
years later (1794) prompting Beethoven to further his counterpoint
instruction with Johann Albrechtsberger and others.
Bonn monetary support ending, several Viennese noblemen, principally
Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowitz, Prince Karl Lichnowsky and Baron Gottfried
van Swieten, aware of the importance of Beethoven's musical powers,
offered ongoing financial support. By 1793 (age 22), Beethoven's fame
had grown and he was frequently invited into the homes of nobility
where he performed for them. Also, beginning in 1793 his compositions
were regularly published, initially through his friend Nikolaus Simrock
as a set of variations (WoO 66).
At the age of
24 years, March 1795, Beethoven undertook his first public performance
which included one of his piano concertos (either the first or second).
Shortly thereafter, he arranged for the publication of his first Opus
piece, Opus 1 - the three piano trios, dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky,
which proved significantly profitable for Beethoven.
1795-1801 [ages 24 through 30]
It is believed
that sometime between 1798 and 1800 Beethoven became aware of advancing
hearing loss (Anderson# _______, 1801).
publication, income and regard steadily increased. During 1799 Beethoven
taught piano to Countess Anna Brunsvik's daughters. And, through the
family he met a young countess, Julie "Giulietta" Guicciardi.
In a letter to his friend Franz Wegeler (Anderson _____Nov. 1801),
Beethoven writes that he has fallen in love with her, but that marriage
was out of the question given their difference in class. He later
dedicated his Sonata No. 14, the "Moonlight" to her.
in love with the Brunsvik's youngest daughter, Josephine. She, however
married Count Josef Deym. A few years later (1804) the Count died
suddenly, allowing their relationship to intensify - as is reflected
within the many love letters Beethoven sent to her over the years
that followed (see Anderson Letters 1804-1805, etc.). By 1807, under
pressure from her family and with the knowledge that her ongoing relationship
with Beethoven could result in the loss of her children, she withdrew
from him. Three years later, 1810, she married Baron von Stackelberg.
continued to advance his fame and standing. He continued to teach
a few students, including Ferdinand Ries, and Carl Czerny (who later
offered the premier performance of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto
"the Emperor" on February 11, 1812).
Carl began helping his brother in handling the business end of things,
enabling Beethoven to receive greater financial return for his work.
the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II studied piano and composition
with Beethoven beginning in ~1803. The Archduke offered significant
financial support to Beethoven and the two became lifelong friends.
Fourteen of Beethoven's works were dedicated to Rudolph, including
the Archduke Trio (1811), the Missa solemnis (1823), etc.
loss associated with tinnitus resulted in his not being able to keep
up with conversations, especially in noisy environments and caused
him to withdraw from those settings. In addition, he found that he
could not adequately perform, increasingly moving him toward composition
rather than performance. On the advice of his doctor, Beethoven moved
to Heiligenstadt, a small Austrian town outside of Vienna, from April
to October 1802. There he wrote, but never sent, his Heiligenstadt
Testament (part 1 / Part 2) - a letter to his brothers reflecting
his despair and suggesting suicide.
1803 - 1815 [Ages 32 - 44]
from Heiligenstadt (October 1802) a changed man. A change in his musical
style was present. Per Carl Czerny, Beethoven remarked, "I am
not satisfied with the work I have done so far. From now on I intend
to take a new way." The coming works took on a grand scale, the
first of which was his Third Symphony, the "Eroica."
to support himself through wealthy patrons and from the publishing
of his works. In addition, he held a position at the Theater an der
Wien, but this was ended when management changed hands in 1804. This
forced him to move to the suburbs of Vienna, there sharing rooms with
his longtime friend, Stephan von Breuning.
By 1808, Beethoven
received a lucrative offer from Napoleon's brother Jerome Bonaparte,
titled as King of Westphalia, to become the concertmaster of the court
in Cassel. Friends and patrons in Vienna eventually countered this
offer: Archduke Rudolph, Prince Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz offered
a promise to pay him 4000 florins a year for his lifetime (allowing
him an upper middle-class lifestyle). Beethoven accepted and for a
time, he lived quite free of financial worries.
1809 was a traumatic
time in Vienna during which time Napoleon's forces bombarded and occupied
Vienna for a time. His friend, Ferdinand Ries, recalled that during
a loud bombing attack in May 1809, Beethoven tried to protect himself
and what remained of his hearing by evacuating to the basement of
his brother's house, there covering his ears with pillows.
The annuity payments
promised to Beethoven became irregular, and then with Kinsky's sudden
accidental death, Lobkowitz's bankruptcy, and the French invasion
of Vienna causing marked monetary inflation, Beethoven's financial
position became insecure. He reacted by redoubling his focus on selling
During the Spring
of 1811 Beethoven developed high fever, headaches, etc. His doctor
advised a stay at the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz. Beethoven spent
six weeks there. Six months later, during the winter of 1812, while
working on the Seventh Symphony, Beethoven again became ill, prompting
his physician to again advise his moving back to Teplitz during the
Summer months; during which time he wrote the letter to his "immortal
Beloved," which was never sent.
He departed Teplitz
in late October 1812, but did not return directly to Vienna. He instead
visited his brother, Nikolaus Johann, in Linz, where he was living
housekeeper, Therese Obermayer. Beethoven argued that the relationship
must end immediately given she had had one child out of wedlock, and
had been convicted of theft the year before. Beethoven considered
the relationship to be beneath his brother's - and the family's -
dignity, and indicative of low moral standards. Beethoven went
so far as to appeal to the local civic and religious authorities resulting
in a police order compelling her to leave the home. Nikolaus Johann
responded by marrying her the following month, on November 9th.
only a few months of Johann's and Therese's marriage (early 2013),
and with Beethoven continuing to provide care for his other brother
Casper Carl, then ill with an exacerbation of tuberculosis - from
which his mother had died, and with his own ongoing illnesses and
progressive deafness, he wrote of his profound suffering. During
this time, his physical appearance became disheveled, his public manners
declined, and his work output decreased.
By June 1813,
he picked himself up and found the motivation to begin composing again,
perhaps associated with the news of Napoleon's armies having been
defeated at Vittoria, Spain, by forces led by the Duke of Wellington.
This news prompted his completing the "battle symphony - Wellington's
Victory," performed December 8, 1813. The performance was a success
and led the public to ask for his "Fidelio" to be performed
again. Beethoven completed its third revision and performances in
July 1814 were well received. Other compositions that summer included
his piano sonata No. 27, Opus 90 - the first written after a five-year
hiatus from the last. He also created several songs including the
song cycle, "An die ferne Geliebte, and in 1815 - the second
rendition of "An die Hoffnung," Opus 94, the first of which
was written in 1805 as a gift to Josephine Brunsvik.
By age 43 (~1814), Beethoven was essentially completely deaf, with
"conversation books" being extensively used to communicate
more efficiently. In the end, over 400 of these books were filled
(with over 250 of them destroyed and/or altered by one of Beethoven's
secretaries - Anton Schindler, who sought an idealized recollection
of Beethoven after his death.
1815-1820 [Ages 44 through 49]
There was a significant
drop in Beethoven's work between 1815 and 1817 during which time he
suffered from prolonged illnesses and from the emotional burden of
failed romances and from caring for his ill brother Casper Carl who
finally died November 15, 1815 of tuberculosis. In addition, Beethoven
believed that Carl's wife Johanna was an unfit mother to his then
nine-year-old nephew, Karl. Before his death, Casper Carl had established
Beethoven and Johanna as joint guardians of the boy, but Beethoven
fought her half of the guardianship vigorously in court. This battle
extended through 1820, and caused a great deal of financial and emotional
stress to all the parties involved. The many court appearances eventually
led to the determination (December 18, 1818) that Beethoven was, in
fact, not of the noble class, but rather a commoner - moving proceedings
to a lower court, and resulting in further stress for him.
Through those years, Beethoven was quite severe with Karl, and the
boy became increasingly unhappy - eventually leading to a suicide
attempt 7/31/1826. Karl survived and eventually joined the army -
escaping the traumatic life surrounding the custody battles and Beethoven's
demands on him.
events, Beethoven's poor health over 1815-1818 improved and allowed
a resurgence of compositional effort with a new, complex style having
evolved during the process. By this time, Beethoven's hearing had
continually declined - requiring the daily use of conversation books
and requiring help with running his household. The complexity and
large scale of his works during the years after 1818 expanded greatly.
1820 - 1827 [Ages 49 through his death March 26, 1827 at age 56]
to create masterpiece after masterpiece during this period, despite
bouts of crippling illness. His brother Johann helped with managing
his business dealings and helped augment Beethoven's income through
negotiation and finding older works that could be published. During
this time, and through devastating exacerbations of his chronic illnesses,
the towering Ninth Symphony and Beethoven's Late Quartets were commissioned
and created. Of those works, Beethoven considered Opus 131 in C minor
to be his best work. During April of 1825, Beethoven was exceedingly
ill, but with a brief cessation of symptoms for a time following.
This suffering and relief from suffering is immortalized within Opus
132 (String Quartet#15) in an intensely expressed movement - the "Heiliger
Dankgesang," [Holy song of thanks].
Opus 130 (String
Quartet #13), completed November 1825, contained an exceptionally
complex and difficult to perform finale. His publisher prevailed upon
him to rewrite the finale (now referred to as The Grose Fugue) and
have the former finale be published as a stand-alone work; it was
reissued as Opus 133. Beethoven agreed and began the new movement,
his last completed work, September 1826 - completing it November 1826.
Opus 130 contains what may be the most heartbreaking music ever created,
a return to severe suffering during the Winter months of 1826 through
his death in March 26, 1827.