Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is considered possibly the greatest Western composer of all time. He wrote symphonies, concertos, chamber music, sonatas, and vocal music. His best-known composition is the Ninth Symphony with its passionate chorus, the Ode to Joy. Beethoven began to lose his hearing in the 1790s and was completely deaf by 1818.

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer, considered one of the greatest musicians of all time. Having begun his career as an outstanding improviser at the piano and composer of piano music, Beethoven went on to compose string quartets and other kinds of chamber music, songs, two masses, an opera, and nine symphonies. His Symphony No. 9 in D minor op. 125 (Choral, completed 1824), perhaps the most famous work of classical music in existence, culminates in a choral finale based on the poem “Ode to Joy” by German writer Friedrich von Schiller. Like his opera Fidelio, op. 72 (1805; revised 1806, 1814) and many other works, the Ninth Symphony depicts an initial struggle with adversity and concludes with an uplifting vision of freedom and social harmony.

Beethoven combined the dramatic classical style of lively contrasts and symmetrical forms, which was brought to its highest development by Mozart, with the older tradition of unified musical character that he found in the music of J. S. Bach. In some early works and especially in his middle or heroic period, Beethoven gave voice through his music to the new current of subjectivity and individualism that emerged in the wake of the French Revolution (1789-1799) and the rise of middle classes. Beethoven disdained injustice and tyranny, and used his art to sing the praises of the Enlightenment, an 18th-century movement that promoted the ideals of freedom and equality, even as hopes faded for progress through political change. (His angry cancellation of the dedication of the Eroica Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte reveals Beethoven’s refusal to compromise his principles.)

The fact that Beethoven realized his artistic ambitions in spite of his hearing impairment added to the fascination and inspiration of his life for posterity, and the extraordinary richness and complexity of his later works insured that no later generation would fail to find challenge in his music. Beethoven’s artistic achievement cast a long shadow over the 19th century and beyond, having set a standard against which later composers would measure their work. Subsequent composers have had to respond to the challenge of Beethoven’s Ninth, which appeared to have taken the symphony to its ultimate development.

Contributed By:
William Kinderman

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