Widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians the world has ever seen, Ludwig van Beethoven is the stuff of legend. Even those largely unfamiliar with musical history have heard of the brilliant composer whose genius could not be quelled, even when he lost his hearing. Few artists have had such an impact on the evolution of their art form.
Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, into a musical family. He began rigorous musical training at a very young age, performing his first concert when he was just seven years old. At ten he withdrew from grade school to study music full-time, and by twelve he’d published his first composition.
Beethoven joined the court of Bonn in 1784 as the assistant organist, and made a name for himself as one of the city’s most talented musicians. In 1787 he traveled to Vienna, hoping to study with Mozart. Alas, after only a few weeks Beethoven returned home, his mother having fallen ill. Whether Beethoven ever actually met Mozart has long been a subject for musical history lore.
In 1792 Beethoven left Bonn for good, returning to Vienna to study under Haydn. He distinguished himself first as a virtuoso pianist, then as a composer. His genius landed him at the center of the musical world, and won him many wealthy patrons. Beethoven’s compositions matured as he did, pushing boundaries and challenging the conventions of the classical era.
Around the turn of the century, even as he was turning out some of his greatest works, Beethoven lost his hearing. It was a great blow, but miraculously did not end his musical career. Indeed, he continued composing at a furious pace, his pieces becoming increasingly complex and emotional.
This change in Beethoven’s music mirrored both his tumultuous personal life and a change that was going on in the larger artistic and literary world—Classicism was giving way to Romanticism. Centuries later, Beethoven is acknowledged as an important figure in that transition. Furthermore, his body of work gave future composers permission to break the rules, and create art unshackled by convention.
Beethoven died in 1827, one of the most celebrated composers of all time.
For an auditory trip through Beethoven’s work, enjoy this almost-2-hours-long compilation of some of his most famous compositions.
For tickets to see Hershey Felder portray the Maestro, visit theatreworks.org.