The Hands of Music: Ludwig van Beethoven

Born in Bonn, Germany on 16 December 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven grew to become one of the most influential figures in musical history.

The eldest surviving child of Johann and Maria Magdalena van Beethoven (a family of musicians), Ludwig was born into the musical profession. Beethoven’s father tried to make him a child prodigy (like Mozart) but did not succeed. He only began to attract mild attention in his adolescence.


In April 1787, 16-year-old Beethoven left for Vienna where he auditioned for Mozart and became his pupil. However, when his mother grew sick, he quickly returned to Bonn. After she passed away, his father declined into alcoholism and by the time he made it back to Vienna, Mozart had also died.


In 1970, when Beethoven was just over 20 years old, Haydn (who was passing through Bonn on his way to London) was shown Beethoven’s score. Hadyn was sufficiently impressed by it and offered to take Beethoven in as a student when he returned from London. Beethoven accepted this offer and, in the autumn of 1792, left Bonn and never returned.


Although Beethoven was reported saying that he learned nothing from Haydn, after Haydn’s death in 1809, Beethoven fully acknowledged his mentorship.


On 2 April 1800, Beethoven premiered his Symphony No. 1 at Vienna’s Burgtheater. Soon after, he became the most sought-after young musician in Vienna, well known for his piano playing and improvisations.


Unfortunately, in the summer of 1802, after years of increasing anxiety and visits to doctors, Beethoven had to face the reality that he was losing his hearing. It was around October of this year that he wrote a will of sorts (known today as the Heiligenstadt Testament).


Over the following years, along with the decline in his hearing, Beethoven went on to compose over hundreds of pieces, including his famous symphonies and sonatas.

A prominent composer during the Classical and Romantic eras, Beethoven was a considerable innovator as he broadened the scope of sonata, symphony, concerto and quartet. His most famous works include his 5th and 9th symphonies, Fur Elise, Turkish March and more. He is still revered as one of the greatest composers who ever lived, famous for his ability to translate feeling into music.


On 26 March 1827, Beethoven passed away at age 56 after a long illness, leaving one of the greatest marks on music.


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