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Ludwig van Beethoven

one of the few composers of his day to gain personal fame during his lifetime

Ludwig van Beethoven in his middle years

His Life

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, probably on December 16, 1770 (he was baptized December 17). His father, Johann, was a piano player who made but a bare living, thanks in most part to his penchant for drinking and hard living. Young Ludwig showed musical talent as a toddler, and was taught to play the violin and piano by his father. It was his father's hope that Ludwig would have enough musical talent to gain a wealthy patron and thus be able to support the family.

In 1787, Ludwig ventured to Vienna, where he hoped to find better teachers. He was forced to return home, however, upon learning that his mother was on her deathbed. Her death that same year left Ludwig the sole breadwinner of the household, and put him in charge of his two younger brothers. Fortunately he soon became tutor to two children of the Von Bruening family, whose matron introduced Beethoven to important people in Bonn and inspired his music career. About this same time he also met Count Ferdinand Waldstein, who became a lifelong friend and patron.

In 1792, Beethoven moved to Vienna, where he sought instruction from some of the most renowned composers of the day, including Franz Joseph Haydn, Johannn Schenk, J.G. Albrechtsberger, and Antonio Salieri. Until 1794 he was supported by Archduke Maximilian Franz, but he also earned money playing at private houses and palaces. Unlike most other composers of the day, who were treated as little more than employees by those who bought their music, Beethoven was treated as an equal and was usually well paid for his work. He made his public debut in 1795, and he became one of the few composers to gain personal fame during his lifetime (most of his contemporaries didn't become famous until well after their deaths).

Beethoven began losing his hearing in the 1790's, but was able to conceal his impairment from even his closest friends for many years. As his hearing diminished, his personality went from one of proud independence to one of suspicion and irritability. As the deafness worsened his ability to compose diminished, but he continued to work until his final years. In late 1826, he caught a serious cold which eventually developed into pneumonia and then dropsy; he died on March 26, 1827.

His Works

Beethoven is probably best known for his tireless work ethic. He worked out his compositions with great care, and spent a great deal of time and effort revising themes and altering the shapes in which they appeared before finally allowing the works to be published.

What follows is a listing of his most important works, in general chronological order:

Largo e mesto of Op. 10, No. 3 -- piano sonata
Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13
six string quartets, Op. 18 (1801)
No. 1 in C major (1801) -- piano concerto, his first orchestral venture
No. 2 in B-flat major (1801) -- piano concerto
First Symphony, Op. 21 (1801) -- his first purely orchestral work
Second Symphony, Op. 26 (1802)
Third Symphony, Eroica, Op. 55 (1803-1804) -- initially dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, but reworked after Napoleon declared himself Emperor; one of Beethoven's favorite compositions
Violin Sonata in A, Kreutzer, Op. 47 (1802-1803)
Christ on the Mount of Olives, Op. 85 (1803) -- oratorio
Waldstein, Op. 53 (1803-1805) -- piano sonata
Appassionata, Op. 57 (1803-1805) -- piano sonata
Fidelio, Op. 72 (1805) -- his only opera was inspired by the story of a wife's devotion and courage in rescuing her husband from unjust imprisonment; it praised the ideals of freedom, dignity of the individual, and heroism overcoming tyranny; revised twice; wrote four overtures before he was satisfied
three Razumovsky Quartets, Op. 59 (1805-1806)
Piano Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60 (1806)
Violin Concerto, Op. 61 (1806)
Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62 (1807)
C-major Mass, Op. 86 (1807)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1804-1808)
Symphony No. 6, Pastoral, Op. 68 (1807-1808)
Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69 (1807)
Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor, Op. 73 (1809)
String Quartet, Harp, Op. 74 (1809)
Piano Sonata, Lebewohl, Op. 81a (1809-1810)
three Goethe Songs, Op. 83 (1810)
Incidental Music to Egmont, Op. 84 (1809)
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (1810)
Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93 (1811-1812)
Piano Trio in B flat, Archduke, Op. 97 (1818)
Diabelli Variations (1823)
Missa solemnis in D (1818)
Ninth Symphony (1824)
the Great Fugue


Milestones of History: Age of Optimism New York: Newsweek, 1970
The World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979

See Also

Franz Joseph Haydn
Napoleon Bonaparte

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The Robinson Library >> Composers and Songwriters

This page was last updated on 10/12/2018.