Beethoven, Ludwig van

Ode to Joy

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. His music is amongst the most performed of the classical repertoire and he is one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music. His works span the transition between the classical and romantic eras in classical music. His career has conventionally been divided into early, middle, and late periods. The "early" period in which he forged his craft, is typically seen to last until 1802. His "middle" period, (sometimes characterised as "heroic") shows an individual development from the "classical" styles of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, covers the years 1802 to 1812, during which he increasingly suffered from deafness. In the "late" period from 1812 to his death in 1827, he extended his innovations in musical form and expression.

Beethoven was born in Bonn. His musical talent was obvious at an early age, and he was initially harshly and intensively taught by his father Johann van Beethoven. He was later taught by the composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe, under whose tuition he published his first work, a set of keyboard variations, in 1783. He found relief from a dysfunctional home life with the family of Helene von Breuning, whose children he loved, befriended and taught piano. At age 21, he moved to Vienna which subsequently became his base, and studied composition with Haydn. Beethoven then gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist, and he was soon courted by Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky for compositions, which resulted in his three Opus 1 piano trios (the earliest works to which he accorded an opus number) in 1795.

His first major orchestral work, the First Symphony, appeared in 1800, and his first set of string quartets was published in 1801. During this period, his hearing began to deteriorate, but he continued to conduct, premiering his Third and Fifth Symphonies in 1804 and 1808, respectively. His Violin Concerto appeared in 1806. His last piano concerto (No. 5, Op. 73, known as the 'Emperor'), dedicated to his great patron Archduke Rudolf of Austria, was premiered in 1810, but not with the composer as soloist. He was almost completely deaf by 1814, and he then gave up performing and appearing in public. His problems with health and his unfulfilled personal life are exemplified by his "Heiligenstadt Testament" (1802) and his unsent letter to his "Immortal Beloved" (1812).

In the years from 1810, increasingly less socially involved, Beethoven composed many of his most admired works including his later symphonies and his mature chamber music and piano sonatas. His only opera Fidelio, which had been first performed in 1805, was revised to its final version in 1814. He composed his Missa Solemnis in the years 1819–1823, and his final, Ninth Symphony, one of the first examples of a choral symphony, in 1822–1824. Written in his last years, his late string quartets of 1825–26 are amongst his final achievements. After some months of bedridden illness he died in 1827. Beethoven's works in all genres remain mainstays of the classical music repertoire.

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