Beethoven: A Beloved Talent Who Overcame Adversity

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is probably the birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, perhaps the most famous of all composers.

Here are some things you may not have known about Beethoven.

He was born in Bonn, in what is now Germany in 1770. At the time, Bonn was part of the Holy Roman Empire.

His grandfather, also named Ludwig van Beethoven, was a prominent singer and musician in Bonn.

The younger Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770. No official birth record exists, but newborns were usually baptized the day after they were born, so December 16 is generally accepted as his birthday.

His father was reputed to be a stern music teacher, who would often reduce his son to tears. He also tried to tout his son as a child prodigy, taking a year off his age when promoting the boy’s piano performances.

While still in Bonn,  Beethoven studied under organist Christian Gottlob Neefe. Neefe helped him write his first composition in 1783. That year Beethoven also wrote his first piano sonatas.

Beethoven traveled to Vienna for the first time in 1787, apparently in an attempt to study with the already well-established Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. However, there are varying accounts as to whether Beethoven ever actually met Mozart. Some sources claim Beethoven received a few lessons from the master.

Beethoven returned to Bonn shortly after arriving in Vienna —some say after just two weeks there — to tend to his mother who was dying of tuberculosis. He would not return to Vienna for nearly five years, one year after Mozart’s death.

Around the time he returned to Vienna, Beethoven began studying composition under Joseph Haydn. He made his adult public performance debut three years later, premiering one of his first two piano concertos.

Starting in 1798 he composed his first six string quartets, with the premieres of his first two symphonies following in 1800 and 1803.

In 1799, he began teaching piano to the daughters of Hungarian countess Anna Brunsvik, eventually falling in love with the younger daughter, Josephine. Josephine has been identified as one of the possible intended recipients of Beethoven’s legendary “Immortal Beloved” love letter.

Completed in 1804, his third symphony was the first of what is known as Beethoven’s middle period. Better known as the “Eroica Symphony,” or heroic symphony, it was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven rescinded the dedication after Napoleon declared himself emperor of France.

His fifth symphony, completed in 1808, has become one of the best known works of classical music. Known for its distinctive opening, it’s one of many of his works written in C minor.

In 1810, he wrote his Bagatelle No. 25 in A Minor, better known as Fur Elise. It’s unknown who “Elise” from the title was, but the possibilities include Therese Malfatti, to whom Beethoven proposed marriage in 1810, and German soprano Elisabeth Rockel, a friend of Beethoven.

The composer had begun losing his hearing in his late 20s. He had suffered from tinnitus, which is a ringing in the ears. It’s unknown exactly what caused his deafness, but possible causes include typhus, lupus, chronic ear infections and Paget’s disease. His hearing faded gradually until the age of 44 (1814), when he was almost totally deaf.

His late period started just after he had lost his hearing. It is highlighted by his ninth and final symphony and its final movement “Ode to Joy.”

Ludwig van Beethoven died on March 26, 1827 after a lengthy illness. The exact cause of death is unknown, but possibilities include cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, diabetes, renal failure and pancreatitis. He never married and had no children.

Our question, who played Beethoven in the 1994 film “Immortal Beloved”?

Today is Victory Day in India and Bangladesh, Republic Day in Kazakhstan and National Sports Day in Thailand. It’s the birthday of writers Jane Austen, Noel Coward, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick.


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