Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Opening Remarks

Beethoven follows a pattern that we have seen in many of the Artists profiled in the group. He was uniquely talented but also branded as "difficult". Dennis Hopper, Steve McQueen, James Brown, all super talented at what they do and all classified as someone who was hard to work with.
Recently, Steve Jobs, the guru of Apple and the creator of what we come to now think of as commonplace (the home computer and the ipod) passed away from cancer. He was only 56. In his time, he was a visionary. A genius. But he was also someone who many could not work with. His level of passion and desire and intellect did not mesh well with those who could not match it.

Beethoven has been described similarly. In this passage I took from the Wikipedia biography of Beethoven it is described: 

Sources show Beethoven's disdain for authority, and for social rank. He stopped performing at the piano if the audience chatted amongst themselves, or afforded him less than their full attention. At soirées, he refused to perform if suddenly called upon to do so. Eventually, after many confrontations, the Archduke Rudolph decreed that the usual rules of court etiquette did not apply to Beethoven.

So the question remains. Are those who are extremely talented... difficult. If so, are they given special treatment because of what they can do, and if so, why do we allow them leeway we would not give lesser talented people?

Beethoven in 1803

The facts of Life 
-Ludwig van Beethoven was born on  December 16,  1770  in Bonn, Germany
House of birth, Bonn,  now the Beethoven-Haus museum

-A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music,
 - is often cited as the greatest composer who ever lived.
 -moved to Vienna in his early 20s, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist.

Portrait of Beethoven as a young man

-His hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf.

-Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered from a severe form of tinnitus, a "ringing" in his ears that made it hard for him to hear music; he also avoided conversation. The cause of Beethoven's deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to syphilis, lead poisoning, typhus, auto-immune systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake.
A portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

-As a result of Beethoven's hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: his conversation books. Used primarily in the last ten or so years of his life, his friends wrote in these books so that he could know what they were saying, and he then responded either orally or in the book. 

-While Beethoven earned income from publication of his works and from public performances, he also depended on the generosity of patrons for income, for whom he gave private performances and copies of works they commissioned for an exclusive period prior to their publication. Some of his early patrons, including Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Lichnowsky, gave him annual stipends in addition to commissioning works and purchasing published works.
Beethoven's patron, Archduke Rudolph

-Beethoven's personal life was troubled by his encroaching deafness and irritability brought on by chronic abdominal pain (beginning in his twenties) which led him to contemplate suicide  Beethoven was often irascible and may have suffered from bipolar disorder, as discussed in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life

 -Of the seven children born to Johann van Beethoven, only Ludwig, the second-born, and two younger brothers survived infancy.

Development as an Artist

-Beethoven's first music teacher was his father. Tradition has it that Johann van Beethoven was a harsh instructor, and that the child Beethoven, "made to stand at the keyboard, was often in tears. 

 -His musical talent manifested itself early. Johann, aware of Leopold Mozart's successes in this area (with son Wolfgang and daughter Nannerl), attempted to exploit his son as a child prodigy, claiming that Beethoven was six (he was seven) on the posters for Beethoven's first public performance in March 1778
A portrait of the 13-year-old Beethoven

-Some time after 1779, Beethoven began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe. Neefe taught Beethoven composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations

In March 1787 Beethoven traveled to Vienna for the first time, apparently in the hope of studying with Mozart. The details of their relationship are uncertain, including whether or not they actually met. After just two weeks there Beethoven learned that his mother was severely ill, and returned home. His mother died shortly thereafter, and the father lapsed deeper into alcoholism. As a result, Beethoven became responsible for the care of his two younger brothers, and he spent the next five years in Bonn.

Establishing his career in Vienna

Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna in November 1792, amid rumors of war spilling out of France, and learned shortly after his arrival that his father had died.

Beethoven did not immediately set out to establish himself as a composer, but rather devoted himself to study and performance.

With Haydn's departure for England in 1794, Beethoven was expected by the Elector to return home. He chose instead to remain in Vienna

By 1793, Beethoven established a reputation as an improviser in the salons of the nobility, often playing the preludes and fugues of J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier 

 By 1793, he had established a reputation in Vienna as a piano virtuoso, but he apparently withheld works from publication so that their publication in 1795 would have greater impact.

he arranged for the publication of the first of his compositions to which he assigned an opus number, the piano trios of Opus 1. These works were dedicated to his patron Prince Lichnowsky and were a financial success; Beethoven's profits were nearly sufficient to cover his living expenses for a year.

Between 1798 and 1802 Beethoven tackled what he considered the pinnacles of composition: the string quartet and the symphony. With the composition of his first six string quartets (Op. 18) between 1798 and 1800  Beethoven was justifiably considered one of the most important of a generation of young composers following Haydn and Mozart. 

He continued to write in other forms, turning out widely known piano sonatas like the "Pathétique" sonata (Op. 13), which Cooper describes as "surpass[ing] any of his previous compositions, in strength of character, depth of emotion, level of originality, and ingenuity of motivic and tonal manipulation."

He also completed his Septet (Op. 20) in 1799, which was one of his most popular works during his lifetime.

Composers like Muzio Clementi were also stylistic influences. Beethoven's melodies, musical development, use of modulation and texture, and characterization of emotion all set him apart from his influences, and heightened the impact some of his early works made when they were first published. By the end of 1800 Beethoven and his music were already much in demand from patrons and publishers.

Beethoven's compositions between 1800 and 1802 were dominated by two works, although he continued to produce smaller works, including the Moonlight Sonata.

In the spring of 1801 he completed The Creatures of Prometheus, a ballet. The work received numerous performances in 1801 and 1802, and Beethoven rushed to publish a piano arrangement to capitalise on its early popularity.

As early as 1801, Beethoven wrote to friends describing his symptoms of deafness and the difficulties they caused in both professional and social settings (although it is likely some of his close friends were already aware of the problems)
Over time, his hearing loss became profound: there is a well-attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause of the audience; hearing nothing, he wept.

 By 1814 however, Beethoven was almost totally deaf, and when a group of visitors saw him play a loud arpeggio of thundering bass notes at his piano remarking, "Ist es nicht schön?" (Is it not beautiful?), they felt deep sympathy considering his courage and sense of humor (he lost the ability to hear higher frequencies first).
Beethoven in 1815 portrait by Joseph Willibrod Mähler

Beethoven's return to Vienna from Heiligenstadt was marked by a change in musical style. Beethoven said, "I am not satisfied with the work I have done so far. From now on I intend to take a new way." This "Heroic" phase was characterised by a large number of original works composed on a grand scale. The first major work employing this new style was the Third Symphony in E flat, known as the "Eroica." This work was longer and larger in scope than any previous symphony. When it premiered in early 1805 it received a mixed reception. Some listeners objected to its length or misunderstood its structure, while others viewed it as a masterpiece.

His position at the Theater an der Wien was terminated when the theater changed management in early 1804, and he was forced to move temporarily to the suburbs of Vienna with his friend Stephan von Breuning. This slowed work on Fidelio, his largest work to date, for a time. It was delayed again by the Austrian censor, and finally premiered in November 1805 to houses that were nearly empty because of the French occupation of the city. In addition to being a financial failure, this version of Fidelio was also a critical failure, and Beethoven began revising it.

 Hoffman called Beethoven's Fifth Symphony "one of the most important works of the age." A particular trauma for Beethoven occurred during this period in May 1809, when the attacking forces of Napoleon bombarded Vienna. According to Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven, very worried that the noise would destroy what remained of his hearing, hid in the basement of his brother's house, covering his ears with pillows.

In the spring of 1811 Beethoven became seriously ill, suffering headaches and high fever. The following winter, which was dominated by work on the Seventh symphony, he was again ill, and his doctor ordered him to spend the summer of 1812 at the spa Teplitz. It is certain that he was at Teplitz when he wrote a love letter to his "Immortal Beloved."

 Early 1813 Beethoven apparently went through a difficult emotional period, and his compositional output dropped. His personal appearance, which had generally been neat, degraded, as did his manners in public, especially when dining.when news arrived of the defeat of one of Napoleon's armies at Vitoria, Spain, by a coalition of forces under the Duke of Wellington. This news stimulated him to write the battle symphony known as Wellington's Victory.  Beethoven's renewed popularity led to demands for a revival of Fidelio, which, in its third revised version, was also well-received at its July opening. 

Between 1815 and 1817 Beethoven's output dropped again. Beethoven attributed part of this to a lengthy illness (he called it an "inflammatory fever") that afflicted him for more than a year, starting in October 1816

Beethoven in 1823

. He began sketches for the Ninth Symphony in 1817.

Beethoven began a renewed study of older music, including works by J. S. Bach and Handel, that were then being published in the first attempts at complete editions. He composed the Consecration of the House Overture, which was the first work to attempt to incorporate his new influences. 

His musical output in 1818 was still somewhat reduced, but included song collections and the Hammerklavier Sonata,

Beethoven then turned to writing the string quartets for Golitsin. This series of quartets, known as the "Late Quartets," Of the late quartets, Beethoven's favorite was the Fourteenth Quartet, op. 131 in C# minor, which he rated as his most perfect single work. 

Beethoven wrote the last quartets amidst failing health. In April 1825 he was bedridden, and remained ill for about a month. The illness—or more precisely, his recovery from it—is remembered for having given rise to the deeply felt slow movement of the Fifteenth Quartet, which Beethoven called "Holy song of thanks ('Heiliger dankgesang') to the divinity, from one made well." He went on to complete the (misnumbered) Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth Quartets. 

Sources show Beethoven's disdain for authority, and for social rank. He stopped performing at the piano if the audience chatted amongst themselves, or afforded him less than their full attention. At soirées, he refused to perform if suddenly called upon to do so. Eventually, after many confrontations, the Archduke Rudolph decreed that the usual rules of court etiquette did not apply to Beethoven.

Movies and Documentaries

Eroica is a 1949 Austrian film depicting life and works of Beethoven , which also entered into the 1949 Cannes Film Festival. 

In 1962, Walt Disney produced a made-for-television and extremely fictionalized life of Beethoven titled The Magnificent Rebel

In 1994 a film about Beethoven starring Gary Oldman and  titled Immortal Beloved was written and directed by Bernard Rose. 

In 2003 a made-for-television BBC/Opus Arte film Eroica was released, with Ian Hart as Beethoven 

In a 2005 three-part BBC miniseries, Beethoven was played by Paul Rhys.

A movie titled Copying Beethoven was released in 2006, starring Ed Harris as Beethoven. This film was a fictionalised account of Beethoven's last days, and his struggle to produce his Ninth Symphony before he died.

Pop Culture

1 comment:

  1. I know that all artists, musical or otherwise were revered and held above because of their talent and abilities. They brought happiness with their songs, words, paintings. They were in such demand, indulged at their every whim. Maybe they became such primadonnas because of this.

    One of my favorites: Septet in E flat Opus 20 :)