Essay, Research Paper: Beethoven


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For many people, Ludwig Van Beethoven is considered the greatest composer who
ever lived and is the highest level of musical geniuses. His compositions are
the expression of one of the most powerful musical personalities of all time
which he exceeded above average in both areas of Classical and Romantic
labeling. Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, December 16, 1770, and was
baptized on December 17. His father, Johann, was a singer employed by the
Elector of Cologne in Bonn. Johann married Maria Magdalena Laym, a cook’s
daughter. Together they had seven children of which three sons survived,
Beethoven was the oldest (Collier’s Encyclopedia, Beethoven). When Johanns’
career was threatened by alcoholism, he saw his chance to get rich by exploiting
his son Beethoven as a child prodigy. He claimed Beethoven was years younger
than he actually was, neglected his formal education, and made him practice his
music endlessly. His attempt to get rich was a disaster and probably encouraged
the brusque and withdrawing personality Beethoven developed. Beethoven was a
solo pianist and piano teacher when he was in his twenties. He was well known
for his temperamental nature. He had to abandon his performing career of
deafness. By this time, he was well known as a composer and was able to live by
the profits of concerts and sale of his works to publishers. He was the most
revered composer in all of Europe and regarded as the greatest living example of
Romantic, artistic genius (McLeish, pg. 18-19). Sonate Pathetique, Opus 13 was
written in 1798 and named by the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven. This Sonate was
extremely romantic because of the charged first movement, while the Adagio
Movement is sad, yet comforting. The third movement of the “Pathetique” was
considered Rondo. The key of the Adagio Movement is A Flat, the submediant Key
of the opening Grave section. The form is a cross between Rondo and Theme and
Variations because the A or Main Theme sections have the same melody, but the
accompanying parts are varied. Although Beethoven still uses the tonic-dominant
relationships to start and end his first section, mm. 1-16, even ending his
first theme with a perfect authentic cadence the composer begins to use keys
with third relationships. The main theme is in the key of A flat, however the
second theme is in the relative minor key of F minor. MM 17-23 are very pivotal
in nature and by mm. 23 Beethoven has modulated to the dominant key of E flat
major. The remainder of the piece gives the feeling of A flat major, although
section c, mm. 36-50. contain many modulations. The coda begins in mm 66-4
through the end and contains a series of V - I cadences. The Adagio of Sonate
Pathetique has been compared having a similar melodic structure and affinity of
theme to the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony written during the last period almost
twenty-five years later. This Adagio movement is in the singing style and
demands great emotion from the performer. Although this particular movement was
written during Beethoven’s first period, the great emotion and contemplation,
the peace and introspection that characterized his third period seem to be
present (McLeish pg. 58-76). Beethoven had a powerful personality that awed
everyone. His high-voltage personality coupled with his high-voltage genius,
Beethoven was able to live his life on his own terms in everything except his
deafness. He was only 5 feet, 4 inches, broad, with a large head, lots of hair,
protruding-teeth, a small nose and a bad habit of spitting. He was clumsy,
sullen and suspicious, touchy, forgetful, and prone to rages of temper. As a
bachelor, he was incredibly messy and had no servants because they would not put
up with him (Schonberg, pg. 110-111). In 1802 Beethoven was told his deafness
was incurable. This knowledge caused a violent change in his character which
brought about a big change in his music. The boisterousness of his youth turned
into a mature artist pondering and placing each effect. Many of Beethoven’s
most popular works date from this time. The ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto, the
Violin Concerto, the Third to Seventh Symphonies, the ‘Razumovsky’ were
composed at this time (McLeish, pg. 19). In 1805 Beethoven premiered the Eroica
Symphony which was a turning point in musical history. A succession of
masterpieces came in the next eight years. Around 1811, Beethoven’s
productivity slowed down. His deafness became total and he retired into his
inner world. His health deteriorated and the relationship he had with his
nephew, Karl, might have robbed the World of some masterpieces. He became the
guardian of Karl when Beethoven’s brother Casper died. Beethoven was
alternately strict and easy going and Karl was driven out of his mind. In 1826,
Karl attempted suicide and told police Beethoven tormented him. Beethoven took
it badly and friends say he aged twenty years in those weeks (McLeish, pg. 20).
He died on March 27, 1827 after a long illness. It is reported 20,000 people
attended the funeral. Beethoven’s music falls into three periods. His first
twenty works hinted at the explosive power to come. After the Eroica, the second
period sets in. He was confident, a master of form, and made his own rules. His
music was governed by the logic of a great technician and musical genius. The
last works period was the music of a man who has seen all and experienced all, a
man in a silent, suffering world. He wrote only to justify his artistic
existence, not to please anyone. Some find the works of this time bleak, cold
and incomprehensible. Beethoven was a musical intellect who was driven by
illness and mental suffering to retreat into his own world. His music is the
most powerful body of music ever brought together by one composer (Schonberg,
pgs. 115, 117, 119, 123). Bibligraphy1. “Beethoven, Ludwig Van” Collier’s Encyclopedia. 1991 ed. 2. McLeish,
Kenneth & Valerie. Listeners’ Guide to Classical Music. Great Britain:
Butler & Tanner Ltd., 1986. 3. Schonberg, C. Harold. The Lives of the Great
Composers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1981.
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