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It's Beethoven's Birthday - But Do You Really Know The Music And The Man ?

   December 16 th is Beethoven's birthday , and he was born in  1770 in the provincial German town of Bonn in the Rhineland , which served as the capitol of west Germany before the reunification  of east and west , leaving  his hometown  at the age of 21 to move to  Vienna , the greatest musical center of the day in order to seek  the chance ot achieve greatness , where he died in 1827 .

   We all know  that Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time , and that he suffered from  deafness which progressed slowly beginning in his early 30s even though the exact cause remains a matter of medical speculation  . Everyone knows the famous melody of the "Ode To Joy " , the  "Da Da Da Daaaah " which opens the fifth symphony , and the catchy melody of his brief piano piece "Fur Elise ", which is just a  potboiler and  far from being one of his greates or most important works . And the , the correct title is actually "Fur Therese ", as the messy manuscript was apparently misread  by the publisher .

    But how many people REALLY know  Beethoven's music , its  emotional power, grandeur , originality , and intensity , as well as its passages of tender lyricism  , bloisterous humor , contempltiveness , and  other expressive qualities ?  Not nearly enough .  You really have to take the time to get to know the music by carefull listening  , and it helps to know something about the man, his extraordinary life , the context of the times he lived in  etc .  Fortunately, there is  wealth of  writing about this , in biographies, books, articles , etc , all esily accessible over the internet . 

    Beethoven wrote quite a few  works  which are simple, straightforward , and tuneful , mainly for money .  But his nine symphonies, five piano concertos , violin conerto ,  32 piano sonatas , his sole opera Fidelio , 16 string quartets , his  Miss Sollemnis , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass , and many other works  are NOT easy listening if you're new to  classical music .  In fact , you can listen to them  for many,many years without ever  leaning everything about them and   you will always gain new insights into them from repeated hearings .

    And what kind of man was Ludwig Van Beethoven , son of a  court singer in  Bonn of  Flemish origin ?  He showed  early  musical talent as a boy in his hometown , studied with a repsected music techer who taught him  the basics of compositon and  began to compose  his juvenile works, which are very little known today .  His father thought he might be able to exploit the boy as a child prodigy like Mozart , and forced him to practice at the keyboard  for many hours  a day ,  even treating him roughly . 

    The young Ludwig never became another Mozart ,but he developed into a formidable piano virtuoso  and in his early 20s, realized that he should move from provincial Bonn in Germany to  sophisticated  Vienna ,  capitol of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire  as well as being the musical  capitol of Europe . That was where the opportunity  was .  He hoped to study with Mozart , but met him only once  shortly before  his trgically early death . He did manage to study with  another great composer and friend of Mozart , Joseph Haydn .  But he claimed to have learned little  from the great master and was  beginning to  show his own  originality as a composer .  He also  acheived great  acclaim as a piano virtuoso ,  and the wealthy ,influential  music-loving nobility of Vienna  recognized his  brilliance  and began to support him  financially and with comissions for a variety of works .

      But Beethoven was a stubborn ,headstring , a  not particularly  deferential,tactful   and suave personality who was never willing to suck up to the rich and powerful Viennese aristocracy and  powerful politicians ,  potentates and prelates .  He ws gruff ,  irascible and did not suffer fools  gladly .  H e never married , but  always hoped to find a woman who migh marry him .  But he was rather uncouth at times ,  moved frequently round Vienna serching for an apartment who pleased him and was  sloppy, unkempt  nd often shabbily dressed .  The Viennese tolertaed his  foibles, though, because of his  genius .  His dwellings were a mess .  You might call him the Oscar Madison of music, although he had no Viennese Felix Unger neat freak  as a  roommate - fortunately !

     The exact  cause remains unclear , but Beethoven began to suffer  distressing difficulties with his hearing from his early 30s ,  and  gradually became  almost completely deaf . Doctors were unable to help him much , but a   crude  sound magnifying device , an ear horn, helped him somewhat .  He was a  stubborn , crotchety , irascible  fellow , and while he had many friends  among the leading musicians of the day ,  his frequent ill temper  caused rifts between  them frequently .  He  had frequent  quarrels with his two brothers , the only surving  immediate  family members  he had ;  his parents had had several other children who died in infancy , and  his nephew , son of one of them  , came to live with him after his parent's a crimonious  divorce .  Beethoven  disapproved of the boy's mother , and thought her to be  loose woman . Uncle and nephew had  a difficult relationship to say the least .

     Deafness  forced Beethoven to  abandon his brilliant career as a pianist , but fortunately it dd not stop him from  producing  some of the greatest music ever written ; nine  great symphonies , 32  piano sonatas , ten for violin and piano , five for cello and pianoi, five piano concertos , one for violin ,  sixteen string quartets ,  one opera called Fidelio ,  numerous miscellaneous piano works ,  two masses , other chamber works  such as  trios for violin, cello and piano , and much, much more . 

     It was anything but an easy , uneventful life .  In addition to his deafness , difficult personality , lack of luck with women ,  family woes , difficulty in finding musicians and orchestras which could do justice to his  denanding works ,  etc,  he was often plagued by  various ailments such as stomach trouble and other maladies .  When he departed the world in 1827 , his funeral was a public event  , and the great  Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer delivered a funeral oration . 

     And as they say , the rest is history . Beethoven's works became an integral part of the standard repertoire for  orchestras , pianists, conductors, violinists ,  and other musicians  .  But  how many of his works do YOU know,a ssuming you are not a lover of classical music , a professional  musician or musicologist ?   There's so much more to  Beethoven than a few  famous tunes .   The melodies , more properly called themes, in Beethoven are only the basic building blocks of his  works . What mkes them great is what  he does with those  basic, often simple melodies , constntly trnsforming them with such ingenuity  , and  forming them into works of great complexity and depth .

    Have you experienced that grandeur , intensity and emotional power of  Beethoven's music, as well as  its  tender lyricism ,  boisterous humor and   moments of  deep contemplation , its many-sidedness which I just mentioned  ?  If not  , please start listening carefully to his music , and go far beyond those popular tunes which everyone knows .  You'll never regret it !




Posted: Dec 16 2013, 10:09 PM by the horn | with no comments
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