Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 to Johann van Beethoven and his wife, Maria Magdalena. He took his first music lessons from his father, who was a tenor in the choir of the archbishop-elect of Cologne.
His father was an unstable yet ambitious man whose excessive drinking, rough temper, and anxiety surprisingly did not diminish Beethoven’s love for music. He studied and performed with great success, despite becoming the breadwinner of his household by the time he was 18 years old. His father’s increasingly serious alcohol problem and the earlier death of his grandfather in 1773 sent his family into deepening poverty. At first, Beethoven made little impact on the musical society despite his father’s hopes. When he turned 11, he left school and became an assistant organist to Christian Gottlob Neefe at the court of Bonn, learning from him and other musicians. In 1783, he became the continuo player for the Bonn opera and accompanied their rehearsals on the keyboard.
In 1787, he was sent to Vienna to take further lessons from Mozart. Two months later, however, he was called back to Bonn by the death of his mother. He started playing the viola in the Opera Orchestra in 1789 while also teaching composing. He met Haydn in 1790, who agreed to teach him in Vienna, and Beethoven then moved to Vienna permanently. He received financial support from Prince Karl Lichnowsky, to whom he dedicated his Piano Sonata in C minor, better known as The Pathtique.” He performed publicly in Vienna in 1795 for the first time and published his Op.
Beethoven composed 1 and Op. 2 piano sonatas. His works are traditionally divided into three periods: the first is called the Viennese Classical, the second is the Heroic, and the third is Late Beethoven.
In the first period, his individuality and style gradually developed as he used many methods from Haydn, including the use of silence. He composed mainly for the piano during this period. These works include Symphony No. 1 in C (1800), his first six string quartets, and the Pathétique (1799).
His Moonlight Sonata in C# minor (1801) is known as the first of Heroic Beethoven. Beethoven learned that he would become deaf in 1802 and suffered severe depression. His composing skills were not affected by his deafness, but his ability to teach and perform was inhibited. It is said that he became deaf from his habit of pouring cold water over his head while composing to refresh himself and then not drying his hair afterwards. He wrote his only opera, Fidelio, in 1805. The main theme of the opera revolves around fidelity, which reflects his personal desire to marry.
Other works in the Heroic period include the Kreuzer Sonata (1803), Symphonies 3 and 7, the Violin Concerto in D major (1806), the Razumovsky Quartets (1806), the Emperor Concerto (1809), and the Archduke Trio, Op. 97 (1811). After 1813, during his Late period, Beethoven composed inwardly. He was totally deaf, and this is sometimes known as the silent period.
Some say that Beethoven composed music for a different age. His life became more chaotic, and he composed less and less. In his works, he used more miniaturization and expansion. The music began to sound odd as he experimented with the number of movements, contrast in volume and dynamics, harmonic predictability, sonata movements, and trills. Beethoven became increasingly argumentative as he was tormented by his deafness. Goethe described his attitude as aggressive, which is perhaps understandable, but not easy to live with.
He gave his last performance in 1814 on the piano but continued to be a respected composer in Viennese society. Some of his late achievements include the Diabelli Variations (1820-1823), the last piano sonatas and six string quartets, the Mass in D major, Missa Solemnis (1823), and the Choral Symphony no. 9 (1824) in which he set Schiller’s Ode to Joy in the final movement. At Beethoven’s death in 1827, Franz Grillparzer best described him during his funeral address when he said, Despite all these absurdities, there was something so touching and ennobling about him that one could not help admiring him and feeling drawn to him.”