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Ludwig van Beethoven

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Ludwig van Beethoven is the most famous composer in history.  His fame, if not his genius, exceeds that of Mozart.  There are not too many people who do not instinctively recognize the first four notes of his 5th Symphony.  He was not the prolific composer that Mozart or Haydn was, and his output of work dropped off dramatically during the last period of his life.  The reasons for this are as complex as the man Beethoven was.

  • Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770 to a distinctly musical family. 
  • His father, Johann, was employed as a musician at the court of the Electorate of Cologne, primarily as a vocalist, but also as an instructor of piano and violin. 
  • Beethoven’s paternal grandfather, also Ludwig, was a musician of greater stature, and served as Kapellmeister in the Bonn electoral chapel.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s 7th Symphony had been completed in April 1812, and he wrote out the 8th during the summer months, completing it by August. In July 1812, Beethoven was at Teplitz, in Bohemia. It was here that he wrote the famous letter to his “Immortal Beloved.” However, the love affair disintegrated, and Beethoven’s attitudes on marriage “took on a cheerless character”. By mid-September 1812, when the composer was again at Teplitz, severe melancholy over took him, and he spent most of his vacation in bed.

Shortly after the Immortal Beloved fiasco, Beethoven began keeping a Tagebuch, doing so until 1818. The diary opens:

You may not be a human being, not for yourself, but only for others, for you there is no more happiness except within yourself, in your art. O God! Give me strength to conquer myself, nothing at all must fetter me to life—thus everything connected with A will go to destruction.

“A” refers to Antoine Brentano, identified by Maynard Solomon as the “Immortal Beloved.”

In a letter dated December 1812, Beethoven wrote, “Since Sunday I have been ailing, although mentally, it is true, more than physically.” In January 1813, he wrote: “As for my health, it is pretty much the same, the more so as moral causes are affecting it and these are not very speedily removed”.

The aftermath of the affair opened “the most contradictory chapter” in Beethoven’s life. His public career reached its zenith, while his music reached its nadir. Throughout 1813, Beethoven suffered a creative impasse that is perhaps best linked to his personal life, and produced “virtually nothing of artistic importance during that year”. His mental state seems to have precluded composition. Beethoven failed to complete any major work throughout 1813, the first time this had happened since his adolescence. Nothing was sketched, nothing was actively considered. “His creativity may have been paralyzed by depression. His resignation to the prospect of permanent solitary existence was accompanied by a marked withdrawal from society”.

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