Absolute knowledge would drive you crazy
10 things you should know about Beethoven
1. Beethoven's biography in fast motion
Beethoven's date of birth is the first mystery. Only the date of his baptism on December 17, 1770 in Bonn is known. As a child he learned the piano, organ and violin. He gave his first concert at the age of seven. At the age of 12 he was already composing pieces with funny names such as the "Song to an Infant" or later the "Elegy on the Death of a Poodle". Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and stayed there until the end of his life. He died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56, probably of cirrhosis of the liver.
2. "For Elise": Beethoven and the women
Beethoven adored Elisabeth Röckel
This topic also remains a mystery in Beethoven research. Beethoven never married. He is said to have written his most famous piano piece "Für Elise" for the German opera singer Elisabeth Röckel. Allegedly he even proposed marriage to her. His friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler writes: "In Vienna, Beethoven was always in love." In Beethoven's estate one found love letters to an unknown lady who went down in history as an "immortal lover". We don't know exactly who that was, but the secret seems to be unraveling. In more recent biographies, the name Antonie Brentano appears, a married woman in the famous Brentano family.
3. Beethoven as a person
In the afternoon the empty chamber pot was still under his wing, and leftovers were lying between the manuscripts. His appearance is described as stocky, his face as pockmarked. That was Beethoven too. One thing is certain, as much as Beethoven was a cheerful Rhenish nature at a young age, he must have been so grumpy and choleric in old age. He himself attributed this to his deafness in his so-called "Heiligenstadt Testament". His nephew Karl, whom he took after his brother's death, was brought up so severely that he attempted suicide to escape his uncle.
4. Beethoven and the Classical
With Beethoven, the age of Viennese classicism came to an end. The composer with the wild head of hair was considered a musical revolutionary and a pioneer of Romanticism. He used a choir in an instrumental work, his 9th Symphony. That had never happened before in a classical symphony. He composed dramaturgically and liked to choose short motifs with high recognition value instead of long themes: for example at the beginning of his 5th symphony. Beethoven left around 240 works, including symphonies, piano concertos, string quartets and an opera.
5. Genius and Perfectionist
Beethoven was a perfectionist. He did not compose for his contemporaries, but for posterity. He kept fine-tuning his works, revising and correcting the scores until late at night. He succeeded in writing for posterity: Today Beethoven is one of the most performed composers in the world. Even during his lifetime he was able to make a living from his compositions. Last but not least, he earned his living with commissioned works for political greats of his time.
6. The only opera
The commission for Beethoven's "Fidelio" was given by Peter Freiherr von Braun. At the first performance in 1805 the opera was panned. Beethoven corrected and changed the score up to the third and final version - this time successfully. The plot is based on an actual incident from the time of the French Revolution. A heroic lady - disguised as a man - freed her husband from the Jacobin prison. The musical pause sign ("Es der Bruder sucht seine Brüder"), which was heard on the radio program of Deutsche Welle for decades, also comes from "Fidelio".
7. Beethoven and the revolution
Beethoven was not only interested in music, but also in philosophy, literature and politics. In his early musical phase he liked to conjure up the heroic in people. He was enthusiastic about the French Revolution and dedicated his 3rd symphony, the "Eroica", to Napoleon. After Napoleon had crowned himself emperor in 1804, Beethoven, furiously, deleted this dedication from the title page of the score.
8. Ta-ta-ta-Taaaa: Beethoven's symphonies
Score of the 9th symphony
The beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony from 1808 is world famous. The motif in the first movement makes do with just four tones. Beethoven wrote a total of nine symphonies - only a few compared to Mozart, who composed over 41. Every self-respecting large orchestra has all nine symphonies in the standard repertoire. Beethoven's symphonies were so comprehensive and powerful in sound that subsequent composers shied away from the challenge. The number nine in relation to symphonies also seemed to shape posterity: Gustav Mahler or Anton Bruckner, for example, couldn't get past a ninth symphony.
9. The measure of all things: Beethoven's ninth
Most famous of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is the last movement with the choir "Ode to Joy" based on Schiller's poem of the same name. When he composed it, he was already deaf. Beethoven could not hear the premiere on May 7, 1824 and the frenetic applause. The Ninth Symphony continues to this day. In 1970 it served as a template for the pop hit "A Song of Joy", which went around the world. The instrumental version of the "Ode to Joy" has been the anthem of the European Union since 1985. The approximately 70-minute symphony also influenced the CD's storage capacity of 80 minutes in 1982. The famous conductor Herbert von Karajan, who was asked about this by product developers, said that it must be possible to hear Beethoven's Ninth in one piece on CD.
10. The deaf composer
Painful hearing aids for Beethoven
Beethoven became hard of hearing at the age of 27. At 48 he was completely deaf and had tinnitus. According to the latest studies, it is said to have been a consequence of "typhus", transmitted by a rat flea. Nevertheless, he continued to compose. Beethoven had perfect pitch, so he could imagine the tones and their harmony in his head. Today we know that the attempts at healing at that time were very painful and caused additional inflammations in the ear, from which Beethoven suffered. He became lonely and became the eccentric who - as current biographers say - is wrongly remembered.
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