Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the attic room of his family home in Bonn, Germany. While his birth records continue to remain missing, historians managed to find his baptism certificate dated December 17, 1770. At the time, it is traditional to baptize children the day after they are born–so Beethoven’s birthday is commemorated on December 16.
He was born between Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich. Their marriage was described as a “chain of sorrows”. As a boy, Beethoven had a tough life as his father was a heavy drinker and would be quite heavy handed. While his mother was quite loving, she was unable to sway her husband from being so harsh toward the family.
Beethoven, even at a young age, was quite the talented keyboardist. He was already composing pieces at the age of twelve. It was his teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who greatly encouraged him to further practice his talent in music. This talent turned into income for the Beethoven family–something his brother, Carl, was thankful for.
As a teen, Beethoven moved to Vienna so he could pursue music and be instructed by the best teachers. It seemed that things were looking up yet disaster struck as his mother became extremely ill. Beethoven then moved back to Bonn to be closer to his ill mother and was present when she passed away. His father progressively got worse–so much that Beethoven had to talk to the Elector of Bonn (his father’s employer) to hand over half of the father’s salary to his keeping in order to care for the family. By the year 1790, the leaders of Bonn were well aware of Beethoven’s talent. They chose him to write a cantata which commemorated the death of Joseph II, the popular Hapsburg emperor.
At the age of 21, Beethoven once again left Bonn for Vienna. This time, a famous composer named Joseph Haydn invited the youth to become his pupil. Teacher and pupil did not always see eye-to-eye. Haydn had often remarked to his pupil that the works he (Beethoven) created were a tad too complicated and the public may not be ready for such emotional works. Despite this, Beethoven carried on and carved out his own distinct style of composing and playing. Life in Vienna was good for the young composer–he was creating his own music and the public was adoring him for it.
In 1801, Beethoven dedicated his Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, famously known as the “Moonlight Sonata”, to his pupil the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The Moonlight Sonata was groundbreaking for its time as it begins with a slow movement–something that was rare at the time. Rumors abound that Beethoven had fallen for his pupil but the Countess and Beethoven did not wed.
Around the same time, it was becoming apparent that there was something wrong with his hearing. It started when he was on a walk with a friend who pointed out the sounds of flutes in the air. Beethoven had thought his friend was joking as he did not hear the flutes at all. He kept to himself mostly working on compositions and commissions so others thought there was nothing wrong. As it turns out, Beethoven’s health issues were increasing. His ears were reported to have “buzzed and hummed” all day–an absolute disaster for anyone in the musical field.
To help cope with his growing deafness, Beethoven wrote several symphonies at a breakneck speed. His Second Symphony reflected Beethoven’s internal struggles quite well. This particularly symphony showed ferocious speeds in several sections. Regardless of the attempts to rectify his hearing, nothing seemed to work. In light of this, he moved to Heiligenstadt where he wrote several never-sent letters to his brother that would later be known as the Heiligenstadt Testament.
After his return to Vienna, Beethoven began to compose symphonies which were a revolution unto themselves. Audiences lauded his efforts labeling that he had reached his peak as a composer. On the inside, Beethoven was sinking. At the age of 35, he pulled himself back from committing suicide. Despite his extraordinary output of beautiful music, he was lonely and frequently miserable throughout his adult life. Beethoven never married nor had any children.
It was at the last decade of his life that Beethoven composed his most immortal works. Some of these included Missa Solemnis and String Quartet No. 14. Beethoven died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56. The autopsy revealed the cause to be post-hepatitic cirrhosis of the liver.
Ludwig van Beethoven is widely considered to be the greatest composer of all time. He is the pivotal spark that connected the classical and romantic ages of Western music. A large fascination with him is the fact that he composed his most beautiful and extraordinary music while deaf and proved his creative genius to his generation and continues to astound learners of today.