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Who is Beethoven?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most influential composers of all time, was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. His father and grandfather were both musicians, with his grandfather holding the post of Kapellmeister in Bonn, and his father having lesser accomplishments. There were seven children born to his parents, but only three survived, and of these, he was the eldest.

Beethoven received piano and violin lessons at a young age, but his father seems to have been a tyrannical teacher, if the stories of young Ludwig standing at the piano in tears are true. His first public performance was at age seven on the clavier. He subsequently had more keyboard instruction, as well as music theory, as well as violin and viola lessons, but his general schooling did not extend past elementary school.

By 1782, when Beethoven was 11 and a half, he was already a published composer and substituting for the court organist, from whom he was also receiving instruction in piano and composition and who predicted that he was potentially a second Mozart. His next published work, three piano sonatas dedicated to Emperor Maximilian Friedrich and considered his first noteworthy compositions, were in print before he turned 13.

In 1789, at age 18, Beethoven petitioned for half his father’s salary to be turned over to him to be used primarily for the support of his brothers, and with the granting of this request, he became, in effect, the head of his family. In 1792, he moved to Vienna, where he would make his home until his death, in order to be instructed by (Franz) Joseph Haydn.

In around 1796, intimations of the deafness that would later become quite severe began to manifest. By 1802, despite the intervention of doctors, Beethoven’s deafness was pronounced. This affliction had a decided affect on the course of Beethoven’s life. His work is generally divided into 3 periods. The first period is 1794–1800. The second period is 1801–1814. The final period is 1814 until his death in 1827.

Beethoven is considered the transitional figure between Classical composers Haydn and Mozart on the one hand, and the Romantics on the other. His innovations included his construction of his Sixth Symphony (The Pastoral) as program music and his expansion of the quartet, concerto, sonata, and symphony forms. And these are some of the forms he is best known for. He wrote nine symphonies, 17 string quartets, 32 sonatas, 5 piano concerti, a violin concerto, and a triple concerto, as well as an opera, a ballet, incidental music, and overtures. Many people recognize by sound, if not by name, his Fifth Symphony, his Ninth (Choral) Symphony, and the Emperor Concerto.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By John57 — On May 06, 2012

My sister and I both took piano lessons, and I never had much talent or interest in this. Sitting down to practice the piano was something I never looked forward to and didn't see how it would ever benefit me in any way.

My sister was just the opposite. Not only did she enjoy it, but also excelled at it. She still plays the piano today, and I am amazed at how she has kept this up.

She studied music in college and knows a lot of history about many of the famous composers, including Beethoven.

I always found his story a little sad, and wonder how many more famous pieces of music he would have written if he had not struggled with his deafness and died as young as he did.

By golf07 — On May 05, 2012
Beethoven's fifth symphony is the song I am most familiar with. I never realized he wrote so many pieces of music, including an opera and a ballet.

I enjoy ballet, and will have to find out what this sounds like.

It sounds like there was a lot of responsibility on Beethoven's shoulders at a young age. I imagine his music was a great outlet for him.

I also took piano lessons when I was younger, and often wish I had devoted more time to it. I have some natural music ability and still find myself sitting down from time to time to play the piano.

I have an old piano book that has a few Beethoven pieces in it, and have always found these challenging. I have a lot of respect for people who have so much natural ability to write such outstanding pieces of music.

By andee — On May 05, 2012

I remember learning that Beethoven was deaf, but for some reason, I always thought this affected him at a much younger age than it did. Maybe I have him mixed up with another famous musician who was born deaf.

It is still amazing when you realize how talented Beethoven was and how much he accomplished during his life.

I took piano lessons for several years when I was growing up. I remember learning how to play a few Beethoven pieces.

These were scaled down so they were suitable for the level of talent I was at. They were not the actual pieces of music that you hear accomplished pianists play today.

I never stuck with the piano long enough to get that good, but still enjoy hearing people play his music.

By strawCake — On May 04, 2012

@Azuza - I agree. I know some people who are just naturally talented at music. My dad can sit down at a piano and just make up a song on the spot (it might not be as fantastic as a Beethoven symphony, but it's usually pretty good.) I also took piano lessons when I was younger, but I can't compose songs on the fly like my dad can.

Anyway, I'm not surprised Beethoven was born into a musical family. This kind of things seems to run in families, from what I've observed. Also, musical parents tend to encourage their children to pursue music and make it possible. Most of my friends that got piano lessons growing up had parents that also played.

By Azuza — On May 04, 2012

I had no idea that Beethoven's first compositions were done so early on in his life. That is really amazing! I took piano lessons when I was young, and I practiced a lot, but I never got anywhere near composing or putting on concerts.

I really think music is a talent that some people are born with. Yes, most people can learn to play an instrument and get pretty good at it. But some people are just born with an innate talent for music that transcends practice and learning from an instructor I think Beethoven was one of those people.

By bear78 — On May 04, 2012

@fify-- That's not what I heard. I don't think there was only one reason for him becoming deaf. His father used to beat him up a lot when he was young, apparently, on his head and hears. So it could have been from trauma.

But Beethoven was also sick a lot. He suffered from various illnesses all throughout and even had lead poisoning at one point. So it could be from the lead poisoning or an infection that damaged his hearing as well.

I've been to the Beethoven Museum in Germany and saw the "hearing aids" that Beethoven used which are displayed there. Of course they look nothing like the hearing aids of today. They're called "ear trumpets" and literally look like miniature trumpets. You put the long thin end inside the ear and it points pretty far out.

By fify — On May 03, 2012

@alisha-- No, his hearing problems did not affect his compositions, but it did affect his concerts. I'm not sure if he composed after he completely lost his hearing but I do know that his hearing was not lost overnight but over a period of 20 some years. He, in fact, composed all of his symphonies after he started having hearing issues.

So maybe it's safe to say that his health and loneliness contributed to his work a lot. It appears to have given him even more inspiration. He did have trouble giving concerts after his hearing problems though. They say that towards the end, he couldn't even hear the applause of the audience at the end of his concerts. And someone would have to physically turn him around so that he would see.

I'm not entirely sure why he became deaf but a Beethoven bio mentions that he developed chronic ringing in his ears from listening to very loud music during his concerts which eventually developed into loss of hearing.

By discographer — On May 03, 2012

What a great article. I remember reading Beethoven's biography in school and listening to his composition in music classes. But it's shocking that so little information about his life has stayed with me.

I don't recollect reading about his deafness at all, nor that he became a published composer at such a young age. I'm also surprised that he died when he was only 57. I thought that he had lived to see his 70s.

Do we know why Beethoven became deaf? It's such a detrimental thing to happen to a person like him who literally lived for music. And did his career completely end after his deafness?

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth


Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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