Ludwig Beethoven, child prodigy, was revered for his talent throughout the world even during his lifetime. Famous as the composer of "Fur Elise" and the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, Beethoven is remembered as a man of great genius. But did you know he had a softer side? A side that often caused the man to fall hopelessly in love? A side that made him feel a friend's grief so deeply he could not speak? Did you know he composed entire symphonies "in his head," hearing the part for every instrument before he set the first note on paper? These are the lesser known facts about the well known musician.
Born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany, Ludwig Beethoven was a precocious musician. His father was a rough man who determined to exploit the young boy's musical gifts and therefore forced the child to practice many hours each day. When the boy tired and made mistakes in his music, it is said that his father thrashed his head, "boxing" his ears as punishment for imperfection. Despite the harsh treatment, Beethoven loved music, and took lessons in violin, organ, and piano. Like Mozart, Beethoven began public performances at the age of six. He left school to tour full-time at the age of thirteen.
When Beethoven was eighteen, his father died, leaving him the responsibility of providing for himself and two younger brothers. He accepted a position playing the viola in the orchestra to provide the household income. In 1792, Franz Joseph Haydn passed through Bonn and recognized the brilliant talent of young Beethoven, not only as a performer but as a composer. Haydn insisted that Beethoven accompany him to Vienna.
In Vienna, Beethoven studied with Haydn. He, like many other young musicians there, lived in an upstairs attic; but he received - and, of course, accepted - many invitations to perform in the homes and palaces of the wealthy. Beethoven was able to earn his own support as well as send money home to his brothers.
Beethoven's music expressed his innermost feelings through the dynamics and movement of the pieces he composed. In fact, his attention to feeling in his music began a new "style" different in some ways from the very technical, almost mathematical, form of the Baroch period. Beethoven's music was passionate and dramatic, leading into a more emotional period of music known as the Classical Era. He blended rich chords and tones, feelings, and emotion into the composition of his greatest pieces from love songs to symphonies.
The emotion came from deep within the man. Beethoven was almost always in love, proposing marriage a number of times. But Beethoven was uncouth, small, thin, and not very handsome. He also had a violent temperament that frightened the ladies. His advances in love often turned to disappointments.
But disappointment too became a compelling force in Beethoven's music. On one occasion, Beethoven was quite miserable after his marriage proposal to Countess Giulietta had been turned down. He sat at his piano as moonlight beams trickled through the windows of his flat, unable to put his feelings of dejection into words. As happened so often, the music did it for him. It was that night that he composed the famous "Moonlight Sonata" for love of the countess.
Beethoven's gamut of emotions ran from the rough and unseemly to the empathetic. The story is told of a baroness who lost her children in a terrible tragedy. Her friends did their best to cheer her, but she did not respond. For days, she sat motionless, her eyes fixed on the floor. Although Beethoven was a close friend, he could not bring himself to visit her. He openly admitted that he was so overcome with the sense of her loss that he wished to grieve himself in private. Finally, Beethoven asked the baroness to come to his home. To the amazement of her friends, the Baroness accepted the great composer's invitation and was soon sitting in his study. Beethoven went to the piano and played for over an hour without stopping. He poured himself into piece after piece, pounding out the emotion that he felt in sympathy for his friend. For the first time since her loss, the Baroness allowed the tension to relax. She left the house without ever uttering a word. Recounting the experience years later, she said, "He told me everything with his music and at last brought me comfort."
In his late twenties, Beethoven began to experience lapses in his hearing. As he sat at his piano, he heard the notes but then felt that they faded. He pounded out the notes all that much harder until the keyboard's action wore away and refused to sound again. There has always been the supposition that Beethoven's hearing loss was the latent result of his father's abuse. The head thrashings were severe and could have indeed caused the development of a tumor that grew larger with the passing of time. Such an anomaly may have damaged Beethoven's auditory nervous system.
Even when deafness totally overtook the composer, Beethoven continued to write and remained dedicated to his music. Beethoven had always heard the various instrumental parts "in his head" before actually listening to them. Now he composed completely in his mind, unable to listen to the music in any other way.
He continued to direct the orchestra, especially in debuts of his newly created symphonies. Beethoven's deafness became such that the maestro could not hear the applause after such performances. He only knew that he had pleased the audience when he turned to face them and could see the clapping of their hands.
Beethoven died at the age of 56. History documents that he developed complications from a chill. Legend reports that he died during a hailstorm. At the sound of a tremendous peal of thunder, Beethoven closed his eyes to death.