Ludwig van Beethoven
Born December 16, 1770
Died March 26, 1827
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. His father, Johann, a singer and musician recognized early in Beethovenís life that his young son had a lot of musical talent. Johann started giving Beethoven piano lessons at the age of four. But Beethovenís father drank too much alcohol and treated Beethoven cruelly, forcing him to practice music for hours.
On May 26, 1778 Beethoven gave his first recital. He was only 7 years old, although his father, eager to make money on his genius child claimed he was 6 at the time. In 1779, the prince of Bonn hired a new court organ player named Christian Neefe. In 1780 Neefe heard Beethoven play piano and recognized his talent. Neefe immediately started to instruct Beethoven on the piano and three years later Beethoven composed and published a sonata, a fugue, and a rondo.
In 1787 Beethoven traveled to Vienna, Austria to study and play music. He hoped to study under Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but Beethovenís mother became ill and he returned to Bonn. Shortly after his return, Beethovenís mother died. Beethovenís father was now unable to care for the family so Beethoven took over, caring for his two younger brothers and his father.
Eventually Beethoven did return to Vienna, in 1792, the same year that his father died. So Beethovenís two brothers joined him in Vienna. Mozart had died, but Beethoven was given the opportunity to study with Joseph Haydn in 1793. Only one year after beginning his studies Beethoven began to loose his hearing.
Beethovenís music was original and often considered radical. He used unusually large orchestras for his music and tried to draw more than just joyous emotions from his audience. In attempting to compose music which reflected distress, sadness, happiness, and peacefulness Beethoven varied the volume throughout a single piece and often he used one musical theme repetitively, changing it over the course of a composition only slightly.
In 1807 Beethoven composed one of his most famous symphonies. His Fifth Symphony which he performed for the first time on September 13, 1807 utilized a theme at the beginning of the symphony which was only 4 notes long.
Beethovenís Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, composed in 1808 reflected his love for nature. In this piece he included 5 parts for the symphony rather than the usual 4. Each movement guides the listener through a country scene. The Pastoral includes a thunderstorm as well as the copies of real bird songs, including those of the nightingale and cuckoo.
Beethoven continued to compose powerful musical works throughout his lifetime. Despite his growing deafness, which he tried to hide from the public, he continued to compose up until a year before his death on March 26, 1827. Recognized as a musical genius, his talented composing and playing brought him fame during his own time, as well as today. In 1977 it was Beethovenís Fifth Symphony which was selected to represent humankind. Placed in the Voyager 2 space probe, a recording of his symphony was launched into outer space.
Books for Children
- Ludwig van Beethoven (Getting To Know The World's Great Composers) by Mike Venezia - An interesting biography appropriate for ages 7-12. It includes a nice combination of realistic illustrations, photographs, and cartoon illustrations. (amazon.com has it)
- The Life And Times Of Beethoven by Gino Pugnetti - An extremely comprehensive biography for ages 9 and older. It includes a timeline of his life and discusses the culture and politics of the time. This book may be out of print, so check with your local library.
Music Tapes and CDs
- Beethoven, His Story And His Music by Marianne Kurando from The Music Masters Series. Appropriate for ages 6 and older.
- Beethoven: 9 Symphonies, Overtures - This is a set of 6 discs. (amazon.com has it)
- Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas - 2 discs (amazon.com has it)
- Beethoven Lives Upstairs (1992) - no rating - An exciting historical fiction story, which portrays a young boy who lives in the same house with Beethoven. (amazon.com has it)
- Ludwig van Beethoven page on The Classical Music Pages by Matt Boynick, includes a biography, a picture gallery, and sound clips of his music.
- Ludwig van Beethoven The Magnificent Master by Ingrid Schwaegermann is very comprehensive including a biography, sound clips, and a picture gallery.
- The Beethoven Reference Site, has some interesting information including a bit about his family tree and the places where he lived.
- The Unheard Beethoven - This site has a midi collection available of more than 10 hours of Beethoven's lesser known works. Once you have located a piece you would like to hear, click on "Download the midi file" and your browser should begin playing the selection.