Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven studied first with his father, Johann, a singer and instrumentalist in the service of the Elector of Cologne in Bonn.He pursued his studies, first with Haydn and then with Johann Baptist Schenk, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and  Antonio Salieri. Until 1794 he was supported by the Elector at Bonn, but he soon found patrons among the music-loving Viennese aristocracy. His public debut was in 1795; about the same time his first important publications appeared, three piano trios op.1 and three piano sonatas op.2. As a pianist, it was reported, he had fire, brilliance and fantasy as well as depth of feeling. It is naturally in the piano sonatas, writing for his own instrument, that he is at his most original in this period; the "Pathétique" belongs to 1799, the "Moonlight"  to 1801, and these represent only the most obvious innovations in style and emotional content. These years also saw the composition of his first three piano concertos, his first two symphonies and a set of six string quartets op.18.

Beethoven's middle-period is characterized by its heroic tone, evident in the "Eroica" Symphony (originally dedicated to Napoleon), in Symphony no.5, and in his opera Fidelio. Its unsuccessful at its premiere, Fidelio was twice revised by Beethoven and his librettists and successful in its final version of 1814. In the revision there is more emphasis on the moral force of the story. Coupled with the Pastoral Symphony, Symphonies nos.7 and 8, Piano Concertos nos.4 and 5, and the Violin Concerto, as well as more chamber works and piano sonatas  Beethoven was firmly established as the greatest composer of his time.

The years after 1812 were relatively unproductive. He seems to have been seriously depressed, by his deafness and the resulting isolation, by the failure of his marital hopes and by anxieties over the custodianship of the son of his late brother, which involved him in legal actions. There are seven piano sonatas in this, his "late period," including the turbulent "Hammerklavier" (op.106), and the famous last three: op.110, 111, and 112. Arguably Beethoven's greatest work of this late period is the Choral Symphony, no.9 in D minor, where the extended variation-finale is a setting for soloists and chorus of Schiller's "Ode to Joy". For Beethoven, the act of composition had always been a struggle, as the tortuous scrawls of his sketchbooks show; in these late works the sense of agonizing effort is a part of the music.