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Ludwig van Beethoven: biography of this genius of Classical Music

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Ludwig van Beethoven is possibly the best known composer after Mozart. Much has been written about him and scores of films have been made, usually emphasizing his proverbial bad temper, his lonely existence and his famous deafness.

But what is behind the myth? Who really was Ludwig van Beethoven? In this biography of Beethoven you will learn about the life of this composer, from his childhood in Bonn to his adulthood in Vienna, and we'll look at why he is considered one of music's greatest geniuses.

Brief biography of Ludwig van Beethoven

beethoven he is, indeed, one of the greatest composers in history. And not only because of his natural talent, which many placed on the same level as Mozart, but because, despite the increasing deafness from which he suffered (and which became practically complete during the last stage of his life of him) he managed to create compositions that are true masterpieces of universal music. We are going to travel briefly through his life and his work.

a sad childhood

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Ludwig was born in Bonn in December 1770, a city in present-day Germany that, in the 18th century, belonged to the Archbishopric of Cologne. He had been baptized on December 17 in the church of San Remigio with the name of his older brother, who died the previous year. Thus, from the moment of his birth, Ludwig carried on his back the ghost of his brother, the mourned firstborn.

Her mother, María Magdalena Keverich, had been widowed by her first husband when she was only 19 years old. In 1767 she married Johann van Beethoven, son of a Kapellmeister at the Cologne court, for which reason, in At first, the parent was opposed to the marriage, considering the family of María Magdalena as socially lower. However, this grandfather was one of those who encouraged the musical vocation of the little boy, introducing him from a very young age into the musical arts, in which Ludwig stood out from his early years.

His father was also fond of music and, observing the innate talent of his offspring, he set out to make him a "new Mozart". In those years it was very fashionable for the sons and daughters of more or less wealthy families to make musical tours around the houses and the wealthy courts of Europe. This is how Leopold Mozart had done it with his little ones, Wolfgang and Anna María, who performed in various European capitals from a very young age. Johann van Beethoven did not want his son to be left behind, and he not only took advantage of his undeniable and surprising musical qualities in this sense, but he gave him the best teachers to perfect his talent of him

However, behind all this scene of lights, fame and glory, it does not seem that little Ludwig was too happy. For starters, his father was an alcoholic, an addiction he had apparently inherited from his mother, Beethoven's grandmother. Later, when Ludwig was still very young, his mother died of tuberculosis, as did his brother Karl years later, which caused the young musician to a kind of terror of developing the disease, fear that would accompany him for the rest of his life.

The death of María Magdalena and the alcoholism of her father, who ended up in jail, meant that Ludwig had to take care of his younger siblings from an early age. For them he always felt a kind of fatherly affection, especially for Karl, with whom he was very close.

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The “successor to Mozart”

The first teacher that Johann gives his son is Christian Gottlob Neefe, a German composer, who took his musical and intellectual education very seriously. Later, Beethoven received classes from such distinguished figures as Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri, and even, if some rumors that have not been confirmed are true, even from the very Mozart. But, although it is true that the two geniuses met in Vienna at some point in the year 1787, when Beethoven was sixteen and Mozart thirty-one, there is no evidence to verify that they maintained extensive contact.

Beethoven's first published work, Nine Variations on a March by Ernst Christoph Dressler, saw the light in 1782. The young composer was only eleven years old and already a promising musician with a successful career ahead of him. Neefe, impressed by the precocious talent of his pupil, interceded with the Elector of Cologne to have Beethoven hired for the court orchestra. He was twelve years old, and in certain cultural circles they already speak of him as the "successor of Mozart".

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The loneliness of a classical music genius

In 1792, at the age of twenty-two, Beethoven settled permanently in Vienna, at the behest of the Elector., who wants the young man to hone his talent and find patrons to help him rise to the top. Beethoven accepts his fate, mainly because he loves his work and knows that in Vienna he has a good chance of success. However, deep down in his heart he feels a certain animosity towards a city in which he never felt fully accepted or understood.

To this condition of "lonely soul" that has always accompanied the figure of Beethoven, he contributed, without Undoubtedly, an evil that began to afflict him from 1796 and that did not stop worsening over time: the deafness. Because of the letter that was found among his papers after his death (a letter to his brothers that he never sent), and which is known as the "testament of Heiligenstadt ”because of the place where it was written, we know that this evil plunged Beethoven into a depression, as he feared that his deafness would prevent him from realizing his dream of composing immortal works.

In this letter he comes to confess to his brothers that the idea of ​​suicide has crossed his mind, and that only his art, that is, music, has made him renounce it. It is a heartbreaking testimony in which we verify that, if Beethoven was a taciturn and moody person, it was partly because of his hearing problems and because of the many ailments he suffered, some very severe and, ultimately, caused a premature death.

Dr. Osvaldo Llanos López, in his work titled Ludwig van Beethoven's illnesses (see bibliography), points out several of the illnesses suffered by the musician. According to Dr. Llanos, Beethoven suffered from smallpox in his youth, which left characteristic marks of the disease on his face. Throughout his life he had frequent respiratory crises, which increased his fear of suffering from tuberculosis (the terrible disease that, let us remember, had killed his mother and brother).

Between 1790 and 1795 Beethoven began to develop symptoms of intestinal problems that resulted in frequent diarrhea and colic, to which were added painful headaches. With such a picture of health and the depressive episodes that he was dragging, it is not surprising that the The musician almost always maintained a dark humor, as well as a brusque and limited treatment with his peers.

The work of Dr. Osvaldo also includes the autopsy that was carried out on the corpse of the composer a day following his death, mentioning the unusual size of organs such as the pancreas, spleen, and liver. On the other hand, a recent study of some of his locks of hair has brought to light that the composer had in his DNA risk factors for liver-type diseases, as well as the fact that he suffered Hepatitis B.

Between classicism and romanticism

Let's go back to Vienna, where, despite everything, is where his career takes off and grows like foam. In 1798 he decided to compose a symphony in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte., the “great man” of the moment (the privateer was part of the French Directory, the government that had taken over the reins of France after the end of the Terror). Beethoven greatly admired Napoleon, and solemnly dedicated his 3rd Symphony to him, which he called Bonaparte. However, when the Grand Corsican later proclaimed himself emperor, Ludwig could not bear what he he considered it a betrayal and changed the name to his symphony, which has since been known simply as the heroic.

Beethoven composed nine symphonies throughout his life, and they say that shortly before he died, he had the idea of ​​composing a tenth, and he even left some sketches. Of all of them, the most famous are the aforementioned 3rd symphony, the 6th (known as Pastoral) and, of course, the 9th, where it includes a chorus fragment of impressive strength. In addition to the symphonies for which he is famous, Beethoven composed concertos, chamber music, and compositions for piano, such as the famous Moonlight (Piano Sonata No. 14), published in 1802, and the Piano Sonata No. 8, known as the pathetic for his extraordinary expressive capacity.

Beethoven's work falls mainly within the so-called classical music, commonly and erroneously identified with all music prior to the 20th century.. This is not like this; Strictly, "classical" music corresponds only to the musical period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and is characterized by its balance and clarity (in parallel with the neoclassical aesthetics of the plastic arts) and by the definitive establishment of the musical forms of the sonata, the symphony and the concert, among others.

Beethoven's life

But a genius like Beethoven could not be oblivious to the changes that were taking place in the European music scene. Already at the end of the 18th century, his work began to show influences from early Romanticism, with its high expressiveness and chromatic abruptness. Clear examples of this are the aforementioned Moonlight and the 5th Symphony, whose powerful introduction is one of the most famous musical passages of all time.

The "Immortal Beloved"

Beethoven never married, but despite his chronic loneliness, he maintained both friendship and emotional relationships with various women. Of all of them, the best known are the relationship he had with Josephine Brunsvik, to which, according to the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, the composer had addressed some fourteen love letters. The language of these missives, really passionate, suggests that Beethoven was sincerely in love with Josephine, whom he calls "my angel" and "my everything".

Similar is the style of the famous letter that was found among Beethoven's papers after the composer died. In it, Ludwig addresses an "immortal beloved", as he himself calls her, and also addresses her as "my everything" and "my self". This has made many scholars of the musician's life assume that the mysterious "immortal beloved", the recipient of the letter found on Beethoven's desk and dated July 1812, is none other than Josephine Brunsvik.

Other scholars point to another of the great women in Beethoven's life as the ideal candidate to be the "immortal beloved": Antoine Brentano. The composer met the young woman in the spring of 1810 and, since then, they maintained a great friendship, in which romance cannot be ruled out.

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the last dark years

By the end of his life, the deafness from which the composer had suffered since he was twenty-six years old had become almost complete.. His right ear no longer picked up any sound, and with his left he already had serious hearing difficulties. Despite this, Beethoven managed to compose his 9th symphony, one of his most famous works, which was premiered to great public acclaim.

His brother Kaspar Karl had died in 1815 of tuberculosis, and since then Beethoven had maintained a stormy rivalry with his sister-in-law, who did not want the tutoring of Beethoven's nephew Karl to fall to his uncle The mother took the matter to court, and the little boy constantly changed hands. Karl could not see his uncle, who, instead, seemed to have a kind of adoration for him, perhaps in memory of his father, for whom Ludwig had a deep affection.

Problems with his sister-in-law and his nephew, who attempted suicide in 1826, aggravate Beethoven's mental health, already badly damaged by his stubborn solitude and his endless illnesses. During the last year of his life, his health declined rapidly, and by March 1827 he was already bedridden. On March 26, and after lamenting the delay in the arrival of the Rhine wine that he had requested, Beethoven exhaled his last breath. He was 56 years old.

Hugely admired by his contemporaries (despite his difficult character), the funeral of him brought together a crowd of 20,000 people. At his funeral, the Requiem of Mozart, the other great genius of music, who had already died 37 years ago. Franz Schubert, a fervent admirer of Beethoven, attended his funeral. The young musician was unaware that he would soon follow his idol, as he would die in 1828, at the age of 31.

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