Ludwig van Beethoven (Dec. 16, 1770 – March 26, 1827)

Early Life:

  • Composer & Pianist
  • Born in Bonn, Germany
  • Named after his grandfather
  • One of 7 children but only he and 2 younger brothers survived
  • After his mother died, he was forced to take care of his younger brothers and he became very poor
  • His first music teacher was his father and was known as a harsh instructor. It was believed that the child Beethoven, “made to stand at the keyboard, was often in tears.”
  • Beethoven’s first public performance was in March 1778 when he was seven years old.
  • Beethoven moved to Vienna in his early 20’s and became extremely popular as a pianist.
  • His mannerisms and appearance were known as rough and clumsy but he made no attempt to impress them or change his uncultured ways.
  • Beethoven’s life was characterized by loneliness and misunderstanding. He remained a bachelor, though not by choice; he proposed to several different women.

 Early Period Compositions

  • Beethoven’s compositional career is usually divided into Early, Middle and Late periods.
  • Early period was strongly influenced by Hayden and Mozart.
  • The first and second Symphonies
  • A set of 6 string quartets Op. 18
  • The first 2 piano concertos
  • The first dozen or so piano sonatas, including the famous Pathetique sonata, Op. 13

 Middle Period Compositions

  • Middle period began after he recognized he was going deaf. He wrote large-scale works that express heroism and struggle.
  • Symphonies 3-8
  • The last 3 piano concertos
  • 5 string quartets
  • Several piano sonatas (Moonlight, Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas)
  • Kreutzer violin sonata
  • The opera, Fidelio

 Late Period Compositions

  • The Late period works are characterized by their intellectual depth, their formal innovations and their intense, highly personal expression.
  • The String Quartet Op. 131 has seven linked movements
  • The Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement
  • Missa Solemnis
  • The last five string quartets
  • The last five piano sonatas

 Physical Struggles

  • Beethoven used “conversation books” - his friends would write in these books so that he could know what they were saying.
  • At the end of the premiere of the Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the audience applause; hearing nothing, he wept.


  • On his deathbed he reassured his brother of his “great readiness” to make peace with God.
  • One of the last acts of his life was to receive Communion.
  • He died on Monday, March 26, 1827 during a thunderstorm. 20,000 Viennese citizens lined the streets for Beethoven’s funeral.