Celebrating Beethoven at 250
Beethoven's 250th Birthday is on December 17, 2020!
Ludwig van Beethoven was one of history’s great idealists.
His life is, in itself, a chronicle of heroic perseverance in the face of adversity. He spoke often with his friends about his faith in justice and equality, and he deeply admired the ideals of the American and French Revolutions. His tireless devotion to promoting human dignity, joy, and universal brotherhood are unmatched.
Beethoven lived his life as a continual outpouring of creativity and expression. His works resound with emotion, strength, and wit. This music has become so familiar to us now that it can be difficult to comprehend how wildly revolutionary it seemed to his audiences.
Beethoven’s fascination with heroism is hardly surprising when you consider his life. His was the story of a man overcoming one trial after another, facing each with characteristic resolve, courage, and humor. After a difficult childhood, the death of his mother left him in charge of raising his two younger brothers, and he had to sue his alcoholic father for financial support. Yet in this same period, he continued to pursue a career in music with a persistence that led to Haydn taking him on as a student.
He burst onto the Viennese music scene with the premiere of works like his Piano Concert No. 1 and his early symphonies, and he was soon regarded as the natural heir to Haydn and Mozart. However, no sooner had his fortunes improved than adversity once again attempted to block his path. As early as 1798, Beethoven’s hearing had begun to fade, and by 1802, he could no longer avoid the reality that he was going deaf. This realization drove him into a deep depression, and he even considered suicide.
Yet he persevered.
After a brief vacation in Heiligenstadt, where he came to terms with his oncoming deafness, Beethoven returned to Vienna with increased resolve. “I am not satisfied with the work I have done so far,” he told a friend. “From now on, I intend to take a new way.” What followed was the phenomenal outpouring of creativity and innovation that characterized his Middle Period. The Eroica Symphony was the first of a long line of works written on a grand, epic scale that stretched traditional classical forms to their limit. Over the next ten years, he would produce six symphonies, an opera, two piano concertos, a violin concerto, theater music, piano sonatas and myriad works of chamber music — much of which focused on common themes of heroism and the struggle to overcome suffering.
By 1812, Beethoven’s deafness was profound, and the composer could no longer hear everyday sounds. He retreated within himself, and his music became deeply personal and intellectual. He immersed himself in the music of Bach and Handel, and their influence shows in the works from this intensely introspective period. Pieces such as the Grosse Fuge stretched counterpoint and tonality to a breaking point that seemed incomprehensible to his audiences. Yet despite his introspection and struggles, Beethoven maintained his optimism, and it is in this final period that he composed his Symphony No. 9, a grand work of epic scope which considers many possible themes giving meaning to life before concluding that the only true meaning is to be found in a wholehearted embrace of joy and the brotherhood of man — a philosophy driven home by the symphony’s unabashedly ecstatic finale.
In the end, perhaps Beethoven himself
was the hero he’d been seeking all along.
DISCOVER THE POWER OF BEETHOVEN THIS JANUARY! View full concert lineup.
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