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Biography and Personality

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Ludwig van Beethoven
Biography and Personality


  • 9 Symphonies

  • 30 piano sonatas

  • 16 string quartets

  • 1 violin concerto

  • 5 piano concertos,

  • 10 violin sonatas,

  • 5 cello sonatas,

  • 11 overtures,

  • Numerous sets of variations

  • 9 piano trios,

  • 1 opera (Fidelio), etc.

Important Innovations

  • Took classical genres and transformed them

  • First wholly independent composer

  • Enlarged the orchestra

  • Changed how composers approach musical structure

  • Invested instrumental music with heightened degree of subjectivity

Periods of Beethoven’s Career

1785-1802: Formative imitative period

1803-1816: Heroic period or period of externalization

1816-1827: Meditative, transcendent or introspective period

I: Formative or Imitative Period

Example: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 (1800)
Example: Piano Sonata in C minor (“Pathetique”), Op. 13 (1799) [CD 3:1]
Example: Piano Sonata in C-sharp minor (“Moonlight”), Op. 27, No. 2 (1801)
II: Heroic Period or Period of Externalization (1803-16)

Includes Symphonies 1-3, Fidelio, the piano concertos, the violin concerto, piano sonatas to Op. 90, and string quartets Opp. 59, 74 (Rasumovsky) and 95

Opus (Op.) is the Latin word for “Work”,

The plural of Opus is “Opera” (Opp.)

Heiligenstadt Testament, 1802

“But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back.”

Example: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 (1803)

  • Beginning of a literary style

  • Themes chosen for melodic and harmonic potential

  • First movement has five themes with others added to the development section

Example: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1807-08) [CD 3:2-5]

  • Thematic unification of all movements through opening motive

  • No break between 3rd and 4th movements

  • First use of the trombone in a symphony

Example: Symphony No. 6 in D, Op. 68 (1808)

“Programme Symphony” in keeping with his literary approach, each movement with its own heading:

  1. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the country

  2. Scene by the brook

  3. Merry making of the peasants

  4. Storm

  5. Thankful feelings after the storm

III: Meditative, Transcendent or Introspective Period (1816-27)

Last 5 piano sonatas, Missa solemnis, the Diabelli Variations, Symphony Nr. 9 (Op. 125), and the last string quartets from 1824-26

Example: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (1824)

  • Unprecedented length

  • Use of bass drums, triangle and cymbals

  • Poem is Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, a call for universal brotherhood

Example: String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 (1826)

  • Extremely contrapuntal and experimental

  • Harmonically extremely experimental

  • Varying lengths, varying numbers of movements (not just 4)

  • Extremes in dynamics, instrumental ranges, textures, rhythms, melodies and harmonies

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