Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn on December 17th, 1770. Beethoven's musically talented grandfather, Ludwig (senior), had come from Flanders to settle in Bonn on the invitation of the Elector. He worked in the Elector's choir, first as a baritone singer and then as Kapellmeister (band leader). He married a girl from Bonn named Marie Poll and they had several children but only one survived, Johann, Ludwig junior's father. Johann was also interested in music but his talents were only mediocre. However, due to the influence of his father, he was able to become a tenor singer in the Electoral Choir. He married Maria Magdalena Keverich Laym who was the daughter of the chief cook at the Court of the Elector of Treves, Ehrenbreitstein. Together they had many children but only three survived, Ludwig and his two brothers. Ludwig had very little formal education and at first he studied with his father but mainly with C.G. Neefe, court organist. His father wanted him to become a child prodigy like Mozart. At the early age of 11, Beethoven was already able to deputize for Neefe and at the age of 12, he had some music published. Neefe helped Beethoven publish his first composition Variations on a March by Dressler in 1783.
When the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne was changed in 1784, the replacement was a cultured man who was deeply interested in music. Bonn was transformed, thanks to him, into a culturally vibrant city and invited several opera companies to the city. This is how Beethoven became familiar with the works of various composers. At this stage the court had an orchestra of 31 pieces. The young composer was invited, at the age of 14, to play the viola and was later made the deputy court organist.
Beethoven received great recognition for his talent and in 1787 he went to Vienna. Due to the absence of documents much remains uncertain about the precise objectives of the journey and the extent to which they were realized; but there seems little doubt that he met Mozart and possibly had a few lessons from him. It seems equally clear that he did not remain in Vienna for longer than about two weeks. News reached him about his mother being very ill and he was obliged to return to Bonn to her where she died soon afterwards of tuberculosis, causing immense grief to the young artist. He then had to help his family as his father, who already had a drink problem, began to drink more heavily after the death of his wife. Ludwig began to give lessons to the children of the deceased chancellor Joseph von Breuning which resulted in him becoming more sophisticated and also receiving offers to teach music in many other places. He also was introduced to Count Ferdinand von Waldstein who was a music lover and soon afterwards the count started giving donations to Ludwig for his family. He also organized for Ludwig to receive half of his father's pension automatically. Later Beethoven dedicated his Piano Sonata No.21 in C Major, Opus 53 to Waldstein and also named it after him.
Beethoven moved to Vienna when he was 22 and began lessons with Franz Joseph Haydn, the greatest Viennese composer of the time. Beethoven liked to deviate from the orthodox rules of composition which was unacceptable to Haydn, and indeed to other teachers, and so the former ceased taking lessons in 1793. Antonio Salieri, the director of the Vienna opera became Beethoven's next teacher and trained him in vocal composition.
The first public performance for the composer was held at the Burgtheater on March 29th and 30th, 1795 for the benefit of the widows of the Society of Tone Artists. Subsequently, he played his own piano concerto at a grand musical concert given by Haydn at the Redoutensaal. Beethoven published his Opus 1, Three Trios for Piano, Violin and Cello on October 17th, 1795. The world of music had discovered someone to carry on the legacy of Mozart.
In 1799, Beethoven dedicated his opus 13, Piano Sonata No.8 'Pathétique' to Prince Karl Lichnowsky who became a patron of the composer's when the latter became famous as a pianist. Over the next few years he travelled to Berlin and Prague and gave concerts there. In 1800 he presented his two major piano concerti, the Septet and the First Symphony and in 1801 the Moonlight Sonata.
Even before the year 1800 Beethoven realized that he was going deaf but kept it from the public for a long time. He finally opened up to some friends in 1801. The situation became worse and worse and in 1802 he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament, addressed to his brothers which was not discovered until after his death, and it revealed the suffering he went through in silence. This testament was followed by his Second Symphony, composed also in 1802 and in 1803 he produced the Third Symphony Eroica which was one of his masterpieces and was dedicated to Napoleon. This composition marked the second phase of his work which was not based on the traditional style.
The première of Beethoven's opera Leonore was held in 1805 but was not a success until it was changed and released eight years later and given a new name, Fidelio. It deals with freedom and justice and heroism and also with married love and in the character of the heroine Leonore, Beethoven's idealized image of womanhood is to be seen. In real life he had relationships but never married. He had a lot of contact with aristocrats as he taught them music but the women he met either did not match his ideals or they rejected him. Interesting love letters were discovered after the composer's death. Some of these were maybe written to Countess Guicciardi to whom the Moonlight Sonata was dedicated but the majority of these were to Countess Josephine von Brunswig. To the latter he gave piano lessons after her husband had died and an intense relationship soon developed between them. Beethoven was passionately in love with her but although Josephine was moved by his devotion and respected his ideals and his art, she rejected any intimacy between them, out of consideration of her children and also because of Beethoven's unimpressive social standing. Their intense friendship lasted until 1807 and in 1810 she married another.
Several works were produced during this period including the Pastoral Symphony (no.6 which conjures up his feelings about the countryside, which he loved), Symphony no.7 and Symphony no. 8, Piano Concertos, no.4 (a lyrical work) and no.5 (the noble and brilliant Emperor) and the Violin Concerto as well as more chamber works and piano sonatas (such as the Waldstein op.53 and the Appassionata op.57) Beethoven was firmly established as the greatest composer of his time.
In 1813, Beethoven presented the Battle Symphony Die Schlacht von Vittoria to celebrate Wellington's victory over Napoleon. This absurd piece of programme music, with its fanfares, cannonades and fugal treatment of 'God Save the King', was thunderously acclaimed at two charity concerts. Consequently, the symphony became very popular.
Beethoven's last appearance as a performer on the piano was in April 1814 and consisted of his Opus 97, a trio for piano, violin and violoncello. During this period he composed his 7th and 8th symphonies. His next major work was a mass Missa Solemnis and expressed his faith in a spiritual God. Following this, he completed his Ninth Symphony, the Choral Symphony, in 1824. He found it difficult to get these pieces published as no Viennese was willing to produce something as difficult. Finally, even though the composer was about to accept another offer, music lovers of Vienna combined their resources to underwrite the production of both the Missa Solemnis and the Choral Symphony and the concert which was held in May 1824 was a great success. Although Beethoven could not hear the applause, he faced the audience to get an idea.
The composer was commissioned to compose three quartets by Prince Nikolai Golitsïn and he actually composed five, dedicating three to the prince. One of the other two was the quartet in C Sharp minor, op.131 which is considered to be the greatest of all Beethoven quartets.
When Felix's brother Caspar Anton Carl died in 1815, the latter appointed his wife, Johanna and Felix as joint guardians of this eight-year-old son Karl, but Felix brought Johanna to court for sole custody of the child, based on the grounds that she was immoral. Finally he won the case in 1820. Though Beethoven was very overbearing with his nephew and there were constant arguments between them, the composer bestowed great affection on Karl. The latter went on to pursue a career in the army.
The great composer began to fall ill in 1826 when he caught pneumonia. As a result of alcohol abuse he developed jaundice and dropsy. His condition deteriorated further and rather than using up the savings he had set aside for his nephew, he wrote to the London Philharmonic Society on March 6, 1827, urging them to organize a benefit concert for him. It was agreed and he was sent an advance of 100 pounds which he used for his medical expenses. In the middle of March, the doctors proclaimed that the composer had little time left to live and so shortly afterwards he signed a will, bequeathing everything to his nephew. After being in a coma for a short period, Beethoven died on March 26th, 1827 at 5.30p.m. He was buried in the Währing cemetery and between 10,000 and 20,000 people gathered at his funeral on March 29th. Present were artists like Schubert, Hummel and Kreutzer and the funeral oration was written by Austria's greatest living author, Grillparzer.