The rise, glory and decay of one of the most important epochs in musical history, the
so-called Viennese Period, is linked to the evolution of European society of that time.
The authoritarian monarchial establishment, whose ride had been for centuries unassailed,
disintegrated from within as its pretensions could no longer stand up to reality. Irresistibly and rapidly the
process of renewal went on, finally culminating in the French Revolution. (Swafford)
For Haydn it had still been a matter of course that he should be socially, if not intellectually,
dependent on an aristocratic employer. Mozart quit the service of nobility at the age of 25 and grew to be a cultured
cosmopolitan. Beethoven was the first to possess the courage and the strength to be able to aim at reforming fashionable
society according to his liberal humanistic principles.
Beethoven appeared as the bold autonomous individual with concentrated artistic power and the strength of personality which sets its
own criteria of work and behavior. Beethoven lived in consciousness of the musical world, the first completely
independent artist who asserted his position in self-chosen freedom, subservient to no master, by virtue of natural
genius and steadfast conviction of his own uniqueness.
Above the proscenium in Boston Symphony Hall, one name rests in a marble medallion, presiding over the music like
a resident demigod. In many concert halls around the world, that design is repeated in one form or another.
To approach Beethoven, let's forget the demigod and attempt to see the man--working at
his desk, roaming streets and fields, muttering and singing to himself, raging at his physical torments, too battered
and too eccentric to make normal human connections.
He was very good at his trade, because he was born with the gift and worked at it as hard
as one can work. The worst that can happen to a composer happened to him--loosing his hearing--yet he chose not
to die but to endure and keep on writing, and his music grew steadily broader and deeper until the end.
On 17 December 1770, Ludwig was baptized in Saint Remigus Parish Church in Bonn. The infant was probably born either
that day or the day before, although no documents remain to confirm. He was named after his grandfather, Kapellmeister
of the town. (Thayer)
In the 18th Century, the city of Bonn numbered more than 10,000 souls. Constructed in
the French style by Francois de Cuvillie's and Balthasar Neumann ornamented with spacious and beautiful gardens,
the elegant city prospered peacefully along the left bank of the Rhine. So with the cradle, so with the man, Beethoven
would forever harbor within him Bonn's classical lines, the fine arrangements of its urban design. (Autexier)
Ludwig's father, Johann, held a music singing post at court. His mother, Maria, was the daughter of a court cook.
They were an unfortunate family. Johann drank and raged, filling Ludwig's childhood with humiliating scenes. Neighbors
said they never saw Maria smile. She defended Ludwig against the abuses of his father, and the composer would honor
her memory throughout his life, even as he tried to erase the memory of Johann.
Ludwig showed evidence of musical talent in early age, and his father eagerly sought to
exploit him as "Wunderkind".
He was fortunate enough to have as one of his teachers Gottled Neefe, the court organist
to whom he owed many musical stimuli. Lessons from Joseph Haydn were not a success. He went to Johann Schenk, the
celebrated Viennese operatic composer, and then to George Albrechteberger with whom he studied the counterpoint.
He took lessons from Antonio Saberi, who enjoyed enormous prestige in Vienna as an opera composer and former music
In 1787, at Neefe's request, the Elector permitted Beethoven to travel to Vienna to study with Mozart. News of
his mother's mortal illness recalled him to Bonn.
Vienna held great attraction for Beethoven, not only as a place of study and one of the great musical centers,
but also as a platform for a career as a virtuoso pianist and great improviser. The Count Von Waldstien introduced
him into the salons of the Austrian nobility where at last in his early Viennese years he was surrounded by flattery
and was much in demand.
All these men financed him generously without making any artistic demand.
Although the world offered him external benefits--material and artistic success--he was never able to identify
and feel himself to be a member of the human community.
The first sign of deafness appeared as early as 1794, and his hearing deteriorated until
about 1819 when he become totally deaf. In 1820, he was sent by his doctors to live for a time in Helligenstadt,
a pleasant village outside Vienna. There Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers. This letter has come to be known
as the Helligenstadt Testament. This document reveals a terrible despair and, at the same time, the will to overcome
an apparently intolerable affliction.
Beethoven wrestled for a year with "Fifth Symphony" before it achieved its final form. The first sketches date from 1800 and made
further extensive ones in 1804, finally completed in 1808. The Fifth Symphony is dedicated to the composer's two
patrons--Prince Lobkowitz and Count Rasowmovsky. "Thus Fate knocks" at the door is the famous pronouncement
about the opening motif attributed to Beethoven by Schindler, but its authenticity is questionable. (Schlosser)
Beethoven gave no indication of any programme, but the idea of a heroic struggle through the darkness to the light
has become very attached to this symphony, a struggle Beethoven has enacted in many works in his music as a whole
and in his life.
"I shall seize fate by the throat." (Grove)
The "Fifth Symphony" is one of the electrifying work. The first movement (Allegro con brio) in C minor
is dominated by an opening motif based on single four notes and leaves the audience in suspense and expectancy.
The second movement (Andante con moto) in A flat contains one of the most sustained lyric melodies in a theme and
The third movement simply headed Allegro is a dramatic awe inspiring Scherzo.
The long transition to finale is tense with expectancy and effect when three trombones erupt into triumphant major
key which is overwhelming. Leaving behind the dark minor key, the Symphony ends in radiant C major. (Grove)
As Goethe mentioned, "... Since he has the guiding light of his genius, which frequently illuminates his mind
like a strike of lightening, while we sit in darkness and scarcely suspect the direction from which daylight will
break upon us." Beethoven unveils his elemental strength over time, the music growing with one's own spirit
According to Beethoven, "Music, verily is the mediator between intellectual and sensuous
life". (Sullivan) He becomes part of one's joy and tragedies attaching himself to them, because he was one
of us, he was there, he knew and captured it all. One's journey through his work is the same as the journey of
life, at its highest and wisest and most passionate.
1. Elliot Forbes, Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1967, Chapter
III, p. 53.
2. Phillipe A. Autexier Beethoven the Composer as Hero, Discoveries, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1991, p.
3. Jan Swafford, The Vintage Guide to Classical Music, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York,
1992, p. 115.
4. Johann Aloys Schlosser, Beethoven, the First Biography, edited with an introduction and notes by Barry Cooper
translated from German by Reinhard G. Pauly, Amadeus Press, Reinhard G. Pauly, General Editor, Portland, Oregon.
5. Roy Bogus, Music 226 Seminar in Interpretation, Holy Names College, Fall Semester 1998.
6. George Grove, Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1962, pp. 148-156, 163.
7. J. W. N. Sullivan, Beethoven, His Spiritual Development, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York,
1960, pp. 4, 6.