One of the greatest musical geniuses of all time didn’t even know his own birthday. Ludwig von Beethoven was born second in his family, behind Ludwig Maria, his older brother, who died very young. This loss may still have stung their parents. Their pain could have overshadowed the second Ludwig’s own early childhood. The brothers shared a name, Ludwig, which probably added to his confusion. A common mistake is the claim that Beethoven was born on December 17, 1770. This is actually the date of his baptism, which suggests that he may have been born on December 16, but the details are unknown.
Although his birthday is unknown, we do know that he was born in Bonn, Germany. Miserably brought up there by a father who wanted him to become a profitable musical infant prodigy, he joined the Elector of Cologne’s orchestra. He eventually received lessons from Mozart in Vienna, a city in which he would later settle down. He also studied under Haydn, Albrechtsberger, and possibly Salieri. Mainly, Beethoven played piano, but he also played violin and viola, among others.
Beethoven’s music is generally divided into three periods. The first, around 1792-1802, was termed the Classical Period. During this period he wrote his first two symphonies, the first six quartets, his “Pathétique” and “Moonlight” sonatas, and gradually personalized his style. It was also during this period that he started to develop hearing loss, around age thirty. This condition may have started as an untreated ear infection, and would eventually render him almost completely deaf. Beethoven’s second period was around 1803-1812, and included his “Eroica” symphony and the “Kreutzer” sonata, among others. The final period, one he helped usher in, was the Romantic period, began in 1813, and included his “Choral” symphony and his last five quartets.
Overall, Beethoven composed 9 symphonies, 1 opera, 32 piano sonatas, 5 piano concertos, 16 string quartets, and 16 sonatas for one instrument and a piano. Of the 9 symphonies, the fifth and ninth are the most popular. Being the great composer that he was, his fifth symphony shows innovations in its inclusion of the piccolo, the double bassoon, and the three trombones of the final movement. After composing all of this in his wondrous career, Beethoven contracted a severe chill, from which he died on March 26, 1827.
Beethoven was a musical genius, and, as geniuses tend to do, he left a huge impact on the entire civilization of the world. He left his mark on the political world in works such as his Eroica symphony. This symphony contained a musical representation of the heroism he saw in Napoleon. He also left his mark in the cultural area of life. His opera, Fidelo, contained messages praising the ideals of freedom, praising individual dignity, and of heroism overcoming tyranny, a few of the ideals characterizing the French Revolution. Obviously he left his mark on the musical world, bringing in Romanticism, introducing new ideas that were different and completely revolutionary, and simply by displaying his musical genius in great works. Not everyone could tell you about Beethoven’s politics or cultural views. On the other hand, while a few will insist Beethoven was a large St. Bernard in “some movie they saw,” nearly everyone you ask will say, “Oh, yeah, Beethoven. Wasn’t he that music guy?” which is 2000 slang for, “Beethoven may have been the greatest and most influential musician of all time.”