Playlist: Essential Beethoven

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 - 19:17

Mark that young man, he will make a name for himself in the world.’ So Mozart is supposed to have said when hearing the young Beethoven. 

We’re not sure if the story’s really true (it’s from a biography written in the 19th century), but it’s nice to think it was, since 250 years later, Beethoven’s still considered a musical genius unlike any before or since. And Mozart seems like a talent spotter who’d have pretty good judgement. 

Our playlist presents music by Beethoven that’s not to be missed, including the instantly recognisable opening of the composer’s Symphony No.5 and music from the first act of his only opera, Fidelio.

If you’d like to know a little more about Beethoven’s life, here’s journalist Martin Kettle with the full story, including his humble beginnings, his famous deafness and his success in his own lifetime. 

‘Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770. His father was a musician of Flemish descent (hence the “van” not the German “von”). His mother was a cook’s daughter. Beethoven’s exceptional ability was soon obvious, but his childhood was deeply unhappy, punctuated by beatings by his alcoholic father. At 16 he travelled to Vienna in hope of receiving lessons from Mozart, but had to return to Bonn because of his mother’s fatal illness.

‘Beethoven finally moved to Vienna aged 22 to take lessons from Haydn, and remained for the rest of his life. His dramatic piano playing took the city by storm. Beethoven was always determined to be an independent musician. He looked on himself as an artist who played, taught and composed on his own terms. 

‘He premiered his first piano concerto and first symphony in 1800. But, around 1798, still not yet 30, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. It took nearly 20 years for him to become completely deaf, but the disability was a devastating blow. Beethoven became increasingly solitary, frustrated and difficult in later life. His hopes of marriage came to nothing and from 1815 he fought a long custody battle on behalf of his nephew.

‘For all his afflictions and illnesses, Beethoven continued to compose extensively. His symphonies, concertos, quartets and sonatas, along with his choral and operatic works, were recognised for their importance across Europe during his lifetime. As he died in Vienna in March 1827, there was allegedly a roll of thunder in the heavens. He is buried in the city’s central cemetery.’



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