Ludwig van Beethoven: Beyond the Limits of Body

  February 14, 2021   Read time 2 min
Ludwig van Beethoven: Beyond the Limits of Body
Beethoven is one of the most cherished towering figures of the western classic music and his works signals the transition from the classical period into the romantic era. His physical problems never stopped him from progress in artistic creativity.

As the creator of some of the most influential pieces of music ever written, German composer Ludwig van Beethoven bridged the 18th-century Classical period and the new beginnings of Romanticism. His greatest breakthroughs in composition came in his instrumental work, including his symphonies. Unlike his predecessor Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for whom writing music seemed to come easily, Beethoven always struggled to perfect his work. Beethoven’s father and grandfather worked as court musicians in Bonn. Ludwig’s father, a singer, gave him his early musical training. Although he had only meagre academic schooling, he studied piano, violin, and French horn, and before he was 12 years old he became a court organist. Ludwig’s first important teacher of composition was Christian Gottlob Neefe. In 1787 he studied briefly with Mozart, and five years later he left Bonn permanently and went to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn and later with Antonio Salieri. Beethoven’s first public appearance in Vienna was on March 29, 1795, as a soloist in one of his piano concerti. Even before he left Bonn, he had developed a reputation for fine improvisatory performances. In Vienna young Beethoven soon accumulated a long list of aristocratic patrons. In the late 1700s Beethoven began to suffer from early symptoms of deafness. Around the same time he developed severe abdominal pain. By 1802 Beethoven was convinced that his deafness not only was permanent, but was getting progressively worse. He spent that summer in the country and wrote what has become known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.” In the document, apparently intended for his two brothers, Beethoven expressed his humiliation and despair. For the rest of his life he searched for a cure for his ailments, but his abdominal distress persisted and by 1819 he had become completely deaf. Beethoven never married. Although his friends were numerous, he was a rather lonely man, prone to irritability and dramatic mood swings. He continued to appear in public but increasingly focused his time on his compositions. Living near Vienna, he took long walks carrying sketchbooks, which became a repository of his musical ideas. These sketchbooks reveal the agonizingly protracted process by which Beethoven perfected his melodies, harmonies, and instrumentations.