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Although he expected that posterity would take an interest in him—otherwise he would not have saved so many of his sketches—he did not picture himself in the magniloquent terms employed by Hoffmann and others. And the music was the butt of withering self-criticism.

To perform Beethoven to the exclusion of the living is to display a total lack of imagination. The continuing strength of the cult is evident in the accumulation of Beethoven books. It is the heftiest English-language Beethoven biography since the multivolume work undertaken in the nineteenth century by the American librarian Alexander Wheelock Thayer—a project completed and revised by others.

Hoffmann, in his essay, appropriated Beethoven for the Romantic movement. Swafford concurs with the more recent tendency—adopted by, among others, Solomon and the pianist-author Charles Rosen—to see the composer as a late manifestation of the Enlightenment spirit, an artist who prized free thought within rational limits. In this view, Beethoven instead stayed true to the ideals that prevailed in his native city of Bonn, where Maximilian Franz, the Elector of Cologne and the brother of the Habsburg emperor Joseph II, presided over a short-lived intellectual flowering.

Swafford is hardly the first author to observe how fortunate Beethoven was to come of age in such an environment: his grandfather, the Flemish-born musician Ludwig van Beethoven, had served as Kapellmeister in Bonn, and Christian Gottlob Neefe, his principal teacher, instilled in him progressive literary influences.

At a time when Napoleon was overturning the old order, Beethoven seemed to launch a comparable coup, and he nurtured an ambivalent fascination for the French Revolutionary milieu, to the point of contemplating a move to Paris.

Indeed, the pizzicatos seem to overrun the score in an almost anarchic manner, destabilizing its form and releasing rowdy energies. You get the feeling that Beethoven initially believed he was writing a market-pleasing throwaway and then found the project growing steadily more tangled and complex.

Or perhaps he meant all along to veer off course. The joy of listening to Beethoven is comparable to the pleasure of reading Joyce: the most paranoid, overdetermined interpretation is probably the correct one. The simplest answer might be that Beethoven was so crushingly sublime that posterity capitulated.

But no one is well served by history in the style of superhero comics. This composer, too, was shaped by circumstances, and he happened to reach his maturity just as listeners of an intellectual bent, such as E.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Hoffmann, were primed for an oversized figure, an emperor of an expanding musical realm. The disorder of the Napoleonic Wars, which redrew the map of Europe and ended the Holy Roman Empire, caused many to look toward music as a refuge.

The Difference Between Mozart and Beethoven - Mozart Vs. Beethoven

Amid universal chaos, Beethoven exuded supreme authority. Beethoven, despite his cosmopolitan Enlightenment background, was not immune to such sentiments. This would seem to be the kind of work that Swafford dismisses as so much posturing, but it sheds new light on the origins of the Beethoven phenomenon. Napoleon occupied Vienna in , amid an upwelling of patriotic feeling in the Austrian population, and Beethoven, notwithstanding his earlier French proclivities, rose with the anti-French tide.

Earlier scholars have dismissed these pieces as regrettable detours or treated them as exercises in irony and parody. Biographers have long argued that the turmoil of the Napoleonic period and the subsequent restoration of traditional monarchic rule led Beethoven to escape into a private, visionary world. They also tend to assume that his deafness isolated him from everyday concerns. He portrays a composer perpetually buffeted by political forces from the start of his career: several striking pages of the book evoke the militarized sonic landscape of Vienna in the Napoleonic years, with fanfares, marches, and belligerent songs echoing from all corners.

Beethoven adopted this militaristic vocabulary but translated it into a more rarefied instrumental language.

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The finale of the Ninth has the momentum of immense forces being called up and mobilized for some mighty task. But what? The aura of history unfolding before our ears, of figures rushing into the future at a prestissimo tempo, sends us into a fury of interpretation.


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Here, perhaps, is the core of the Beethoven phenomenon. He achieved unprecedented autonomy, refusing to abase himself before aristocratic patrons even as he took their money. Most of his major scores make their argument in abstract, nondescriptive terms, under the titles sonata, quartet, concerto, and symphony. Yet a paradox hovers over this liberation from servility and utility: in breaking away from its present, the music becomes captive to its future. Can Beethoven ever elude the fate of monumental meaninglessness to which he seems consigned?

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The canon is a grand illusion generated by the erasure of a less desirable past. Classics has done a service in bringing it to light, since intelligent novels on the subject of composers—or musicians of any kind—rarely come along. Furthermore, this Beethoven novel depicts not his years of triumph but his squalid final months, when he often had the appearance of a decrepit monster.

Friedman takes inspiration from the notebooks through which Beethoven communicated with friends and acquaintances once his deafness had made ordinary discourse impossible. Friedman seizes on the frustration and makes it productive. And, despite the oblique method, the voice is all too vividly audible.

Johanna had some character flaws—she had been jailed for embezzling a pearl necklace—but hardly deserved to have her son taken away, as Beethoven eventually succeeded in doing.

Ludwig van Beethoven

And there the conversation ends, with Schindler slinking from the room, as the next interlocutor reveals. Especially in his final years, Beethoven was in constant misery, some of it ordained by fate and some of it self-imposed. Heavy drinking compounded other health problems and, Swafford argues, proved fatal. These pencil sketches show Beethoven walking the streets of Vienna deep in thought and with not a great deal of attention to his appearance. The signatures of Beethoven and of the artist -- Johann Peter Theodor Lyser -- are included on this artwork.

Sketch of Beethoven in The current location of this sketch is the Beethovenhaus, Bonn, Germany.


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  4. Beethoven composing in his Vienna apartment in the latter part of his life. There are books and papers on the top of the piano and under it! This was a popular 19th century print it was often called "Beethoven Composing in his Study" and was based on a painting circa by Carl Schloesser Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven in Beethoven tried all sorts of cures for his deafness. Here are some of Beethoven's hearing aids including his hearing trumpets , as depicted on this postage stamp issued by the Maldives in In Beethoven lived and worked in this house in the small town of Wien-Heiligenstadt on the outskirts of Vienna while he was trying to come to terms with his growing deafness.

    Sketch of Handel and Beethoven : Thomas Hanly Ball :

    This stamp was issued by Austria in Beethoven and his Third Symphony also known as the "Eroica Symphony". It is believed that this symphony was written in praise of Napoleon and the liberation that he initially brought to the peoples of Europe see the wreathed drawing of Napoleon and the broken chains. However, Beethoven is said to have torn out the title page of the "Eroica" when he learned that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor. This stamp was issued by Senegal in to celebrate the th anniversary of Beethoven's birth. Beethoven composing the Sixth Symphony also known as the "Pastoral Symphony".

    This lithography appeared in an issue of the the Swiss musical journal, Almanach der Musikgesellschaft , that was published in Zurich in A copy of this lithography can be seen in the Beethoven Haus, Bonn, Germany. Several bars of the "Pastoral Symphony" along with a cartoon of musicians playing their instruments in a rural setting are here depicted on a stamp issued by Liechtenstein in Beethoven's Egmont Overture is featured on this stamp issued by Belgium in