Ludwig van Beethoven Facts

20 Interesting Facts About Ludwig van Beethoven

Often considered one of the most influential music maestros, Ludwig van Beethoven was a true rock-star of the classical music world. Here’s a list of the top twenty facts about Beethoven.

  1. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Germany sometime in December 1770, although no one is sure of the actual date!
  2. For years the young composer thought he had been born in 1772, a deception believed to be conceived by his father to make him appear younger and more advanced and gifted for his age.
  3. As a young boy Beethoven played the violin and often enjoyed musical improvisation rather than playing from a score. His father once said “I can’t bear that – scratch by note, otherwise your scratching won’t amount to much”!
  4. The earliest piece of Beethoven dates from 1782 (whilst he was 12!) and consists of 9 variations for piano in C Minor – which is uncommon for music of the time – and is notoriously difficult to play.
  5. After Mozart’s death in 1791, the Viennese Count Waldstein told the young Beethoven if he worked hard enough he would receive ‘Mozart’s spirit through Haydn’s hands’.
  6. Beethoven kept a diary of his day-to-day goings on when living in Vienna from 1792, giving us insights into his daily life, from finding a new wig-maker to finding a place to buy a piano.
  7. By 1793, at age 22, Beethoven often played the piano in the salons of the Viennese nobility and quickly established himself as a piano virtuoso, playing preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier.
  8. Beethoven started to go deaf aged only 25 so he used conversation books to communicate, asking his friends to write what they wanted to say so he could respond.
  9. Beethoven first performed his first symphony at the age of 30. Symphonies were considered light-hearted pieces of work but Beethoven’s introduction took things two steps further – so much further in fact that it is often considered a joke!
  10. In 1802 during a retreat to Heiligenstadt outside of Vienna, a despairing Beethoven wrote “I would have ended my life – it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.” This is now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, and was published in 1828.
  11. Beethoven’s early period is considered to have ended in 1802, after the Heiligenstadt Testament, and contains his first and second symphonies, a set of six string quartets, piano concerto no. 1 and 2, and around a dozen piano sonatas – including the ‘Pathétique’ sonata.
  12. Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ middle period is heavily emotional and expresses heroes and struggles – this period includes Symphony No. 3, the last three piano concertos, five string quartets, Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, and piano sonatas including the ‘Moonlight’, ‘Waldstein’ and ‘Appassionata’.
  13. Beethoven’s late period – which included his works Symphony No. 9 with its choral finale, the Missa Solemnis, late string quartets, and some of his greatest piano music including sonatas and the Diabelli variations – is often considered to be jam-packed with musical genius and is characterized by its high intellectual intensity.
  14. The ‘Moonlight’ Sonata is one of Beethoven’s most famous works, yet was known only to him as Piano Sonata No. 14, and did not receive its nickname until 1832, 5 years after his death. German poet Ludwig Rellstab said the first movement sounded like moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne, and the name stuck.
  15. Beethoven was a large admirer of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte, dedicating his third symphony to him. When Napoleon declared himself Emperor Beethoven sprung into a wild rage, ripping the front page from his manuscript and scrubbing out Napoleon’s name.
  16. Beethoven may have only composed one opera, but he reworked and revised the piece over a ten-year period giving us the two-act version performed today.
  17. Beethoven’s music is widely used in film, and appears in some unexpected films, such as Saturday Night Fever where hints of his fifth symphony can be heard.
  18. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony features a finale using a choir although singers within a symphony was a crazy idea at the time, yet it paid off as Beethoven’s 9th changed the face of classical music forever.
  19. Beethoven was a man very partial to a tipple; in fact he was once arrested by an unsuspecting police officer for being a tramp! After his death his autopsy revealed a shrunken liver due to cirrhosis.
  20. Like his birth, Beethoven’s last words are also shrouded in mystery. Some believe his last words were ‘applaud friends, the comedy is ended’, but after a publisher bought Beethoven 12 bottles of wine as a gift, the dying composers final words actually were ‘Pity, pity, too late!’


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