MuseData: Ludwig van Beethoven

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) brought the symphony, the concerto, and the string quartet to heights not imagined by his musical predecessors or peers. Born in Bonn (Germany), he flourished in Vienna (Austria), where he moved in 1792. Soon famous as a pianist, his compositional style began to change course a decade later, when the first signs of his deafness began to appear. A decade after that (in 1812 and 1813), Beethoven suffered financially from the devaluation of Austrian currency. He also suffered emotionally from the illness of his brother and the resulting prospect (never fully realized) of becoming the guardian of his nephew Karl. Beethoven’s fortunes improved over the next few years, but his hearing continuously declined. The year 1822 saw the completion of what were to be his two final piano sonatas and the Missa Solemnis. The Ninth Symphony was begun in that year. Beethoven remained engaged with writing string quartets almost until his death.

Orchestral repertory: the Symphonies

Beethoven’s works were predominately for instruments, but among them there was immense variety of types and styles, ranging from 29 short piano pieces to his final choral symphony (the Ninth). His orchestral works and string quartets enjoy great currency today. Most of Beethoven’s nine symphonies and seven concertos make stellar contributions to their respective repertories.

Work Opus No. Key Year(s) of Composition Year of first Publication
Symphony No. 1 Op. 21 C Major 1799-1800 1801
Symphony No. 2 Op. 36 D Major 1801-1802 1804
Symphony No. 3 Op. 55 ("Eroica") Eb Major 1803 1806
Symphony No. 4 Op. 60 Bb Major 1807 1808
Symphony No. 5 Op. 67 C Minor 1807-1808 1809
Symphony No. 6 Op. 68 F Major 1808 1809
Symphony No. 7 Op. 92 A Major 1811-1812 1816
Symphony No. 8 Op. 93 F Major 1812 1817
Symphony No. 9 Op. 125 D Minor 1822-1824 1826

Apart from No. 6, the “Pastoral”, which has five movements, and No. 9, which accumulates nineteen segments in its construction of a pyramid of sounds and textures, the symphonies are four-movement works beginning and ending with movements in relatively fast tempos. The second movement is typically slow and pensive. The third is a minuet or scherzo employing a common highly patterned structure.

For a range of multimedia tools, printable scores, and re-editable musical data, see “The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven: A Digital Edition” at

Orchestral Repertory: the Concertos

Although Beethoven’s concertos were largely composed within a single decade, several are hallmarks of the repertory. Celebrated for their balance of many musical factors in intricate ways and for the uniqueness of each work, they have been popular from Beethoven’s own time (during which he usually appeared in the first performance) to our own. Concentrated though the period of their composition may be, the piano was beginning to become a more robust instrument than its parent, the fortepiano. It was increasingly capable of a dramatic extensions to dynamic contrast and pitch registers. Beethoven exploited these capabilities in both his concertos and his piano sonatas.