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Beethoven

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Beethoven, arguably the most talented political composer of his or any time, dedicated his art to the problems of human freedom, justice, progress, and community. Perhaps no other composer in history wrote music of such inspiring power and expressiveness. Plagued by a dysfunctional family in his early years, and progressive deafness throughout his career, Beethoven's journey did not have a glamorous or fairytale-like beginning or ending. Born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 to Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena, he received his first music lessons from his father, a violinist and tenor at the Court of Bonn. His father was an unstable, yet ambitious man whose excessive drinking, rough temper and anxiety surprisingly did not lessen Beethoven's love for music. He studied and performed with great success, despite a less than perfect upbringing. His father' ceaseless drinking, coupled with the death of his grandfather in 1773, sent his family into deepening poverty. By age 11, Beethoven left school and became an assistant organist to Christian Gottlob Neefe at the court of Bonn, learning from him and other musicians. He later became the continuo player for the Bonn opera and accompanied their rehearsals on keyboard. In 1787, he was sent to Vienna to take further lessons from the masterful Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, another talented composer of the day whose musical genius was well known throughout Europe. However, in the following two months, he was called back to Bonn by the death of his mother. Later, he met Franz Joseph Haydn, who agreed to teach him in Vienna, and thus moved to Vienna permanently. There, he received financial support from Prince Karl Lichnowsky, one of many future aristocratic patrons eager to sponsor the rising star who was often referred to as "the next Mozart". Around the age of 28, Beethoven began to lose his hearing and subsequently began a long period of agony. He was also having troubles with women and could not seem to find someone he could marry. These setbacks led to the emergence of a profound depression that tormented Beethoven throughout his life and career. In addition to failed attempts at love and his ailing health, Beethoven experienced war first hand when French troops invaded Vienna in 1805 and 1809 under the command of his hero, turned tyrant, Napoleon Bonaparte. Despite continuous internal suffering through life, Beethoven' music expressed his feelings in a time of democratic revolution and provided empowerment in a most beautiful and inspirational way.

Beethoven's career is generally divided into three periods of work. The first period, from 1794 to about 1800, consists of music whose most salient features are typical of the classical era. The influence of such musicians as Mozart and Haydn is evident in Beethoven's early chamber music, as well as in his first two piano concerti and his first symphony. He added his own subtleties, including sudden changes of dynamics, but in general the music was well constructed and very representative of the classical era. The second period, from 1801 to 1814, includes much of Beethoven's improvisatory work. His Symphony No. 3, known as the Eroica, and the 'Fourth Piano Concerto' are two of his more exemplary works. The final period, from 1814 to the end of his life, is characterized by even wider ranges of harmony and counterpoint. This includes his famous Symphony No. 9. Beethoven created longer and more complicated forms of music. He also used improvisatory techniques, with surprise rhythmic accents and other unexpected elements, which at the time was an evident departure from the technique most associated with the classical era.

Beethoven's works were his philosophies set to music. This could not be more apparent than in his opera, Fidelio. From 1804-1814, he devoted his time to this theatrical masterpiece. Although the opera was an amazing artwork, it took the composer longer than any of his contemporaries. Mozart, for example, launched seven operas during his decade in Vienna. For Beethoven, however, Fidelio was more than just a mere theatrical diversion, it was his response to the political turmoil that plagued Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. This story of the triumph of justice over tyranny, and of love over inhumanity, was a document of his faith. To present such beliefs in a work that would not fully serve their purpose was unthinkable, and so Beethoven wrote and rewrote and changed until he was satisfied. The opera tells the tale of a heroine who courageously rescues her husband from his wrongful incarceration. The story reflects the triumph of good over evil, the movement from darkness to light, and from subjugation to freedom. Fidelio, is a document of Beethoven's genius and evidence of his determination to perfect his art, and a thought provoking musical essay in its own right.

As a child of the Enlightenment, and having grown up during the American and French revolutions, Beethoven understood and valued the egalitarian ideals of the day. He was a believer in the republican ideas of equality and liberty and sought to make music as accessible to the common man as it was to the nobility. Indeed, some of his most deeply moving music mirrored the dreams, pleasures, and pains of the ordinary man. His deep connection to the French Revolution, it's cause, and more importantly it's leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, are evident in his epic third symphony, Eroica. Written during the earlier stages of the composer' deafness, Eroica was created in the village of Heiligenstadt where Beethoven lived for a few months to relax his ears and hearing. The atmosphere of the village was both restful and conducive to work and Beethoven's stay there

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