Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), the second-oldes

t child of the courtmusician and tenor singer Johann van Beethoven, was born in Bonn. Ludwig’s
father drilled him thoroughly with the ambition of showcasing him as a
child prodigy. Ludwig gave his first public performance as a pianist when
he was eight years old. At the age of eleven he received the necessary
systematic training in piano performance and composition from Christian
Gottlob Neefe, organist and court musician in Bonn. Employed as a musician
in Bonn court orchestra since 1787, Beethoven was granted a paid leave of
absence in the early part of 1787 to study in Vienna under Mozart. he was
soon compelled to return to Bonn, however, and after his mother’s death had
to look after the family.

For someone who was destined to be lionized by the aristocracy of his time,
Beethoven’s start in life was inauspicious. He was born in Bonn on 17
December 1770, the son of an obscure tenor singer in the employ of the
Elector of Cologne. His father was said to be a violent and intemperate
man, who returned home late at night much worse for drink and dragged young
Ludwig from his bed in order to “beat” music lessons into the boy’s sleepy
head. There are also stories of his father forcing him to play his violin
for the amusement of his drinking cronies. Despite these and other abuses –
which might well have persuaded as lesser person to loathe the subject –
the young Beethoven developed a sensitivity and vision for music.

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When, despite his father’s brutal teaching methods, Ludwig began to show
signs of promise, other teachers were called in. By the age of seven he was
advanced enough to appear in public. A year or so later the composer
Christian Gottlob Neefe took over his musical training and progress
thereafter was rapid. Ch. G. Neefe introduced Beethoven to the works of
Bach and Mozart. Beethoven must have felt immense pride when his Nine
Variations for piano in C minor were published, and was listed later in a
prominent Leipzig catalogue as the work of ‘Louis van Betthoven (sic), aged
ten’. (The former is an intentional misspelling)
In 1787, Beethoven went to Vienna, a noted musical center, where then
Count Waldstein engaged Beethoven was piano teacher and became his friend
and patron. Beethoven must have felt a little out of his depth for he was
clumsy and stocky; his manners were loutish, his black hair unruly and he
habitually wore an expression of surliness on his swarthy face. It was here
that Beethoven met the great Mozart, who was dapper and sophisticated. He
received the boy doubtfully, but once Beethoven started playing the piano
his talent was evident. “Watch this lad,” Mozart reported. “Some day he
will force the world to talk about him.”
In 1792 he chose Vienna as his new residence and took lessons from Haydn,
Albrechtsberger, Schenck and Salieri. By 1795 he had earned a name for
himself as a pianist of great fantasy and verve, admired in particular for
his brilliant improvisations. Before long he was traveling in the circles
of the nobility. They offered Beethoven their patronage, and the composer
dedicated his works to them in return. By 1809 his patrons provided him
with an annuity which enabled him to live as a freelance composer without
financial worries. Beethoven was acutely interested in the development of
the piano. He kept close contact with the leading piano building firms in
Vienna and London and thus helped pave the way for the modern concert grand

Around the year 1798 Beethoven noticed that he was suffering from a
hearing disorder. He withdrew into increasing seclusion for the public and
from his few friends and was eventually left completely deaf. By 1820 he
was able to communicate with visitors and trusted friends only in writing,
availing himself of “conversation notebooks”.

When Beethoven entered his thirtieth year, he began to suffer from an
annoying roaring and buzzing in both ears. Soon his hearing began to fail
and, for all he often would enjoy untroubled intervals lasting for months
at a time, his disability finally ended in complete deafness. All the
resources of the physician’s art were useless. At about the same time
Beethoven noticed that his digestion began to suffer. …

At no time accustomed to taking medical advice seriously, he began to
develop a liking for spirituous beverages, in order to stimulate his
decreasing appetite and to aid his stomachic weakness by excessive use of
strong punch and iced drinks.


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