This time of year celebrates the 245th birthday of one of the most renowned cultural heroes of the Western world. Ludwig van Beethoven’s name has long been elevated to legendary status, as composer of some of the most thought-provoking and exhilarating musical works of all time. His music had a profound influence on composers that followed and his popularity continues unwaveringly in the present day.
From the sheer joy of the choral movement of his Ninth Symphony to the tragic funeral march in his experimental Eroica symphony, his music seems to be a testament to the human spirit of overcoming all odds. It was not just in his symphonies that he showed ground-breaking ideas: also in his 32 piano sonatas, he shows intriguing new aesthetics and it is in his late string quartets that he showcases himself as the incredible visionary that he was.
Life was not easy for Beethoven. He was notoriously impatient, mistrustful and disagreeable, which was not helped by the fact that he was generally underpaid for most of his life. To make matters worse, his hearing began to deteriorate by the age of 30, which resulted in total deafness within eight years. Despite these pitfalls, he was known to be incredibly endearing and maintained many deep and caring friendships throughout his life. Later on in life when he was plagued by debilitating illness and losing his hearing, his loyal friends were always never far off in offering their help and companionship.
For years to come, composers felt dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of Beethoven’s works. As Franz Schubert put it, ‘Who would be able to do anything after Beethoven?’ His legacy can be heard in the echoes of composers of the next generation, from Schubert and Mendelssohn to Mahler and Bruckner.