Ludwig van Beethoven


Ludwig van Beethoven 

Born: 16 or 17 December 1770, Bonn, Electorate of Cologne
Migrated and permenently relocated to Vienna, November 1792
Died: 26 March 1827, Vienna

“Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom and Philosophy”
– Beethoven

A defining figure in the history of Western music, Ludwig van Beethoven is easily considered one of the greatest composers of all time. Certainly one of the most widely performed, respected, and admired of classical composers, his work was instrumental in the transition from the Classical to Romantic period of classical music.

Born into a musical and rather prosperous family in Bonn, in what was then the Archbishopric of Cologne, Beethoven’s talents were evident from childhood. His grandfather, having served as Kapellmeister, and his father, a singer in the electoral choir, ensured that he received early instruction in the family trade. This education, however, came at the price of a happy home life as his father sought to shape young Beethoven into a child prodigy — in the manner of his contemporary, Mozart — through rather harsh and intensive instruction. Matters were made worse by his grandfather’s death in 1773 and his father’s subsequent descent into alcoholism, leaving the family impoverished.

Despite the dysfunction at home, Beethoven came under the tutelage of composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe and achieved his first published work in 1783, in addition to having been appointed continuo player to the Bonn opera. By 1787 he had demonstrated such substantial development that Archbishop-Elector Maximilian Franz, the brother of Emperor Joseph II, agreed to send him to Vienna to study with Mozart, though this expedition was cut short by the death of Beethoven’s mother. By age 21, he returned to Vienna, this time to remain permanently. Here he studied composition with Haydn, garnered acclaim as a virtuoso pianist, and was courted by Viennese aristocracy for compositions. Amongst them was Prince Karl Lichnowsky, whose patronage resulted in the creation of Beethoven’s three Opus 1 piano trios in 1795 — the first of his works to which he ascribed an opus number and were considerable financial successes.

The First Symphony, Beethoven’s premiere major orchestral work, was completed at the turn of the 19th century; his first set of string quartets was published the following year in 1801. It was during this time that his hearing began to deteriorate, compounded by an extreme form of tinnitus. He continued to conduct, however, and premiered his Third and Fifth Symphonies in 1804 and 1808, with his Violin Concerto debuting in 1806. Known as the ‘Emperor’, his last piano concerto No. 5, Op. 73 premiered in 1810, in dedication to his patron and pupil, Archduke Rudolf of Austria — though Beethoven did not perform as soloist. In the years following, he became increasingly withdrawn from public life, but composed many of his most acclaimed works, including piano sonatas, mature chamber music, and his later symphonies. By 1814, his hearing was almost entirely impaired. He no longer performed or made public appearances.

His latter years were plagued by illness and the sorrows of an unrequited personal life. Beyond composing his thoughts in letters to his brothers — and the unknown mistress so named his “Immortal Beloved” (1812) — he channelled his emotions into his final works. He composed one of his most staggering pieces, the Missa Solemnis, between 1819 and 1823, as well as his final, Ninth, Symphony — one of the first examples of the choral variety — between 1822 and 1824. In the years before he succumbed to illness, his late string quartets and piano sonatas (1825-26) count amongst some of his last and most remarkable works. He died at the age of 56 on 26 March 1827. His funeral procession, attended by some estimates by up to thirty thousand people, included Franz Schubert and violinist Joseph Mayseder amongst the torchbearers.

Online Performances

Musical selections curated by our founding director, Professor Franz Szabo.

Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor"
Krystian Zimerman, piano
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Live from the Musikverein, Vienna, September 1989

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa, conductor
Karajan Memorial Concert
Live from the Musikverein, Vienna, 28 January 2008

Triple Concerto for violin, cello and Piano in C major, op. 56
Nicholas Angelich, piano
Gil Shaham, violin
Anne Gastinel, cello
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor
Live from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, 6 March 2015

Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, op. 80
“Choral Fantasy”
Martha Argerich, Piano
Lydia Teuscher, Soprano; Rie Miyake, Soprano; Nathalie Stutzmann, Alto;
Kei Fukui, Tenor; Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Tenor; Matthias Goerne, Baritone
Saito Kinen Orchestra and Chorus
Seiji Ozawa , conductor
Live from the Saito Kinen Festival, Matsumoto City, Nagano, Japan, 2015

Song Cycle "An die Ferne Geliebte" Op. 98
William Hite, tenor
Gilles Vonsattel, Piano
recorded in the WGBH/Classical New England Fraser Performance Studio, 2012

Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47 ("Kreutzer Sonata")
Nathan Milstein , violin
Georges Pludermacher, piano
Live from the Berwerdhallen Concert Hall, Stockholm, Sweden, July 1986

Cello Sonata No.3 in A Major, op.69
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Emanuel Ax, piano
Live from Tokyo, Japan, November 1985

Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70 No. 1 (“Ghost”)
Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, violin
Harriet Krijgh, cello
Magda Amara, piano
Live from TivoliVredenburg , Utrecht, Netherlands, 27 June 2018
The Utrecht International Chamber Music Festival

Piano Trio in Bb-Major, op.97 ("Archduke")
Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Wilhelm Kempff , piano
Live from Paris, 1974
UNESCO 25th anniversary concert

Quintet for piano and wind instruments in E flat major, Op.16
Klara Würtz, piano
Henk de Graaf, clarinet
Hans Meyer, oboe
Peter Gaasterland, bassoon
Martin van de Merwe, horn
Filmed at De Nederlands Hervornde kerk, Beets, Netherlands, 1997

Septet in E flat major, Op. 20
Janine Jansen, violin
Dana Zemtsov, viola
Jens Peter Maintz, cello
Stacey Watton, bass
Martin Fröst, clarinet
Jasper de Waal, horn
Fredrik Ekdahl, bassoon
Live from the International Chamber Music Festival, Utrecht, 2011

Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”)
Daniel Barenboim, piano
Live from the Staatsoper in Berlin, 2005

Piano Sonata no 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”)
Anastasia Huppmann, Piano
Played at the Yamaha Concert Hall in Vienna.

Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ("Waldstein")
Claudio Arrau, piano
Live  from the Beethovenhalle, Bonn, Germany, 1977
Beethovenfest Bonn 1977

Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op 57 (“Appassionata”)
Murray Perahia, piano
Recorded in 2014 in Japan

Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op.110
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Live at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, December 1991

Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111
Katie Mahan, piano
Filmed live in concert at the Mozarteum, Salzburg, 16 July 2018.

33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120
Yannick Van de Velde, piano
Recorded in the Berlin Philharmonie, 2019

String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4
Cooperstown Quartet
Hye-Jin Kim and Ara Gregorian, violins
Maria Lambros, viola, Michael Kannen, cello
LIVE at the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival,
East Carolina University School of Music, Greenville NC, 5 February 2016

String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1
American String Quartet
Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney, violins,
Daniel Avshalomov, viola, Wolfram Koessel, cello
live in The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York
Beethoven String Quartet Marathon, 18 November 2012.

String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127
Orion String Quartet
Todd Phillips and Daniel Phillips, violins
Steven Tenenbom, Viola; Timothy Eddy, cello
live in The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York
Beethoven String Quartet Marathon on 18 November 2012.

String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130 (Grosse Fuge)
American String Quartet
Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney, violins,
Daniel Avshalomov, viola, Wolfram Koessel, cello
Live in the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York
Beethoven String Quartet Marathon, 18 November 2012.

Overture to "Egmont", Op. 84 
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Kurt Masur, conductor
Live from the Church of St. Nicolai, Leipzig, 9 October 2009

Coriolan Overture Op. 62
Bayerisches Staatsorchester
Carlos Kleiber, conductor
Live from the Herkulessaal, Munich, 21 October 1996

'The Consecration of the House' Ouverture, Op. 124
Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Live from the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 2004
Inaugural concert after the fire in 1996

Symphony no. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 ("Eroica")
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor and narrator
Full Documentary and concert (concert starts at 57:22)
Live from Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, 2 November 2006

Symphony No 5 C minor, Op. 67
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Filmed on location in St.John’s Square, London, 2016

Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (“Pastoral”)
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Live from Royal Albert Hall, London, 23 July 2012

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Iván Fischer, conductor
Live from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, January 2014

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, ''Choral''
Annette Dasch, soprano; Mihoko Fujimura, mezzosoprano; 
Piotr Beczała, tenor; Georg Zeppenfeld, naritone
Wiener Singverein
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Christian Thielemann, conductor
Live from the Musikverein, Vienna, 2011

Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123
Krassimira Stoyanova, soprano; Elina Garanca, mezzo
Michael Schade, tenor; Franz-Josef Selig, bass
Chor der Sächsischen Staatsoper
Staatskapelle Dresden
Christian Thielemann, conductor
Live: Semperoper, Dresden 13 February 2010

Fidelio, opera in two acts, Op. 72
Gundula Janowitz (Leonore), Rene Kollo (Florestan), Manfred Jungwirth (Rocco), Hans Sotin (Pizarro), Lucia Popp (Marzelline), Adolf Dallapozza (Jaquino), Hans Helm (Fernando), Karl Terkal (First Prisoner), Alfred Sramek (Second Prisoner)
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Live from the Vienna State Opera, 1978

Watch the full collection of performances on our YouTube channel!

Visit the Austrian National Library's 'Beethoven Digital' collection marking Beethoven's 250th birthday (currently only available in German)!