Ludwig van Beethoven

You're now in the third room of the Great Composers, with Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) as the final representative of the Vienna Classical era.

Born in Bonn where he began his musical career, the young man soon moved to Vienna. Beethoven lived here for 35 years, and as soon as you enter the room, you'll see from the display to your right, that he moved no less than 67 times during this period. He therefore stayed in one place no longer than six months on average: firstly because it used to be common to move from the stuffy city to the country during midsummer, and secondly because Beethoven was anything but a pleasant housemate. When he felt hot and bothered as a result of his exhausting composing, for example, he poured a bucket of cold water over his head in the middle of the apartment – which displeased his neighbours somewhat. Beethoven was stubborn, short-tempered and above all loud. At the age of just 24, the first signs of his hearing problem became noticeable, making him even louder as he got older: the increasingly deaf Beethoven struck the keys with all his might, but heard nothing...
For the last nine years of his life he was completely deaf, and yet composed works such as his Symphony No. 9, his last Piano Sonata, Op. 111, and famous "Missa Solemnis" in D major, Op. 123.
The tragedy of Beethoven's illness is illustrated by the "Heiligenstädter Testament" which you can see on the wall in the middle of this room. Putting his innermost despair on paper clearly helped him deal with it, as shown by the productive creative period that followed. He wrote his cheerful Symphony No. 2, "Eroica" Symphony No. 3 the following year, and continued to work on his only opera, "Fidelio".

Beethoven was a sympathiser of the French Revolution and regarded the young Napoleon Bonaparte as a hero freeing the people from aristocratic servitude. He therefore dedicated "Eroica" to him, otherwise known as the "Heroic Symphony". When the Corsican proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804, Beethoven felt betrayed and crossed out the dedication so firmly that he made a hole in the document, as you can see from the facsimile hanging on your left, next to Napoleon. He subsequently dedicated the Symphony to one of his greatest patrons, Prince Lichnowsky, pictured in the portrait to the right of Napoleon. What's interesting is that Beethoven had no problem with aristocratic benefactors financing his livelihood, despite his critical attitude towards the upper classes. He even secured a handsome annuity from Archduke Rudolf, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky, who feared losing him to the Court of Napoleon's (!) brother.

Beethoven lived at a time of social upheaval which he also embodied: art shifted from the nobility to the bourgeoisie, seeking freedom and liberation – it's precisely these issues that our composer embraces in his work, and is also why love and justice triumph over arbitrary tyranny in Fidelio.

In his early years, Beethoven was known as an outstanding pianist, before making his name as a composer. Piano music therefore plays a central role in his work. He wrote a total of 32 piano sonatas, including "Appassionata", "Pathetique" and "Moonlight Sonata". The Broadwood square piano exhibited here is where he attempted to master these challenging pieces and developed his emerging virtuosity.

Through his work as a pianist and music teacher, Beethoven had access to the noble households, where he often fell in love with the daughter of the house - unfortunately without success. He was not of noble stock, so marriage was out of the question. Despite a number of unhappy love affairs, Beethoven still dedicated some pieces of music to these women - which are still very popular today. The "Für Elise" (W.o.O. 59) album sheet, for example, was dedicated to Therese Malfatti (1792-1851).

Did you know that…

Beethoven was very proud: "Prince, what you are, you are by an accident of birth. What I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes. There is only one Beethoven." These harsh words were directed at Prince Karl Lichnowsky. The Prince had urged Beethoven none too gently to perform something for his guests...

Symphony No. 5 in C-minor, Op. 67

Vienna Philharmonic orchestra
Christian Thielemann, conductor
Location: Musikverein building - "The Golden Hall"