The German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven who lived from 1770- 1820 wrote music that is the most well known and appreciated of all the classical composers. Many people know the beginning melody of Fur Elise, or the opening motive of the 5th symphony and the melody Ode to Joy from the 9th symphony.
Beethoven lived during a time of seismic changes in Europe and elsewhere. Our Declaration of Independence was signed when Beethoven was 6 years old! He lived during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars and the rules of society were changing and new ideas were being talked about and acted upon. Beethoven embraced these new ideas and his music was as dynamic and revolutionary as the times in which he lived.
Many people mistakenly think that Beethoven was deaf his entire life. This is not true. He began to experience ringing in his ears when he was about 31 years old. He sought medical help but the condition continued to worsen over the years and eventually he became completely deaf. When he realized that he was losing his hearing he became so discouraged that he thought about taking his own life and wrote a very famous letter to his brothers called the Heligenstadt Testament. In this letter he describes how lonely he was and how devastating it was to be losing his hearing. But, fortunately for all of us, he never sent the letter and he chose to live. He was determined to write the music that was in his mind and live with his deafness and many other physical problems as well. He wrote to a doctor friend, “If possible I will bid defiance to my fate, although there will be moments in life when I will be the unhappiest of God’s creatures. . .I will take faith by the throat. It shall not overcome me. Oh how beautiful it is to be alive- would that I could live a thousand times!”
Perhaps that is one of the reasons we love Beethoven’s music so much, because he writes in the language of music of the determination to not give up and to push through and triumph over whatever challenge we face.
Sonata in F minor Op. 57 “Appassionata Sonata” played by Valentina Lisitsa