As compared with Haydn’s 104 and Mozart’s 41 symphonies, Beethoven only wrote nine symphonies, but the nine he wrote are musically so unique and amazing that they are all common works for major orchestras of the 21st century. His symphonies essentially led music from the 18th to the 19th century, and innumerable composers look to Beethoven’s musical genius to admire and imitate. He composed music to express his emotions, not to follow musical forms and rules. His music was very personal and passionate.
The piano was a relatively new instrument in Beethoven’s day. He enjoyed working with it, writing thirty-two sonatas specifically for the piano. Pianos allowed for finer dynamics than the harpsichord because the strings were hit with a hammer rather than plucked. Such dynamic control matched Beethoven’s style perfectly. It is interesting to note that some piano manufacturers actually sent pianos to Beethoven as gifts; however, Beethoven moved so frequently, his pianos did not even have legs. (Others reason that he may have kept the pianos resting on the floor for increased sound vibrations so he could feel his music when deafness firmly took hold.)
Music was most assuredly Beethoven’s passion. He apparently became heated in the excitement of his work because he would poor pitchers of cold water on his head to keep cool. He would become so distracted by his work that he would forget to clean or change his clothes. Sometimes his clothes became so tattered that Beethoven’s friends would come into his apartment at night, steal away his worn clothes, and replace them with new ones. He once appeared so disheveled that a police officer arrested him for being a tramp – and this was at the height of his musical career!
Nothing could deter Beethoven from composing – not supper, not thunderstorms, not time constraints, not even deafness. His genius is perhaps best demonstrated in his ability to write lovely works he could only hear in his mind. That he would share those masterpieces with the rest of the world shows his generosity to all mankind, in spite of his physical trials and frustrations. Mozart was absolutely correct in his assessment of Ludwig Beethoven’s talent: “Someday he will give the world something to talk about.” He certainly did.
Want to read more and talk more about this troubled genius of the piano? Consider Opal Wheeler’s Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells.