Beethoven in Context: His Life and Music

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Beethoven has long been regarded as one of the giants of Western music. A true revolutionary and innovator, he had an extraordinary musical imagination. His struggles against increasing deafness and other difficulties in his career have also revealed him to be a truly heroic figure. This course will chart his development from his early years in Bonn up to his death Vienna, against the turbulent political background of the time.


  • Birth, education and background in Bonn – his earliest compositions, his first visit to Vienna and his meeting with Mozart: Beethoven’s settling in Vienna in 1792, his studies with Haydn – his first compositions in Vienna: early Lieder (1794-5), the Septet (1799-1800), the ‘Pathétique’ Sonata (1799)
  • His visits to Prague, Berlin and Leipzig – 1796 and 1798 – the Concert aria ‘Ah! Perfido’ (1796) the ballet ‘Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus’ (1801)
  • First three symphonies: the revolutionary nature of the ‘Eroica’ (1800-1804)
  • Oratorio ‘Christus am Ölberge’ (1804/1811)
  • ‘Violin Concerto’ (1806), the Overture to ‘Coriolanus’ (1807) and the ‘Mass in C’ (1807)
  • Symphonies nos. 4, 6 and 7 (1806-1812)
  • Piano Sonata ‘Alla Tedesca’ (1809), his Opera ‘Fidelio’, and the Overture to ‘Egmont’ (1809-10), the ‘String Quartet in E flat major – the Harp’ op 74 (1809)
  • ‘String Quartet in E flat major – the Harp’ op 74 (1809), the ‘Cello Sonata no 5 in D major’ (1815), the ‘Missa Solemnis – Credo’ (1819-1823), and the ‘Symphony no 9 in D minor’ – Finale (1824)

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Appreciate the special circumstances of Beethoven’s life and the importance of the social and political changes he lived through.
  2. Assess Beethoven’s significance to the development of musical life during the 19th century.
  3. Distinguish between the different compositional approaches taken by Beethoven in the various genres in which he composed.
  4. Evaluate the different performances heard in the performances of his works.