Celebrating Beethoven: Life and Legacy

Beethoven lived in an incredibly tumultuous time. Born in 1770, he was 19 at the start of the French Revolution, and a political junkie. By the time he died in 1827 he had lived through the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna and its repercussions. Through all of this Beethoven completely changed the musical landscape of Western music taking it on an exciting new journey.


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  • Beethoven and his deafness: How could Beethoven have written such fulfilling music without hearing it? What was the impact of Beethoven’s deafness on his music? The mental, physical and creative effects of going deaf on a composer of Beethoven’s stature were significant, including suicidal thoughts and difficult interpersonal relationships. Beethoven’s Conversation Books and Heiligenstadt Testament respectively reveal mechanisms for living with deafness and expressing despair.
  • Beethoven and the aristocracy: Beethoven lived in a time when one’s social class indicated one’s place in society. But even with his revolutionary views fuelled by the French Revolution of 1789 and the rise of Napoleon, Beethoven knew that to succeed one needed the support, both financially and socially, of the upper classes. This created an interesting relationship with his ‘superiors’. He said "Prince, what you are, you are through chance and birth; what I am, I am through my own labour. There are many princes and there will continue to be thousands more, but there is only one Beethoven."
  • Beethoven’s legacy: Throughout his life Beethoven often wrote music which he knew people of his time would neither be able to play nor understand, once stating that a composition was not for ‘now’ but for future generations. In the Romantic period Beethoven was the composer others aspired to emulate. Some tried to copy his musical style while others saw his revolutionary thinking as a license to continue in a new musical direction. Liszt said, “New wine requires new bottles”. And in the 20th and 21st centuries he has become a cult hero.

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