Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, to Johann van Beethoven (1740-1792), of
Flemish origins, and Magdalena Keverich van Beethoven (1744-1787). Until
relatively recently 16 December was shown in many reference works as
Beethoven's "date of birth", since it is known he was baptized on 17
December and children at that time were generally baptized the day after
their birth. However, modern scholarship declines to rely on such
Beethoven's first music teacher was his father, who worked as a musician
in the Electoral court at Bonn, but was also an alcoholic who beat him and
unsuccessfully attempted to exhibit him as a child prodigy, like Mozart.
However, Beethoven's talent was soon noticed by others. He was given
instruction and employment by Christian Gottlob Neefe, as well as financial
sponsorship by the Prince-Elector. Beethoven's mother died when he was 17,
and for several years he was responsible for raising his two younger
Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792, where he studied with Joseph Haydn and
other teachers. He quickly established a reputation as a piano virtuoso, and
more slowly as a composer. He settled into the career pattern he would
follow for the remainder of his life: rather than working for the church or
a noble court (as most composers before him had done), he was a freelancer,
supporting himself with public performances, sales of his works, and
stipends from noblemen who recognized his ability.
Beethoven's career as a composer is usually divided into Early, Middle,
and Late periods.
In the Early period, he is seen as emulating his great predecessors Haydn
and Mozart, at the same time exploring new directions and gradually
expanding the scope and ambition of his work. Some important pieces from the
Early period are the first and second symphonies, the first six string
quartets, the first two piano concertos, and the first twenty piano sonatas,
including the famous Pathétique and Moonlight.
The Middle period began shortly after Beethoven's personal crisis
centering around deafness, and is noted for large-scale works expressing
heroism and struggle; these include many of the most famous works of
classical music. The Middle period works include six symphonies (Nos. 3 –
8), the last three piano concertos and his only violin concerto, five string
quartets (Nos. 7 – 11), many piano sonatas (including the Waldstein,
and Appassionata), and Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio.
Beethoven's Late period began around 1816 and lasted until Beethoven
ceased to compose in 1826. The late works are greatly admired for their
intellectual depth and their intense, highly personal expression. They
include the Ninth Symphony (the Choral), the Missa Solemnis,
the last six string quartets and the last five piano sonatas.
Beethoven's personal life was troubled. Around age 28 he started to
become deaf, a calamity which led him for some time to contemplate suicide.
He was attracted to unattainable (married or aristocratic) women, whom he
idealized; he never married. A period of low productivity from about 1812 to
1816 is thought by some scholars to have been the result of depression,
resulting from Beethoven's realization that he would never marry. Beethoven
quarreled, often bitterly, with his relatives and others, and frequently
behaved badly to other people. He moved often from dwelling to dwelling, and
had strange personal habits such as wearing filthy clothing while washing
compulsively. He often had financial troubles.
It is common for listeners to perceive an echo of Beethoven's life in his
music, which often depicts struggle followed by triumph. This description is
often applied to Beethoven's creation of masterpieces in the face of his
severe personal difficulties.
Beethoven was often in poor health, and in 1826 his health took a drastic
turn for the worse. His death in the following year is usually attributed to