In 2020 musicians across Europe and the world were preparing to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of the worlds most outstanding composers in western musical history Ludvig van Beethoven.  As the pandemic spread many of these celebration concerts were cancelled.

In the spirit of ‘not forgetting’ this genius of music, I have been inspired to share with you “Shine a Light into the Life of Beethoven”. A very brief look at the masterful Ludvig van Beethoven.  

Sit back and relax with coffee and cake or maybe a glass of wine, and prepare to be wowed even though we will only scratch the surface of this intriguing and formidable character…   


Born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Beethoven was raised in stimulating, although unhappy, surroundings. His early signs of musical talent were subjected to the capricious discipline of his father, a singer in the court chapel. In 1789, due to his father’s abuse and alcoholism, the young Beethoven was forced to begin supporting his family as a court musician.


After arriving in Vienna (1792) Beethoven alternated between compositions based openly on Classical models, such as the ‘String Quartet in A Major op.18 no.5, 1800 (patterned on Mozart’s String Quartet K.464) and those based on looser Italianate structures, such as the song ‘Adelaide’ (1795).


By 1800 Beethoven had become a huge musical personality… he was a man whose music was ‘In demand’.

1803 heralded the start of the Napoleonic Wars and Beethoven was keen to impress upon this. He took on a ‘heroic’ style of writing that was profoundly influenced by the then current European state of War.

In 1803 (premiered in 1805) Beethoven wrote his “Eroica” Symphony and dedicated the work instantly to Napoleon Bonaparte. As Napoleon began his take over of Europe Beethoven’s opinion about Napoleon changed and he scrubbed out the dedication on the original score.


From as early as 1896 Beethoven noticed he was losing his hearing and by 1810 Beethoven was almost totally deaf. 

In the preceding years Beethoven’s concerns over his worsening deafness were beginning to lead to greater social isolation and he suffered long bouts of depression. Despite this he remained defiant and prolific in his output. 

His passion was still alive and is apparent in works of magnificent  scope, such as the ‘Piano Concerto no.5′ (Emperor, 1809), his ‘Symphony no.5’ (1808) and his ‘Piano Sonata op.57’ (The ‘Appassionata’, 1805). In these works he proved that a style founded on unprecedented thematic integration and on the harmonic polarisation achieved by manipulating opposing keys he could produce works of remarkable expressive power.


Beethoven’s enthusiasm for Handel began to bear fruit in a much more thorough ongoing use of counterpoint from the years 1817 until his death in 1827.

Marked by a growing concentration of musical thought combined with an increasingly wider range of harmony and texture Beethoven developed a range of expression and mood in his last years that has arguably never been surpassed. 

The dominant private dimension of Beethoven’s late style gave rise to the five string quartets of 1824-1826, the last of which were written without paid commissions. In these works Beethoven achieved an ideal synthesis between popular and learned styles, between the humorous and the sublime. 

Judged inaccessible by the sheer difficulty to play and complexity to understand in their time, the string quartets have become – as has so much of his music, against which all other musical achievements are measured.


Beethoven dazzled the aristocracy with his piano improvisations, he stunned the public with his immense symphonies and left the world in awe of an output of music so great it is hard to think that anyone will ever come close to matching his genius. 

The works of Beethoven’s last period are each marked by an individuality that later composers could admire but scarcely emulate. In the ‘Ninth Symphony’ and the ‘Missa Solemnis’ he gave expression to an all-embracing view of idealised humanity rooted in the deeply in the Enlightenment.

The Ninth Symphony was the first ever symphony to include a full chorus and soloists, in ‘Ode to Joy’. Its monumental themes, use of Sonata form, Modal motifs and Fugal Counterpoint makes this a symphony that may never be surpassed. 


Beethoven was a genius who was never satisfied. He overcame conflict and struggle. He confronted and conquered illness, forged the path to Romanticism and shaped the musical world forever! 

“The roar that lies on the other side of silence” George Eliot

If you are interested in finding out more about Beethoven or discovering other composers please contact me. I run music appreciation classes and composer profile courses throughout the year.