Today is the anniversary of the premier of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which happened in 1824 in Vienna, Austria. While I like a wide variety of music, Mozart and Beethoven are probably my two favorite classical composers. A good chunk of the reason for my liking Beethoven is because of the movie Immortal Beloved, starring Gary Oldman. I’m sure a lot of the story has had artistic license applied to it, but the overall story is there. The maestro appears both a musical genius, but also a sad lonely man, so we get to see both sides of the coin. Plus I love a good period drama and stories of unrequited love. Its soundtrack makes up the bulk of my favorite Beethoven pieces. I’ve been to Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, Germany, which is now a museum.
The composer was born in December 1770 in Bonn, though his family was from Belgium. From an early age, he showed an aptitude for music and his father encouraged him, hoping that maybe he could become the next Mozart. He published his first work entitled 9 Variations in C Minor for piano in 1782 at age 12, based off a march by a German composer. At age 14, he got his first court posting, with Maximillian Franz, the Elector of Cologne and became the principal money earner for the family (taking over from his habitually drunk musician father). He was allegedly sent to Vienna by Prince Maximillian Franz to meet Mozart and get more of a musical education, though it is not certain if they met or not. He had to go back home that year after his mother passed away, but five years later in 1792, he went back to Vienna to get more musical education under the composer Haydn. He presented his first symphony to the public in Vienna in 1800, and according to this website, “Although today we find this work classical, and close to the works of Mozart and Haydn, at the time certain listeners found the symphony strange, overly extravagant, and even risqué’. This genius, Beethoven, who was still a young, new composer, was already pushing the established boundaries of music.” In 1801, he started going deaf. When he was composing his third symphony, Beethoven originally dedicated it to Napolean Bonaparte, however “when the First Consul declared himself Emperor, Beethoven no longer saw him as a liberator of the peoplebecame enraged and scowled out Bonaparte’s name from the score.” One of my favorite works was the Pastoral Symphony (6th Symphony), which he created in 1807-8. It is interesting to note that he became “the world’s first independent composer after his wealthiest admirers: the Archbishop Rudolph, the Prince Lobkowitz, and the Prince Kinsky gave Beethoven and annual grant of 4,000 florins, allowing him to live without financial constraint. The only condition was that Beethoven was not to leave Vienna. Beethoven accepted.” The famous Immortal Beloved letter (on which the above movie takes its title) was possibly written in 1812, and here is a list of the women it could be referring to (it has never been determined who exactly she is). The famous Ninth Symphony was written between 1817-1824 and dedicated to King Frederich Wilhelm III of Prussia. “Despite the musical difficulties, and problems in the sung parts, [the Ninth Symphony] was a success. Unfortunately it was not financially rewarding.” The composer died in March 1827, having not completed his Tenth Symphony, although a musicologist Barry Cooper did piece together parts of his hypothetical work with additions of his own in 1988. If you’re interested, you can listen to the two parts here.