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Ludwig van Beethoven
1770 - 1827

Listen to Beethoven's Fur Elise.

The Early Years

Social Justice, Nature, and his Symphonies

His Deafness

Mozart vs. Beethoven

Things To Think About


The Early Years

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Germany in 1770 and died in 1827 at the age of 56.  He grew up during a time of great social changes.  He loved nature and social justice. His music reflected these loves.  He was born during the Classical period.  His awesome musical talents created a new era of music called the Romantic period.  He forever changed the course of music history with his inspired compositions.

Beethoven was born in this house on December 17, 1770.
Online image available,
February 15, 2002.

Beethoven's father and grandfather were professional musicians, so it is no surprise that Beethoven entered the field of music, too.  In fact, it had been the custom for hundreds of years for children to enter the professions of their parents.    

Beethoven's father was aware of the success Mozart had as a young child.  The father wanted his son to be successful, too.  Beethoven's father cruelly made young Ludwig practice for hours at a time.  His dream was to have his son make the family rich.  After long nights of drinking, Beethoven's father would sometimes drag his son out of bed to practice the piano or play for guests.  Young Ludwig gave his first public performance when he was just seven years old.

Beethoven's father was a cruel man
and his son's first teacher.
Online image available,
February 15, 2002.

Beethoven found a new teacher when he got a little older.  He was becoming a fine pianist and would often improvise, or make up, the music as he played it.  As a teenager Beethoven traveled to Vienna, Austria and got to play for the great MozartMozart was very impressed with the young teen's talent.  He told people to keep and eye on this young man. 

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Social Justice, Nature, and His Symphonies

Napoleon in His StudyWhile in Vienna Beethoven gave piano lessons and was becoming a popular and successful composer.  The French Revolution of 1789 was raging at the time and many people were dying in that awful war.  A French general named Napoleon defeated France's enemies and inspired Beethoven with ideas of freedom and equality.  When Napoleon declared himself emperor, Beethoven was furious and decided not to dedicate his Third Symphony to this dictator.  This symphony is also called the Eroica SymphonyEroica means heroic.  

Napoleon In His Study, 1812, by David [Online Image]. 
Available, July 9, 2001.

With just four little notes Beethoven was able to create his most famous work, Symphony No. 5. This heroic piece is recognized and performed all over the world. 


Symphony No. 6 was inspired by the beauty Beethoven saw in nature.  He would often go on long walks in the countryside.  He was one of the first composers to give a name to each movement of his symphony.  These titles would help the listener imagine a scene as the music played.  

This symphony is also called the Pastorale SymphonyPastorale means a simple country life.  Here are the titles for each movement of his Sixth (Pastorale) Symphony

Awakening of Cheerful Feelings Upon Arrival in the Country

Scene by the Brook

Merrymaking of Country Folk

Thunder Storm

Song of the Shepards, Joy and Gratitude After the Storm

Symphony No. 9 was written when Beethoven was completely deaf.  The last movement is based on a poem Beethoven loved. The poem is Ode To Joy.  This poem speaks of the Brotherhood of Man.   Beethoven used a chorus of singers with this work.  No one before him had ever dared break the rules of composition by adding singers to a symphony.   

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His Deafness

By the time Beethoven was 28 he began to notice a hearing loss.  At first it was slight.  He couldn't hear the church bells ringing in the distance.  As he got older his hearing loss worsened.  By the time he was 50 he was completely deaf.  How sad and strange that one of the world's greatest composers could not hear his own music!  Even more amazing is that he wrote some of the world's greatest music even though he could not hear a note of it. 
 Beethoven as a young man.  Online image available at
February 19, 2002.

Beethoven's violent temper and moodiness can be blamed in part on his hearing loss.  He was so angry and sad over his deafness that he thought of killing himself.  He even wrote a suicide note to his brother explaining why he was going to kill himself.  Thankfully, he didn't go through with it.  He would learn to cope with his handicap and would go on to write some of the world's greatest music.  

To hear sounds, Beethoven cut off the legs of his piano and placed the instrument on the floor.  He did this to feel the vibrations in the floor when he played.  

Beethoven wrote lots of piano music.  Listen to Moonlight Sonata to get a musical idea of how sad Beethoven must have felt over his deafness.  Listen to Bagatelle in G Minor to hear his fiery passion.  

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 To hear more of Beethoven's music, go to Classical MIDI Archives.

For images of Beethoven, click here.

For more biographical information on Beethoven, click here.  

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 Things To Think About

1.  What are some things you could not do if you could not hear?

2.  What important lessons did Beethoven's life teach us?

3.  When Beethoven was deaf he used conversation books. People could write their questions and comments on blank pages in these books.  Try to spend one hour using conversation books to communicate with people.

4.  How did Beethoven change music history?

5.  Beethoven was inspired by nature and social events.  List some things that inspire you to do a better job. 

6.  How was Beethoven's life different from Mozart's?  How was his life the same as Mozart's?

7.  Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany.  He lived much of his life in Vienna, Austria.  Locate these places on a map or globe. 

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