Ludwig van Beethoven is a household name. He is, many believe, the greatest composer who ever lived.

His Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata are among the most popular and easily-recognized piano pieces of all time.

And then, of course, many of us grew up watching the Peanuts character Schroeder’s obsession with him.

But there is more to Beethoven’s life and legacy than that.

In this series, we’re discovering the stories of the best composers in Western music history and why their work matters to us today.

This is Ludwig’s story.

Who

Ludwig van Beethoven.

What

One of the greatest and most prolific composers in music history.

Beethoven was a master of many genres, but he was especially famous for his symphonies and keyboard works.

When

December 1770 – March 26, 1827.

Beethoven’s exact date of birth is unknown.

We do know that he was baptized on December 17, 1770. It’s likely that he was born a day or two before that.

Where

Germany at first, where he was born, raised and began his career.

He later traveled to Vienna and spent the remainder of his life there.

Why It Matters

Beethoven is one of the most popular and respected composers in history. His work helped usher in the emotional expressiveness of the Romantic period. No composer who came after him was untouched by his influence.

Beethoven was also the first major composer to write piano music. He helped the piano to eclipse the organ and harpsichord in popularity.

Much of the piano repertoire we have today might not exist if not for Beethoven’s trailblazing.

Beethoven’s struggle with gradual hearing loss and eventual deafness has moved many over the years.

He was so distraught over it that he once considered suicide, but decided to put all his energy into creating his musical masterpieces instead.

The idea of great struggle and victory was very prominent in his works, mirroring his own life story.

Other Interesting Facts

Beethoven’s father was an alcoholic. Although he boasted about his son’s piano skills in public, he would privately beat him for making mistakes.

Wanting to set Ludwig up as a child prodigy, his father lied about his age. As a result, Beethoven grew up believing he was born in 1772 rather than 1770.

Despite this physical and emotional abuse, Beethoven loved music and made it his lifelong pursuit. He composed his first song at just twelve years old.

He studied for two years under the instruction of Joseph Haydn.

Legend says that after losing his hearing, Beethoven removed the legs from his piano and set the keyboard on the floor. This allowed him to feel the vibrations as he played and composed.

Although Beethoven composed the famous “Moonlight Sonata”, he never knew it by that name. The designation became popular after his lifetime.

He was a gifted improviser and a known lover of macaroni and cheese.

Long after his death, a lock of his hair was analyzed and found to contain high levels of lead. This likely contributed to his erratic and irritable temper and his early death. It may partially explain his deafness.

Below is a recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Major, performed by Israeli concert pianist Daniel Barenboim.

And that is the story of Ludwig van Beethoven. What are your thoughts?

Other Composers Featured In This Series:

Antonio Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, George F. Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Clara Schumann, Erik Satie, Lili Boulanger, Dmitri Shostakovich

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