Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time. Much of his music was filled with great joy. Unfortunately, Beethoven’s life wasn’t filled with joy or happiness.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany. He had a difficult and miserable childhood. His father, Johann, was a musician for the king. Johann started to give Ludwig piano lessons before he was four years old. Ludwig was so small that he had to stand on the piano seat to reach the piano. When Johann saw how quickly Ludwig learned, he knew his son had talent. He was determined to make Ludwig into a concert performer, and he was very demanding. He hit Ludwig’s hand when he made a mistake and often woke him up in the middle of the night to make him play for friends. Ludwig continued to study, and, in 1782, he became the assistant organist for the king. He was only 12 years old!
Around this time, Beethoven began composing and publishing music. He used the money that he earned to help take care of his family. His father had a lot of problems and could not support them. When Beethoven was about sixteen, he went to Vienna to study. This was every musician’s dream. While he was there, he played for many important people, including the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When Mozart heard him, he told his friends, “Keep your eyes on him. Someday he will give the world something to talk about. ”
Soon after Beethoven arrived in Vienna, his mother died. He loved her very much and he was very upset by the news. In fact, he was devastated. Beethoven moved back to Bonn to help care for his younger brothers and sister. He made money by performing and giving music lessons. In 1790, Beethoven returned to Vienna. He studied for a short time with Austrian composer Joseph Haydn. Haydn was an older man and did not have the patience to teach the independent, young Beethoven. Several years later, Beethoven decided to stay and live in Vienna because all the great musicians at that time lived there. He gave many concerts and continued to compose music.
Most of the well-known composers of that time worked for wealthy families. Beethoven was too independent and rebellious to work for anyone else, so he worked for himself. He was the first great composer to do this. His love of independence also showed in his music. Unfortunately, when Beethoven was in his late twenties, a terrible thing happened to him. He began to lose his hearing. Eventually, he would be completely deaf. Beethoven was very angry and upset by this. Sometimes he broke the strings on his piano because he hit the keys so hard to hear the notes.
Music was the most important thing in Beethoven’s life and his loss of hearing tortured him. But inside his head, the music continued to play. He continued to compose music, but it was difficult for him to perform in public. His last public performance was very emotional. When Beethoven was finished conducting, the audience began to applaud. But Beethoven continued to conduct because he could not hear the people applauding. Finally, one of the musicians turned him toward the audience. Now he could see how much they loved his music. He started to cry.
Beethoven was a brilliant composer, but a difficult man. He was selfish and he treated people badly. His music was so beautiful that some people cried when they heard it. He laughed at this, and thought they were stupid. Before he lost his hearing, he would walk away if people talked while he was playing. If he did not like an audience, he didn’t perform at all. He could also be quite insulting. He wrote a song called “Praise to the Fat One, ” for a violinist who was overweight. Beethoven was not very attractive himself. He was short and he let his hair grow long and wild. But he knew it, and made jokes about it.
Beethoven was also a wild and bad-tempered person, especially in restaurants. Once he got so mad at a waiter that he emptied a plate of food on the waiter’s head. Then he laughed loudly, as he always did. Sometimes he wrote music on the bill and then left without paying. Beethoven probably went to a lot of restaurants because he was a terrible cook. He loved macaroni and cheese, a soup made of bread and eggs, and red herring, which is a type of fish. He liked to make strong coffee and counted exactly 60 beans to the cup.
Beethoven usually worked early in the morning. But sometimes he stayed up all night and worked without eating or sleeping. He poured water over his head to help him stay awake, but he never cleaned it up. His room was a mess. There were dirty clothes, old pens, plates of food, and papers everywhere. His room was so dirty that all his landlords made him move. Beethoven himself was not very clean either. He wore the same clothes until they were so dirty that his friends had to throw them out. They usually did this while Beethoven was sleeping. They left new clothes in place of the old ones, but he never noticed. He was too busy writing music.
Naturally Beethoven never got married. Who would want him? He fell in love many times, however, and asked several women to marry him. Most of the women were engaged or already married. He never had children of his own, but he helped to raise his brother’s son after his brother died.
People do not think about all these things when they hear the name Beethoven. People remember the incredible beauty of his music. They also remember that he helped to make classical music popular and respected around the world. Beethoven died in Vienna in 1827 when he was 57. Over 20,000 people came to his funeral. The great composer Franz Schubert helped to carry Beethoven’s coffin. Schubert said that when he died, he wanted to be buried in Vienna, next to Beethoven. Sadly, Schubert died a year later, at the age of 32. He was buried next to Beethoven.