"Duh duh duh DUH!"—Excerpt from the Fifth Symphony, which everyone on Earth knows
Composer of Classical Music, generally considered one of the most talented and influential of all time.
Born in Bonn in 1770, he moved to Vienna in the 1790s, first attracting attention for his virtuoso piano performances. His earlier compositions were accomplished but derivative pieces (on the surface, at least) in the Classical Era style of Joseph Haydn and Mozart.
Then he started to go deaf, and everything changed. He began to compose dramatic, emotional works on a scale far larger than anything most musicians had worked on before. These would eventually lay the foundation for the Romantic Era of music.
Beethoven wrote music in a wide variety of genres, including a single Opera, Fidelio. He is most famous, however, for his symphonies. His Fifth Symphony is filled with spectacular moments. His epic and inspirational Ninth Symphony, first performed in 1824 when Beethoven was almost completely deaf, has become one of the world's most famous musical works, eventually becoming the anthem of the European Union. Thanks to Popcultural Osmosis you probably know the "Ode to Joy" from the fourth movement even if you've never heard the rest of the symphony.
Throughout the ninteenth century, Beethoven's works were upheld among even the greatest composers as the impossibly-high standard one should always try to strive to match, even if one could never succeed in doing so. Franz Schubert went into a kind of compositional paralysis after he heard a Beethoven symphony, believing much of his own work was no longer worth pursuing when something that great was out there. Richard Wagner, whose ego was nearly as large as Germany itself and who would never hesitate to tell everyone how great he was, could only bring himself to proclaim that he was the successor to Beethoven, not Beethoven's equal or better.
His presence in pop culture is at least partially down to the fact that generations of children grew up reading Peanuts strips in which character Schroeder was an obsessive Loony Fan of Beethoven, originally as a means for cartoonist Charles Schulz to parody one of the first children's fads, the cult of Davy Crockett merchandise in the 1950s. According to the Beethoven Exhibit at the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, Schulz liked Mozart more, but decided that "Beethoven" was funnier as a name.
Tropes present in his life and work
- Child Prodigy: His talent was recognized early in life. Unfortunately, his gift was heavily exploited by his father.
- When he was still able to perform, Beethoven would pointedly stop playing if he heard any of the audience members whispering. He broke a chair over the head of one of his patrons. His disdain for authority and social rank was so pronounced that an Archduke decreed that etiquette laws did not apply to Beethoven.
- His house was full of half-eaten food and full chamber pots; his clothes were tattered and his personal hygiene was so poor that he was mistaken for a tramp
- Doing It for the Art: From his Heiligenstadt Testament: "I would have put an end to my life - only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce."
- Deaf Composer
- Hero Worshipper: The story behind Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 was that he created it with the life of Napoleon Bonaparte in mind. The main reason was Beethoven viewed Napoleon as a rebel hero during the French Revolution. When the Frenchman went all A God Am I and declared himself emperor, Beethoven lost it and renamed the symphony "Eroica" instead of "Bonaparte".
- Hot-Blooded: According to many accounts.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: There are many accounts of Beethoven verbally abusing his friends and accusing of them of cheating him... only to get over it and apologise the next day.
- His temperament was so radical some historians suspect he had bipolar disorder. He once wrote to his friend Johann Hummel, "You are a false dog, and may the hangman do away with all false dogs!". The very next day, he wrote again saying, "You are an honest fellow and I now realize you were right. Kisses from your Beethoven, also called dumpling".
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: When ineptly presented, Beethoven's story can skirt into this territory.
- Let's See You Do Better: Wellington's Victory is typically seen as absolutely horrible, especially by Beethoven's standards. His response to all the criticism was, "What I shit is better than anything you could think up!" He was probably right.
- Mad Artist: Arguably, Beethoven was the Trope Codifier. Before the Romantic era, musicians and composers were seen as craftspeople instead of artistes. Beethoven may not have been the first, but he was certainly the best-known example of the tortured composer who uses music to express his emotions.
- Money, Dear Boy: Even Beethoven was not above accepting a commission for this reason. The infamous overture "Wellington's Victory" was hardly his greatest work, but it did help pay the bills.
- Unlike Mozart, Beethoven was a shrewd businessman and did know how to make a profit. At the time in Vienna, a composer had to be an entrepreneur, responsible for all expenses of performing his work. His two performances of the Eroica symphony made enough money for him to live on for three years.
- The Perfectionist: Beethoven's scores and sketches are famously filled with violently scrawled crossings-out and corrections in search of the exact right notes. Naturally, it paid off.
- Promotion to Parent: Beethoven's mother died when he was still in his teens, leaving him to care for his younger siblings, because his father's alcoholism hindered his ability to parent.
- Pushy Stage Parents: Beethoven's father tried to make him into the next child music star, like Mozart. (They even introduced him to Mozart, who recognized him as a fellow musical genius.)
- Sense Loss Sadness: In his poignant "Heiligenstadt Testament," Beethoven describes his feelings of despair as his hearing loss progressively worsened. He reveals that he was nearly Driven to Suicide, but, fortunately for everyone, he eventually resolved to keep creating music whether he could hear it or not.
- Standard Snippet:
- There is recent recognition that the introduction to Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" falls under this category.
- His Fifth Symphony.
- Moonlight Sonata
- Ode to Joy
- Für Elise