The Kennedy Center

Ludwig van Beethoven

Video and Audio

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    NSO Youth Fellows - Millennium Stage (May 20, 2016)

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    NSO Summer Music Institute - Millennium Stage (July 14, 2016)

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    NSO Prelude - Millennium Stage (February 17, 2017)

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    Joshua Bell conducts the NSO for the first time - Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Mvt. I

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    Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra - Millennium Stage (February 6, 2019)

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    Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"), Movement I - National Symphony Orchestra


Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Western European music tradition. His work crowned the classical period as well as initiated the romantic era in music.

In 1783 Beethoven's first published work, a set of keyboard variations appeared. It became increasingly clear that to reach artistic maturity, he would have to leave provincial Bonn for a major musical center. In 1787 he traveled to Vienna, apparently to seek out Mozart as a teacher, but he was forced to return to Germany due to his mother's illness. In 1790, composer Joseph Haydn passed through Bonn and Beethoven was probably introduced to him as a potential pupil. In 1792 Beethoven went to Vienna to study with Haydn although Beethoven turned to others of lesser talent in Vienna for help with counterpoint.

Beethoven rapidly proceeded to make his mark as a brilliant keyboard performer and improviser and as a gifted young composer. In 1795 his first mature published works appeared: the three Piano Trios, Op. 1 – and his career was officially launched. Beethoven's work can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period includes the First (1800) and Second (1802) Symphonies ; the first three piano concertos (1795-1800); the first group of string quartets (1800); and a number of piano sonatas, among them the Pathétique (1798) and the Moonlight Sonata (1801). The compositions of the first period are dominated by the tradition of Haydn and Mozart.

Beginning about 1802, Beethoven's work took on new dimensions. The premiere of the Third Symphony, known as the Eroica (1803-4) was a landmark in cultural history. It signaled a break with the past and the birth of a new era – to celebrate human freedom and nobility.

The works of Beethoven's middle period include the Piano Concertos No. 4 (1806) and No. 5 (Emperor Concerto, 1809). His only opera, Fidelio , was produced first in 1805 and in its final form in 1814. He wrote four overtures for the opera, three of them known as the Leonore Overture .

Beethoven's final period dates from 1816 and includes the demanding, nearly symphonic Hammerklavier Sonata (1818), and the monumental Ninth Symphony (1817-23). The last five string quartets and the Grosse Fuge (also for quartet) were composed in his last years.

Beethoven suffered from deafness during his early years in Vienna. Public performance eventually became impossible although his creative work was not restricted.

Beethoven died in Vienna after a long illness in 1827 at the age of 57.

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis


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