The Life of Ludwig Van Beethoven


The rise of Ludwig van Beethoven into the ranks of history\'s
greatest composers was paralleled by and in some ways a
consequence of his own personal tragedy and despair. Beginning in
the late 1790\'s, the increasing buzzing and humming in his ears
sent Beethoven into a panic, searching for a cure from doctor to
doctor. By October 1802 he had written the Heiligenstadt
Testament confessing the certainty of his growing deafness, his
consequent despair, and suicidal considerations. Yet, despite the
personal tragedy caused by the "infirmity in the one sense which
ought to be more perfect in [him] than in others, a sense which
[he] once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such
as few in [his] profession enjoy," it also served as a motivating
force in that it challenged him to try and conquer the fate that
was handed him. He would not surrender to that "jealous demon, my
wretched health" before proving to himself and the world the
extent of his skill. Thus, faced with su!ch great impending loss,
Beethoven, keeping faith in his art and ability, states in his
Heiligenstadt Testament a promise of his greatness yet to be
proven in the development of his heroic style.

By about 1800, Beethoven was mastering the Viennese High-Classic
style. Although the style had been first perfected by Mozart,
Beethoven did extend it to some degree. He had unprecedently
composed sonatas for the cello which in combination with the
piano opened the era of the Classic-Romantic cello sonata. In
addition, his sonatas for violin and piano became the cornerstone
of the sonata duo repertory. His experimentation with additions
to the standard forms likewise made it apparent that he had
reached the limits of the high-Classic style. Having displayed
the extended range of his piano writing he was also begining to
forge a new voice for the violin. In 1800, Beethoven was
additionally combining the sonata form with a full orchestra in
his First Symphony, op. 2. In the arena of piano sonata, he had
also gone beyond the three-movement design of Haydn and Mozart,
applying sometimes the four-movement design reserved for
symphonies and quartets through the addition of a minuet or
scherzo. Having confidently proven the high-Classic phase of his
sonata development with the "Grande Sonate," op. 22, Beethoven
moved on to the fantasy sonata to allow himself freer expression.
By 1802, he had evidently succeeded in mastering the high-Classic
style within each of its major instrumental genres-the piano
trio, string trio, string quartet and quintet, Classic piano
concerto, duo sonata, piano sonata, and symphony. Having reached
the end of the great Vienese tradition, he was then faced with
either the unchallenging repetion of the tired style or going
beyond it to new creations.

At about the same time that Beethoven had exhausted the
potentials of the high-Classic style, his increasing deafness
landed him in a major cycle of depression, from which was to
emerge his heroic period as exemplified in Symphony No. 3, op. 55
("Eroica"). In Beethoven\'s Heiligenstadt Testament of October
1802, he reveals his malaise that was sending him to the edge of
despair. He speaks of suicide in the same breath as a reluctance
to die, expressing his helplessness against the inevitability of
death. Having searched vainly for a cure, he seems to have lost
all hope-"As the leaves of autumn fall and are withered-so
likewise has my hope been blighted-I leave here-almost as I came-
even the high courage-which often inspired me in the beautiful
days of summer-has disappeared." There is somewhat of a parallel
between his personal and professional life. He is at a dead end
on both cases. There seems to be no more that he can do with the
high-Classic style; his deafness seems poised inevitably to
encumber and ultimately halt his musical career. However, despite
it all, he reveals in the Testament a determination, though weak
and exhausted, to carry on-"I would have ended my life-it was
only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to
leave the world until I had brough forth all that I felt was
within me. So I endured this wretched existence..." Realizing his
own potential which he expressed earlier after the completion of
the Second Symphony-"I am only a little satisfied with my
previous works"-and in an 1801 letter-"I will seize Fate by the
throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely"- he
decides to go on. At a time when Beethoven had reached the end of
the musical challenge of the day, he also faced what seemed to
him the end of hope in his personal life. In his Testament, death
seems imminent-"With joy I hasten