"Duh duh duh DUH!"
—Excerpt from the "Fifth Symphony", which everyone on Earth knows
German Composer (c. 17 December 1770 –- 26 March 1827) of Classical Music
, generally considered one of the most talented and influential of all time.
Born in Bonn
to a family of Flemish origin (that's why it's van
Beethoven, not von
, and he's not a nobleman—Dutch "van" is no indication of nobility), he moved to Vienna in the 1790s, at 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
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
. 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.
Beethoven may have been an alien spy
. Or possibly a Time Lord
Despite his name, does not feature in Beethoven The Animated Series
. Or in the movie series that bears his name
Tropes present in his work:
- Everything Is an Instrument: The overture "Wellington's Victory" calls for groups of muskets and cannons to exchange fire, depicting the battle rather literally.
- 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 - he seized the title page of his work and tore it in half before throwing it to the floor - and renamed the symphony "Eroica" instead of "Bonaparte". He re-dedicated it as "[A] Heroic Symphony, written to celebrate the memory of a great man", which might be read as Beethoven declaring that Bonaparte was Dead to him, but when Bonaparte actually died, Beethoven remarked "I wrote the music for this sad event seventeen years ago", referring to the second movement of the symphony - the Funeral March.
- 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.
- Music of Note: Ask any person on the street to name a great composer; odds are very good that the first name they think of will be "Beethoven." And they'll probably also know that he wrote "Da da da DUM" and the "Ode to Joy" and....
- Out-of-Genre Experience: A large set of arrangements of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk songs leave some critics scratching their heads, but he took a lot of time and care over them (of course the generous commission didn't hurt either). In fact, the trope might even be inverted considering that by the numbers, he wrote more folk song arrangements than any other genre.
- 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.
- Standard Snippet:
- There is recent recognition that the introduction to Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" falls under this category.
- His Fifth Symphony. During World War II, the first measure was an Allied Leit Motif, its four notes matching the Morse Code for "V" (for Victory). And the irony of using Germany's greatest composer against the Germans.
- Moonlight Sonata
- Ode to Joy
- Für Elise
Tropes present in his life:
- Byronic Hero
- Child Prodigy: His talent was recognized early in life. Unfortunately, his gift was heavily exploited by his father.
- Determinator: Even losing his sense of hearing couldn't prevent him from composing.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Commonly believed to have been a victim of child abuse, which could explain the eccentric behavior he maintained for the rest of his life.
- 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, as it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce."
- Deaf Composer
- Defiant to the End: Legend holds that as he lay dying he shook a fist at a raging thunderstorm.
- Genius Slob: 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.
- Handicapped Badass: In a way.
- Hot-Blooded: According to many accounts, and evident in the nature of much of his music.
- Inspirationally Disadvantaged: When ineptly presented, Beethoven's story can skirt into this territory.
- 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".
- Jerkass: Many times he didn't apologise for being a dick.
- Mad Artist: Beethoven was one of the most important Trope Codifiers. Before the Romantic era, musicians and composers were generally regarded as more-or-less brilliant craftspeople, and not so much as inspired but wayward geniuses. Beethoven wasn't the first tortured composer to use music to express his emotions but he was certainly the best-known example, although he averts this trope to the extent that he wasn't actually mad.
- 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.
- 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 (the man was a wine merchant, which didn't help his habits) hindered his ability to parent.
- Pushy Stage Parents: Beethoven's father tried to make him into the next child music star, like Mozart.
- 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.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Joseph Haydn, in a case of Older Than Radio. Haydn took Beethoven on as a pupil but for various reasons they never hit it off, and Beethoven came to suspect that Haydn didn't take him seriously. It got worse when Haydn advised Beethoven not to publish one of his early pieces; Beethoven assumed that Haydn was jealous, but actually Haydn was worried that nobody would like it and that publication would harm Beethoven's career. It didn't, which unfortunately confirmed Beethoven's opinion of Haydn. With hilarious consequences.note