WRTI's Essential Classical Composer No. 1: Ludwig van Beethoven

Feb 10, 2017

Four notes (the first three of which are the same) say “classical music” to more people around the world than any other bit of music anyone else has ever written. When Ludwig van Beethoven finally chose those notes, he not only figured out the beginning of his Fifth Symphony and branded classical music forever, he also staked a claim—with an audacity and a power unlike anyone else before or since—to be recognized as “the” composer of classical music.

At least, that’s how you see it, because you overwhelmingly voted Beethoven the Number 1 Most Essential Classical Composer. (And he wrote lots of other music besides the Fifth Symphony, too!). Some other interesting notes about your No. 1 pick.

  • The “van” is not German, but reflects where his family was from, the Flemish, Dutch-speaking part of what is now Belgium.
  • An early music teacher insisted that Beethoven read philosophy.
  • He later studied with Haydn, and possibly met Mozart, in Vienna. Beethoven’s friend Waldstein said, “you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.”
  • He noticed by 1801 that he was going deaf. He had written only one of his nine symphonies at that point.
  • Afraid that Beethoven was about to leave Vienna for other opportunities, a group of wealthy admirers produced an annual pension for him, making him, some say, the first independent professional composer. It had a catch: he couldn’t leave Vienna. Although the amount lessened as benefactors died, Beethoven stayed in Vienna the rest of his life.

Meridee Duddleston looks at a letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers from a village outside Vienna, where he discusses his deafness, and the one thing keeping him from committing suicide.