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Beethoven’s father wanted him to be a
So he forced him to play
piano and violin for hours
every day, making him go
without sleep. He beat the
little boy when he made
When young Ludwig was seven
years old, his career as a
performer started. His father
lied and said that he was six
(the age Mozart had been when
he became famous). Beethoven
would later believe that he was
born two years later than he
actually was (in December
1770), even after he was shown
his baptismal record with his
real birth date.
However, he became an
excellent pianist and was
gifted musically. He was
composing by the age of
His family was musical. Here is a portrait of his
grandfather (also named Ludwig van Beethoven), a successful
musician and composer in his time. He died when little
Ludwig was three, which was a shame, because he was kind to
the boy (unlike his father).
Others were kind to young
Beethoven, too. He had a good
piano teacher who believed in him.
Christian Gottlob Neefe made sure
that his student knew the works of
Bach. He also taught him
literature and philosophy.
Beethoven was given a job as
Assistant Court Musician when he
was fourteen, very young to be
hired for such a post (especially
since he was really only twelve.)
The gifted boy was then sent to
study with Mozart.
Unfortunately, Beethoven had
to return home after just a
few weeks. His mother was
ill. In the time that they
spent together though,
Mozart was impressed with
“Keep an eye on him. He will give the
world something to talk about,” Mozart
said. Here is a portrait of young
Notice how differently he is
dressed than Mozart.
What are some differences?
He is wearing his own hair, cut short—not a
long powdered wig in a ponytail.
He is wearing a plain black jacket and a
simple cravat (necktie), not elaborate lace
and a red velvet jacket.
You can’t see his legs, but he is certainly
wearing long pants, not knee breeches…
Mozart was only fourteen years
older than Beethoven, but the
world changed a lot around
1791, when the older composer
died. The French Revolution had
started in 1789. People began
to dress simply to show they
agreed with the principles of
equality and they look much
more modern without the wigs
and knee breeches…
The style of music changed
at this time and become much
less decorated and orderly—
and more dramatic. We call
this new musical style
“Romantic”. This doesn’t
mean it has anything do with
love or ‘romance’; it’s just
the name of a musical style.
Baroque period in music (Bach, Handel) 1600-
Classical period (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven)
Romantic period (Beethoven, Chopin,
Here are the names of some other
periods in music, and their dates.
Notice that these periods
overlap each other. This is
because an older composer will
often continue to compose in
his accustomed style, when the
fashion changes. Bach, for
example, was writing music that
was considered to be old-
fashioned by the end of his
..Baroque music, at the same
time that younger composers had
begun to compose in the
Classical style, which was more
modern. Please note that this
doesn’t mean anything about the
quality of the music, just the
style. Bach’s ‘old-fashioned’
..was incomparably better and more important than
what the younger men (including some of his sons)
were writing. Even though people did not yet
realize this. But it was still definitely in an
Did you notice that
Beethoven’s name was in two
different periods of music?
That’s because he is a ‘bridge’
between the Classical and
Romantic styles. He is BOTH a
Classical AND a Romantic
composer. His early music
sounds very much like Mozart’s
in style (Classical)—but his
later music is definitely
And he looks Romantic in this drawing.
Where is he? What is he doing in the
picture? How would you describe his
manner? Calm or dramatic?
You would never see a
similar picture of Mozart,
taking a walk outside,
looking so untidy. The
drawing itself is very
‘Romantic’. And the scenery
is ‘Romantic’ too. The
Romantics liked the outdoors
in its natural state…
NOT like this.
(These are the gardens at Versailles, a palace,
where Mozart played for Queen Marie Antoinette
as a child. Are these ‘natural’ gardens? Why or
Queen Marie Antoinette playing
And George Washington dancing. Is he dressed
in a Classical or Romantic style?
Washington is dancing a minuet .The minuet is definitely a dance from the Classical period of
music. At the time of the French Revolution, it died.The father of our country was born in
1732 and lived until 1799. He wore a powdered wig and knee breeches to the end of his life.
The Romantics liked freedom;
wildness; emotion. They
disliked ‘artificiality’ and
restraint. (Do you know the
meaning of those words?)
Romantic literature reflects
this, and so does Romantic
music. The piano was the right
instrument for them (not the
harpsichord and not the
‘fortepiano’), because the
piano had continued to change.
And here it is next to Mozart’s piano. They
don’t look very different, do they? What
differences do you see?
Beethoven’s piano has pedals
for the feet, not knee pedals.
Mozart’s piano has the reversed
keyboard and fewer keys than
Beethoven’s has; but not very much
fewer. It’s not a difference of octaves.
Beethoven’s piano was made by
the English firm, Broadwood.
They made this piano especially
for him because he always broke
his pianos. The strings snapped
and the keys broke with the
power of his playing. Broadwood
made him a stronger piano,
although it didn’t yet have a
cast iron frame…
..like a modern piano. The cast iron frame was invented
around 1818. It allows the piano strings to be wound much
more tightly, so that the instrument can be played very
loudly without strain.
Beethoven’s Broadwood was as
strong as a piano can be,
though, with the old-style
wooden frame. And it had a
Do you know the name of the
part of the piano responsible
for the sound?
It’s called the soundboard. Can you see
it here in this grand piano, under the
This is how the soundboard fits
into a grand piano.
Many other string instruments (guitars,
harps, violins) have soundboards.
The top of the guitar is its
The soundboard of this harp is
Sound boards operate by the
principle of forced vibration. “The
string gently vibrates the board,
and despite their differences in
size and composition, makes the
board vibrate at exactly the same
frequency. This produces the same
sound as the string alone,
differing only in timbre.”
(Wikipedia article on soundboards
Soundboards are always made
of wood and the wood has to
be carefully chosen and
prepared. You could call
the piano soundboard the
‘heart’ of the instrument…
So the soundboard of Beethoven’s
beautiful piano must be a good one. (It
can still be played). Unfortunately, by
the time that he got it, Beethoven could
By 1817, he was deaf.
“Conversation book” in which friends would write things down for Beethoven
instead of saying them, because he couldn’t hear. He started to go deaf in the
late 1790’s and by 1818 could no longer hear people talk.
How did he manage to keep composing in spite of this
disability? And what kinds of piano music did he
Music Beethoven composed.
We will talk about that next time.
Especially about Beethoven’s piano