Three Things to Know About Beethoven
- Oct 16, 2019
- Paul Richardson
So, here’s the first thing to know about Ludwig van Beethoven: he was just under six when the American Revolution broke out in 1776.
To understand any composer’s life and work, you need to grasp when they lived and grew up. Beethoven’s era was one of revolution and rebellion, of great social, political, and economic change all across Europe. Germany, where he was born, was nearing the end of a century-long political and military consolidation just as France was cascading into revolution and the Holy Roman Empire was folding.
Think of all that turmoil, empire building, and revolution, and it will help you understand the innovation, drama, and romanticism that permeate Beethoven’s works.
The second thing to know about Beethoven is that he was a famous virtuoso pianist (at age 21) before he became known as a composer (first composition at 25; first symphony at 30).
Forcefully groomed from a very young age by his father to become “the next Mozart,” he was reputedly an amazing improviser, and his family compelled him to leave school early (never learning his multiplication tables) so that he could help put food on the table.
The third thing to know about Beethoven is that he matured alongside the piano. While his predecessors composed for the harpsichord, Beethoven saw the potential of this new-fangled piano thing (invented 1709), and decided to become the first great composer of works for piano. Count us lucky.
Of course, there are many, many more things to know about Beethoven, and we will be hearing much about him over the coming year, because December 17, 2020, is the 250th anniversary of his birth.
For its part, The Symphonia has devoted its third concert (February 9) in the Marleen Forkas Connoisseur Concert Series to Beethoven. Titled “Happy Birthday Beethoven,” it will connect the German master’s works to South Florida like no other concert in 2020. Indeed, the Sun Sentinel selected this concert as one of its 5 Must-See Classical Music Performances This Season.
This Connoisseur concert is unique in pairing two works by Beethoven (King Stephen Overture and the Symphony No. 5) with two works by the Floridian composer Ellen Taaffe Zwillich (pictured, right) – the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. This combination of Old World and New, German and American, to say nothing of the fact that it is being conducted by James Judd and features soloists Elissa Lee Koljonen (violin) and Yumi Kendall (cello), makes this a concert for the ages.