By: Jen Rossi
Beethoven has been said to have been schizophrenic, and it’s a very good thing he was. He had a pretty rough life on the one hand but he has given us his beautiful music on the other.
The reason for this is that Beethoven had a real passion for music. Even after he became deaf he continued to write deep, serious music. He was expressing his soul, his musical energy and unbelievable technique, totally new to the age perhaps, to allow other people to understand how he was feeling himself. Whether it was a cry for help; a monumental triumph; a quiet evening; or a day in the country; he could show you all of these in his music.
Not only can he put you, even today, into different moods by listening to his music, but he wrote music you remember when you’re by yourself.
Beethoven’s music, put against Beethoven’s biography, changes very little in terms of the way one sees the composer himself, unlike some other musicians.
Ludwig van Beethoven was the son of a strict music teacher of Flemish family, whose grandfather became Kappelmeister, and who was both a singer and an alcoholic. He was recognised at a very early age as being talented. Despite this and his journey to Vienna as a young man he was forced back home to look after his 2 brothers after his mother’s death. He only got away in 1792 after the eventual death of his father.
Going to Vienna he was fortunate enough to be taught by Haydn, Mozart his ‘favourite’ inspiration having recently died and was noticed by the Elector who sponsored his music lessons.
From the time he was about 20 years old, perhaps earlier, Beethoven had medical problems. He also had great depressions even before he started to become deaf.
During his 20’s Beethoven became increasingly aware of his deafness, and must have had a brilliant mind to have been able to continue with his composing whilst he was loosing his hearing. He became possibly the best music theoretician of all time, initially taking after Mozart, and then going on to even greater transformations.
During the next 22 years he composed music only he could hear in his head but which we can all hear in its perfection today with full orchestra or in other forms.
He was a pretty obnoxious chap to the people around him, bathing well but putting on old smelly clothes, however he had numerous very good friends despite this. He left very little money, as such, when he died, as he was always a person who lived ‘equal-to, but not always within his means’. He had an extravagant life and borrowings seemed to be always against money owed to him. It is said that he was most prolific when he had exhausted his financial credit.
The Beethoven biography gets worse. He never married, but is either thought or presumed to have had a variety of short and long time girl-friends, most of who came from seriously up-market backgrounds so were already married. He did eventually marry though.
Apart from a few years when Beethoven did not write very much due to deep depression (1812-16) he tried not to be a victim of his diseases, but rather an educator in the new music that could try to explain the torment and pleasures of his life.
Beethoven’s illnesses may or may not have been the cause of his genius; or his deafness; the cause of his incredible knowledge of harmonies; his ‘gut’ problem; the reason why he was very rude occasionally, or indeed, as has been suggested, have schizophrenic tendencies; why one minute he could write a symphony and the next he was exhausted.
It was a question, many people believe, in asking the human brain to do too much with its passions. The Beethoven biography reads really sadly. However from a generally unhappy composer we gain great riches.
Beethoven has left all of us with this legacy. Listen to him. You’re mood may well be there in his music too.