Happy birthday, Ludwig

No reliable record exists of the date of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, but he was baptized on December 17, 1770, at a time when it was customary for babies to be baptized on the day following their day of birth. As a child, he learned to play piano, organ, violin, and viola. He also began studying composition at a young age, and published his first set of keyboard variations when he was twelve years old.

Beethoven began suffering from tinnitus while in his twenties, and his hearing deteriorated gradually until he was almost totally deaf. The loss of his hearing was a devastating blow, causing such severe depression that he contemplated suicide. But while it was undeniably a great trial to him, it was an incalculable benefit to succeeding generations, since it forced him to give up performing and concentrate his time, energy, and passion on composition. It’s impossible to know how many of his wonderful compositions would never have been created had he been able to continue his career as a performer, but there’s no question that his total compositional output would have been smaller. His deafness also forced him to communicate with other people primarily in writing, and many of the “conversation books” he kept during the last decade or so of his life have survived, providing historians, musicologists, and musicians with valuable insights into Beethoven’s thinking and how he wished his music to be performed.

Despite being plagued throughout his life by poor health and a multitude of family and personal troubles, Ludwig van Beethoven composed some of the greatest and best-loved music ever written. Here is a performance of one of his greatest hits, the chorale from the final movement of his ninth symphony.

 

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