Celebrating the Music, and Humanity, of Beethoven

Music in this Story

Pieces in the audio segment were used in the following order:

  1. (introduction): Scherzo (2nd movement) from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Philharmonic. RCA/Papillon Collection
  2. Piano Sonata Opus 57, "Appassionata," Daniel Barenboim. Deutsche Grammophone
  3. Excerpt (vocals) from "Missa Solemnis," Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Erato Records
  4. Alternate Finale to Quartet No. 13 in B Flat, Opus 130. Lindsay String Quartet. Academy Sound and Vision
  5. Final movement to Beethoven's 9th Symphony. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor. Teldec Classics International

As the world marks another anniversary of Ludwig Van Beethoven's 1770 birth, musician and writer Miles Hoffman tells NPR's Renee Montagne that the great composer is still revered for his forceful symphonies — and admired for writing a share of them after losing his hearing.

Ludwig van Beethoven in a portrait painted in 1819-20 by J.K. Stieler.

Ludwig van Beethoven in a portrait painted in 1819-20 by J.K. Stieler. Classical Music Pages hide caption

itoggle caption Classical Music Pages

In 1802, Beethoven, by then an acclaimed pianist, came to grips with his progressive hearing loss, which would become permanent. That loss ended his concert career in 1808 and by 1815, he had ceased to perform in public.

The effects of that illness would prove to be a boon for generations of music lovers, however, as Beethoven chose to focus on composing, creating music that remains among the most-performed today. Also, his growing deafness led Beethoven to push for louder and louder pianos, forcing new advances in the instrument's design.

Recognized as a genius in his own time, Beethoven was the first composer to rise to the status of a celebrity, passing beyond the limits of aristocratic approval to become a favorite of the public. Upon his death in 1827, thousands came to pay their respects.

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Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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Album
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
Artist
Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Label
RCA
Released
2004

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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas

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Album
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
Artist
Daniel Barenboim
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
1987

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