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Beethoven's Ascent

Beethoven's father and mother

With the death of Beethoven's mother, the last steadying influence on Beethoven's father was removed. The old singer unhesitatingly put the bottle before Ludwig, his two younger brothers, and his one-year-old sister. The situation became so bad that by 1789 Beethoven was forced to show the mettle that was to stand him in good stead later in life. He went resolutely to his father's employer and demanded - and got - half his father's salary so that the family could be provided for; his father could drink away the rest. In 1792 the old man died. No great grief was felt: as his employer put it, "That will deplete the revenue from liquor excise."

For four years Ludwig supported the family. He also made some good friends, among them Stephan von Breuning, who became a friend for life, and Doctor Franz Wegeler, who wrote one of the first biographies of Beethoven. Also, Count Ferdinand von Waldstein entered Beethoven's circle and received the dedication of a famous piano sonata in 1804.

Joseph Haydn (right) attempted to guide the young
Beethoven's (left) talent.

In July 1792 the renowned composer Haydn passed through Bonn on his way to Vienna. He met Beethoven and was impressed, and perhaps disturbed, by his work. Clearly, he felt, this young man's talents needed to be controlled before it could be developed. Consequently Beethoven left Bonn for good early in November 1792 to study composition with Haydn in Vienna. However, if Haydn had hoped to "control" Beethoven's talent he was fighting a losing battle. Beethoven's music strode towards the next century, heavily influenced by the strenuous political and social tensions that ravaged Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. Haydn, who had been a musical trend setter himself in youth, found that Beethoven was advancing implacably along the same radical path. After realizing that Haydn was not the master he was looking for, Beethoven moved onto Albrechtsberger, another prestigious musician who called him an "excited musical free-thinker".

Those first weeks in Vienna were hard for Beethoven. Opportunities were not forthcoming; expectations were unfulfilled. In addition it must have irked him, fired as he was by the current spirit of equality, to have to live in a tiny garret in Prince Lichnowsky's mansion. Soon, however, the Prince gave him more spacious accommodation on the ground floor, and, mindful of the young man's impetuous behavior, instructed the servants that Beethoven's bell was to be answered even before the Prince's own!

Impetuosity was also a feature of his piano playing at this time. In those days pianists were pitted against each other in front of audiences to decide who could play more brilliantly and improvise the more imaginatively. Beethoven's rivals always retired, bloodied, from such combat. While he made enemies of many pianists in Vienna, the nobility flocked to hear him. Personally and professionally his future looked bright. Compositions poured from him and he gave concerts in Vienna as well as Berlin, Prague, and other important centers. His finances were secure enough for him to set up his own apartments. He was the first composer to become a freelance by choice, as opposed to depending on patrons. However, it was his skill as a pianist rather than as a composer that brought him recognition during his twenties. He was one of Vienna's dominant music personalities surrounded by aristocrats and famous musicians. Until the coming of his deafness, he had five principle resources: Pianoforte Playing, Teaching, Composition, Dedications, and Concert-giving.

The first concert of his own responsibility occurred on April 2, 1800 he launched his first Symphony and introduced his world famous Septet op. 20. One year later, however, in 1801 his deafness began to hit Beethoven, causing great turmoil in his life.
  Copyright (C) 2005 William Lane