Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) hardly needs any introduction. The composer of nine symphonies, five piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, the opera Fidelio and many other works, Beethoven is firmly ensconced on classical music’s A-list. A native of Bonn and long-time resident of Vienna, Beethoven lived at a time of political, social and cultural transition including the events and consequences of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. It was a time when classical music left the grand houses of the aristocracy and entered the marketplace. Rather than being beholden to an aristocratic patron, Beethoven wrote for the concert-going public. Which is not to say that he did not enjoy the patronage of Viennese aristocrats – quite the contrary – but that he inverted the composer-patron power relationship so that the aristocrat sought the association with the composer rather than the other way around. The status of the composer, in other words, was raised immeasurably. Beethoven was also a crucial figure in elevating the status of instrumental music and using music as a force for the expression of human subjectivity. Sorrow, despair, triumph and joy are some of the states that he explores in his music. Beethoven suffered from a degenerative hearing disorder and was totally deaf before he reached the age of 50. Nevertheless, he continued to compose, writing the Symphony No 9, late piano sonatas and late string quartets in the last decade of his life.
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