Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ludwig van Beethoven: Later Years (1802-1827)

Middle (Heroic) period as a mature composer (October 1802-1814)
This period of Beethoven’s career began with his defiant return to Vienna from the small town of Heilgenstadt and his strong recommitment to his work as a composer. Important works of this period include symphonies 3 through 8, string quartets 7 through 11, the “Moonlight” and “Waldstein” sonatas, the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, and the opera Fidelio.

In 1803 Ludwig conducted his Symphonies No. 1 and 2 along with his Piano Concerto No. 3 and the oratorio “Christ on the Mount of Olives.” The concert was a critical and financial success. That same year his favorite student Giulietta married a count.

Around 1804, Rudolf von Habsburg-Lothringen, younger brother of Leopold 2nd, the Austrian emperor, began to study piano and composition with Beethoven. They worked together for the next 20 years. During that period Rudolf also provided financial support to Beethoven. Beethoven dedicated 14 compositions to him, including the Archduke Trio (1811) and Missa Solemnis (1823).

In 1804 the husband of Josephine, Ludwig’s one true love, died. He reestablished a deep relationship with her and she loved him just as profoundly in response. Her family still hated the relationship and threatened Josephine with the loss of custody of her children unless she ended it. Three years later, she again chose to marry a count instead of her one true love. That marriage was a disaster and, ironically, her husband took custody of her children away from her.

In 1805 Ludwig completed his first major work of this period: Symphony No. 3 (the “Eroica” or “Heroic”). Reviews of it were mixed: some thought it too unconventional; others, an instant classic. He also premiered Fidelio, his only opera. Few attended the opening performance because Napoleon’s troops had occupied Vienna. Critics disliked it.

In 1808, Jérôme Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and, at that time, king of Westphalia, offered Ludwig a generous salary to be his director of music in Kassel. His convivial student Rudolf von Habsburg-Lothringen, his old friend and patron Joseph Franz Lobkowitz, and a new patron Ferdinand Johann Nepomuk (a prince of Bohemia) promised Ludwig an even better salary if he stayed in Vienna. Ludwig stayed but only Rudolf paid his share. Lobkowitz soon fell from a horse and died. Nepomuk lost his fortune and couldn't pay. Inflation caused by the Napoleonic wars devalued even Rudolf’s contribution.

Ludwig completed his Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6 in 1808 and premiered both at a concert in December. He conducted the orchestra for both symphonies and played his own Piano No. 4. The concert lasted more than four hours.

In 1809 Napoleon’s army again attacked Vienna with cannons. Ludwig was so worried of losing his little remaining hearing that he took refuge in his brother Karl’s basement and covered his ears with pillows until the bombardment ended.

On April 27, 1810 Ludwig composed “Für Elise.”

In 1811, he attempted to premier his Piano Concerto No. 5 but couldn’t because of his deafness. He never played the piano in public again. With that came the loss of much income as a virtuoso performer. In 1812 the concerto successfully premiered with his student Carl Czerny playing the piano.

In July 1812 Ludwig met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They deeply respected one another. Ludwig, however, thought that Johann was far too deferential toward people conventionally regarded as socially superior while Johann thought Ludwig was unspeakably rude.

Ludwig spent the first half of 1813 wrestling with inner demons. His work composing declined as did his standards of dress and public manners. In June, however, he returned to work with renewed vigor. In response to news of the defeat of a Napoleonic army in Vitoria, Spain, by an army led by Arthur Wellesley (later first Duke of Wellington), he wrote a symphony known as Wellington’s Victory. It premiered, along with a performance of Symphony No. 7, at a charity concert to benefit the victims of the wars against Bonaparte.

With repeated performances of Wellington’s Victory, Ludwig’s popularity surged and this led to renewed interest in his opera. His revised Fidelio of 1814 was a popular and critical success. This, despite the fact that Ludwig now was virtually deaf.

Late period (1815-1827)
Ludwig's late period of composition includes his Symphony No. 9, Missa Solemnis, and Gross (Great) Fugue.

In 1815 his brother Karl's tuberculosis worsened. Ludwig spent much money caring for him but he died in November. Ludwig then fought Karl's widow Johanna for custody of her nine-year-old son Karl. He didn't like her character: she had an illegitimate son from a relationship previous to Karl and had also been convicted of theft. Eventually Ludwig won custody and enrolled Karl in a private school.

For almost all of 1817 Ludwig himself was sick and wrote little music.

In December 1818, Ludwig lost custody of Karl. He appealed the court’s decision and regained it in 1820. He committed himself to publicly painting as dark a picture of Johanna as possible. He was also a strict moralist in his relationship with Karl and allowed Karl little independence in making his own decisions. All this left him with little creativity to dedicate to his music.

For the last ten years of his life Ludwig relied on notebooks to communicate with others. People would write their thoughts in these notebooks. Ludwig would either speak or write in response. In 1827 about 400 of these notebooks existed. Ludwig’s secretary Anton Schindler later destroyed 264 of them to limit our knowledge of Ludwig to what Schindler regarded as his nobler aspects.

Ludwig met Franz Liszt and listened to the 11-year-old play at a concert in 1823. Franz always remembered the great composer’s praise following the concert. He later arranged for the piano all nine of Ludwig’s symphonies.

Ludwig’s monumental Symphony No. 9 premiered on May 7, 1824. The audience punctuated the performance with wild outbursts of applause. They treated the composer to a standing ovation at the end.

On July 31, 1826, Ludwig’s nephew Karl attempted suicide. He returned to his mother’s home to recover. Then, against his uncle’s wishes, he joined the army in early 1827 and never saw his uncle again.

Ludwig died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. As many as 30,000 people attended his funeral. Franz Schubert, who greatly admired Ludwig, was one of his pallbearers. When he died the following year, he was buried next to his hero.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.