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Timeline: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1815-1827

beethoven-1820-us-pd.jpg
U.S. Public Domain
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A portrait of Beethoven, painted in 1820. After a quiet period in the early 1810's, Beethoven reemerged in 1817 writing some of his largest and most celebrated works.

Originally aired on Jan. 26, 2016 

The years 1813 to 1816 were a dry period for Beethoven. He was wrestling with his health and with his family.

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His brother, Casper, had passed away and left behind a son, Karl – Beethoven’s beloved nephew. Ludwig entered into a nasty custody battle with Karl’s mother and lost. Beethoven often wrote in his journal prayers that this time of suffering would come to an end.

An answer seemed to come in the fall of 1817. Even though Beethoven was now forced to carry on conversations with pen and paper due to his deafness, he embarked on some of the largest and most celebrated works of his entire catalog. These works include his "Hammerklavier Sonata" (opus 106) and his "Missa Solemnis," which was written for the Archduke (now Archbishop) Rudolph.

But the ultimate expression of this last period of Beethoven’s output has to be his 9th Symphony. He had been thinking about this work ever since he left Bonn. In a letter dating back to 1793 he expressed his desire to create a choral setting of Schiller’s "Ode to Joy." He even sketched out a few ideas in 1812, just before his dry period.

But 1823 was the year Beethoven devoted himself to writing this Choral Symphony – marrying voices and orchestra in a new, unique way. At the premiere, Beethoven couldn’t hear the audience’s applause but he could see their standing ovation as they waved hats and handkerchiefs in the air for their beloved composer.

The last three years of Beethoven’s life were devoted almost completely to the composition of string quartets; a genre pioneered by his teacher Papa Haydn. At the time, Beethoven hadn’t written a string quartet for close to 15 years. Though they were all but ignored by his contemporaries, these six late quartets became inspirations to numerous composers who followed after Beethoven. Stravinsky declared that these works would be “contemporary forever.”

1827 began with Beethoven’s health in severe decline. However, it also saw a great outpouring of support as societies from multiple nations sent the dying composer gifts, letters and financial aid.

Beethoven passed away at 5:45 p.m. on March 26, 1827. His funeral, three days later, was attended by 10,000 mourners. His legacy though, lives on.

beethoven_signature_-_us-pd.jpg
Credit US-PD
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This is the signature that Beethoven would use at the end of each manuscript. Beethoven passed away on March 26, 1827 leaving behind a legacy that has inspired composers ever since.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.

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