Thursday: The Importance of the Arts—Beethoven

September 18th, 2008 in Thursday: The Importance of the Arts

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Today was the first day I started to teach the girls about Beethoven. They both love listening to his music and loved hearing little facts and stories about him. I have listed some information on him below. I of course did not read them all of this and reworded some things so they could understand.
Image:Beethoven Hornemann.jpg

Songs Your Child Might Be Familiar With:

5th symphony

Für Elise

Quick Biography: Beethoven was born in Bonn, Electorate of Cologne, in 1770. Of the seven children born to Johann Beethoven, himself the only survivor of three, only second-born Ludwig and two younger brothers survived infancy. Beethoven’s first music teacher was his father, who was reportedly a harsh instructor. Beethoven’s talent was recognized at a very early age, and by the age of 8 he was studying the organ and viola in addition to the piano. Beethoven’s mother died on 17 July 1787, when Beethoven was 16.  Due to his father’s worsening alcohol addiction, Beethoven became responsible for raising his two younger brothers. Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a “ringing” in his ears that made it hard for him to perceive and appreciate music; he also avoided conversation. Over time, his hearing loss became profound: there is a well-attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause of the audience; hearing nothing, he began to weep. Beethoven’s hearing loss did not prevent his composing music, but it made concerts—lucrative sources of income—increasingly hard.

Beethoven used a special rod attached to the soundboard on a piano that he could bite—the vibrations would then transfer from the piano to his jaw to increase his perception of the sound. A large collection of his hearing aids such as special ear horns can be viewed at the Beethoven House Museum in Bonn, Germany. Despite his obvious distress, however, Czerny remarked that Beethoven could still hear speech and music normally until 1812. By 1814 however, Beethoven was almost totally deaf, and when a group of visitors saw him play a loud arpeggio or thundering bass notes at his piano remarking, “Ist es nicht schön?” (Isn’t that beautiful?), they felt deep sympathy considering his courage and sense of humor. As a result of Beethoven’s hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: his conversation books. His friends wrote in the book so that he could know what they were saying, and he then responded either verbally or in the book. The books contain discussions about music and other issues, and give insights into his thinking; they are a source for investigation into how he felt his music should be performed, and also his perception of his relationship to art. He stopped performing at the piano if the audience chatted among themselves, or afforded him less than their full attention. At soirées, he refused to perform if suddenly called upon to do so. After Beethoven lost custody of his nephew, he went into a decline that led to his death on Monday 26 March 1827 during a thunderstorm.

Story of Fur Elise:   In fact, the true story behind Für Elise is shrouded in mystery, and there are many theories behind the events in Beethoven’s life that lead to the writing of the piece. What’s more, the manuscript of FürElise was undiscovered and unpublished until 1865, nearly 40 years after the composer’s death. Because of this, obviously, Beethoven could not make any first-hand clarifications about the origins of his work, which became wildly popular almost immediately upon publication. When the piece was written — in 1810 — Beethoven had recently been involved in a courtship with Therese Malfatti, who eventually turned down Beethoven’s marriage proposal. This could account for some of the effusive and overwhelming emotion of the music. Beethoven clearly had something that he felt strongly about, which makes this one of his most famous and evocative compositions. Most of us cannot even listen to the first, emotionally strained notes of the piece without feeling something in our own hearts.

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