Ludwig van Beethoven

            He was born in 1770 in Bonn. As his parents were Catholics, he was baptized the same year. His father, Johann van Beethoven was an artiste singing tenor as well as offering piano and violin tutorial sessions. Beethoven’s grandfather, Lodewijk van Beethoven was also an artiste and he used to sing bass. Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich, gave birth to seven children and only three survived. Beethoven was the second born but after the demise of the first born, he was designated the position. At a young age, Beethoven was lectured on music by his father and at the age of seven, he gave his earliest public presentation. In 1779, Beethoven acquired a professional instructor, Christian Gotlob Neefe and in five years time, Beethoven had his first work of art in print. Beethoven’s musical career was established in the periods 1798-1802 where he composed the string quartets, symphonies, sonatas, opera and concertos. It is true that his music has influenced generations of composers even after his death. In this paper, we shall review Beethoven’s compositions, why they have musical appeal and their influences (Kinderman, 2009).


Beethoven composed nine symphonies in the style of his precursors, Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven’s symphonies were very articulate and emotional as well as enjoyable. These compositions were very persuasive in nature infusing an element of courage to his listeners. The nine symphonies were sequential each discoursing a certain topic in a given time line and to a given generation. The appeal of the symphonies was related to the romantic elements infused in the compositions. Symphony 1 and 2 in C major and D major respectively are a continuance of the Viennese symphony that marked the revolutionary inception of the first golden age in classical music. The golden age symphonies were highly thematic and emotional (Brown, 2002). Symphony 1, bestowed to Gottfried van Swieten, a baton, dwells on friendship while symphony 2 speaks of the high and lows of the composer during his budding careers and his deafness.

Symphony 3 also known as Eroica (heroic) was composed for Napoleon Bonaparte to express the esteem that the composer had towards him. It is written in E flat major. Symphony 4 created in B flat major acts as a link between symphony 3 and 5 (C minor), that is a continuance of the Eroica theme of the elation of success. The fifth symphony influenced the work of Johannes Brahms’ symphony 1 as it is majorly done in C minor but finishes with C major. Brahms’ end of the same symphony licks a part of Beethoven’s symphony nine. Historically, Brahms’ named symphony has been generally referred to as ‘Beethoven’s symphony 10’.

The Pastoral, which is the sixth symphony in F major, conveys Beethoven’s adoration for nature. The A major symphony 7, The Apotheosis of Dance, marks the advent of the romanticism and it is a praise for the composer regarding his wisdom. With the style infusing classical and romantic rudiments, the symphony stands out from the rest, as it is very intimate and expressive in nature. The Little Symphony (8) dwells on the composer and Johann, his brother. It is written in F major. Symphony 9 The Ode to Joy was written in D minor and as the title suggests, it reflected the composer’s joy (British Periodicals in the Creative Arts, 2007).

Symphony 9 has been an all time favorite in the modern period. The movie production industry has used the composition as a sound track, examples being the Ace Ventura Pet Detective, The Apt Pupil, A Clockwork Orange, Bulworth, Die Hard, Cruel Intentions, Half Moon Street, just to mention a few. Symphony 5 has been used in The Breakfast Club, Celebrity, Fantasia 2000 and others. Symphony 6 is used in Fantasia while 7 is featured in Frances and Mortal Beloved. Kalifornia uses the eighth symphony. In the technology industry, software producer Microsoft Corporation uses symphony 9 as the one of the default sample music setting in all their software. In Christian music, the same symphony is used as the tune to the hymnal ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee’.

Gustav Mahler inspired by the ninth symphony tried to remake it but it was unsuccessful making the composer believe that it was jinxed. However, he picked and applied the elements of choir and lead singers in his symphonies. In addition to this, Mahler was able to infuse a narrative design as opposed to the four-movement configuration. Beethoven used the symphonies to develop the idea of the orchestra and he largely experimented with various wind instruments such that he is referred to as the creator of symphonic instrumentation. Later in the romantic period, other instruments like the flugelhorn and organ among others were used to enhance the musical scene.

The Sonatas

The Piano Sonatas

Beethoven composed thirty-two sonatas articulate his life with either the extremities of happiness and sadness as a reflection of his life. This brings out his strong character to the listeners and consequently relaying an encouraging message that is spirit lifting. The piano sonatas are an expression of various emotions hence providing different pieces that can fit with the different moods and feelings throughout an individual’s life. Verliebte (op. 7 in E flat major) whose English translation is ‘woman in love’ was composed for countess Babette de Keglevics and it was Beethoven’s affection for nature. The op. 10 three-part sequel in C minor, A major and D major were composed for countess Anna Margareta von Browne and they were an expression of boldness, fright and indecisiveness. Sonata op. 14 no. 1 written in E major expresses feelings of overpowering bliss. Sonata op. 26 has a sad theme, which is brought out as the paternalistic sound of raindrops on a tomb; it is a B flat major. The feelings of pandemonium are clearly brought out by the op. 31 no. 2 D minor sonata (British Periodicals in the Creative Arts, 2007).

The slow and mellow beat generally presented in sonatas has been used for physiological treatment in hospitals. It has been noted through research studies that such music helps reduce nervousness and thereby it has been used in dentistry practice as well as operating rooms by doctors. Patients also undergoing open surgeries are helped to clam through the music. Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata written in C sharp minor and alternatively referred to as op. 27 nr. 2 is a good example of such. In addition to this, the sadness also brought out in the sonatas was used in sexual treatment and psychological counseling sessions to induce a person’s feelings to the surface and release the problem to the doctors. These treatment sessions also inspired medical practitioners to publish books with regard to the healing abilities of the musical pieces.

In 1828, Richard Wagner listened to Beethoven’s seventh and ninth symphonies and he was very moved by the pieces that he composed a piano sonata for the latter symphony in the key of C major. This was however achieved in 1832. The pianist Clara Schumann was intrigued by Beethoven’s music that she performed them amidst other romantic composers’ music too. The piano compositions have also inspired modern music. A good example is Fur Elise whose English translation is For Elise. This piano composition was used by Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox in their song Same Script, Different Cast that was released in the year 2000. The selection is fitting, as it is an emotional song, a reminiscence of one singer with her lover. Beethoven’s piano sonatas have also been used in the movie industry. For example, no. 8 has been used in Age of the Innocence, Immortal Beloved and Star Trek: Insurrection. No. 13 and 17 have been used in Thirty-two Short Films.

The Cello and Piano Sonatas

Beethoven acted as the pioneer for the cello and piano sonatas where he composed five. Among the five cello and piano sonatas, no. 3 op. 69 written in A major which is a praising musical piece is the most renown in this category. It was written for baron Gleichenstein. Freie Sonate whose English translation is the ‘free sonata’ creates a very lively mood of liberation as the composer is keen in his composition to create the sense of freedom. It is also referred to as no. 5 op. 102, written in D major. It is the most expressive and emotional piece in the category. A message of equality is achieved in sonata no. 2 op. 5, G minor, with Beethoven giving equal representation for both instruments (British Periodicals in the Creative Arts, 2007). The use of the cello infused an element of a string instrument that was largely used in the development of the orchestra. These sonatas are majorly used in the movie industry. No. 2 has been used in Along came Polly and no. 1 is featured in The Horse Whisperer.

The Violin and Piano Sonatas

Beethoven composed ten violin and piano sonatas that revolved around the themes of bravery, autonomy and inspiration. The Spring Sonata, no. 5 op. 24 F major relays a message of autonomy and is symbolic of the shift that the composer underwent in his musical career from the preset modes of classical music and into a liberalized style that could indulge in any pattern of music. The theme of inspiration are presented by Kreutzer, no. 9 op. 47 written in A major and no. 10 op. 96 written in G major (British Periodicals in the Creative Arts, 2007). These two sonatas were composed in honor of Rudolph Kreutzer and Pierre Rode respectively; they were both renowned violinists. Just like the cello, the violin allowed for the development of the orchestra stringed instruments. The violin sonata no. 9 is featured in the movie Immortal Beloved.

String Quartets

Beethoven composed sixteen string quartets where the elements of melodrama and sentimental sensitivity. Shakespeare’s tale of Romeo and Juliet is translated into musical terms through the six parts of op. 18, no. 1; op. 18 no. 2; op. 18 no.3; op. 18 no. 4; op. 18 no. 5; op. 18 no.6 which are performed in F major, G major, D major, C minor, A major and B flat major respectively . The drama in the tale is brought out by the powerful shifts of the different moods that act as distinctions to the various scenes (British Periodicals in the Creative Arts, 2007). The six pieces are also a great source of entertainment. Beethoven used the stringed instrument to develop the use of harmonic language in the romantic period. Later after him, Richard Wagner continued with the same legacy, giving rise to refinements in the chorded instruments use in classical romanticism. Beethoven used the diminished seven to test unused ground that paved way for the use of dissonances and the chromatic scale. The string instruments played a major role in the definition and refinement of the opera. String quartets used in movies are no. 2 and 13 in The Company of Wolves and Immortal Beloved respectively.

Opera Fidelio

In the Viennese spirit, Beethoven in the year 1803 is requested to compose a libretto labeled as Alexander the Great. A year later with the libretto still underway and behind schedule, Schiknadeder proposes that the two librettos, Conjugal Love or Leonora be used instead. In 1806, Beethoven pushed for the title Fidelio, which was an instantaneous success (Dahlhaus, & Whittall, 1994). The opera revolves around the life of Florestan a young man who finds himself in the arms of injustice. Florestan is imprisoned because of his denouncements of the dishonest practices of the governor, Pizzarro. The governor retaliates by capturing Florestan and imprisoning him with the orders that he should be starved to his demise. Upon learning the news, Florestan spouse, Leonora masquerades as a man by the name Fidelio in order to access her husband’s jail cell and try to rescue him. She is paired up with Rocco, the fort guard.

However, these unjust acts reach Ferdinando the minister and a pal to Florestan. The minister decides to look into the matter and this troubles the governor. Meanwhile, as Ferdinando sets on his journey from Seville, Pizzarro requests Rocco to kill Florestan, but he declines. Rocco and Fidelio are ordered to dig a grave and Florestan who is weary for lack of food sleeps by the gravesite. Fidelio does not recognize her husband until he awakes. As the two try to escape, the governor arrives and Fidelio shields her husband from Pizzarro. At that moment, Ferdinando arrives and the situation is calmed. A multitude of people has also assembled outside the fort where news of Leonora’s audacity is being peddled.

Fidelio is divided into two acts. In Act 1, Beethoven infuses elements of comic opera, narrations and ten emotional arias. The opening arias are comical in nature and they act as the foundations for the building up of the dramatic scenes. The first theatrical aria focuses on Pizzarro and his ill mission of killing Florestan. Here, Pizzarro exhibits feelings of determination. The next aria that forms the pinnacle of the Act is sang by Leonora and it is very emotional as she makes known her rage and rebellion to Pizzarro (Dahlhaus, & Whittall, 1994). The Act is concluded with the inmates’ choir as they express their grand joy accorded to the stroll that they have been allowed to take outside their cells. The mood matches the enthusiasm that children have towards pleasurable activities.

Act 2 has two scenes. An orchestral ushers in scene 1 and its sorrowful rhythms are used to depict anguish that Florestan faces in the dark, lonely, cold and famished environment where he dwells. Florestan then sings an aria that strengthens the orchestra mood and scene. The setting is in the cell where he is supposed to meet his death. Scene 2 is fast paced and merry as the inhabitants gathered outside the fort sing in praise of conjugal love and splendor. As Leonora unchains Florestan, the symphony Ode to Joy is sung. This opera is a classical representation of the movement form the classical to romantic periods and it is used in schools for study purposes.

Beethoven’s opera as well as some elements from Mozart’s productions inspired Gustav Mahler to make numerous opera productions with the aid of Alfred Roller. Mahler’s works in opera were more than twenty in number. The narrative form was majorly developed through poetic language and it later was adopted as a general structure of recital music. The consistency of the orchestra was solely attributed to Beethoven. In this, there was the use of wind instruments, brass instruments, percussion instruments and string instruments.


Beethoven’s concertos employed the use of a piano/ violin/ cello and orchestra and he was able to come up with ten compositions. Just as the other composition of Beethoven, the concertos are emotional musical pieces. The concerto no. 1 op. 15 composed in C major is divided into three sections, allegro con brio, largo and allegro scherzando. The first two sections have a joyous mood with the third being very vibrant and creating a dancing mood. Concerto no. 2 op. 19 written in B flat major is made up of allegro con brio, adagio, and allegro molto and it parallels the mood in the former concerto. Concerto no. 3 op. 37 is a revolutionary piece from the rest as it uses C minor as opposed to the rest that are written in majors. It is made up of allegro con brio, largo and rondo allegro creating a powerful environment that has male tones. Concerto no. 4 op. 58 written in G major is made up of allegro moderato, andante con moto and rondo-vivace that is able to relay a message of joy and optimism (Beethoven, 2004).

The other significant concerto in Beethoven’s work is the Emperor and it pursues the premise of heroism. It is written in E flat major and it is referred to as no. 5 op. 73. The three parts that make it are the allegro, adagio un poco mosso, and rondo- allegro. Concerto op. 61 written in D major used the violin instead of the piano and it is made up of three components, allegro ma non troppo, larghetto and rondo. The third part purely included the violinists’ ideas and prowess. Concerto op. 56 also known as the Triple Concert or Trio was written in C major. In this, the piano, cello and violin were used for the performance. The three sections in the piece were the allegro, largo and rondo alla polacca (British Periodicals in the Creative Arts, 2007). The concertos are also mainly used in the movie industry. The concertos were used to develop the orchestra pattern by Beethoven. The Emperor is featured in Dead Poets Society, Fearless, Immortal Beloved and Tomorrow Never Dies. The violin composition is used in the Immortal Beloved.


From the analysis, the reviewing of Beethoven’s compositions, have revealed his prowess in classical musical compositions in the romantic period that infused musical appeal due to the emotional aspect added in the music. It is therefore true to conclude that his influence to date stems from the various emotions that he incorporated in his music, as they lacked in the former classic compositions as well as the talent he exhibited in his music career. Beethoven is remembered to date as a very significant figure in classical music especially with his revolutionist ideas that shifted music from the classical genre to the romantic one and thus creating a significant influence in major composers and musical icons like Gustav Mahler, Richard Wagner and Clara Schumann. Although his early compositions were influenced by Mozart and Haydn, he was able to break from them creating a new style that was helped influence and refine the orchestra and opera compositions (Brown, 2002). Truly, Beethoven’s music will remain a source of inspiration right across generations to come.

Works Cited:

Beethoven, Ludwig Van. Beethoven: The Man and the Artist. Fairfield: 1st World Publishing, 2004. Print.

British Periodicals in the Creative Arts. The Musical world, Volume 42. London: J. Alfredo Novello, 2007. Print.

Brown, Peter A. The first golden age of the Viennese symphony: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. Print.

Dahlhaus, Carl, and Whittall, Mary. Ludwig van Beethoven: approaches to his music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.

Kinderman, William. Beethoven. Oxford: Oxford University Press US, 2009. Print.




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