How To Learn Like Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of
all time, and produced an outstanding body of work including 9 symphonies, 5
piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets and one opera, Fidelio.
Despite being deaf, the great man composed in several genres, for many different instrument combinations and he’s definitely someone worth learning from.
Beethoven was born on 17 December 1770 in Bonn to parents Johann and Maria, who quickly recognised his musical talent. Eager to develop his son's genius, Johann beat music into young Ludwig, forcing him to practice day and night.
Some time after 1779, Beethoven began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Neefe, who was the Court's Organist.
Neefe taught him everything he knew and by March 1783, when Beethoven was just 13, he helped him write and publish his first composition.
When he was 17, Beethoven visited Vienna and performed for the great Mozart. Legend has it that Mozart walked out of the room saying, “Keep your eyes on him - someday he’ll give the world something to talk about.”
But two weeks after his arrival in Vienna, Beethoven learned that his mother was ill and rushed back to Bonn, where she died shortly after.
As a result, his father lapsed deeper into alcoholism and Ludwig became responsible for his two younger brothers, spending the next five years composing and looking after them in Bonn.
He would eventually move to Vienna at the age of 21 in 1792, taking lessons from Joseph Haydn, father of the symphony. But Beethoven didn't take well to being taught and the two often argued and eventually fell out.
His work quickly grew to prominence, but when he was 27 Beethoven is reported to have had a fit induced by a rage at the interruption of his work.
After falling over, he got up to find himself hearing a constant buzzing noise, which marked the beginning of his deafness.
Although becoming deaf affected him socially, his work continued to blossom.
During the middle period of his career he wrote a number of large-scale works that reflected his own personal heroism and struggle, including six symphonies, one of which was his game changing Symphony No.5!
And like a fine wine, Beethoven continued to progress musically as he aged -many of his greatest works, including the ninth symphony were written in later life when he had completely lost his hearing.
Despite his fame, Beethoven always had to work to make a comfortable living by giving piano lessons, writing work commissioned by wealthy Viennese residents, and of course, publishing his own music.
His personal habits were typical of an eccentric artist - including bathing a lot but wearing dirty clothes, not emptying his chamber pot, and leaving unfinished plates of food around his home.
But it wasn't bad hygiene that killed Beethoven...he eventually died of illness caused by serious liver damage. He passed away during a thunderstorm aged 56, his friend comparing the storm to one of the composer’s symphonies.
Such was the respect for the great man that 20,000 people joined the procession for his funeral in Vienna. Although I'm sure even they probably would never have imagined that we would still be listening to his music today!
Here are 3 lessons you can learn from Beethoven to bring more harmony to your learning and life:
"I have never thought of writing for reputation and honour. What I have in my heart must come out; that is the reason why I compose."
Despite thinking highly of himself, Beethoven was not motivated by money or status. He composed because he felt compelled to do so...he couldn't not write music - it was something that came from within, that had to be expressed.
When people only focus on extrinsic motivators, they usually don't last long. And the easiest way to make progress, stay the course and have fun is to do what only you can do, just as Beethoven did.
"The true artist is not proud: he unfortunately sees that art has no limits... and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun."
Beethoven was a notorious perfectionist, but he still produced a huge volume of work over the course of his life. He sweated over every note and melody but eventually reached a point where he couldn't hold onto the work any longer.
Whenever you start a creative project, it's important to balance the need to do things to a high standard, with the need to get them finished. If you get it wrong, you can put out poor quality work or end up never sharing anything!
"I will seize fate by the throat; it shall certainly never wholly overcome me."
Beethoven was dealt a tough hand - going deaf would be considered a career ender for almost any musician or composer. But despite this huge obstacle, Beethoven believed in himself, continued his work and went down in history.
There are many things outside of our control, but we sometimes let obstacles block us rather than going around or through them.
Like Beethoven, you should ask yourself on a daily basis if you are seizing fate by the throat and taking control of your life!
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