Beethoven and His Greatest Pieces of All Time

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Photo by Sabrina Corbin

By Sabrina Corbin

What makes you happy? What makes the entire world melt away when you’re stressed? What makes you, you? Imagine that the one thing that makes you who you are is tortuously being stripped from your grasp. Suddenly, everything you’ve ever known is gone along with the old version of you. With the feeling of a hole in your chest you realize you must redefine yourself. You must find something else that makes colors brighter and makes the world worth facing, because the weight of the world is on you as you grieve for what you’ve lost. This is what it would be like for me to go deaf as a musician, and I can only imagine Beethoven felt the same. Throughout the centuries, there have been many innovative and famous composers, such as Vivaldi, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. However, by overcoming all his obstacles, I believe Ludwig van Beethoven was the most brilliant and most well-known. Out of his numerous compositions, I believe Symphony No. 9 and Moonlight Sonata were, and continue to be, the most prodigious of all time.

Although many people might assume Beethoven was deaf since his birth, he actually went completely deaf around his mid-forties. Beethoven was taught music at a young age and continued to learn it throughout his life. Young Beethoven was considered a child prodigy when it came to music and performed his first public concert in his hometown of Bonn. At the time of this concert, Beethoven was just seven years old. Beethoven’s entire life up to age seven had been relatively normal for him because he composed, published, and performed music at such a young age that he was used to music in his life. Wowing the people of his time, Beethoven was creating quite the astounding reputation for himself.

Around Beethoven’s early 30s, his hearing began to fade from what we think was a debilitating illness, such as syphilis or typhus. To understand the seriousness of this situation, we must consider that music was all Beethoven had ever known. Beethoven losing his hearing would tear his life apart financially and emotionally, but, impressively, he didn’t let that stop him.

As Beethoven’s hearing declined, higher pitches became difficult and likely painful to hear, so he decided to cut them out all together for a while. This timeline brings us to the first incredible piece: Moonlight Sonata. Like I said before, Beethoven could hardly hear the high notes, hence the consistency of very low notes in this piece. Personally, Moonlight Sonata is one of my favorites for its dramatic staccatos and emotion, staccatos are notes that are played abruptly and shortly. It’s almost as if you can see Beethoven pounding the keys in frustration as you listen. The solemn beginning is portrayed to me as Beethoven’s sadness, because he knows he will not be able to hear for much longer. The usage of many sharps, notes that are raised a half step above their normal pitch, adds a sort of eeriness and emptiness that you can feel in your soul, as I imagine he felt strongly. It should say something to you as a listener when you can feel and see the emotions as you listen to a piece of music. Although Moonlight Sonata practically oozes melancholy, it is beautiful for that reason, and it will never be forgotten, especially by me.

The ideas I’ve presented bring us to the period when Beethoven has lost his hearing completely. Beethoven can now switch back and forth from high and low notes because the high notes no longer hurt him. It’s difficult to explain how one can switch between high and low notes without diving into the fundamentals of music. Basically, Beethoven had an above average knowledge of which notes sound well together (chords), and he had roughly twenty years of experience that helped him learn this knowledge. Therefore, the most likely explanation  is that Beethoven’s genius allowed him to tell the beauty of music without being able to hear it. At this point, we reach Symphony No. 9, which is extremely different from Moonlight Sonata in that it begins quite jubilant and almost victorious feeling. Throughout the entire piece are feelings of happiness and playfulness but, most importantly, more dramatic staccatos. It’s impossible to get disinterested while listening to Symphony No. 9 because of the heavy dynamics in the piece. Beethoven uses some intense crescendos and decrescendos to keep you on your toes and make it hard to guess what will happen next. The symphony is simply the perfect blend of everything that good and exciting music should consist of! Symphony No. 9 begins loud with a perfectly blended middle section, and ends loud just like perfect music should. Music ending loud and being blended well is equally important as authors needing a bang to fulfill the end of a long story. It’s the resolution to any tension created in the first half of the music. Keep in mind, this symphony was all composed while Beethoven was completely deaf! Symphony No. 9 is a truly perfect piece considering his ailments. Proof of Beethoven’s enduring status was shown to me loudly this past summer when I went to a Drum Corps International (DCI) competition in Georgia, a marching band competition consisting of only brass instruments. My favorite corps is Carolina Crown, and, lo and behold, the first piece of their show was the beginning of Symphony No. 9 which they played flawlessly. After 245 years, Beethoven’s music is still with us prominently.

Beethoven proved his worth throughout his successful life by doing what I believe no other person on this planet could ever do: continue his musical career while deaf. Beethoven’s two pieces, Moonlight Sonata and Symphony No. 9, will be forever remembered by his noticeable traits, like his flair for the dramatic and intense emotion that can be felt by any who listen to his works. Throughout my life, no matter what my career may be, I plan and hope to also have a successful music career on the side. Beethoven serves as a huge inspiration to me, proving that when roadblocks are thrown in your way you should never give up on your dream. Yes, it’s cliché, but it will never not be truthful. Find your passion, as I have found music. Find what makes you, you, and makes your world worth facing. Chase that passion, and cling to it for dear life, because someone or something will always be there to try to take it away from you.

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