Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) was a German pianist and a highly influential composer.
He was born in Bonn, Electorate of Cologne to a family of musicians and started musical studies very early in life. He gave his first public performance in 1778. His first published composition appeared in 1783. He moved to Vienna in 1792, partly to work as a pianist and partly to continue his musical studies under master performers and composers also working there. His own compositions started receiving the notice of wealthy patrons there. By 1795, Beethoven career had brought him his first significant profits.
In 1796, Beethoven followed the example of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by making a musical tour to other major cultural centers of Central Europe. He performed at Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin at great critical success. The tour expanded his reputation and brought him the favor non-Habsburg rulers. Notably Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia rewarded Beethoven with a "snuffbox full of gold coins" because the composer had dedicated two cello sonatas to him. The experimental tour was highly successful and Beethoven decided to make later tours when possible.
By 1798, Beethoven had to face a health problem. His hearing was beginning to deteriorate. Though reasonably concerned, Beethoven kept on playing piano and composing. He would be fully deaf within a few decades but that never ended his career. From 1798 to 1802, Beethoven worked in his first string quartets and symphonies, more complex works than his earlier compositions. While showing the influence of earlier masters on him, his First and Second symphonies were rather well-received.
No longer a student, Beethoven was approached by members of the nobility to give music lessons to their children. His first such lessons started in 1799. They were short-lived but earned him a friend in his student Josephine Brunsvik, later a love interest. He would take few students in later years but they included composers Ferdinand Ries and Carl Czerny. The latter being the mentor of Franz Liszt .
Ten years later, Beethoven was seeking for permanent employment at the royal theatre. He was rejected for uncertain reasons. Jerome Bonaparte, King Westphalia saw the opportunity to offer him well-payed employment in 1808. Three of Beethoven's Viennese patrons counter-offered him an annual pension of 4000 florins to keep him in Vienna. Beethoven's agreement may have been a mistake in retrospect. One of his patrons was dead before long, one ceased payments in 1811 and the last remaining one could not cover the entire sum by himself.
Beethoven stopped giving public performances in 1811. His deafness had made it increasingly hard to perform. Between 1812 and 1814, Beethoven lost all ability to hear. In order to converse with him , his fellow speakers had to write in his "conversation books". He could then answer in kind or orally. This had the unforeseen consequence that historians have used the surviving books as valuable sources concerning his life and ideas. There were about 400 conversations books by the time of his death. 136 still survive. The others were destroyed by biographer and overeager censor Anton Felix Schindler (1795 - 1864). Schindler is suspected of having added forged entries in some of the surviving books.
In 1815, Beethoven started a long-running custody trial over the fate of his nephew Karl van Beethoven. Karl was son to a deceased brother of Ludwig. He lived with his mother Johanna who Ludwig considered to be an unfit parent. Karl spend the next decade between the houses of Johanna and Ludwig as court decisions and appeals shifted custody from one to the other. Ludwig only resigned when Karl attempted suicide in 1826. Karl survived and asked for his mother, Ludwig grudgingly allowing him to go to her house again.
His musical output seemed to decrease in terms of quantity and quality for a while in the late 1810s, possibly as Beethoven focused on personal matters. However the 1820s viewed Beethoven making a comeback with some of the best works of his career, including the Missa Solemnis and his Ninth Symphony. The latter also being among his most popular works and including the "Ode to Joy". His last works of note were commissioned string quartets. Some of his compositions for them were highly experimental for their time, bewildering both the critics and the audience. They were received much more favorably decades after Beethoven's death. By then a new generation of musicians and composers had sought inspiration in them.
Beethoven wrote his last work in 1826. From December 1826 to March, 1827 he was in sickbed and struggling for his life. When he died it was a shock. His funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners. Franz Schumbert played a prominent part in the proceedings, only a year before his own death. Beethoven's work is seen as transitional between the music schools of Classicism (dominating most of the 18th century) and Romanticism (dominating most the 19th century).