Ludwig van Beethoven

He studied first with his father, Johann, a singer and instrumentalist in the service of the Elector of Cologne at Bonn, but mainly with C.G. Neefe, court organist. At 11½ he was able to deputize for Neefe; at 12 he had some music published. In 1787 he went to Vienna, but quickly returned on hearing that his mother was dying. Five years later he went back to Vienna, where he settled. He pursued his studies, first with Haydn, but there was some clash of temperaments and Beethoven studied too with Schenk, Albrechtsberger and Salieri. Until 1794 he was supported by the Elector at Bonn but he found patrons among the music-loving Viennese aristocracy and soon enjoyed success as a piano virtuoso, playing at private houses or palaces rather than in public. His public debut was in 1795; about the same time his first important publications appeared, three piano trios op.l and three piano sonatas op.2. As a pianist, it was reported, he had fire, brilliance and fantasy as well as depth of feeling. It is naturally in the piano sonatas, writing for his own instrument, that he is at his most original in this period; the Pathetique belongs to 1799, the Moonlight ('Sonata quasi una fantasia') to 1801, and these represent only the most obvious innovations in style and emotional content. These years also saw the composition of his first three piano concertos, his first two symphonies and a set of six string quartets op.l8.

1802, however, was a year of crisis for Beethoven, with his realization that the impaired hearing he had noticed for some time was incurable and sure to worsen. That autumn, at a village outside Vienna, Heiligenstadt, he wrote a will-like document, addressed to his two brothers, describing his bitter unhappiness over his affliction in terms suggesting that he thought death was near. But he came through with his determination strengthened and entered a new creative phase, generally called his 'middle period'. It is characterized by a heroic tone, evident in the Eroica Symphony (no.3, originally to have been dedicated not to a noble patron but to Napoleon), in Symphony no.5, where the sombre mood of the c Minor first movement ('Fate knocking on the door') ultimately yields to a triumphant C Major finale with piccolo, trombones and percussion added to the orchestra, and in his opera Fidelio. Here the heroic theme is made explicit by the story, in which (in the post-French Revolution 'rescue opera' tradition) a wife saves her imprisoned husband from murder at the hands of his oppressive political enemy. The three string quartets of this period, op.59, are similarly heroic in scale: the first, lasting some 45 minutes, is conceived with great breadth, and it too embodies a sense of triumph as the intense f Minor Adagio gives way to a jubilant finale in the major embodying (at the request of the dedicatee, Count Razumovsky) a Russian folk melody.

Fidelio, unsuccessful at its premiere, was twice revised by Beethoven and his librettists and successful in its final version of 1814. Here there is more emphasis on the moral force of the story. It deals not only with freedom and justice, and heroism, but also with married love, and in the character of the heroine Leonore, Beethoven's lofty, idealized image of womanhood is to be seen. He did not find it in real life he fell in love several times, usually with aristocratic pupils (some of them married), and each time was either rejected or saw that the woman did not match his ideals. In 1812, however, he wrote a passionate love-letter to an 'Eternally Beloved' (probably Antonie Brentano, a Viennese married to a Frankfurt businessman), but probably the letter was never sent.

With his powerful and expansive middle-period works, which include the Pastoral Symphony (no.6, conjuring up his feelings about the countryside, which he loved), Symphony no.7 and Symphony no. 8, Piano Concertos nos.4 (a lyrical work) and 5 (the noble and brilliant Emperor) and the Violin Concerto, as well as more chamber works and piano sonatas (such as the Waldstein and the Appassionata) Beethoven was firmly established as the greatest composer of his time. His piano-playing career had finished in 1808 (a charity appearance in 1814 was a disaster because of his deafness). That year he had considered leaving Vienna for a secure post in Germany, but three Viennese noblemen had banded together to provide him with a steady income and he remained there, although the plan foundered in the ensuing Napoleonic wars in which his patrons suffered and the value of Austrian money declined.

The years after 1812 were relatively unproductive. He seems to have been seriously depressed, by his deafness and the resulting isolation, by the failure of his marital hopes and (from 1815) by anxieties over the custodianship of the son of his late brother, which involved him in legal actions. But he came out of these trials to write his profoundest music, which surely reflects something of what he had been through. There are seven piano sonatas in this, his 'late period', including the turbulent Hammerklavier op.106, with its dynamic writing and its harsh, rebarbative fugue, and op.110, which also has fugues and much eccentric writing at the instrument's extremes of compass; there is a great Mass and a Choral Symphony, no.9 in d Minor, where the extended variation-finale is a setting for soloists and chorus of Schiller's Ode to Joy; and there is a group of string quartets, music on a new plane of spiritual depth, with their exalted ideas, abrupt contrasts and emotional intensity. The traditional four-movement scheme and conventional forms are discarded in favour of designs of six or seven movements, some fugal, some akin to variations (these forms especially attracted him in his late years), some song-like, some martial, one even like a chorale prelude. For Beethoven, the act of composition had always been a struggle, as the tortuous scrawls of his sketchbooks show; in these late works the sense of agonizing effort is a part of the music.

Musical taste in Vienna had changed during the first decades of the 19th century; the public were chiefly interested in light Italian opera (especially Rossini) and easygoing chamber music and songs, to suit the prevalent bourgeois taste. Yet the Viennese were conscious of Beethoven's greatness: they applauded the Choral Symphony even though, understandably, they found it difficuit, and though baffled by the late quartets they sensed their extraordinary visionary qualities. His reputation went far beyond Vienna: the late Mass was first heard in St. Petersburg, and the initial commission that produced the Choral Symphony had come from the Philharmonic Society of London. When, early in 1827, he died, 10,000 are said to have attended the funeral. He had become a public figure, as no composer had done before. Unlike composers of the preceding generation, he had never been a purveyor of music to the nobility he had lived into the age - indeed helped create it - of the artist as hero and the property of mankind at large.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1785 Piano Quartet No 3 in C major 4.00 stars 8 CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich - Piano,
Renaud Capucon - Violin
Lida Chen - Viola
Gautier Capucon - Cello
1798 Piano Concerto No 1 opus 15 4.00 stars LP
1e Piano Conrt Comments:
Wilhelm Kempff - Piano,
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Ferdinand Leitner
1798 Piano Concerto No 1 opus 15 4.00 stars 7 CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich - Piano,
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli
1803 Violin Sonata No 9 Opus 47 "Kreutzer" 4.00 stars 8 CD
Comments:
Itzak Perlman - Violin
Martha Argerich- Piano,
1803 Piano Trio No. 4 Opus 11 "Gassenhauer" 4.00 stars 8 CD
Comments:
Marek Denemark - Violin
Mark Dobrinskji - Cello
Martha Argerich- Piano,
1805 Piano Concerto No 2 opus 19 4.00 stars 7 CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich- Piano,
Philharmonia Orchestra & Philharmonia Hungarica cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli
1805 Piano Concerto No 2 opus 19 4.00 stars 7 CD
Comments:
With cadenza by Beethoven

Martha Argerich- Piano,
Mahler Chamber Orchestra cond. Claudio Abbado

1805 Piano Concerto No 3 opus 37 4.00 stars 7 CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich- Piano,
Mahler Chamber Orchestra cond. Claudio Abbado
1805 Tripelkonzert opus 56 4.50 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Svjatoslav Richter - Piano
David Oistrach - Violin
Mstislaw Rostropovitch - Cello,
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Herbert von Karajan
1805 Tripelkonzert opus 56 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
Daniel Barenboim - Piano
Guy Braunstein - Violin
Kian Soltani - Cello,
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra cond. Daniel Barenboim

Recorded from BBC Proms 2015

1805 Tripelkonzert opus 56 4.00 stars BD-R
Comments:
Olga Kern - Piano
Baiba Skride - Violin
Sol Gabettai - Cello,
Orchestre National de Lyon cond. Leonard Slatkin

Recorded from MEZZO TV

1807-1808 Symphony No 5 opus 67 4.00 stars 10" LP
Sonate Comments:
Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Bruno Walter
1807-1808 Symphony No 5 opus 67 4.50 stars BD-R
Comments:
Played on period instruments
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique cond. John Eliot Gardiner

Recorded from BBC Four

1808 Symphony No 6 opus 68 4.50 stars LP
Streichquartett Comments:
Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Bruno Walter
1808 Symphony No 6 opus 68 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
Aurora Orchestra cond. Nicholas Collon

Recorded from BBC Proms 2015

1808 Symphony No 6 opus 68 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
Verbier Festival Orchestra cond. Manfred Honeck

Recorded from BRAVA at the Verbier Festival 2008

1808 Violin Concerto 4.00 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Isaac Stern - Violin
New York Philharmonic cond. Daniel Barenboim
1808 Violin Concerto 4.00 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Leonid Kogan - Violin
USSR State Symphony Orchestra cond. Evegeny Svetlanov

Melodya recording
Has this been re-released on Brilliant?

1809 Piano Trio No 35 Opus 70 No 1 "The Gost" 4.00 stars 8 CD
Comments:
Marek Denemark - Violin
Mark Dobrinskji - Cello
Martha Argerich- Piano,
1811-1812 Symphony No 7 opus 92 4.00 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Herbert von Karajan
1811-1812 Symphony No 7 opus 92 4.00 stars 7 CD
Comments:
Concertgebouw Orkest cond. Bernard Haitink
1811-1812 Symphony No 7 opus 92 4.00 stars BD-R
Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Claudio Abbado

Recorded from BRAVAKLASSIEK TV

1812 Symphony No 8 opus 93 4.00 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Herbert von Karajan
1817-1818 Piano Sonata No 29 opus 106 Hammerklavier 4.50 stars LP
1e Piano Conrt Comments:
Maurizio Pollini - Piano
1822-1924 Symphony No 9 opus 125 4.50 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Solists, Wiener Singverein,
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Herbert von Karajan
1822-1824 Symphony No 9 opus 125 4.00 stars LP
Sonate Comments:
Solists, Wiener Staatsoper,
Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
1822-1824 Symphony No 9 opus 125 4.00 stars CD
Sonate Comments:
Solists, Wiener Staatsoper,
Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Leonard Bernstein
1822-1824 Symphony No 9 opus 125 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
Solists
CGSO Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra cond. Andris Nelsons

Live recording from BBC Proms 2015

Compilation Piano Concertos 4.00 stars 5 LP
Sonate Comments:
No 1 - 1798
No 2 - 1795
No 3 - 1803
No 4 - 1807
No 5 - 1809

Claudio Arrau - Piano,
Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam cond. Bernard Haitink

Compilation Piano Sonatas 4.00 stars 11 LP
Sonate Comments:
Sonata No.1 f Minor
Sonata No.2 A Major
Sonata No.3 C Major
Sonata No.4 E-flat Major
Sonata No.5 c Minor
Sonata No.6 F Major
Sonata No.7 D Major
Sonata No.8 c Minor, "Pathétique"
Sonata No.9 E-flat Major
Sonata No.10 G Major
Sonata No.11 B-flat Major
Sonata No.12 A-flat Major
Sonata No.13 E-flat Major, "Quasi una fantasia"
Sonata No.14 c-sharp Minor, "Mondschein
Sonata No.15 D Major, ("Pastoral")
Sonata No.16 G Major
Sonata No.17 d Minor, ("Tempest")
Sonata No.18 E-flat Major
Sonata No.19 g Minor
Sonata No.20 G Major
Sonata No.21 C Major, "Waldstein"
Sonata No.22 F Major
Sonata No.23 f Minor, "Appassionata"
Sonata No.24 F-sharp Major
Sonata No.25 G Major
Sonata No.26 E-flat Major, "Les Adieux"
Sonata No.27 e Minor
Sonata No.28 A Major
Sonata No.29 B-flat Major, "Hammerklavier"
Sonata No.30 E Major
Sonata No.31 A-flat Major
Sonata No.32 c Minor

Friederich Gulda - Piano

Compilation String Quartets 4.00 stars 12 LP
Sonate Comments:

Opus 18 no 1 : String Quartet No. 1 in F major (1800) 
1. Allegro con brio
2. Adagio affettuso ed appassionato
3. Scherzo: Allegro molto
4. Allegro

Opus 18 no 2 : String Quartet No. 2 in G major (1800)
1. Allegro
2. Adagio cantabile
3. Scherzo: Allegro
4. Allegro molto, quasi presto

Opus 18 no 3 : String Quartet No. 3 in D major (1800)
1. Allegro
2. Andante con moto
3. Allegro
4. Presto

Opus 18 no 4 : String Quartet No. 4 in C minor (1800)
1. Allegro ma non tanto
2. Andante scherzoso quasi allegretto
3. Menuetto: Allegretto
4. Allegro

Opus 18 no 5 : String Quartet No. 5 in A major (1800)
1. Allegro
Menuetto
3. Andante cantabile
4. Allegro

Opus 18 no 6 : String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major (1800)
1. Allegro con brio
2. Adagio ma non troppo
3. Scherzo: Allegro
4. Adagio, `La Malinconia'
5. Allegretto quasi allegro


Opus 59 no 1 : String Quartet No. 7 in F major (1806) 
1. Allegro ma non tanto
Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando
3. Adagio molto e mesto
4. Allegro

Opus 59 no 2 : String Quartet No. 8 in E minor (1806)
1. Allegro
Molto adagio
3. Allegretto
4. Finale: Presto

Opus 59 no 3 : String Quartet No. 9 in C major (1806)
1. Introduzione: Andante con moto - Allegro vivace
Andante con moto quasi allegretto
3. Menuetto grazioso
4. Allegro molto


Opus 74 : String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major "Harp" (1809) 
1. Poco adagio - Allegro
2. Adagio ma non troppo
3. Presto
4. Allegretto con variazioni


Opus 95 : String Quartet No. 11 in F minor "Serioso" (1814) 
1. Allegro con brio
2. Allegretto ma non troppo
3. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato


Opus 127 : String Quartet No. 12 in E flat major (1825)  .
1. Maestoso - Allegro
Adagio ma non troppo e molto cantabile
3. Scherzando vivace
4. Finale


Opus 130 : String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major (1825) 
1. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro
2. Presto
3. Andante con moto ma non troppo
4. Alla danza tedesca: Allegro assai
5. Cavatina: Adagio molto espressivo
6. Finale: Allegro


Opus 131 : String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor (1826) 
1. Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
Allegro molto vivace
3. Allegro moderato
4. Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile
5. Presto
6. Adagio quasi un poco andante
7. Allegro


Opus 132 : String Quartet No. 15 in A minor (1825) 
1. Assai sostenuto - Allegro
2. Allegro ma non tanto
3. Molto adagio (Heiliger Dankgesang eines Gesenen an die Gottheit )
4. Alla marcia, assai vivace
5. Piu allegro - Allegro appassionato


Opus 133 : Grosse Fuge for String Quartet in B flat major (1826) 
1. Overtura: Allegro - Allegro - Fuga


Opus 135 : String Quartet No. 16 in F major (1826) 
1. Allegretto
2. Vivace
3. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo
4. Grave ma non troppo tratto - Allegro

Amadeus Quartett

Compilation Beethoven Edition 1969 3.50 stars LP
1e Piano Conrt Comments:
Wellington's Victory
Militaire Marches for Brass Band

Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Herbert von Karajan

Compilation Complete works 4.50 stars 100 CD
Comments:
Is this box worth the (small) sum of money.

Yes, you bet! Some of the recordings are super quality (symphonies!), but never less then enjoyable.
A great way to discover the works of one of the great composers.