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Beethoven Essay, Research Paper

There resounds a proverbial question, ?If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound as it falls?? Capricious as this query may appear I have had occasion to entertain just such a notion when, as a youth, I found an exploratory journey down a deep wood?s path abruptly halted by the greeting of an enormous fallen tree. The colossal obstacle lay across my path and presented itself a motionless, silent guardian that protected that which lay beyond from my further intrusion. What a monumental disturbance must have been witnessed by the forest as this giant came crashing down! I wondered how the tree came to be there in the first place or what of the countless forms of life that had sprang forth from its protective purview over the decades of the tree?s history. I wondered what might have led to the demise of the strong anchoring system that had so obviously sustained the uprightness of this tower for so long. Not to mention what a scurry for life itself must have taken place by the multitude of creatures that were no doubt within the danger zone as tons of falling wood rushed earthward. Notwithstanding the magnitude of this event and the obvious lasting effects that resulted, I still wondered if ?the falling tree had made a sound??

When the life of Ludwig van Beethoven first encroached upon my path, much the same sensation was experienced. No doubt I had heard of the composer?s name, but then so had I foreknowledge of trees, both fallen as well as standing ones. However, what of this particular composer. Had I ever entertained conversation with him? Had I known of his particular work, achievements, or failures? What difference had been made by this long extinguished life, at least where I was concerned? So here I stood. Yet another fallen giant before me in an apparently posture of complete silence leaving me to contemplate what, if any, true sound had been made as it fell.

Every inquiry has its beginnings and Beethoven?s began in Bonn, Germany on December 16, 1770 (Cross 45). Though he had somewhat of a musical heritage with both his father and grandfather being performers themselves, it appears to have been that the emotion of greed more probably served as the conduit for molding of the youth. Johaan Beethoven, Ludwig?s drunkard father, had become aware that his son possessed musical talent. Though apparently not particularly moved to enrich the young child?s life, Johaan saw Ludwig as a potential Mozart style child prodigy of which could be capitalized on for financial gain.

It is ironic that the same greed over Mozart?s success inspired the creation of one genius, Ludwig Beethoven, yet aided in the demise of another, Wolfgang A. Mozart himself. It was this greed that enticed a drunken Johaan to pull young Ludwig from his bed in the middle of the night and then force hours of practice on the violin with abusive beatings being the corrective measure for mistakes the exhausted child might make (Cross 46). Johaan felt that if Mozart could be so successful at such a young age, then so could Ludwig. Consequently, it was precisely this same envy over Mozart?s ability that motivated adversaries of the likes of Salieri to continually undermine the potential advancement of Mozart?s work, and thus, contributing to his poverty and ultimate premature popper?s funeral (Cross 522-23). Johaan?s greed took the form of envy while Salieri?s took that of fear. However, both were greed in its purest form and most likely had equal effect on Beethoven. Johaan?s greed resulted in abusive, yet not unproductive, practice. The final product of this was technical ability as well as much emotion, both of which furthered Beethoven?s compositions. On the other hand, Salieri?s greed contributed to Mozart?s early death. In his later years Beethoven greatly feared that he too would face a premature death as his idle, Mozart, had done. This pushed productivity out as Beethoven constantly felt a sense of urgency to make his destined contribution to the musical world.

Beethoven had made his concert debut at the age of eight and had already tenured as a performer in the Electorate Chapel in Bonn when the famous composer, Haydn, found opportunity to view Beethoven?s first (though long unrecognized as such) masterpiece, Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II (Kolodin 21-24). This resulted in an invitation by the master for Beethoven to come to Vienna to study under Haydn?s tutelage. Beethoven?s way was made possible by the Elector and though the relationship with the master composer did not prove to be long-lived, the stay in Vienna did. This ultimately placed Beethoven in the midst of powerful music loving personalities and undoubtedly enhanced his musical future.

By the age of thirty-one Beethoven recognized that he was growing deaf and began withdrawing further from social events. This culminated by 1812 when, essentially completely deaf at the age of forty-two, Beethoven had become a total recluse and entered into a five-year slump during which little writing occurred (Cross 50-53). In 1824, at the age of fifty-four, Beethoven appeared for the last time in a public performance of his Ninth Symphony. The piece ended, but Beethoven, being completely deaf as well as several measures off, continued conducting as the crowd applauded from behind. In the end, Beethoven was turned around by Carolyn Unger to face the crowd. This brought to light the true reality of his condition and the crowd was said to have exploded with ?sympathy and admiration? (Cross 53). On March 26, 1827, Beethoven died. His last wards confirmed his belief in God and his last act confirmed his belief in the triumphant human spirit.

Most sources seem to agree that Beethoven?s work can be divided into three distinctive categories or periods as follows:

1) Up to 1800: Somewhat conforming to the established rules of composition, but with a visible departure of emotion that reflected his feelings toward the heavy hand of authority, most likely that of his father.

2) 1800-1817: Growing deaf. More intense personal feelings and more noticeable departure from the traditional rules of harmony, tones, rhythm, and use of instruments.

3) 1817-1827: Totally deaf. Break with the traditional way of doing things more sharply defined than ever before. Ninth Symphony composed, demonstrating for the first time in history the use of voices with the orchestra. A symphony which Beethoven himself never heard.

Though there can be found a certain diversity in the articulation of these periods, there is one thought that seems to be without scholarly contradiction. Beethoven ushered in a new way of treating musical composition. Prior to his time, the composers did not use music as a medium for expressing strong emotion. Beethoven?s life of sorrow had not only left him full of such emotions, but his later condition left him with few alternative means by which he could exchanges those feelings. Music was the obvious choice and a new musical era was the historical result.

In retrospect, as I look back at the fallen tree in the forest in juxtaposition with the life of this truly extraordinary man, I find a remarkable lesson to be learned from both. It is most aptly illustrated by Jesus as He concluded in the parable of the four soils?. . . He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.? I think not that Jesus entertained the thought that His lesson would have lacked purpose or effect had there been no ear willing, and thereby incapable, to hear. This was still the Word of God being spoken, an eternal thing of great substance that does not gain it?s power from the person who it is meant for (the world). To the contrary, I consider that sound is simply that name given to the difference made to an individual when his ear transposes the environmental changes (sound waves) produced by a particular event. From this perspective the real question appears to be not whether a difference occurred, but was a difference made.

In the case of the tree, a lasting difference definitely occurred at the time of it?s falling. Animals no doubt scurried for cover and sun-light, no longer blocked out, reached new areas of the forest floor, resulting in a host of new life being brought forth from the decaying carcass of the wooden giant. Until I encountered the tree, no difference had been made to me. Yet now, as I could not pass by, the course I took was now forever altered. From this perspective I can truly say that, though I was not present at the time of the event, either in the case of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven or in the falling of the great tree, I am now aware and thus truly affected by both.


Milton Cross and David Ewen (1962). Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Alessandra Comini (1987). The Changing Image of Beethoven: A Study in Mythmaking. New York, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

Irving Kolodin (1975). The Interior Beethoven: A Biography of the Music. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knope.

Alfred Einstein (1969). A Short History of Music. (4th ed.) New York, New York: Alfred A. Knope.

Felix Greissle, eds. The International Library of Piano Music. (Album 14) New York, New York: The University Society, Inc.

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