Biography of Ludwig van Beethoven

A violinist from the New York Philharmonic performs music by Beethoven.
A violinist from the New York Philharmonic performs music by Beethoven. Hiroyuki Ito/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


December 16, 1770 - Bonn


March 26, 1827 - Vienna

Beethoven Quick Facts:

  • Beethoven composed all 9 symphonies between 1799 and 1824.
  • He studied under Haydn for less than a year in 1793.
  • In 1801, he wrote a letter to his friend about his loss of hearing.

Beethoven's Family Background:

In 1740, Beethoven's father, Johann was born. Johann sang soprano in the electoral chapel where his father was Kapellmeister (chapel master). Johann grew up proficient enough to teach violin, piano, and voice to earn a living. Johann married Maria Magdalena in 1767 and gave birth to Ludwig Maria in 1769, who died 6 days later. On December 17, 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was born. Maria later gave birth to five other children, but only two survived, Caspar Anton Carl and Nikolaus Johann.

Beethoven's Childhood:

At a very early age, Beethoven received violin and piano lessons from his father. At the age of 8, he studied theory and keyboard with van den Eeden (former chapel organist). He also studied with several local organists, received piano lessons from Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer, and Franz Rovantini gave him violin and viola lessons. Although Beethoven’s musical genius was compared to that of Mozart’s, his education never exceeded elementary level.

Beethoven's Teenage Years:

Beethoven was the assistant (and formal student) of Christian Gottlob Neefe. As a teen, he performed more than he composed. In 1787, Neefe sent him to Vienna for reasons unknown, but many agree that he met and briefly studied with Mozart. Two weeks later, he returned home because his mother had tuberculosis. She died in July. His father took to drink, and Beethoven, only 19, petitioned to be recognized as the head of the house; he received half of his father's salary to support his family.

Beethoven's Early Adult Years:

In 1792, Beethoven moved to Vienna. His father died in December that same year. He studied with Haydn for less than a year; their personalities did not mix well. Beethoven then studied with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, the best-known teacher of counterpoint in Vienna. He studied counterpoint and contrapuntal exercises in free writing, in imitation, in two to four-part fugues, choral fugues, double counterpoint at the different intervals, double fugue, triple counterpoint, and canon.

Beethoven's Mid Adult Years:

After establishing himself, he began composing more. In 1800, he performed his first symphony and a septet (op. 20). Publishers soon began to compete for his newest works. While still in his 20s, Beethoven became deaf. His attitude and social life changed dramatically - he wanted to hide his impairment from the world. How could a great composer be deaf? Determined to overcome his disability, he wrote symphonies 2, 3, and 4 before 1806. Symphony 3, Eroica, was originally titled Bonaparte as a tribute to Napoleon.

Beethoven's Late Adult Years:

Beethoven’s fame began to pay off; he soon found himself prosperous. His symphonic works proved to be masterpieces (having stood the test of time) along with his other works. Beethoven loved a woman named Fanny but never married. He spoke of her in a letter saying, "I found only one whom I shall doubtless never possess." In 1827, he died of dropsy. In a will wrote several days before his death, he left his estate to his nephew Karl, of whom he was legal guardian after Caspar Carl's death.

Selected Works by Beethoven:
Symphonic Works

Choral Works with Orchestra

  • Mass in D Missa solemnis, op. 123 - 1819 to 1823

Piano Concertos

  • Piano Concerto No. 1, op. 15 - C Major - 1795
  • Piano Concerto No. 2, op. 19 - B flat Major - c.1788 to 1795
  • Piano Concerto No. 3, op. 37 - c minor - ?1800
  • Piano Concerto No. 4, op. 58 - G Major - 1804
  • Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor, op.73 - E flat Major