Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770, in the Electorate of Cologne, in present-day Germany. At the time, Bonn was the seat of the Electorate since Cologne had become a Free Imperial City in 1475 and the official seat of the archbishop was to be found in Bonn. The archbishops were rarely allowed to enter the city of Cologne and the animosity with Bonn was ongoing. Bonn was a part of the Holy Roman Empire which means it fell under the rule of Vienna and the Habsburg Emperor.
All that to say that Beethoven grew up and was shaped by the culture of the Enlightenment which was prevalent under Emperor Joseph II. Beethoven wasn’t born in Austria but he was a product of the Austrian culture just like Mozart and Haydn.
However, the main item I’m focusing on here is the date of Beethoven’s birth and the year, 1770. In a few months, we will be entering the 2019-2020 “season”. That means music organizations across the world will be celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday from about September 2019 through December 2020.
For instance, our San Diego Symphony will perform Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9 along with his Violin Concerto, Piano Concertos No. 1 and 4 and more. The bulk of those performances come in January of 2020.
Beethoven Piano Trio op.1 no.1 in Eb-Major
Played by the ATOS Trio in Berlin, Jan. 30, 2015
The Vienna Philharmonic is offering a “Beethoven Cycle 2019/20.” Carnegie Hall will present all of Beethoven’s symphonies during 2019-2020 starting on October 3. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be performing and recording all of Beethoven’s symphonies. It goes on and on, and I like it.
This year and next offer an excellent excuse to explore Beethoven fully. I’ve started by reading a Beethoven biography by Jan Swafford. Swafford’s account delves into the architecture of Beethoven’s music and uses terminology which might befuddle the casual reader. However, it also invites the reader to explore and learn. For instance, what is sonata form?
The classic Beethoven biography is by Alexander Wheelock Thayer and it can be read for free at this link. Thayer’s style is Victorian so be ready to wade through his verbose rhetoric.
A good biography also compels us to visit compositions which we should probably be aware of. What is Beethoven’s first composition which he graced with an official opus number and what does it sound like? It was a trio in E flat Major for violin, cello, and piano.