Beethoven 101, Part 1 of 4

Ludwig van Beethoven represented the bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, but many might not know how his  life and experiences influenced his compositions.

The German composer was born in Bonn in 1770. His father served as his first music teacher and — as legend has it — he was a very strict teacher. Johann van Beethoven supposedly forced his children to stand at the piano even if they cried in protest. This is, many believe, merely legend, but nevertheless Beethoven’s musical talent became obvious during his lessons. He would perform his first public performance at the age of seven, and soon Beethoven was performing regularly as his family depended on the money he was awarded by local aristocrats.

Beethoven's house of birth in Bonn, Germany. It now serves as the Beethoven House Museum.

Beethoven’s house of birth in Bonn, Germany. It now serves as the Beethoven House Museum.

As a young man, Beethoven became widely known as Mozart’s successor. Beethoven knew this, and he began to study Mozart’s work intensely and composed works with the great composer as his influence. Beethoven soon left Bonn for Vienna amid fears of war spreading from France in late 1792. Once in Vienna, he steadily established his career as a performer and composer. He became known for his improvisations while playing in the homes of the Austrian nobility and was celebrated as a piano virtuoso.

By the age of 26, Beethoven’s deafness became an ever-problematic aspect of the composer’s life.  He did not completely lose his hearing until later, and he acknowledged his condition in the infamous “Heiligenstadt Testament.” This letter, addressed to his brothers, recorded his thoughts of suicide due to his escalating deafness. He wrote, however, that he would continue his life for the sole purpose of his music.

The end of Beethoven’s life became a struggle not only because of his increasing deafness as he began to decline in several ways. His health was deteriorating, his brother Carl became ill and passed away, and finally his struggle to gain custody of his brother’s son became a large emotional and monetary investment. Beethoven considered his brother’s wife, Johanna, an unfit guardian and pursued custody of the child. This battle dragged on and took financial and emotional tolls on the composer for most of the later stages of his life until his death. Beethoven’s life provides a glimpse into the emotion and passion behind his musical compositions.

Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

World Cup of Classical Music: Germany vs. Argentina

Celebrate the World Cup winners – as well as the second-place team – with a little Classical 101, Germany and Argentina editions.

Classical 101: Germany

German classical music and German classical musicians have played a major role in the development of the genre, with a significant contribution to orchestral works and operas. Mozart’s Die Zauberföte, for example, remains among the most beloved operas, and Beethoven’s symphonies are considered prime examples of the Romantic era. Robert Schumann is also credited with the creation of lied, a mixture of romantic poetry and music.

In honor of yesterday’s victory, get to know the biggest composers from this World Cup-winning country:

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach

Born in 1685 in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer who Beethoven described as “the original father of harmony.” Although he was not recognized as a great composer during his lifetime, Bach’s fame developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is famed for his more than 300 cantatas (of which close to 100 have been lost) as well as his music’s intellectual depth and beauty. An example of this can be heard in his Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is perhaps the most famous German composer of all time. Despite his hearing loss during the later stages of his life, he became a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic musical periods, and  remains one of the most influential of all composers. One of Beethoven’s most famous works in his Symphony No. 9.

Robert Schumann


Robert Schumann was born in 1810 and brought forth a new type of music called lied. After a hand injury ended his dreams of becoming Europe’s finest pianist, Schumann turned his energies to composition and is now recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Listen to his Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 to hear the composer’s prowess.



Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig and is known for his operatic works. His compositions are known for their complex textures and rich harmonies. Arguably his most famous work is his Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” can be heard below:



And to honor the second-place winner in the 2014 World Cup…

Classical 101: Argentina

Argentina’s contribution to classical music does not match that of Germany’s, but this should not detract from their legacy. Argentinians have contributed widely to many forms of classical music. Opera must be considered one of the main areas of classical composition. The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is considered one of the best opera houses in the world and represents the counties dedication to the art form. The country is less known for producing romantic and conservative compositions such as orchestral and piano works.

Alberto Williams


Alberto Williams, born in 1865 in Buenos Aires, is known as a pianist, conductor, and a pedagogue. While he was in Paris as a young man, Williams took lessons in composition from César Franck, who supposedly became fond of Williams. He is known for his orchestral works with his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor being one of the most popular.

Carlos Guastavino


Carlos Guastavino was born in 1912 in Santa Fe Province and is considered one of the most prominent Argentine composers of the twentieth century. He generated 500 compositions throughout his life and many were based on Argentine folk songs. He is sometimes referred to as the “Schubert of the Pamapas” and his songs Pueblito, mi pueblo, la rosa y el sauce (“The Rose and the Willow”) and Se eqivovó la paloma(“The Dove was Wrong”) have now become national favorites.

Alberto Ginastera


Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, Alberto Ginastera became a peer of Guastavino and established himself as another of Argentina’s great twentieth century composers. He is famously known for his composition of the opera Don Rodrigo, but is also known for his orchestral works.


Composer Spotlight: Richard Strauss

Born in Munich in 1864, Richard Strauss is a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. Many saw Strauss as the successor to Richard Wagner, and he became known for his advanced harmonic style. He met Alexander Ritter during his early professional years and was encouraged to abandon classical forms. As a result of this relationship, Strauss began to compose symphonic poems. The wide acceptance of his Don Juan (1889) started his ascendance to the musical elite.

Strauss’s first operatic success came in 1905 when he debuted Salome, which was based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same title. His other opera’s include Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), and Arabella (1929). After his experimentation with symphonic poems and opera, the remaining years of his life were spent perfecting his craft in relative isolation. He composed some rather interesting symphonies as well. One in particular — Symphonia Domesticai (1903) — describes twenty-four hours within the Strauss family household. He maintained an unparalleled ability to describe and to show psychological detail.

During his life, Strauss witnessed two world wars and remained uninterested in politics. While Wagner remained a Nazi party favorite throughout his life, Strauss occupied the opposite end of the spectrum: the Nazi regime disliked his association with the Jewish librettist, Stefan Zweig. After the two worked on Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman, 1935), the opera became banned. Shortly after this event, the composer received continued threats from the regime due to his daughter-in-law’s Jewish heritage. Known as a family man, Strauss took is family and lived in Vienna during World War II. He likely used his power as the most famous German composer alive to protect his family from the Nazi regime. He only moved back to Germany after the war when his name was cleared (Learn more about his life). Among the most memorable composers to come out of Germany, Richard Strauss maintained an interesting life and created music to match. 

ChorFreude: Calling All Singers With An Interest in International Travel

Take part in the Charlotte International Cabinet’s “ChorFreude” program. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Queen Charlotte’s coronation in June 2011, outstanding vocal ensembles and singers from throughout the Charlotte, NC region are forming the official ChorFreude Choir, under the direction of Professor Ginger Wyrick. The group will travel to and perform in the beautiful, historic and musically rich German Baltic Coast, in collaboration with the the Neubrandenburger Philarmonie. The program includes Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” and Boyce’s “The King Shall Rejoice,” composed especially for Queen Charlotte’s coronation. Request an audition or read all the details on the Charlotte International Cabinet’s website.