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Classical Breakdown

26. The life of Beethoven

September 8, 2020

Discover the life and works of one classical music's greatest composers! His life was full of groundbreaking music, but it was also tragic as he dealt with family problems and hearing loss. We explore the details of his life and listen to samples of his music, from his first composition to his final Symphony No. 9.

Show Notes


BSO performs Beethoven's Funeral March from his Symphony No. 3 upon hearing the news of the assisination of John F. Kennedy. 

The metronome "celebrity" endorsement

Beethoven writes his enthusiasm for the new netronome and offers some business advice.
To Hofrath von Mosel. 1817.
I sincerely rejoice that we take the same view as to the terms in use to denote the proper time in music which have descended to us from barbarous times. For example, what can be more irrational than the general term allegro, which only means lively; and how far we often are from comprehending the real time, so that the piece itself contradicts the designation. As for the four chief movements,--which are, indeed, far from possessing the truth or accuracy of the four cardinal points,--we readily agree to dispense with them, but it is quite another matter as to the words that indicate the character of the music; these we cannot consent to do away with, for while the time is, as it were, part and parcel of the piece, the words denote the spirit in which it is conceived.
So far as I am myself concerned, I have long purposed giving up those inconsistent terms allegro, andante, adagio, and presto; and Maelzel's metronome furnishes us with the best opportunity of doing so. I here pledge myself no longer to make use of them in any of my new compositions. It is another question whether we can by this means attain the necessary universal use of the metronome. I scarcely think we shall! I make no doubt that we shall be loudly proclaimed as despots; but if the cause itself were to derive benefit from this, it would at least be better than to incur the reproach of Feudalism! In our country, where music has become a national requirement, and where the use of the metronome must be enjoined on every village schoolmaster, the best plan would be for Maelzel to endeavor to sell a certain number of metronomes by subscription, at the present higher prices, and as soon as the number covers his expenses, he can sell the metronomes demanded by the national requirements at so cheap a rate, that we may certainly anticipate their universal use and circulation. Of course some persons must take the lead in giving an impetus to the undertaking. You may safely rely on my doing what is in my power, and I shall be glad to hear what post you mean to assign to me in the affair.
I am, sir, with esteem, your obedient LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN.

Symphonies Nos. 5 and 9 in performance