Composer of the Month Club: February 2020
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven is one of the most famous (if not the MOST famous) composer in all of history. He was born in Bonn (a city which is now part of Germany) in 1770. When Beethoven was 16 years old, he spent some time in Vienna, Austria, hoping to meet Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and to study music with him. (We don't know if Beethoven and Mozart actually ever met!) One of Beethoven's most famous compositions, his Fifth Symphony, was first performed in Vienna years later. Have you heard this music before? Listen to the opening theme (short-short-short-long). Do you hear that music come back again and again through the symphony? If you listen to all four movements of the symphony, you will hear this theme repeat itself often!
(For an extra challenge, name the instruments that you see! This orchestra is playing on copies of instruments from the 1700-1800s, so some instruments might look a little different than you are used to!)
Beethoven played the piano and violin starting when he was about 5 years old. Music written for both of these instruments would be important throughout his life. One piece that he wrote for piano is the famous "Moonlight Sonata." The first movement of this sonata is the most famous: did you know that this sonata also has two more movements that are supposed to be played right after this famous movement? Follow along with the sheet music for this piece, and imagine the music is the soundtrack for a movie scene in a beautiful, dark place with a bright moon shining overhead.
Another one of Beethoven's famous pieces for piano is one that you probably already know! "Für Elise" is a piece that many piano students specifically request to play. Do you have any pieces that you dream of playing one day?
One type of music that Beethoven is famous for composing is string quartets. Beethoven wrote 16 string quartets throughout his life! The string quartet is almost always made up of two violins, one viola, and one cello. String quartets, like symphonies, are usually written in four large movements or sections. In this video, you will hear just the first movement of one of Beethoven's early string quartets. Notice how the 4 musicians have to communicate to each other during the performance to keep the music together. Instead of using their words to talk to each other, they gesture with their bodies, instruments, and eyes to stay together!
A couple of weeks ago you listened to Beethoven's 5th symphony. Did you know that Beethoven wrote 9 symphonies in total? While all of his symphonies are famous, his Ninth Symphony has gone on to be known around the world, especially the grand finale to the symphony.
By the end of his life, Beethoven was almost completely deaf. He could still imagine the music he was composing in his head, but he never was able to hear his final compositions in performance. This is one of those pieces that he was never able to hear.
This symphony is over 1 hour long! if you don't have an hour available, go ahead and skip to 1:01:30 in the video and listen for a minute or two to see if you recognize this famous melody. Perhaps you've played "Ode to Joy" before!
Beethoven's music has been very influential, ever since it was first composed. Musicians and composers today are still influenced by the work that Beethoven did 200 years ago! Take a listen to this track by the popular YouTubers "The Piano guys" as they re-write Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" (remember this song from Week 1?). They turn this song into a rock & roll/pop song with piano, cello, drums, and synthesizers. Can you still hear parts of Beethoven's original music in this song?
As the creator of this "Composer of the Month Club," I cannot let a month of Beethoven go by without sharing my favorite composition by Beethoven! This is the 2nd movement from his Symphony No. 7. It starts out with a dramatic chord, and then the orchestra fades to a pianissimo volume (you can barely hear them!). The main theme repeats again and again, pushing forward and becoming more and more dramatic!
This video just contains the music. You can choose to enjoy the sound or, for an extra challenge, try to follow along with the music! The orchestral score (sheet music) can be found HERE. Have you ever seen sheet music for full orchestra like this before?
Beethoven's music is complex, and sometimes challenging to listen to because he composed music in long movements and with complicated harmonies. Today we are used to songs on the radio being no more than 3 minutes long; 200 years ago, when Beethoven was writing music, people didn't necessarily expect for songs to be over so quickly!
This video contains a fun piece for solo piano that (while longer than 3 minutes) is definitely shorter than his symphonies! This piece is called "Rage over a lost penny" (although it was likely one of Beethoven's friends who gave it that title). Notice how fast she has to play the scales in this music; this is why we practice our scales!
I hope you will continue to explore Beethoven's music!
Painting of Beethoven when he was 13 years old.
You've learned about Ludwig van Beethoven and completed the Composer of the Month Club for February!