Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 17th, 1700, in the German town of Bonn. His father and grandfather were both employed as court musicians. His grandfather, who was also named Ludwig van Beethoven, had become an accomplished bass singer, and was the well-respected Kapellmeister (conductor of the orchestra and choir) in the Electoral Court of Bonn.
Beethoven's father, Johann, was not as gifted as Beethoven's grandfather, but he was still a good musician. He also worked in the Electoral Court, and he taught piano, violin, and voice. Johann was not a great musician, and he was not a pleasant man, so the court did not consider Johann to be a valuable employee.
Unlike her husband, Beethoven's mother, Maria Magdalena Laym was well liked by most people. Described as slim and beautiful, she was smart, well spoken, and well respected. Maria was twenty-one when she married Johann Beethoven. She had been married before, but her first husband had died within two years of their marriage. Maria gave birth to seven children, but only three lived to adulthood. Her first son, Ludwig Maria, only lived six days. The next year she gave birth to another Ludwig, who grew up to be the famous composer. Her next two sons, Kaspar Anton Karl and Nikolaus Johann lived to adulthood. Anna Maria Franziska died shortly after she was born; Franz Georg and Maria Margarethe only lived a few years each. Johann was an alcoholic, which caused Maria much grief. He often left her alone, and she also fretted over his gambling debts, which had begun to grow very fast. As you can tell, Maria's life was full of grief, and she often said, "Life is a chain of sorrows."
Young Beethoven was, for the most part, a happy carefree boy. He loved to romp in the palace garden, and play jokes on his neighbors. Once a neighbor caught him stealing eggs from her hen house! Beethoven was not always like this; sometimes he was very shy and serious.
Beethoven's musical education started at age five, when his father taught him the basics of the clavier and the violin. Johann lacked patience and often punished his son severely when Beethoven didn't play well enough. After a while, Johann engaged the services of another musician, Tobias Pfeiffer, to teach his son.
Pfeiffer lived with the Beethoven's, and in the evenings he would visit the taverns with Johann. He would often drink until eleven or twelve o clock at night, and then come home, wake Beethoven up, and they would stay at the piano till morning.
Beethoven played at his first concert when he was six. When he was about ten, the court organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe became his teacher. Beethoven flourished under his teaching, and when he was eleven he published his first three compositions, Sonatas for Clavier, with the help of Neefe. When Beethoven was twelve, he served as the assistant court organist, and the next year he served as cembalist (harpsichord player). Although he was not paid for these jobs, they gave him valuable experience. At the age of fourteen, Beethoven was officially appointed a deputy court organist, and this time he was paid.
In 1787, when Beethoven was seventeen, he went to Vienna to study music. He planned on staying in Vienna to study under Mozart. When he got to Vienna, he went to Mozart's house, and played for him. Mozart and Beethoven only had a few lessons, because Mozart was too involved in writing the opera, Don Giovanni. Soon after Beethoven arrived in Vienna, his father sent word that his mother's tuberculosis was worse, and that she was dying. Beethoven arrived home, just in time to sit at his mother's bedside as she died of consumption. Maria Margarethe, Beethoven's one-and-a-half-year-old sister died shortly after. During this time, Beethoven was very sad and depressed. His father drank twice as much as usual, and the family's financial situation continued to disintegrate.
Being the oldest son, Beethoven tried to take care of his younger brothers and his poor father. Four years later, in 1791, Beethoven went to Vienna again, this time to study under Franz Joseph Haydn. A week later, his father died. Beethoven did not like Haydn's way of teaching, so six months after he had began lessons with Haydn, he secretly took lessons from another teacher, Johann Schenk. Haydn found out, and stopped the secret lessons. Haydn went to London in 1794, and Beethoven went through several more teachers. In 1799, Beethoven's first signs of deafness appeared. He kept it a secret for a while, but eventually he told his friends.
Beethoven never married. He had several relationships with women, but most of them married someone else. He never seemed to have a serious relationship with a woman, until in 1812, when he wrote a love letter, called The Immortal Beloved Letter to an unknown woman.
In 1815, Beethoven's brother, Karl died. Beethoven did not like Karl's wife, Johanna, and began a fierce legal battle for the custody of his nephew, Karl. He felt that Johanna was not a very good mother. A year later, he had custody of the nine-year-old Karl. In 1819, he lost custody of Karl, but the next year he regained it. At this time, Beethoven became completely deaf.
When people would come to visit him, he would have them write what they said in books, called conversation books.
At the age of seventeen, Karl moved away from his uncle's house. At first, Karl came to visit his uncle every weekend, but he soon began visiting with his friends in the local taverns. He enjoyed this much more than sitting with his deaf uncle all day, but Beethoven became very angry and upset when Karl did not come. Eventually, Karl tried to commit suicide, but his attempt failed. He moved back to Beethoven's house, and cared for his uncle because he felt sorry for upsetting him.
Beethoven had never been very healthy and on March 27th, 1827 he died. He had been sick with pneumonia and edema, and had had four operations to drain fluid from his body. At his funeral in Vienna, over twenty thousand people joined the procession. His body was buried at the Wahring Cemetery in Vienna. Many years later his remains were moved to the Central Cemetery, and reburied next to Franz Schubert.
Many people still love Beethoven and his music. Some of the music that he composed includes Fur Elise, the Missa Solemnis Opus 123, and some nine symphonies, the most famous of which is probably his Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy).