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Baptized Dec 17, 1770 [Bonn] - Died March 26, 1827 [Vienna]

A Brief Biographical Note    List of compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven

The German composer of Flemish ancestry. He is the first composer who never had an official position during his adult life. For him, music was not merely a means for self-expression but it was also a moral and ethical power. His first published work was a set of nine Variations on a March by Dresser for piano (WoO63, 1782/3, Mannheim). The Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II (WoO87, 1790) is the beginning of a new and highly productive phase in Beethoven's life as a composer. It is one of the extraordinary leaps in Beethoven's creative powers similar to those like the Eroica (1803) and the Hammerklavier sonata (1817/8). His Opus 1 was published in 1795. His lifetime covers the transition from the Classical to Romantic period. The balance between form and emotion he achieved in his music makes him a more Classical period composer. The song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (1816) and the Sonatas Op.102 (cello) and Op.101 (piano) (1815) opened the door for Romanticism for Beethoven. With the last quartets of Beethoven, music enters into the Romantic period. Throughout his career, he repeatedly bid farewell to the Classical tradition but never said a firm goodbye. His last complete composition, the String Quartet in F, Op.135 is the most Haydnesque of the last quartets. Beethoven links the classic feeling of Mozart and Haydn to the romantic freedom of imagination. His music is often described as larger than life. Sometimes, as Stravinsky pointed out, the message in his music is greater than the music itself. After he died, his most profound influence on the following generation was in changing the role of composer in the society. He was the first successful freelance composer in Vienna. The old style composer working for Church or aristocracy was replaced by a freelance artist producing work for his own artistic needs and earning a living through publication and performance of his own works. His another achievement was to raise the instrumental music to the highest plane. Especially the symphony and quartet reached their peak. This situation caused extreme difficulty for the younger composer to write in these mediums. The most obvious example is the age Brahms 'eventually' published his first symphony and string quartet.

His creative life is usually divided into three periods

1. First period - establishment as a major composer (till 1802): His early (Bonn) works show the signs of Mannheim preoccupation with extremes of piano and forte. This remained a fundamental element in Beethoven's music. The sudden pianos, the unexpected outbursts, the wide leaping arpeggio figures known as 'Mannheim rockets' are central to his musical vocabulary and helped him to liberate instrumental music from its dependence on vocal style. The sharp conflicts of mood that characterize the sonatas of CPE Bach appear much more powerfully in Beethoven. The Piano Sonata Op.31/3 has a non-tonic opening, rich harmonies, and scherzo-like slow movement with sforzandi in unexpected places. His piano writing was more dynamic than melodic. His first period compositions are mainly for the piano, alone or with other instruments (important exceptions are: String Trios Opp.3 & 9, String Quartets Op.18, and the First Symphony). During the first period, his art kept closely within the bounds of eighteenth century technique and ideas. He was more a performer -a pianist- than a composer in the first period. The major terminal works are: the Spring Sonata for Piano and Violin, Op.24, the Kreutzer Sonata, Op.47, Symphony No.1, and Piano Sonata in D, Op.28. The typical features of this period's works are expansion in form (long and polythematic expositions), long and lyrical slow movements, contrasted dynamics and improvisatory writing for the piano. C minor is a favorite key in this period (the Pathetique, Piano Concerto No.3).

2. Middle -heroic- period (1803-12): This period starts with the Eroica which is a landmark in Beethoven's musical development, and ends with the Emperor Concerto and the Egmont Overture. Most of the works were his masterworks, including Piano Sonata Op.57 (Appassionato), Piano Concerto in G No.4 (Op.58), String Quartets Op.59 (Razumovsky), Symphony No.4 (Op.60), Violin Concerto in D (Op.61). The most heroic of his works, Fidelio, also belongs to this period. In the Piano Concerto No.4, the improvisatory writing was more marked than the first period. He started to depart from the norm in this period. Structural innovations included the Eroica, the Moonlight sonata (Op.27/2), the Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos. In sonata form movements, the exposition is now shorter and the development and coda are longer. The third movements are now always a scherzo with unexpected accents and syncopations. Slow movements became shorter and finales gained more weight. His most accessible works are from this period.

3. Last period (1813-27): The last period works are a mere fraction of his total output, but, they have a density of musical thought surpassing anything that he had composed before. Growing concentration of musical thought is combined with a wider range of harmony and texture. The final period of Beethoven musical life starts with Op.102 Cello Sonatas and Op.101 Piano Sonata (1815/6). His last five Piano Sonatas and String Quartets, best Bagatelles, The Diabelli variations, the Missa Solemnis and Symphony No.9 were written almost in the final decade of his life. Lyricism is one feature of this period which became evident with Piano Sonatas Opp.90 & 101, and Cello Sonata Op.102/1. Longyear calls this period Beethoven's contrapuntal period. Several features characterize most of his mature works: increased use of counterpoint (fugues in the finales of Cello Sonata Op.102/2, Piano Sonatas Opp.101, 106 'Hammerklavier', 109, 110 and String Quartet Op.130 (Grosse Fuge); the first movements of String Quartet Op.131, Piano Sonatas Op.106 and 111; the overture Die Weihe des Hauses, Missa Solemnis, Diabelli Variations, first, second and last movements of Symphony No.9); avoidance of obvious dominant effects; preoccupation with (harmonically controlled) Variations (finale of Piano Sonatas Op. 109 and 111, Diabelli Variations, third and last movements of Symphony No.9, middle movements of String Quartets Op.127, 131, 132 and 135), inclusion of recitative in an instrumental work (finale of Piano Sonata Op.110, Choral Fantasy Op. 80, finale of Symphony No.9, third movement of String Quartet Op.131), use of modality (Lydian mode in the third movement of String Quartet Op.132), programmatic elements (Cavatina in String Quartet Op.130, Song of a Convalescent's Thanksgiving to God in String Quartet Op.132), finale-oriented pieces (Symphony No.9, String Quartet Op.131), unusual number of movements (two in Piano Sonata Op.111, six in String Quartet Op.130, seven in String Quartet Op.131), together with weakening of the sense of discrete and closed movements, tendency to use simple melodies like folk tunes, nursery rhymes, increasing use of flat submediant as relaxation in slow movements (the A major slow movement of String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131; String Quartet, Op.135; the classic example being the Ab major slow movement of Symphony No.5 in C minor). It is not rare that in this period, Beethoven combines an extremely slow tempo with a highly ornate texture and the simplest of harmonies (second movement of Piano Sonata Op.111). It is in this period that Beethoven overwhelmed the limits of Classical form in his sonata form movements -a process started with the Eroica- by blurring the demarcations between sections and theme groups and in creating huge structures (as in the Razumovsky Quartet No.1, the Hammerklavier Sonata and Symphony No.9; interestingly No.8 is just the opposite in this respect which also has a Minuet instead of Scherzo which make it very Classical). It is also notable that there are frequent tempo and key changes in such movements (the most typical example is the first movement of String Quartet in Bb Op.130 in which there are sixteen tempo and six key changes). Fusion of forms is another feature of the last period. The first movement of the last Piano Sonata Op.111 is a profound fusion of the contradictory principles of sonata and fugue. String quartet is the most essential medium of Beethoven's last period, as the piano was of his first, and the symphony orchestra of his middle period. Finally, his last period is when he best achieved the integration of highly contrasting ideas in one piece. There is no better example of this than the String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131 in his total output. He uses seven movements in six distinct keys, changes the tempo 31 times and the result is still his most unified piece.

The last period of Beethoven's life should be considered in the light of the following facts: his total deafness after 1819, his subsequent isolation from outside world, thus increased importance of his inner world, his permanently failed attempts in having a relationship with a woman, social and political situation in Vienna after 1815 (Biedermeier's Vienna), his difficulties about his nephew Karl, the disturbance of Austrian finances owing to the wars, and the Rossini fever in Vienna which influenced Beethoven's popularity. It was clear that he had to make necessary adjustments in his musical language and expression. His formal innovations seem to be a result of these factors. The freedom of form he was striving in the last Piano Sonatas was fully attained in the last String Quartets.

Personal fingerprints

He usually sticks with diatonic, triadic simplicity. Most of the themes have derived from the tonic triad. Thematic variety and lyricism of some of his themes brings Beethoven closer to Mozart (than Haydn). This is most obvious in the Septet, Eroica and the first Razumovsky quartet. Emphatic tonal disjunction is an essential element of Beethovenís musical vocabulary. He juxtaposes unrelated tonal areas without any preparation. Haydn used remote keys unprepared in the beginning of development and so was Beethoven. Although his great contemporaries used unrelated keys in successive movements (as in Haydn's last Piano Sonata in Eb H.52 which has a second movement in E) or in trios or their minuets, neither Mozart nor Haydn assigned a remote key an essential function within the unity of a continuous and organized movement as Beethoven did (incidentally this is a very Schubertian feature). Examples of this can be seen in the Egmont overture when he suddenly switches to A major from Ab major in b.91/2. He does the same in the String Quartet Op.131 where he moves to D major (second movement) from C# minor (first movement) without a break between the movements. In the first movement of String Quartet Op.18, No.1, the exposition finishes in C major and the development continues in A major. Four bars later another big leap, this time to Bb, follows. In the opening ritornello of Piano Concerto No.2 in Bb, he moves to Db without modulating. Similarly, at the end of the fifth variation in the finale of Symphony No.9, he moves from A major (dominant of the tonic) to F major (dominant of the new key, Bb). The first three songs of the song cycle are in Eb, G and Ab; between them there is hardly any preparation for the next key, especially remarkable when moving from G to the Neapolitan key Ab.

Beethoven is one of the supreme masters of long-range handling of harmony. Not keys but key-relationships are an important source of harmonic color effects in his music. Moving from a dominant seventh to a chord on the flat submediant is an established resource Beethoven uses for creating surprise (In Fidelio, b.49-50 of Florestan's Aria; b.333 of the first movement of the Piano Concerto No.2 in Bb; b.217-218 of the first movement of the Piano Sonata Op.2/3). He frequently uses flat-submediant as the key of the slow movement (Symphony No.5, String Quartets Opp.131 & 135). The whole Symphony No.7 is obsessed with the contrast between tonic (A) and flat submediant (F) / flat mediant (C). The tonality of the Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionato) frequently veers to the flat submediant but even more significantly to the flat supertonic (Neapolitan key). He even used sharp-submediant as the key of a slow movement (in the String Quartet Op.95 in F minor, the slow movement is in D major). Perhaps the most personal mark of Beethoven in his music is the consistent use of third relationships.  The first movement of String Quartet in Bb Op.130 contains six key changes ranging from six flats (Gb major) to two sharps (D major); these two keys are the flat submediant and the major mediant of the in the Bb major scale. He uses this intervallic relationship to create unity in An die ferne Geliebte. Both in this song cycle and in the String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131, the keys used follow a circle-of-thirds (Ab, C, Eb, G in the song cycle; B, D, [F#], A, C#, E, G# in the Quartet). In the development of the Scherzo of Symphony No.9, tonal motions are in thirds: D, B, G, Eb, C, Ab, F, Db, Bb, Gb, Eb,Cb, Ab [G#], E, C# and A. The Mass in C has a tonal plan based on mediant (E) and submediant (A). Mass in C is one of the works in C major that prominent use of the mediant E major is made (like the Piano Sonatas Opp.2/3 and 53; Leonore Overtures No.2 and 3).

Rhythmic vitality in Beethoven's music is unmatched. He creates this with his motifs, the use of harmonies, anacrusis, syncopations, offbeat accents and the masterly use of dynamics. For example, the famous turn motif of String Quartet No.18/1 appears in the development on different beats of the bar. The best examples of the typical rhythmic drive in symphonies are the first movement of the Eroica and the whole Symphony No.7. The relentless rhythmic drive of Brahms's Symphony No.1 is believed to be a result of a Beethovenian model he adopted for this symphony. Sudden changes in dynamics are a typical feature in Beethoven's music. In particular, the return of quiet main themes fortissimo at recapitulation is worth noting. He is also very good in dramatic use of silence.

He likes to use inversions of chords frequently, especially the dominant seventh; and contrary motion in thirds even at the risk of dissonance. Sometimes, he presents more music in recapitulation than in the exposition (as b.167-173 of the first movement of Waldstein Sonata; Piano Sonata Op.111; the first movement of the String Quartets Opp.59/2 & 130; and the last movement of the String Quartet Op.131). Especially in his middle-period, Beethoven presents a harmonic puzzle or instability at the outset of a piece. From the very first published work (Dresser's March, WoO63), C minor was a key Beethoven favored a lot (Piano Trios, Op.1/3; String Trio, Op.9/3; Piano Sonata, Op.10/1; Pathetique Sonata, Op.13; String Quartet, Op.18/4; Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37; Coriolanus Overture, Op.62; Symphony No.5, Op.67; first movement of the final Piano Sonata, Op.111). With Beethoven C minor is usually the key for drama and tension. He chose this key for monumental tragic-heroic works (like the Funeral Cantata WoO 87 and the principal section of the Funeral March of the Eroica). He attached supreme suffering to F minor (Fidelio, Egmont) and heroic emotion to Eb major (the Eroica, Emperor).

Towards the end of his life the use of trills came to have a significant importance. This started with the last movement of the Piano Sonata in E minor, Op.90. The best example of expressive trills can be found in the last variation of the last movement of the last Piano Sonata (Op.111). The slow movement of the String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131 (the beginning of the coda) is also very rich in trills.

Beethoven's fondness of countryside is well-known. His tendency to write pastoral music culminated in the Pastoral Symphony in 1808. He also wrote less known music with pastoral connotations. His most pastoral composition written before the Symphony was a song published in 1804. Der Wachtelschlag (WoO 129) in F major is about a quail (also featured in the Symphony). There is also a Pastoral in the ballet music Prometheus (1800-1). This is in C major with 6/8 meter and uses almost exclusively tonic and dominant harmony. The Piano Sonata in D (Op.28) has been nicknamed Pastoral by an English publisher. This is because of the extended tonic pedal in the opening theme and in the (6/8) finale. It was not Beethoven's idea to call it Pastoral. Another pastoral sounding piece by Beethoven is a Bagatelle in F major from the Op.33 set (1802). The musical features of the Symphony No.6 that give it a pastoral character can be listed as follows: the key of F major and the extensive use of woodwind, especially oboe which has originated from the shawm (a shepherd's instrument); the use of fast triple (3/4), compound duple (6/8) and compound quadruple (12/8) time in the third, last and second movements, respectively (but not Siciliana rhythm); widespread use of pedal basses, simple diatonic harmonies (mainly tonic-dominant) avoiding minor key modulations and chromatic chords; upper parts moving in thirds; bird-song imitations; second movement in subdominant; significant repetition; playing down the dramatic features of sonata form in the first two movements (like the lack of dominant preparation before recapitulation in the first movement) and lack of sudden dynamic changes.   

Beethoven's vocal works are often underestimated. More than 40% of his Bonn works are for voice. This proportion is very similarly represented in his total 600 works. His Lieder compare favorably with those of his contemporaries, although, as with most pre-Romantic Lieder, few have entered the modern repertory. Beethoven changed the minuet to scherzo in his compositions. The scherzo is a less graceful and more violent minuet and in much more rapid triple-meter. The rhythm of Beethoven's scherzos is usually heard as a three-in-one beat. In slow movements, like Haydn, he uses double variation form frequently. The most typical example is Symphony No.5: the slow movement in variation form has two themes. The rhythm of the second corresponds to the rhythm of the 'fate knocking on the door' theme. The slow movements of Symphony No.4 & No.9 and String Quartet Op. 132 'Song of a Convalescent's Thanksgiving to God' are also in double variation form. His interest in the variation form is well-known. Towards the end of his life, this interest became more than just elaborating a theme. As in the Diabelli Variations (Op.120), he dissects the theme to discover new meanings in it. He wrote 32 variations on a theme by Diabelli (eight groups of four variations each one following the theme's eight four-bar phrases). Sometimes the theme itself becomes unrecognizable. From the middle period onwards, his large scale works represent triumph over threat or adversity best seen in Symphony No.5 (also in Fidelio and the Adagio of the first Razumovsky Quartet, Op.59). Even his darkest music usually ends happily the rare exceptions being the Pathetique and the String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131.

Structural innovations

From his Opus 1, Beethoven started to make his mark on classical style. He is best remembered for changing the minuet to scherzo. He even placed the scherzo as the second movement in Symphony No.9. From the beginning, he increased the number of movements to four in classical sonata (his first Bonn sonatas have four movements). Later on, however, he also brought flexibility to the number of movements and indeed his last Piano Sonata (Op.111) has only two movements (after him, Liszt brought it down to one in his Sonata in B minor). The slow introduction to a symphony was already known from the examples of Mozart and Haydn but he did the same in his Piano Sonatas (Piano Sonata in F minor (1783), WoO 47; the Pathetique). He revolutionized the symphonic concept. The turning point in the history of symphony is the Eroica. It has an unprecedented length, which was heralded in Symphony No.2, and the expansion of sonata form in the first movement must have been hard to believe for his contemporaries. The richness in themes and tonality, extraordinary development which starts from the beginning and extended coda as a second development are the main features of the first movement of the Eroica. He also widened the scope of the piano sonata to symphonic proportions with the Waldstein, Appassionato and Hammerklavier sonatas. With his Op.18 String Quartets (No.5-6) and Opp.26, 27/1-2 and 31/3 Piano Sonatas (all from 1800-1802), a tendency towards shifting the weight of a multi-movement piece to the end emerged. He applied the same to the symphony from the Eroica onwards. This trend culminated in the choral finale in No.9. In No.6, he used five movements as opposed to the norm of four movements and as he had done in No.5, he joined the last three movements together (in his penultimate String Quartet in C# minor, all seven movements are played without a break). Having exhausted the tools of the classical style, he started to combine them. This is first seen in the fusion of forms in his music: in Op.18/4, he combined the fugue and sonata form in the second movement; in the finale of the Eroica, variation and fugue are combined; in the finale of the Pastoral symphony, the rondo theme is varied at each return; in the last movement of Piano Sonata, Op.111, the section after variation 4 may be seen either as an extended coda or as two further variations surrounded by transitional material and ending with a coda. His innovations in the use of sonata form are discussed in the next section. See also Evolution of Symphony and the Finale Problem after Beethoven.

Use of sonata form

As a Classical Period composer, he used sonata form in first movements of most of his works. All four movements of the String Quartet in F major Op.59/1 (Razumovsky) are cast in sonata form. He sometimes used sonata form in last movements (Piano Sonatas Op.10/1 and Op.27/2; String Quartets Op.18/5, and Op.131 -the only sonata form movement is the last movement in this quartet). He expanded the sonata form movements to massive dimensions as in the first movements of Symphonies No.3 & 9. He generally observes the sonata principle. Sometimes his second subjects are in unexpected keys or have more than one tonality but the whole group usually establishes one single key and they are recapitulated in the tonic (or tonic major). Not infrequently, he approaches the second subject through an intermediary key (like from F to C through Ab in String Quartet Op.18/1). Some exceptions violating the conventions of Classical sonata principle are: the second subject of Symphony No.1 in C is recapitulated in the subdominant (F); in the Piano Sonata, Op.10/1 (first movement), the recapitulation of the second subject is also in the subdominant and moves to the tonic minor (there are deviations from the sonata principle in all three sonatas in this set); in the Pathetique Sonata (C minor), the second subject is in Eb minor (mediant minor) and first recapitulated in the subdominant before reaching the home key; the Egmont overture (in F minor, Op.84) in which the second subject is in the relative major (Ab) and recapitulated in the submediant key (Db); also in String Quartet in F minor Op.95, the second subject is first recapitulated in Db and then in F major; in the first movement of Symphony No.9 (in D minor), the second subject is in the submediant (Bb) and is recapitulated in F# minor (a third above the tonic); in the Piano Trio, Op.70/2 (finale), a double recapitulation is the outcome of an unusual key structure which begins with the exposition; in the finale of the String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131, the finale is in sonata form and its second subject is recapitulated in the remote key, D major (flat supertonic); in Piano Sonata in C Op.53 (Waldstein), the second subject is in E and recapitulated first in A and then reaches the tonic, later on in the coda it turns up again fully in tonic.  

Other examples of the use of remote keys (usually a third relationship to the tonic) for the second subjects in sonata form movements: the flat submediant (Piano Sonata, Op.111; String Quartet in Bb, Op.130); the mediant major (Waldstein); the submediant major (String Quintet in C, Op.29; Archduke Trio in Bb, Op.97; Hammerklavier Sonata in Bb, Op.106); the submediant (String Quartet in F minor, Op.95); the mediant (Sonata in G, Op.31/1) in which the second subject begins in the mediant (B) major but most of the rest of the second group is in B minor. In the Scherzo of Symphony No.9 in D minor, the second subject is in C major (flat-seventh). In the late period, it is rare to see the second subject in dominant.

One of the hallmarks of Beethoven's way with sonata form is his love of well-contrasted first and second subjects. This was not unusual in the Classical period. The first and second subject groups of the first movement of the Eroica and Egmont are good examples of contrasting subjects in a sonata form movement (rhythmic/masculine vs lyrical/feminine). The D major - B minor key relationship was one of his favorite ones (Pastoral sonata Op.28, finale of Symphony No.2). He also used the specific juxtaposition of D major and Bb major in his works (introduction of Symphony No.2, the first orchestral tutti of the Violin Concerto, the first turn towards the second thematic area in Archduke Trio Op.97, the first theme of the third movement of Symphony No.9). He is very fond of motivic development and he does it very concisely. He uses one or two small motives to construct a whole movement. In the first and last movements of piano sonata Op.10/3, he builds large structures from motifs of just a few notes. His dominant preparations are sometimes massive (as in the Pathetique sonata) and the recapitulation comes back after a long expectation and usually in fortissimo.  On the other hand, the development section of the Scherzo of Symphony No.9 merges into the recapitulation without any dominant harmony and, the first movement of the Pastoral Symphony does not have any dominant pedal at the end of the development. The coda is generally a further development section (first movement of the Eroica). Another common procedure in Beethoven's sonata form movements is that a cadential phrase from the first theme ends the exposition and opens the development (String Quartet in G, Op.18/2).

The coda was no more than a summing up in most Classical works before Beethoven. There were only a few grand codas (as in Haydn's Symphony No.44, Mozart's large instrumental works in C major and C minor). Beethoven raised the coda to the status of a second development section. His largest codas are those in the finale of Trio Op.97 (157 of 410 bars), Symphonies No.3 (first movement), No.5 (finale), No.8 (finale; 236 of 502 bars), and in the finale of String Quartet Op.131 (125 of 388 bars).

Thematic links in Beethoven's works

The main theme of the Eroica may have been inspired from the Prometheus theme. The new theme that appears in b.284 of the first movement seems to have been derived from the first and second subjects. The funeral march theme in C minor is the retrograde derivative of the main theme of the first movement. The horn theme in the Trio is an anagram of the main theme (incl. the Db). In Symphony No.5, the theme of the Scherzo is related rhythmically to the opening of the work. The Scherzo theme appears in the finale. In No.9, the themes of the first three movements are quoted in the beginning of the last movement. The Ode to Joy theme is foreshadowed all the way through in the symphony. An example of the intervallic relationship as a means of creating unity appears in the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. The interval sixth and its inversion the third are used consistently in melodically important material throughout. Semitonic interval is used as a unifying agent in Symphony No.2 and String Quartet in C# minor. In the Pathetique sonata, the rondo theme is related to the second subject of the first movement. He uses a rhythmic motive to unite all sections in the first movement of Symphony No.4. All his last five string quartets are united by the same pitch relationships in their themes (most use the top half of the minor scale) and show some signs of key relationships as a whole. As in the Eroica and Symphony No.5, the themes of different movements of the String Quartet in C# minor (Op.131) are interrelated. As an example, the theme of the last movement in sonata form is an interversion of the first movement's fugal subject.

Orchestration in Beethoven's work

Beethoven was not interested in introducing novelties for their own sake. He follows the conventions of Classical period orchestration with slight expansion. He shared his contemporaries' taste for generally expanding the use of woodwind and brass. He used the Classical period orchestration in most of his orchestral music: double woodwind (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons), pairs of horns, trumpets, timpani and the standard strings (first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses). Typical Beethovenian touches in his scores are the sudden and unexpected fortes and pianos as well as sudden silences. Adam Carse comments on examples of bad balances in orchestration in several of his symphonies as a result of strings, or strings or brass, overpowering the essential matter played by the wood-wind in loud passages. In his first symphony, clarinets are still only harmony or tutti instruments but gradually gain importance and are given solo parts from the Eroica onwards. His horn parts also show gradual change. The number of stopped notes increased starting with the Eroica. He used three horns in the Eroica and Fidelio (1805) and four in Symphony No.9. He exploited the possibilities of the brass group very little. The timpani, however, enjoyed prominence and even thematic importance (as in the Scherzo of Symphony No.9) more than ever before in Beethoven's music. Another novel use of the timpani was tuning them in the extended interval of octaves in the same Scherzo (as well as in the finale of Symphony No.8), and in the interval of diminished fifth in Florestan's F minor aria in Fidelio. From his middle period onwards, he was getting impatient with the instrumental technique of his time. His demands on the horn players in the Eroica, Fidelio, Symphony No.9 (fourth horn), and on the string bass players in the third movement of Symphony No.5 were probably a little too much at the time.

Romantic tendencies in Beethoven's music

Both Classical and Romantic tendencies co-exist in Beethoven's music. In the case of Beethoven at least, it would be more appropriate to see Classicism and Romanticism as concurrent tendencies rather than consecutive periods. When exhausted the tools of the Classical style, Beethoven turned to new ways of expression and new kinds of content. In contrast to Romantics, Beethoven found these in his own imagination. The great interest taken by many Romantic composers in their national heritage was a characteristic of Beethoven too. His interest in folk songs is very well known not only because of the arrangements he made for British and Irish folk songs, but also because he wrote a lot of German Dances. As his expressive purposes changed, he sometimes found it necessary to increase the length of single movements as in the Eroica, Symphony No.9, and String Quartets Opp.130 & 131. He also used the cyclical form (An die ferne Geliebte song cycle). Like his follower Romantic composers would do, he turned to the past in search of new expressive means. The amount of fugal writing increased in his later works. The slow movement of the A minor quartet (Op.132) bears the superscript 'Song of a Convalescent's Thanksgiving ... in the Lydian mode'. The overture to the Consecration of the House resembles the French overture type. He also created the short, lyrical piano pieces called bagatelles. He provided examples for the traits often described as Romantic: Program music (Pastoral Symphony), Extra-musical suggestions (Eroica, Pastoral Symphony, Symphonies No.5 and 9, Piano Sonata Op.81a Les Adieux), longing for the unattainable (An die ferne Geliebte), finishing minor key works with major mode movements (Symphonies No.5 and 9; Piano Sonatas Opp.90 & 111; String Quartet Op.95) [incidentally, the opposite of this does not occur in Beethoven's music but there are later examples: Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony in A and Brahms's Trio in B, Op.8], merging of separate movements into a single span (Symphonies No.5 and 6; Piano Concerto No.5 'Emperor'; Piano Sonata Op.111 'No.32'), tonal innovations in sonata form-movements (in Appassionato in F minor, the second subject is both in Ab minor and Ab major; in the Scherzo of the Eroica, the second subject is recapitulated in the dominant first and then in the tonic; in the finale of String Quartet in C# minor, Op.131, the second subject is in relative major (E) and recapitulated in the Neapolitan key 'D major'). This Quartet (Op.131) is highly structured and in this sense Classical. Whatever innovations, modifications and revolutions he has brought into music, he never forgot to keep the balance and order. He appears to have remained a Classical composer throughout his life, but the instinctive imagination Beethoven shows for the form, texture and tonality is more characteristic of Romantics. See also Romantic Music.

Beethoven's influence

During the nineteenth century, those composers not influenced by Beethoven were the exception rather than the rule. The model of Beethoven was a prototype for the Romantic artist as he was not conservative in creativity and, tried new ways in expression and communication with no recognition of boundary. His life style and humanistic opinions also provided new models for the Romantics. Beethovenís legacy was immensely rich and varied. Many of the following composers could not avoid his influence. His influence made especially symphonic writing a difficult task for his followers. From the Eroica onwards, Beethoven redefined the concept of symphony. He created new concepts in symphonic writing: the metaphysical, exemplified by the heroic-tragic (funeral march from the Eroica, the first movements of Symphonies No.5 and 9) and the heroic-victorious (first movement of the Eroica, last movement of No.5, the Emperor); the down-to-earth (the Pastoral); concision and neatness (Symphonies No.4 and 8); expansiveness (the Eroica, Symphony No.9); music with a message (the Eroica, Symphonies No.5 and 9); or still abstract music (Symphonies No.4 and 8) were the new and wide-ranging elements in the new symphonic style as defined by Beethoven. In the new style, the weight shifted to the end (to the finale) and, the concentrated motivic development and long-range tonal planning became the norm. His immediate German successors Schumann and Mendelssohn were undoubtedly Romantic composers but in their symphonies it was Beethoven the Classic to whom they owed most.

As a brief summary, his influence on other composers are as follows: Schubert: the expansive dimension of his own No.9 (the Great), similarity of the rhythm in the opening of the Wanderer to Beethovenís Hammerklavier; Schumann: the adoption of the song cycle as a model, the quotation of the closing song of An die ferne Geliebte in his Piano Fantasy Op.17, placing of the scherzo as the second movement in his Second Symphony, thematic cross-references and the lack of breaks between movements in the Fourth Symphony (as in Beethovenís No.5 and 9, and No.5 and 6, respectively), thematic cross-links also in the first movement of the Piano Concerto; Mendelssohn: the parallels between his String Quartet Op.80 in F minor and Beethovenís F minor Quartet Op.95, his Piano Sonata Op.6 and Beethovenís Sonatas Opp.90 & 101, choral finale in Symphony No.2, the similarity of the Andante con moto in D minor from the Italian Symphony to the Allegretto of Beethoven's No.7, the Adagio of the Scottish Symphony has similarities to the Harp Quartet Op.74, the connection of the first two movements of the Violin Concerto by a single bassoon note modeled on the Emperor; Berlioz: Programmatic content and thematic transformation in the symphonies Symphonie fantastique and Romeo and Juliette, also chorus in the finale of Romeo and Juliette; Liszt: inspiration from the Egmont and Leonora Overtures No.2 and 3 to write his 13 Symphonic Poems, programmatic symphonies (Dante and Faust) and use of chorus in the finale of them, thematic transformation in Faust (similar to the transformation of the slow introduction theme in the Pathetique), Piano Sonata in B runs without a break; Brahms: the relentless rhythmic drive, beautiful breadth of melodies, originality of modulations, dramatic treatment of the main structural landmarks and particular expressive content in Symphony No.1 (1876) which was dubbed 'The Tenth', the tonal relationships between the movements of this Symphony is another reminder of Beethoven (and Schubert): they are separated from each other by a major third (C minor, E major, Ab major, C minor), the symphonic nature of Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor (1859) and the structure of its rondo (aspired from Beethovenís Piano Concerto No.3), his second Piano Concerto in Bb (1881) was even called 'a symphony with obbligato piano', the rhythmic similarity of the opening theme of his Piano Sonata No.1 (1853) to the Hammerklavierís  first theme and the reference to Bb near the opening of a C major sonata movement (similar to Waldstein), particular emphasis on this Bb as Beethoven did the same for G in the first movement of String Quartet Op.59/1 and D and A in the whole of Op.131, similarities of his Violin Concerto and Double Concerto to Beethovenís Violin Concerto (1878) and Triple Concerto (1887), the intervallic contour of the first theme using descending thirds (cf. Hammerklavier) and dual tonality of the second subject in B minor and major (cf. Appassionato Op.57 and Sonata in G Op.31/1) in the Fourth symphony, the freedom he allowed himself in variation writing can be traced back to Beethoven, his addition of a fourth movement in his second Piano Concerto may have been inspired from Beethoven's similar innovation in piano sonata; Bruckner: Hugely expansive symphonies, simplicity of motifs and creating great structures from these simple motifs (Urmotive), the use of the first movement of Beethovenís No.9 as a model in many symphonies (especially in his Third Symphony, also the Eighth starts with a theme rhythmically identical to the opening of Beethoven's No.9), use of the slow movement of No.9 as a model for some his symphonic slow movements (especially the last three), in the finale of his Symphony No.5, themes from the earlier movements re-appear and alternate with new themes and they altogether become the first subject proper; Mahler: The resemblance of the Resurrection March in his Second Symphony to the march episode in the finale of Beethoven's No.9, extreme similarity of the opening of the third movement of the Fourth Symphony to the quartet from Act 1 of Fidelio, the opening of the Adagio finale of Mahler's Third Symphony resembles to the Lento assai from the String Quartet Op.135 and the second part of the main theme from Marcia funebre of the EroicaWagner: He considered himself as the successor of Bach of Beethoven. His early instrumental works are based on Beethovenian models. Wagner aspired to compose symphonic opera. He at the end infused opera with Beethovenís symphonism. He combined literary drama and the Beethovenian symphony in musical drama. Thus, he used large-scale tonal planning and thematic-motivic working (with more emphasis on transformation) in his operas;  Franck: Apart from finishing his only Symphony in D minor in major mode, the first phrase of the Grande Piece Symphonique is related to Muss es sein? (Beethoven's String Quartet op.135); Martinu himself stated that the Eroica lay behind the musical language of his Symphony No.3; Bartok: He was a great fan of Beethovenís last quartets. These quartets formed the inspiration for Bartokís six mature quartets. No.1 starts with a fugue like Beethovenís Op/131, intellectual concentration (similar to the finale of the Hammerklavier and Grosse Fugue) can be seen in the opening of his String Quartet No.4. A motif only uses semitonic intervals forms the generative nucleus in this quartet; Tippett: He was impressed with the vitality of the formal process and the creation of ebb and flow in Beethovenís music. He frequently started with a sonata-allegro movement and finished with a sonata-rondo in his compositions. His Symphony No.2, for example, consists of a dramatic sonata-allegro followed by an expressive slow movement, a vigorous scherzo and a climaxing finale. So has his String Quartet No.1 a similar structure. He used the model of Beethovenís String Quartet Op.95 to integrate widely differing material such as the lyrical opening folk-like theme with a homophonic accompaniment, a fugue with a chromatic tail into his Concerto for Double String Orchestra. Like the Hammerklavier and Grosse Fugue, he concluded his String Quartet No.3 and Symphony No.1 with fugues. Similarities extend to the use of expressive trills and increased speed of figurations (as in the finale of Beethovenís Op.111) in his Piano Sonata No.3. He even quoted the alla marcia from the finale of the Ninth Symphony in the third act of his opera The Midsummer Marriage. Also in the finale of his Third Symphony, he quotes the opening bars of the finale of Symphony No.9.  If not his music, the humanism Beethoven pictured so positively in masterpiece after masterpiece will continue to influence each generation.

See also Naxos: Beethoven Page & 4-CD Set with Narration on Beethoven's Life and Works (Cat. No. 8.558024-27)

The Great Courses (on CD-DVD): Beethoven & String Quartets of Beethoven

Beethoven: The Music and the Life by Lewis Lockwood

Ludwig van Beethovenís Website

Scores of Music by Beethoven at IMSLP

M.Tevfik Dorak, B.A. (Hons)

Last updated on May 4, 2003

Last edited on Aug 23, 2011

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