By David Worboys •
Published: 17 Dec 2020 • 13:38
BEETHOVEN – THE LEGACY – There are quite a few people, mostly men, whose name continues to be known, way beyond their lifespan, in all but the most deprived or isolated parts of the world. To many people almost nothing is known of their lives or achievements, other than their names.
Beethoven, Einstein, Elvis, Gandhi, Hitler, Luther King, Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Napoleon, Shakespeare. Only one of these is famous entirely for the wrong reasons. Take a bow, Adolf!
As we approach the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth on 17 December, I would like to pay tribute to an extraordinary example of triumph over adversity. In June, my article BEETHOVEN – THE MAN covered his challenges – how, as a child he was humiliated and beaten by his father and how he lost his beloved mother to a lingering death.
From an early age he had mental anguish, physical pain, and debilitating illnesses. He suffered serious digestive problems, lung infections and abscesses in jaw and finger (for a pianist!) as well as dyslexia and loneliness.
And, of course, there was the gradual onset of deafness (for a composer!) from the age of 24. Ten years later, suffering from a fever, he was completely deaf and could hear music only in his head. His greatest works had yet to be created in these circumstances.
Yet, despite all this, he emerged triumphant as one of the most famous and influential men in history, taking music from the classical to the romantic age, creating revolutionary ideas and taking each form to a new level. In just about every form of classical music, Beethoven proved to be the master. But he has challengers – closer in some fields than others.
Regardless of personal preference, his symphonies are widely acknowledged as more deeply significant than those of Haydn, Brahms or Mahler.
He has serious challengers in other fields, such as the overtures of Rossini and Haydn’s string quartets, Mozart’s piano concertos and the violin concerto of Mendelssohn. It’s the same with Verdi’s great opera (La Traviata versus Fidelio), Bach’s mass (versus Missa Solemnis) and the piano sonatas of Schubert.
Chopin and Rachmaninoff created sublime piano music, but where are their string quartets? What about the Lieder of Liszt, the operas of Mahler, the symphonies of Verdi and concertos of Wagner? Beethoven excelled in all these areas.
In a pre-Pandemic year, there would have been celebratory concerts and tributes all over the world this year, as there were in recognition of the 200th anniversary of his birth back in 1970. Unfortunately the legacy of Beethoven is not at the front of our minds right now.
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