Extracted from Michael Steen’s book The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, these concise guides, selected by The Independent’s editorial team, explore the lives of composers as diverse as Mozart and Puccini, reaching from Bach to Brahms, set against the social, historical and political forces which affected them, to give a rounded portrait of what it was like to be alive and working as a musician at that time.
In this ebook Steen traces Beethoven's tumultuous life, buffeted by the violent cross-currents of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars which convulsed Europe from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th. Born in Bonn, Beethoven became a successful musician patronised by the aristocracy. Though scornful of social convention, he conquered Vienna, creating works which rewrote the rulebook for all the musical forms he touched.
Irascible and argumentative, Beethoven was a troubled genius; frustrated by politics, exasperated by friends, foes, and family, and plagued by the gradual loss of his hearing which began when he was still in his 20s. While conflicts raged about him and within him, he constantly surprised people by doing the unexpected and staying fiercely independent. He was among the first to bring the piano to the fore rather than the harpsichord, as the larger sound could play along with the rest of the orchestra in a hall. Beethoven could always turn to his love of music even when ill-health led him to consider suicide, the wars devalued his earnings, and the love for his nephew Karl and the infamous ‘Immortal Beloved’ was never returned. Today he remains one of the world's best-loved composers.