Summary of Beethoven's Three Periods

Beethoven was one of the most influential composers of the Classical period. His music inspired others and set the stage for the music of the Romantic period. His father had wanted him to become the next Mozart and play piano professionally. One myth about Beethoven involves the rumors around his deafness. It is true that by the time he finished his last symphony he was deaf, but he had a lifetime of writing music to develop the skills necessary to write, even when he could no longer hear. Beethoven began losing his hearing in 1801.

Musical Style

Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of the Classical period. His music overlaps two time periods, as he helped to define and expand the Classical period into the Romantic period. If you follow the progression of his compositions, you can see his music transition from a very typical, orderly and balance Classical style to one of experimentation that pushed the boundaries of the music of his time. Beethoven lived from Dec. 17, 1770, to March 26, 1827.

First Period

Beethoven's first period served to form the basis for his compositional technique. He studied counterpoint, the combining of several independent lines to create harmony and worked toward mastering the current compositional style of the time. If you listen to his first two symphonies from this period, and you will notice they are typical of a Classical period work. Beethoven doesn't begin to distinguish himself and create his own compositional style until his middle or second period. The first period consists of the years from 1792 to 1802 during which he dealt largely with a move from Bonn, Germany, to Vienna, Austria. Beethoven mastered writing for smaller ensembles during this period.

Middle Period

From 1802 to 1812, Beethoven was highly prolific. He wrote an additional six symphonies, an opera called "FIdelio" and several works for piano and string quartet. The world had known that Beethoven was going deaf since the end of the first period, but his music continued to develop. Beethoven expanded the orchestra by adding the trombone and developing the Classical period forms. He also wrote concertos for violin and piano. It was during this time that Napoleon's quick rise from an ordinary citizen to a great military strategist inspired Beethoven. However, his feelings toward Napoleon were complex; he often wavered between respect and dislike.

Late Period

Beethoven's final period dealt with complex issues and difficult situations. His nephew Karl's father had died and given the boy's guardianship over to Beethoven. Because Karl's mother was still alive, a long legal battle ensued for custody. He gained full custody of Karl in 1820. His music suffered somewhat as a result; he was not as prolific during this period as his second period. During this time, he wrote his famous ninth and final symphony. He also wrote a series of string quartets that, to the ears of the time, seemed unusual and made use of a new type of voice-leading. Voice-leading involves the way in which the melody moves from one point to the next. The final period lasted from 1813 to his death in 1827.


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