In an effort to keep with the new direction and vision of GGP, I thought it would be fun to develop a series on different Bridge Builders; people who changed the world by building amazing things for other people. Today’s Bridge Builder is none other than the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
Young Ludwig was somewhat of a prodigy. From an early age, he was pushed into music by his father who was trying to emulate the same path that Mozart had taken earlier with his father’s help. It worked fairly well and Beethoven was given the blessing by both Mozart and Haydn, the two pillars of classical music at that time. Think of their blessing on Beethoven like Snoop Dogg’s blessing from Dr. Dre and the D.O.C.
Early on, Beethoven’s career was a successful one and his popularity began to rise. His early music is marked by the classical style, which favored clarity in all forms form of composition as a result of the public wanting music that was simpler, cleaner and more structured. As time went on, Beethoven began to study the work of Bach, even though Bach’s music was considered to be out of fashion at the time. It would be like Adam Levine singing Shake Your Booty by KC and the Sunshine Band (although he can pretty much do whatever he wants and it would sell).
After studying the music of Bach for a while, Beethoven began to undergo a change. His music became more complex and started to lose it’s classical structure and sound. It was right at this time that he began to lose his hearing. He was 26 years old. What started as buzzing sounds started to result in more acute hearing loss and by age 41 he was completely deaf. During this period, you can hear the anger and depression in his music. One can only imagine that he felt alone and alienated by his peers during this time.
There is a famous story about the premiere of his Ninth Symphony. Beethoven revolutionized the symphony form by making it seamless, with no breaks between movements, and by adding a choir with soloists to the final movement. In this way, he created a singular piece of art that was on the epic level of films today. It had to grab your attention and keep it for over an hour. Not only did Beethoven achieve this at the premiere of Symphony Number 9, he conducted the entire concert himself, without the ability to hear a single note of music other than in his head. When the applause began to roar, the master was still conducting because in his head, the music was still going. One of the soloists had to stop him and turn him around so that he could see his adoring audience.
Beethoven remains a pillar of classical music but in my view, he is also an example of persistence and incredible courage. Here was a man who managed to create art on a level that will most likely never be reproduced despite being completely deaf in the prime of his life. He built his bridge between the Classical and Romantic periods of music, but more importantly, his music is a bridge to anyone suffering and feeling helpless. It’s almost as if you can hear him speaking from the pages of his music – Don’t give up! Never quit. Create something beautiful with your pain and give it to others so that they can be helped.
If you enjoyed reading about Beethoven, you’ll enjoy listening to him even more. Here is one of the best and most haunting examples of his music. You can both simultaneously hear beauty and pain in the 1st Movement of the Moonlight Sonata.