Great Masters: Beethoven—His Life and Music
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.
He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.
Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.
You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic.
01: The Immortal Beloved
Beethoven's foremost physical characteristic was his hair; four strands under recent chemical analysis revealed lead poisoning that could account for the abdominal distress, irritability, and depression that Beethoven suffered from for most of his adult life. But other physical, emotional, and spiritual problems were the result of a lifetime of struggle and frustration, which forced him to look inward and reinvent himself and, in so doing, reinvent the nature of musical expression in the Western world.
02: What Comes down Must Go up, 1813–1815
In the summer of 1812, Beethoven composed the Symphony no. 8 in F Major, op. 83. On its surface, the symphony seems to be in the Classical style, but it is filled with modern twists and turns. He was depressed over the loss of a relationship and his worsening hearing. But in 1813, he wrote a piece of music commemorating the defeat by Wellington of one of Napoleon's armies. When it premiered in December of 1813, it garnered Beethoven a new level of popularity.
03: What Goes up Must Come down, 1815
Beethoven's return to fame and fortune was short lived; this lecture describes the six factors, most notably his increasing deafness, that contributed to his fall from popular grace and his plunge into emotional instability.
04: Beethoven and His Nephew, 1815–1819
Beethoven emerged from his shell during his second decade, through his musical talent and with the help of his teacher and mentor, Christian Gottlob Neefe. The events of these years, however, would influence Beethoven's outrageous conduct in 1815 in the litigation over custody of his nephew Karl. During these years, Beethoven's deepest fears and longings were brought to the surface. Events would also serve as a catalyst for Beethoven's next "rebirth," in 1819, and the creation of the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last piano sonatas, and the six late string quartets.
05: Beethoven the Pianist
Aside from the Piano Sonata in B-flat, op. 106, Beethoven wrote little significant music from 1815–1819. By 1820, Beethoven was well into his third compositional period, which encompassed such masterworks as the "Missa Solemnis," op. 123, and the Symphony no. 9 in D Minor, op. 125. Before this, Beethoven was living in Vienna, outplaying virtually every other pianist in the city in competitions and became the darling of the Viennese aristocracy.
06: Beethoven the Composer, 1792–1802
Beethoven's Viennese period, 1792–1802, was a time of assimilation, technical growth, and mastery of the existing Viennese classical style. For 18 months Beethoven devoted himself to the string quartet, composing six. Next, he turned to the symphony, premiering his Symphony no. 1 in C Major in 1800. Seemingly conservative this symphony is full of witticisms, shocking harmonic events, and unique organic developments. But his hearing loss, which began in 1796, was becoming progressively worse, as was Beethoven's despair over it. In 1802, he wrote a letter to his brothers that may have provided him a catharsis.
07: The Heroic Ideal
The model for Beethoven's new self-image was Napoleon Bonaparte, who represented individualism and empowerment. Later disillusioned with Bonaparte, he held on to the sense of the individual struggling and triumphing against fate. Beethoven's Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55 (the "Eroica"), for example, was revolutionary in its expression of the heights and depths of the artist's emotions. Beethoven came to be known as a radical modernist who had broken forever with the classical standards of Haydn and Mozart.
08: Two Concerts, 1808 and 1824
With his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, among other pieces, Beethoven became a legend. More than 15 years later, in May 1824, the Ninth Symphony was premiered to an overwhelming reception. The Ninth, regarded as the most important piece of music composed in the 19th century, embodies Beethoven's belief that the expressive needs of the artist must transcend the time-honored assumptions of art. In November 1826, Beethoven fell ill with cirrhosis of the liver and died on March 26, 1827. In the end, he had managed a reconciliation with his family and was given an affectionate tribute by the Viennese people.