Southbank Sinfonia Family Concerts | Beethoven


PASSPORT: Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most remarkable people ever to have lived, writing music that completely transformed the world.

He was born in 1770 in the German town of Bonn and surrounded by musical neighbours. A brilliant violinist lived nearby, as did a pianist, while Beethoven learnt the violin, viola, horn and piano. What a noisy street!

The youngster performed in his first concert aged just nine, and wrote his first music aged 12. But life wasn’t easy for Ludwig and as a teenager he had to take care of his younger brothers. In fact, life was always tough for Beethoven, although his lack of manners didn’t help him much. He was famous for his bad temper, sometimes even shouting at musicians in the middle of concerts.

He moved to Vienna, the place to be for any musician at the time, at the age of 22 and began to change the face of classical music. Being a bit of a rebel, he threw away the rule book and wrote nine symphonies that pushed what an orchestra sounded like – and how its musicians told their musical stories – to new extremes.

What makes his music even more incredible is that Beethoven started going deaf at the age of 31, just after finishing his First Symphony. Imagine trying to write music without being able to hear it, and all the notes that must have been whirring around inside Beethoven’s mind. But instead of giving up, he used his troubles as an inspiration to write amazingly powerful music.

His Third Symphony, called the ‘Eroica’, blew audiences away with its energy and new ideas. His Fifth is the most famous symphony ever written, while the Sixth is a beautiful soundtrack to a walk in the countryside. Still today the Seventh makes you want to get up and dance, and the Ninth finishes with a huge tune that everyone knows – ‘Ode to Joy’. Each symphony offered something new, adding new instruments, singers, and musical effects that have shaped every single piece of music written since.

Hear the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in this video, with a graphical score showing you the role of each of the orchestra’s instruments:

Hear the ending of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in this video:

Find out about other composers by clicking here, or the next Southbank Sinfonia Family Concert by clicking here.