Ludwig van Beethoven

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A portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized December 17 1770, died March 26 1827) was a German composer and pianist who lived predominantly in Vienna, Austria. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers.

See also:
Piano Sonata No. 31 (Beethoven)
Symphony No. 3 (Beethoven)
Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven)
Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)


  • I want to seize fate by the throat.
    • Letter to F.G. Wegeler, 16 November, 1801.
  • There ought to be but one large art warehouse in the world, to which the artist could carry his art-works, and from which he could carry away whatever he needed. As it is, one must be half a tradesman.
    • Conversations (January 1801)
  • ...thus do I take my farewell of thee — and indeed sadly — yes that beloved hope — which I brought with me when I came here to be cured at least in a degree — I must wholly abandon, as the leaves of autumn fall and are withered so hope has been blighted, almost as I came — I go away — even the high courage — which often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer — has disappeared — O Providence — grant me at least but one day of pure joy — it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart — O when — O when, O Divine One — shall I find it again in the temple of nature and of men — Never? no — O that would be too hard.
  • Music is like a dream. One that I cannot hear.
    • Conversations (January 1804)
  • Nur das Reine im Herzen kann eine gute Suppe machen.
    • Only the pure in the heart can make a good soup.
  • Musik höhere Offenbarung ist als alle Weisheit und Philosophie.[1]
    • Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.
    • As reported by Bettina von Arnim in a letter to Goethe, 28 May 1810.
    • Goethe's Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde: Seinem Denkmal, Volume 2, Dümmler, 1835, p. 193.
  • Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess?
  • Fahre fort, übe nicht allein die Kunst, sondern dringe auch in ihr Inneres; sie verdient es, denn nur die Kunst und die Wissenschaft erhöhen den Menschen bis zur Gottheit.
    • Do not merely practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; it deserves that, for only art and science can exalt man to divinity.
    • Letter to Emilie, July 17, 1812.
    • Quoted in Musical news, Vol. 3 (1892), p. 627
  • I met [Meyerbeer] at the performance of my "Battle." Most of the composers then in Vienna were kind enough to undertake something or other in my orchestra, and the young man played the big drum. Ha! ha! ha! (a peal of laughter). I had reason not to be very well satisfied with him. He was always behindhand, and I had to give it him roundly. (New peal of laughter.) He must have felt mortified by my observations; but there is no reliance to be placed in him; he has not the courage to raise his arm at the proper moment.
    • 10th October, 1814
    • In: Johann Wenzel Tomaschek, "A Talk with Beethoven", The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 33, Beethoven Supplement (Dec. 15, 1892)
  • One clashes with stupidity of all kinds. And then how much money must be spent in advance! The way in which artists are treated is really scandalous. I am compelled to give a third of my receipts to the manager of the theatre and a fifth to the hospitals. Devil take them! As long as these abuses exist, I shall always ask whether music is or is not an art that may be freely exercised. Believe me, there is nothing to be done for artists in times like these.
    • 24th November, 1814
    • In: Johann Wenzel Tomaschek, "A Talk with Beethoven", The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 33, Beethoven Supplement (Dec. 15, 1892)
  • It is a recognised fact that the greatest composers were likewise the greatest virtuosos; but did they play like the pianists of the present day, who run up and down the keyboard with passages studied beforehand? Pooh! pooh! pooh! Don't tell me! A real virtuoso, when extemporising, plays pieces which hold together and possess a form. Were the ideas in them fixed instantly on paper, they would be taken for pieces written at leisure. That is what I call playing the piano; everything else is a bad joke.
    • 24th November, 1814
    • In: Johann Wenzel Tomaschek, "A Talk with Beethoven", The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 33, Beethoven Supplement (Dec. 15, 1892)
  • The world is a king, and like a king, desires flattery in return for favor; but true art is selfish and perverse — it will not submit to the mold of flattery.
    • Conversations (March 1820)
  • The day-to-day exhausted me!
    • to Karl von Baden, August 23, 1823
  • Ach du erbärmlicher Schuft, was ich scheisse ist besser, als was du je gedacht.
    • O you miserable fool, what I shit is better than anything you can do.
    • Written in the margin of Gottfried Weber's negative review of Wellington's Victory in Beethoven's copy of Cäcilia (August 1825) [2]
  • Muß es sein? Es muß sein.
    • Must it be? It must be.
    • Epigraph to string quartet in F Major, Opus 135 (October 1826)
  • Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est. (Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over.)
    • Said on his deathbed, 1827
  • Ich werde im Himmel hören! (I will hear in heaven!)
    • Said on his deathbed, 1827, as cited from the book Last Words.


  • Whoever tells a lie is not pure of heart, and such a person can not cook a clean soup.


  • To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable
    • Not found in Beethoven's known works. It may be a summary of the following description of Beethoven from his piano pupil Ferdinand Ries: "When I left out something in a passage, a note or a skip, which in many cases he wished to have specially emphasized, or struck a wrong key, he seldom said anything; yet when I was at fault with regard to the expression, the crescendo or matters of that kind, or in the character of the piece, he would grow angry. Mistakes of the other kind, he said were due to chance; but these last resulted from want of knowledge, feeling or attention. He himself often made mistakes of the first kind, even playing in public."[1]

Quotes about Beethoven

  • As usual he submitted to the interminable entreaties and finally was dragged almost by force to the pianoforte by the ladies. Angrily he tears the second violin part of one of the Pleyel quartets from the music-stand where it still lay open, throws it upon the rack of the pianoforte, and begins to improvise. We had never heard him extemporize more brilliantly, with more originality or more grandly than on that evening. But throughout the entire improvisation there ran in the middle voices, like a thread, or cantus firmus, the insignificant notes, wholly insignificant in themselves, which he found on the page of the quartet, which by chance lay open on the music stand; on them he built up the most daring melodies and harmonies, in the most brilliant concert style. Old Pleyel could only give expression to his amazement by kissing his hands. After such improvisations Beethoven was wont to break out into a loud and satisfied laugh.
  • His improvisation was most brilliant and striking. In whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to produce such an effect upon every hearer that frequently not an eye remained dry, while many would break out into large sobs; for there was something wonderful in his expression in addition to the beauty and originality of his ideas and his spirited style of rendering them. After ending an improvisation of this kind he would burst into loud laughter and banter his hearers on the emotion he had caused in them. "You are fools!" he would say. Sometimes he would feel himself insulted by these indications of sympathy. "Who could live among such spoiled children?" he would cry, and only on that account (as he told me) he declined to accept an invitation which the King of Prussia gave him after one of the extempore performances above described.
    • Carl Czerny, quoted by Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven, Florestan, and the Varieties of Heroism," Beethoven and His World (2000) ed. Scott G. Burnham & Michael P. Steinberg
  • Another equally true saying of Schumann is that, compared with Beethoven, Schubert is as a woman to a man. For it must be confessed that one's attitudes towards him is almost always that of sympathy, attraction, and love, rarely that of embarrassment or fear. Here and there only, as in the Rosamund B minor Entr'acte, or the Finale of the 10th symphony, does he compel his listeners with an irrestistible power; and yet how different is this compulsion from the strong, fierce, merciless coercion, with which Beethoven forces you along, and bows and bends you to his will.
    • Sir George Grove in his Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn (London:Macmillan, 1951), p. 238.
  • A brain scan may reveal the neural signs of depression, but a Beethoven symphony reveals what that depression feels like. Both perspectives are necessary if we are to fully grasp the nature of mind, yet they are rarely brought together.
  • when people ask you for "influences," they almost inevitably mean literary ones. How silly. It's very probable that listening to Beethoven might influence a writer far more deeply than anything read, but only musicians are asked about Beethoven. The same thing is true, of course, with painting. We really ought to run the arts together more.
  • Beethoven did not always plumb the depths. He was not always busy with major problems and the most significant spiritual experiences. Such works, as the fourth, sixth, and eighth symphonies depict states of mind that require no such intensity of realization. It is significant that they were all written comparatively quickly... They are not in the main line of Beethoven's spiritual development.
    • Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven, Florestan, and the Varieties of Heroism," Beethoven and His World (2000) ed. Scott G. Burnham & Michael P. Steinberg
  • I sometimes dwell on the fact that there's one thing that time and humankind will not be able to take away from me, leaving me rich, richer than Croesus: the bliss that I derive from a Heine poem, from a Beethoven sonata or a DaVinci painting.
    • Anna Margolin "From a Diary" short story (1909) translated from Yiddish by Daniel Kennedy, ‘’During Sleepless Nights and Other Stories’’ (2022)
  • A colossus beyond the grasp of most mortals, with his totally uncompromising power, his unsensual and uningratiating way with music as with people.
  • His ideas came so profusely that he always had several works going on at once, and he always meditated and thought over them for a long while before he brought them to completeness. His practice was to jot down the ideas roughly as they came into his head in little sketch-books which he carried in his pocket, and he then polished and improved these original ideas time after time, sometimes for years, before he worked them up into complete works.
    • C. Hubert H. Parry, Studies of Great Composers, published 1904 [3]
  • Who can measure the worth of a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo or Beethoven in dollars and cents?
  • When his friends, says Czerny, speak to him of his youthful renown, he replies: "Ah, nonsense! I have never thought of writing for renown and glory. What I have in my heart must out; that is why I write."
  • It was not an enjoyable experience. First of all the piano was dreadfully out of tune, which did not trouble Beethoven in the least, since he could not hear it. Little or nothing remained of the brilliant technique which had been so much admired. In loud passages the poor deaf man hammered away at the notes crashing through whole groups of them so that without the score one lost all sense of the melody. I was deeply moved by the tragedy of it all. Beethoven's almost continual melancholy was no longer a mystery to me.
    • Louis Spohr commenting on an invitation, in 1808, to attend a rehearsal by Beethoven of his D Major Piano Trio, Opus 70, no. 1.
  • The Pianoforte Sonatas of Beethoven must always be among the choicest possessions of all who love music and especially of those who make music their main object and study.
  • You are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long-frustrated wishes. The Genius of Mozart is mourning and weeping over the death of her pupil. She has found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labor you shall receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hands.
  • My theory was that we are all fundamentally 'multiple personalities', beginning with the baby and the child, and slowly developing into more complex selves. If, for some reason, we abruptly cease to develop -- through some trauma that undermines self-confidence -- all those potential personalities are stunted and repressed. And some accident or violent shock may give one of them the opportunity to 'take over'. This suggests, of course, that in some mysterious sense, our 'future' personalities are already there, in embryo, so to speak, and that they also develop as we mature. We move from personality to personality, as we might climb a ladder. The Beethovens and Leonardos got further up the ladder than most of us; yet even they failed to reach the top, as we can see if we study their lives.


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