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Happy 250th Ludwig! Part 3

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Beethoven As Experienced Through Works From Across His Life: The Late Period (1815 to 1827)

Crop of Beethoven's Portrait Painted by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820
Crop of Beethoven's Portrait Painted by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

In this three part series, we are learning about Ludwig can Beethoven's life and music to celebrate his 250th birthday. Visit for part 1 and for part 2.

As Beethoven left the world of public performance and slipped into a private musical life, his works became smaller with more solo piano and string quartet works and less symphonic works and no more concertos. During this period, he hearing loss had advanced so much that to Beethoven sound was both muffled and drowned out by tinnitus that he became increasingly adventurous and fascinated by philosophical implications of music.

He also became even less interested in Classical form and function. He wrote,"Form is a function more of space and design than of tonality. The dominant is no longer ex officio the agent of tonal opposition." Meaning that tension and release in music was moving beyond the tonic to dominant relationship that was the core of Classical music. He was envoking the music of the late-nineteenth century and beyond.

At this time, Beethoven also became more interested in incorporating elements of the polyphonic music of the Baroque. He looked to G. F. Handel's works as well as the keyboard works of J.S. Bach that he had studied under court organist Neefe for inspiration. During this period he composed the the Legendary Ninth Symphony, his last Piano Sonatas Nos. 28 – 32, the late String Quartets Nos. 11 – 16, the byzantine Grosse Fuge for string quartet, the extensive Missa Solemnis, and the masterful Diabelli Variations for piano.

His Greatest Work

A Page from Beethoven's Manuscript for the Ninth
A Page from Beethoven's Manuscript for the "Ninth"

Beethoven continued to compose under the patronage of Rudolph, Archduke of Austria, as well as teach the Archduke piano and composition. In 1819 the Archduke was appointed a cardinal and then appointed Archbishop of Olmütz (now Olomouc) in Moravia (located in modern-day Czech Republic). To congratulate him, Beethoven offered to compose a mass for the occasion, the Missa Solemnis. Beethoven was so dedicated to the composition that he set aside his Ninth Symphony and the Diabelli Variations to focus all of his attention on the mass which he called his greatest work.

Miniature portrait of Karl van Beethoven
Miniature portrait of Karl van Beethoven

During this time, personal issues continued to plague Beethoven, including the bitter battle for custody of his nephew, Karl van Beethoven (Sept. 4, 1806 – April 13, 1858), with Karl's mother, Johanna Reiß van Beethoven (1786 – 1869), Ludwig's brother Kasper's widow. Due to the on-going family troubles, Beethoven was not able to complete the mass in time for Rudolph's installation on March 9, 1820.