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Timeline: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1801-1815

U.S. Public Domain
A portrait of Beethoven, painted in 1805. The first 15 years of the 19th century were filled with heartbreak and the continued loss of his hearing but were also some of Beethoven's most creative years.

Originally aired Jan. 16, 2016

At the dawning of the 19th century, Beethoven had not given up hope that his doctors would find a treatment to reverse his hearing loss. His condition was not only affecting his musical output but also his social life, which was very important to him.


His letters take a dark turn at this point. But in spite of his melancholy, Beethoven’s career was actually taking off. Multiple publishers would bid for each new work that he composed. He had also found a new love, the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, who was only 17. Beethoven was absolutely smitten but lamented that he was not of her social class. She married the Count Gallenburg, another composer. In response to this heartbreak, Beethoven wrote his “Heiligenstadt Testament” declaring the depths of his despair.

In 1803, his mood seemed to lighten. Determined to not let his deafness hinder his career, Beethoven composed a flurry of new works including his 3rd Symphony, "the Eroica." The original title of which was “Bonaparte."  Beethoven idolized Napoleon. That is until he had the audacity to declare himself emperor.  Beethoven was so angered by this that he tore the title page of his symphony in two and stated that the work was “composed to celebrate the memory of a great man."

Beethoven fell in love again with the widow Josephine von Brunsvik. Their relationship is documented in his letters to her and it seems that social concerns again made marriage impossible.

It’s no wonder that his first and only opera is a testament to the virtuous wife and “married love." The premiere of this opera, Leonora, or Fidelio, was doomed by the invasion of Vienna by Napoleon’s forces in 1805.

The next few years were a time of great creativity for Beethoven, however he was growing nervous. Though his fame was increasing, his income was sporadic. Beethoven was reminded of Mozart’s fate just 15 years before.

At this time he was offered an appointment as Kapellmeister for Napoleon’s younger brother Jerome.  Beethoven used this offer to leverage the aristocracy of Vienna. If they wished to keep Beethoven in their city, then it was time to pay. Three noblemen stepped up as patrons (the Archduke Rudolph, the Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky) insuring that Beethoven would be financially supported and remain in Vienna.

Credit U.S. Public Domain
When Beethoven was looking to secure his financial position in Vienna, the Archduke Rudolph was among three members of society who took over as Beethoven's patrons, ensuring his long-term residence in Vienna.

Beethoven fell in love yet again, this time with Therese Malfatti. When he proposed marriage in 1810 (at the age of 40) the 18-year-old turned him down.  A couple of years later, Beethoven’s own brother, Johann, became enamored with Therese and took her as his mistress and later his wife.

This marked a period of deep depression that limited Beethoven’s creative output for the next few years.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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