Beethoven as a Transitional Composer

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Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in 1770 in Germany, an innovator of classical style and one of the most influential composers and musicians of all time. He can be viewed as a transitional, classical or Romantic composer. Beethoven was a revolutionist of the Romantic era. At a young age he started to take lessons with his father Johhan, Beethoven was first classically trained and rooted during the classical period. Growing up his father forced him to practice, hoping he would become a child prodigy like Mozart, another composer who was successful during the classical era. Beethoven later on went to study with a great composer Christian Gottlob Neefech who influenced the young Beethoven with the works of Bach and Mozart. Although his father was strict, Beethoven fell in love with music and eventually embraced the idea of performing, Soon enough, after years of practicing, performing, mastering theuse of counterpoint. Beethoven would adapt to his own style, allowing his voice to be heard through his own compositions. Nevertheless however, Beethoven began to break away from the classical idiom and convention and introduced concepts and freedoms that were not heard before. He introduced structural and harmonic changes that would redefine music and truly lead into the Romantic period. Thus, Beethoven can be classified as both a classical and romantic composer.

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Greatly Influenced by Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven was raised and rooted in the classical style, he was taught to write and composed a lot of his music in the traditional style of the time. Haydn was Beethoven’s teacher in Vienna. One early work that Beethoven was classically influenced by, was symphony no.20 his first Symphony, reflecting Haydn’s technical features and form. The symphony portrays original characteristics of classical style. The symphony has the traditional four movement structure, with the first movement written in sonata form and the two-themed exposition, followed by development, recapitulation, and coda. Beethoven brings out elements of the classical qualities by making an unusual introduction, that starts in the key of F even though the symphony itself is in C major and establishes the tonic only by measure 13. After that, the movement follows the standard structure. The First Symphony shows that Beethoven was greatly influenced by the classical standards of the time and mainly followed them in his first period. A quote from the Britannica article shows Beethoven’s early influences is Beethoven was raised on the sonatas and teachings of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the chief exponent of ?expressive’ music at a time when music was regarded as the art of pleasing sounds. Judging from this quote, Beethoven enjoyed listening to Bach. An example of those techniques being used would be in Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique for its lush use of harmonic structure and simple use of classical counterpoint writing.

Another example of Beethoven’s classicism is his early piano sonatas. In Beethoven’s first period (1770-1802) Beethoven entered into some experimentation . His sonatas changed later as he entered a more expressive phase, however the early sonatas reflect classical style . Beethoven’s first three sonatas were dedicated to Haydn and they are written in a clear sonata form. For example, his second sonata, Op. 2, no. 2, is very similar in structure to Mozart’s sonata K. 309. A similarity between the two pieces is the movement of upper voices in ascending scales in the episodes, as well as the repetition of the opening sections before moving onto the next section of the movement. Even though Beethoven’s piece has four movements, while Mozart’s has only three, their overall structure is also similar. Another classical characteristic that can be seen in Beethoven’s sonatas is Alberti bass. Alberti bass is used all throughout the works of classical composers, such as Mozart, Haydn but it can also be found in most of Beethoven’s early and even some of his later sonatas. Some examples of Beethoven’s use of Alberti bass are the Adagio movement of Piano Sonata in F minor (Op. 2, no. 1) where Alberti bass accompanies a secondary theme. This example show that Beethoven can be classified as a classical composer, due to the fact that he lived during the Classical era and was greatly influenced by classical composers, which is reflected in the style of his earlier pieces.

Nevertheless Beethoven can also be viewed as a romantic composer. Even though his early works follow the classical idiom, later on he not only revolutionizes music of his age, he also paves the way for future romantic composers. Some of the romantic features include expanded form and structure, chromatic harmonies and dissonances, programaticism, emotion, good vs evil, the growth of the orchestra and musical forms as well as acknowledging Nationalism. Beethoven also used dramatic contrasts of dynamics and pitch, and developed variation. Beethoven’s pieces come to portray all these features, but the main romantic feature that beethoven possessed is emotion. A great example that involve these elements is the very famous theme of Fate knocking on the door from the Fifth Symphony, containing driving rhythm and an emotional melody. The Fifth Symphony is a great example of Beethoven’s passionate, fiery and heroic nature. Different emotions are portrayed in each of the four movements of the symphony. The first movement is grim and shows submission to fate, the second is sinister, the third resembles a hymn, and the last movement is a triumphant finale. Another important element of romantic period is program music, and Beethoven composed a program symphony as well. The composer greatly enjoyed nature and spent a lot of time taking walks in the countryside, which led to him writing Symphony No. 6, also known as the Pastoral Symphony. The symphony is one of Beethoven’s few works that is very programmatic. As opposed to a classical symphony, it has five movements and each movement is annotated by the composer to represent a certain setting. Beethoven’s symphonies show his transition from the classical to romantic standards and values. ce which then lead him to experiment with it and take it further.

Though in the eyes of many composers, performers, and some listeners of music Beethoven is categorized as Romantic period composer, it should be worth noted that he couldn’t have become the composer he is without having to develop the classical era writing. In many ways, Beethoven had a rough life through family issues, going deaf, nearly committing suicide, and other horrible chains of events, which then lead him to experiment with with his emotions and emulating that into his music. Beethoven’s piano sonatas are also a great example of his transition into a different style of composition. It is true that early piano sonatas followed the classical structure, however the same cannot be said for his later works. Beethoven began to experiment with his piano sonatas in his middle period, which greatly contributed to the development of romantic sonatas and the overall transition into the Romantic period.

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Beethoven as a Transitional Composer. (2019, Jul 12). Retrieved June 9, 2023 , from

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