As we celebrate Beethoven’s 250 years, it is most interesting to explore why he has endured as one of the favourite composers of all time. In a nutshell, it is because Beethoven left us music for literally everyone to enjoy.
For lovers and performers of chamber music, the string quartets are like no other. They explore every possibility of human conversation that can be expressed as music. Beethoven was already quite capable of this in his six quartets of the opus 18. For utter depth of expression I have found the quartet in C# minor, opus 131 to be extra special, showcasing the full maturity of the composer. The “Razumovsky” Quartets of the opus 59 are perhaps the pinnacle of joy for musicians to perform.
One can experience the grandeur of Beethoven’s works like the Ninth Symphony, with the soaring slow movement featuring the violins, as well as the ecstatic “Ode to Joy” in the last movement. And in the Fifth Symphony there is the unforgettable opening – a tribute to assertiveness.
On a personal note, I have had the privilege of performing his five cello sonatas, including the third, opus 69, with Carter Johnson at the 2015 Festival. In these five sonatas I see the immense growth and change that Beethoven experienced: from youthful pianist and happy collaborator, to a capable if imploring friend, to master of fugue.
There are so many other works by this titan of composers: his sonatas for violin and piano, the Septet, as well as the fiery sonatas for piano, to name just a few.
Congratulations, and thank you, Ludwig van Beethoven!