Pershing Square is a hotspot for ice skating around the holidays, and even its hidden, subterranean restaurant is not a well-kept secret. But have you ever noticed the bronze statue of Beethoven looking rather pensive? The statue of the German composer was unveiled in 1932 in honor of William A. Clark Jr., founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s plenty of history behind that contemplative face. There are also plenty of reasons why pop-culture nerds (and not just classical music enthusiasts) should brush up on Beethoven’s genius—like how the German composer’s legacy is still just as relevant today as it was during his lifetime, 250 years ago.
Well, keep reading if you want to add some factual gems to your next dinner party or spirited debate over something like, who is greater—Mozart or Beethoven?—because that’s generally an everyday occurrence for our generation…
“Don’t only practise your art, but force your way into its secrets.” – Beethoven
Beethoven continues to impact the music world today
Beethoven’s legacy remains very much intact. His music continues to be studied, is easily detected across a variety of music genres, including jazz, rock, and film scores, and his timelessness is evident in Chuck Berry’s failed attempt to dethrone him and all classical music with Roll over Beethoven.
Over two centuries later, the German composer’s panoply of symphonies, sonatas, concertos, and more that altered the landscape of Western classical music remain ever-present and celebrated.
If his music is not being played in movies like The King’s Speech (2010), and The Breakfast Club (1985), inspiring Nas (I Can samples Beethoven’s Für Elise) and Billy Joel (the chorus from This Night is based on Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonataor), trending on TikTok, it’s in a mash-up with electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers.
His first documented composition
While most of us were still riding our bikes at the age of twelve and thinking the biggest challenge facing us was that jump to algebra in maths class, Beethoven composed his first documented composition, 9 Variations on a March by Dressler.
Hints of his style later on in his career can be found in the playful piano solo as doomy notes dominate the beginning only to lead into a livelier piece.
“To play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable!” – Beethoven
His rise to renown
While studying with some of the most eminent musicians at the time, including Austrian composer Josephy Hadyn and Italian composer Antonio Salieri, in Vienna, Beethoven made a name for himself as a virtuoso pianist. From around 1795 to 1801, he established a reputation as a prodigiously gifted composer while turning out piece after piece.
Beethoven was deaf
This topic is inevitably unavoidable when it comes to Beethoven. How did he go deaf and how did he still compose music?
Beethoven began to experience hearing problems at the age of 26, and by the time he was 44, he was almost completely deaf. Afraid his career would be destroyed, Beethoven tried to keep it a secret. An autopsy proved he “had a distended inner ear, which developed lesions over time.”
Although it must have been devastating for the German composer, he had around 30 years of practice absorbing every sound and instrument allowing him to imagine them while composing. Naturally, the loss of his hearing altered his music. His stormy, higher notes were replaced by softer, lower notes. Listening to Große Fuge, Op. 133 for example, and realizing that he composed it relying on his memory and imagination takes the experience to new heights.
“Music is like a dream. One that I cannot hear.” – Beethoven
Beethoven vs Mozart
Ludwig van Beethoven was the master of improvisation whereas Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played to the mood of the day. Beethoven bridges the Classical and Romantic Periods whereas Mozart is the quintessential composer of the Classical Period. But where does that leave them by comparison?
When listening to works by Beethoven, emotive and bold in length, it’s obvious he enjoyed the element of surprise and sought something fiery in his style. Instead, Mozart is known for his precision and grace. So, the real question might be, are you looking for music to light a fire in your heart or to play to the standards of the time in which you live?
Perhaps Leon Fleischer, a renowned pianist and conductor, said it best when he said classical music is an act of anti-gravity. Both Beethoven and Mozart understood the power of music and its ability to lift spirits therefore the answer to Beethoven vs Mozart depends solely on the intensity, or lack thereof, of the listener’s response to their music.
From Piano Sonata No. 14, ‘Moonlight’ to the ‘Eroica’ symphony (taking up about 50 minutes of performance time), Beethoven broke boundaries and revolutionized the classical genre. And the controversial Pershing Square statue is a tribute to a music lover’s favorite composer. Even though he never traveled to the U.S., his international influence is clear. Whatever your stance on classical music is, Ludwig van Beethoven is a name and face worth knowing.
“There are and always will be thousands of princes, but there is only one Beethoven!” – Beethoven