Beethoven Book Summary - Beethoven Book explained in key points

Beethoven summary

Laura Tunbridge

A Life in Nine Pieces

Listen to the first key idea

Key idea 1 of 10
4.5 (74 ratings)
38 mins
10 key ideas
Audio & text

What is Beethoven about?

Beethoven (2020) takes a unique look at the legendary composer by digging into nine specific compositions that offer fresh insights on key moments in his life. The author challenges popular misconceptions of Beethoven as the reclusive, tortured, misanthropic genius – instead portraying an artist who values friendships, longs for love, and isn’t above haggling over publishing deals.

About the Author

Laura Tunbridge is a scholar of German Romanticism and nineteenth-century music. She has written three monographs, including one on German composer Robert Schumann, and is currently a Professor of Music and a Henfrey Fellow at St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford.

Table of Contents
    Key idea 1 of 10

    Early Recognition

    The year 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth. The exact day of his birth is uncertain, as is the case with many people born in the eighteenth century. But there is a record of his baptism; it took place on December 17, 1770.

    Beethoven was one of the few surviving children of Johann van Beethoven and his wife, Maria. The family, which included Beethoven’s grandfather (also named Ludwig), lived in Bonn, Germany, and worked for the court. It was a musical family.

    Beethoven’s grandfather and namesake was the director of court music. He was also a wine merchant, and Johann, a court singer, was known to be an alcoholic. Since Beethoven’s grandfather died just three years after his grandson’s birth, Beethoven was raised by his father, who was demanding and sometimes abusive. Johann wanted his son to be nothing less than a Mozart-like musical prodigy. The sad irony was that the relationship between father and son only grew more tense as Beethoven quickly surpassed the talents of his father.

    Beethoven’s family wasn’t one of nobility. This was often a topic of some confusion throughout Beethoven’s life. In Germany and Austria, having the word “von” in your name implies noble lineage, and many assumed that having a “van” in your name implied the same. But Beethoven’s grandfather was Belgian, and the Flemish “van” had nothing to do with noblesse.

    Nevertheless, due to the family’s proximity to the court in Bonn, young Ludwig gained notoriety among noblemen who would prove to be influential patrons and benefactors in his career. At the age of thirteen, Beethoven became a substitute organist for the court. Soon after, he joined the chamber music ensemble of Archduke Maximilian Franz – his first benefactor. 

    Beethoven quickly learned the importance of pleasing his patron. His first compositions purposefully highlighted the viola, Maximilian’s instrument. In 1786, Maximilian sponsored Beethoven’s first trip to Vienna, where he impressed Mozart with some improvisational playing – not an easy feat. Mozart didn’t make a habit of being wowed by piano-playing teenagers.

    A second trip to Vienna in 1792 found Beethoven under the tutelage of another legendary composer, Joseph Haydn. A year later, Haydn was so impressed that he wrote to Maximilian saying that it would only be a matter of time before Beethoven joined the ranks of Europe’s greatest musical talents.

    At this time, and many others, war would play a role in Beethoven’s career. The end of the eighteenth century was also the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1794, Napoleon’s army took Vienna, and all plans to return to Bonn were put aside. Though no one could have predicted it at the time, as it turned out, Beethoven would remain in Vienna until his dying day.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Beethoven?

    Key ideas in Beethoven

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    Who should read Beethoven

    • Music aficionados
    • Anyone who likes learning about the lives of artists
    • People interested in what makes a genius tick

    Categories with Beethoven

    What our members say

    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    25 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial