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Ludvig van Beethoven 1770-1827

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Arnold1740-1802 Gluck1714-1787
Beethoven 1770-1827  
Boccherini1743-1805 Haydn1732-1809
Clementi1752-1832 Hummel1778-1837
Czerny1794-1857 Mozart1756-1791
Diabelli1781-1858 Rossini1792-1868
Dussek1760-1812 Schubert1797-1828
Field1782-1837 Weber1786-1826


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Ludwig van Beethoven was an important figure in the transitional period between Classical and Romantic eras and remains one of the most acclaimed and influential composers of all time.

He was born in Bonn, present day Germany, and moved to Vienna in his early twenties. He studied with Haydn and gained a reputation as a concert pianist. His hearing bagan to deteriorate in the late 1790s and yet he continued to compose, conduct and perform even after he became completely deaf.

Beethoven composed in several musical genres, and for a variety of instrument combinations. His works for symphony orchestra include nine symphonies and about a dozen pieces of "occasional" music. He wrote nine concerti for one or more soloists and orchestra, as well as four shorter works that include soloists accompanied by orchestra. His only opera is Fidelio; other vocal works with orchestral accompaniment include two masses and a number of shorter works.

His large body of compositions for piano includes 32 piano sonatas and numerous shorter pieces, including arrangements of some of his other works. Works with piano accompaniment include 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas, and a sonata for French horn, as well as numerous lieder.

Beethoven also wrote a significant quantity of chamber music. In addition to 16 string quartets, he wrote five works for string quintet, seven forpiano trio, five for string trio, and more than a dozen works for a variety of combinations of wind instruments.


Beethoven's compositional career is usually divided into Early, Middle, and Late periods.The early period is taken to last until about 1802, the middle period from about 1803 to about 1814, and the late period from about 1815.


 Beethoven was named after his grandfather, Lodewijk which is the Dutch counterpart of Ludwig. Beethoven's grandfather was employed as a bass singer at the court of the Elector of Cologne, rising to become Kapellmeister . He had one son, Johann van Beethoven (1740–1792), who worked as a tenor in the same musical establishment, also giving lessons on piano and violin to supplement his income.Johann married Maria Magdalena Keverich in 1767; she was the daughter of Johann Heinrich Keverich, who had been the head chef at the court of the Archbishopric of Trier.

Beethoven's first music teacher was his father, but he ws also taught by others to play piano,organ,violin and viola. His musical talent manifested itself early. Johann, aware of Leopold Mozart's successes in this area, attempted to exploit his son as a child prodigy.Beethoven's first public performance was in March 1778.

Some time after 1779, Beethoven began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed the Court's Organist in that year.Neefe taught Beethoven composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations. Beethoven soon began working with Neefe as assistant organist, first on an unpaid basis (1781), and then as paid employee (1784) of the court chapel. His first three piano sonatas, named "Kurfürst" ("Elector") for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Frederick, were published in 1783. Maximilian Frederick, who died in 1784, not long after Beethoven's appointment as assistant organist, had noticed Beethoven's talent early, and had subsidized and encouraged the young Beethoven's musical studies.



In March 1787 Beethoven traveled to Vienna for the first time, apparently in the hope of studying with Mozart but it is uncertain whether or not they actually met.After just two weeks there Beethoven learned that his mother was severely ill, and he was forced to return home. His mother died shortly thereafter, and the father lapsed deeper into alcoholism. As a result, Beethoven became responsible for the care of his two younger brothers, and he spent the next five years in Bonn.He contributed to the family's income by playing viola in the court orchestra. This familiarized Beethoven with a variety of operas, including three of Mozart's operas performed at court in this period. He also befriended Anton Reicha, a flautist and violinist of about his own age who was the conductor's nephew It is in these years that Beethoven came to the attention of Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, who became a lifelong friend and financial supporter.

With the Elector's help, Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792. He had probably firstbeen introduced to Joseph Haydn in late 1790, when the latter was traveling to London and stopped in Bonn around Christmas time.They definitely met in Bonn on Haydn's return trip from London to Vienna in July 1792, and it is likely that arrangements were made at that time for Beethoven to study with him .Shortly after arriving in Bonn Beethoven learned that his father had died. 

Beethoven did not immediately set out to establish himself as a composer, but rather devoted himself to study and to playing the piano. Working under Haydn's direction,he sought to master counterpoint. He also took violin lessons from Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Early in this period, he also began receiving occasional instruction from Antonio Salieri, primarily in Italian vocal composition style; this relationship persisted until at least 1802 With Haydn's departure for England in 1794, Beethoven was expected by the Elector to return home. He chose instead to remain in Vienna, continuing his instruction in counterpoint . Although his stipend from the Elector expired, a number of Viennese noblemen had already recognized his ability and offered him financial support.




Beethoven's Early Period

By 1793, Beethoven established a reputation in Vienna as a piano virtuoso and improviser in the salons of the nobility, often playing the preludes and fugues of J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. His friend Nikolaus Simrock had also begun publishing his compositions; the first are believed to be a set of variations. Beethoven spent much of 1794 composing. Beethoven's first public performance in Vienna was in March 1795, a concert in which he debuted a piano concerto.  Shortly after this performance, he arranged for the publication of the first of his compositions, piano trios of Opus 1. These works were dedicated to his patron Prince Lichnowsky,and were a financial success; Beethoven's profits were nearly sufficient to cover his living expenses for a year.

In 1796, Beethoven embarked on a tour of central European cultural centers that was an echo of a similar tour by Mozart in 1789. Accompanied by Prince Lichnowsky (who also accompanied Mozart on his tour), Beethoven visited Prague, Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin, composing and performing to acclaim. He spent the most time in Prague, where his reputation had already preceded him through Lichnowsky's family connections, and Berlin, where he composed two cello sonatas (Op. 5) dedicated to King Friedrich Wilhelm II, a lover of music who played that instrument. These works are notable for successfully combining virtuoso cello and piano parts, a difficult task considering the differing natures of the two instruments.The king presented Beethoven with a snuffbox full of gold coins; Beethoven observed that the trip earned him "a good deal of money". Beethoven returned to Vienna in July 1796, and embarked on another tour in November, heading east instead of north, to the cities of Pressburg (present-day Bratislava) and Pest.

Beethoven spent most of 1797 in Vienna, where he continued to compose (apparently in response to an increasing number of commissions) and perform, although he was apparently stricken with a serious disease (possibly typhus) in the summer or autumn. It is also around this time (although it may have been as early as 1795) that he first became aware of issues with his hearing. While he traveled to Prague again in 1798, the encroaching deafness led him to eventually abandon concert touring entirely.


Between 1798 and 1802 Beethoven finally tackled what he considered the pinnacles of composition: the string quartet and the symphony. With the composition of his first six string quartets (Op. 18) between 1798 and 1800 (written on commission for, and dedicated to, Prince Lobkowitz), and their publication in 1801, along with premieres of the First and Second Symphonies in 1800 and 1802, Beethoven was justifiably considered one of the most important of a generation of young composers following after Haydn and Mozart. He continued to write in other forms, turning out widely known piano sonatas like the "Pathétique" sonata (Op. 13) He also completed his Septet (Op. 20) in 1799, which was one of his most popular works during his lifetime.

For the premiere of his First Symphony, Beethoven hired the Burgtheater on 2 April 1800, and staged an extensive program of music, including works by Haydn and Mozart, as well as the Septet, the First Symphony, and one of his piano concertos (the latter three works all then unpublished).

While Mozart and Haydn were undeniable influences other composers like Muzio Clementi were also stylistic influences. Beethoven's melodies, musical development, use of modulation and texture, and characterization of emotion all set him apart from his influences, and heightened the impact some of his early works made when they were first published.By the end of 1800 Beethoven and his music were already much in demand from patrons and publishers


Beethoven had a few students. From 1801 to 1805, he tutored Ferdinand Ries, who went on to become a composer and later wroteBeethoven remembered, a book about their encounters. The young Carl Czerny studied with Beethoven from 1801 to 1803. Czerny went on to become a renowned music teacher himself, taking on Franz Liszt as one of his students, and also gave the Vienna premiere of Beethoven's fifth piano concerto (the "Emperor") in 1812.

Beethoven's compositions between 1800 and 1802 were dominated by two works, although he continued to produce smaller works, including the Moonlight Sonata. In the spring of 1801 he completed The Creatures of Prometheus, a ballet. The work was such a success that it received numerous performances in 1801 and 1802, and Beethoven rushed to publish a piano arrangement to capitalize on its early popularity.In the spring of 1802 he completed the Second Symphony, intended for performance at a concert that was eventually cancelled. The symphony received its premiere at a subscription concert in April 1803 at the Theater an der Wien, where Beethoven had been appointed as composer in residence. In addition to the Second Symphony, the concert also featured the First Symphony, the Third Piano Concerto, and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives. While reviews were mixed, the concert was a financial success; Beethoven was able to charge three times the cost of a typical concert ticket.

Beethoven's business dealings with publishers also began to improve in 1802 when his brother Carl, who had previously assisted him more casually, began to assume a larger role in the management of his affairs. In addition to negotiating higher prices for recently composed works, Carl also began selling some of Beethoven's earlier unpublished works, and encouraged Beethoven (against the latter's preference) to also make arrangements and transcriptions of his more popular works for other instrument combinations. Beethoven acceded to these requests, as he could not prevent publishers from hiring others to do similar arrangements of his works

Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a "ringing" in his ears that made it hard for him to perceive and appreciate music; he also avoided conversation. The cause of Beethoven's deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to syphilis, lead poisoning, typhus, auto-immune disorder (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake. The explanation, from the autopsy of the time, is that he had a "distended inner ear" which developed lesions over time. Because of the high levels of lead found in samples of Beethoven's hair, that hypothesis has been extensively analyzed. While the likelihood of lead poisoning is very high, the deafness associated with it seldom takes the form that Beethoven exhibited.

As early as 1801, Beethoven wrote to friends describing his symptoms and the difficulties they caused in both professional and social settings (although it is likely some of his close friends were already aware of the problems). Beethoven, on the advice of his doctor, lived in the small Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, just outside Vienna, from April to October 1802 in an attempt to come to terms with his condition. There he wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, which records his resolution to continue living for and through his art.Over time, his hearing loss became profound: there is a well-attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause of the audience; hearing nothing, he wept. Beethoven's hearing loss did not prevent his composing music, but it made playing at concerts—lucrative sources of income—increasingly difficult. After a failed attempt in 1811 to perform his own Piano Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor"), he never performed in public again.



Beethoven's Middle period

His Middle (Heroic) period began shortly after Beethoven's personal crisis brought on by his recognition of encroaching deafness. It includes large scale works that express heroism and struggle. Middle period works include six symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the last three piano concertos, the Triple Concerto and violin concerto, five string quartets (Nos. 7–11), several piano sonatas (including the MoonlightWaldstein and Appassionata sonatas), the Kreutzer violin sonata and Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio.




As a result of Beethoven's hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: his conversation books. Used primarily in the last ten or so years of his life, his friends wrote in these books so that he could know what they were saying, and he then responded either orally or in the book. The books contain discussions about music and other issues, and give insights into his thinking; they are a source for investigation into how he felt his music should be performed, and also his perception of his relationship to art. Unfortunately, 264 out of a total of 400 conversation books were destroyed (and others were altered) after Beethoven's death by Anton Schindler, in his attempt to paint an idealized picture of the composer.



Perhaps Beethoven's most important aristocratic patron was Archduke Rudolph, the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, who in 1803 or 1804 began to study piano and composition with Beethoven. The cleric (Cardinal-Priest) and the composer became friends, and their meetings continued until 1824. Beethoven dedicated 14 compositions to Rudolph, including the Archduke Trio (1811) and his great Missa Solemnis (1823). Rudolph, in turn, dedicated one of his own compositions to Beethoven. The letters Beethoven wrote to Rudolph are today kept at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.

In the fall of 1808, after having been rejected for a position at the royal theatre, Beethoven received an offer from Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte, then king of Westphalia, for a well-paid position as Kapellmeister at the court in Cassel.

To persuade him to stay in Vienna, the Archduke Rudolph, Count Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz, after receiving representations from the composer's friends, pledged to pay Beethoven a pension of 4000 florins a year. Only Archduke Rudolph paid his share of the pension on the agreed date. Kinsky, immediately called to duty as an officer, did not contribute and soon died after falling from his horse. Lobkowitz stopped paying in September 1811. No successors came forward to continue the patronage, and Beethoven relied mostly on selling composition rights and a small pension after 1815.


Beethoven's patron Archduke Rudolph

Beethoven in 1823

Beethoven's Late Period

Beethoven's Late period began around 1815. Works from this period are characterized by their intellectual depth, their formal innovations, and their intense, highly personal expression. TheString Quaret, Op. 131 has seven linked movements, and the Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement.Other compositions from this period include theMissa Solemnis, the last five string quartets and the last five piano sonatas.


The last work completed by Beethoven was the substitute final movement of the Thirteenth Quartet. Shortly thereafter, in December 1826, illness struck again, and nearly ended his life.Beethoven was bedridden for most of his remaining months, and many friends came to visit. He died on 26 March 1827, during a thunderstorm. His friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who was present at the time, claimed that there was a peal of thunder at the moment of death. 




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