Beethoven’s Biography: The Middle Years 1800-1808

As Beethoven's deafness grows his music undergoes a profound change.

Beethoven

• Having faced the worst his demons can hurl at him, Beethoven resolves to go on as though nothing is wrong, and as an act of almost unimaginable defiance composes his sunny and contented Second Symphony. 

• Within a year, as the full implications of his hearing loss begin to unravel, Beethoven’s music undergoes a fundamental change, encompassing an emotional complexity on a previously undreamed-of scale. 

• The work that signals this ‘middle period’ of creativity is the ‘Eroica’ Symphony (1803), a masterpiece of unprecedented harmonic audacity, exhilarating rhythmic propulsion and fizzing, virtuoso élan. 

• The Eroica heralds a three-year period of expansive, ‘heroic’ classics highlighted by the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas, Fidelio, the Violin and Fourth Piano Concertos and three Razumovsky String Quartets. 

• Beethoven continues to push back the barriers with each new masterwork. He is widely recognised as the greatest of all living German composers, although many struggle to keep pace with his latest innovations. 

• Beethoven’s public success obscures his private unhappiness. He is in the habit of falling impractically in love with elegant, society women, including an ‘Immortal Beloved’ whose exact identity remains uncertain. 

• A drastically under-rehearsed 1808 concert, which includes the premieres of the apocalyptic Fifth and ‘Pastoral’ Sixth Symphonies, grinds to a halt when the clarinets come adrift, creating harmonic mayhem. 

• Beethoven’s bluntness results in numerous musicians refusing to work with him. He nearly takes up a post in Kassel until three of his most devoted admirers stump up a small fortune to keep him in Vienna.