No composer left a mark on music quite like Ludwig van Beethoven. He took the popular forms of his time — symphony, string quartet, piano sonata, opera — and stretched them to their breaking points. He embodied the then-new ideal of the musician as passionate, politically engaged Romantic hero.
In honor of the 250th anniversary of his birth — he was baptized Dec. 17, 1770, and probably born a day or two earlier — writers and critics for The New York Times have spent the year choosing their favorite recordings; delving into his life and times; traveling from the house where he was born in Bonn, Germany, to his grave in Vienna, Austria; speaking with some of his best interpreters; and exploring his vast, influential body of work. It is, if not everything you need to know about Beethoven, then a pretty good start.
Listen to the Best of His Music
We asked some of our favorite artists which five minutes of his music they would play to make their friends fall in love with Beethoven. We created our dream cycle of his nine symphonies, picking a favorite recording of each. And our chief classical critic describes how his works are built from tiny bits of material.
Following in His Footsteps
“The time seemed ripe for a pilgrimage in search of Beethoven, the man,” our reporter wrote early this year. We also published profiles of people who surrounded him, prodded and inspired him.
A Bold Way to Perform His Symphonies
“He was not somebody who was content to write elegant music for easy listening,” said the conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who uses rough, fresh instruments like those played in Beethoven’s time. Our critic wrote that this was “exactly what we needed in this year of Beethoven saturation.”
Confronting His Piano Sonatas
Our chief critic, who took on the daunting Op. 110 Sonata in college, explores the “extraordinary achievement” of Igor Levit’s new recording of the full set, while cherishing Artur Schnabel’s classic cycle. And the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard talks about why he thinks of Beethoven as avant-garde — still.
A Nine-Hour Marathon: His Quartets
What is it like listening to all 17 of his works for string quartet? It gave one writer “an acute awareness of the extraordinary range of sensations Beethoven depicts. Joy. Rage. Slyness. Gravitas. Grief. Snickering. Despair. Holiness.”