Playing the violin is so hard that even one of the best musicians there ever was, Beethoven, couldn’t do it well, so if you want your child to be able to play this instrument, be patient and check out this article on the best violins for kids. If you need accessories, we recommend Phantom shoulder rests, and we’ve also written an article on that.
Early playing career
Surprisingly enough, the man that composed one of the best concertos for violin wasn’t really a great violin player. Ludwig van Beethoven was able to play the instrument, as history shows, but his way of touching the strings was not spectacular and it was probably common.
As a young boy, his teacher was his father, who was a musician that excelled at bass singing. His father, named Johann, also gave lessons for piano and violin and that helped with giving young Beethoven the musical education needed.
Johann van Beethoven was a harsh father and a harsher instructor and that’s why Ludwig cried a lot when he had to practice with him. But he also learned violin from other local teachers including one Franz Rovantini who was a relative and introduced the young man to the sound of viola and violin.
Thus Beethoven didn’t have an easy childhood and he had to face harsh conditions, including being wakened up in the middle of the night to practice. He had a lot of talent and, witnessing the success of Mozart, his father Johann wanted to promote Beethoven as a prodigy too and reap the benefits.
Learning more about the violin
After he left his hometown Bonn for Vienna in 1792, Beethoven found out that his father died and that Mozart had passed away too. Because he received a lot of praise for his work, people associated him with the late Mozart and thought he could become something similar. So he started studying Mozart’s work and writing music with a similar style.
In order to better understand the creation of great composers like Mozart and Haydn, he decided to take some lessons from great musicians. He devoted to studying and performing and was lucky to study under the guidance of Haydn, who helped him master counterpoint.
He also started studying violin with Ignaz Schuppanzigh, a great violinist who would go on to premiere many of Beethoven’s string quartets. The quartet founded by Schuppanzigh was the first professional string one. Until then this kind of music was played by amateurs or professionals at ad hoc gatherings.
It is clear thus that Beethoven had a lot to learn from this professional violinist. He also studied vocal composition styles guided by the Italian Antonio Salieri and that’s why during this period he learned a great deal about music and how to compose.
However, he didn’t excel at playing the instruments, except for the piano which he was great at. He took these lessons just to have a better understanding of how each instrument and voice work, in order to enhance his musical compositions.
Did he play his own compositions?
Although there aren’t many historical sources to show this, Beethoven probably didn’t ever try to play one of his violin sonatas, his violin concertos or string quartets. He was excellent at the piano and could play probably anything, but when it came to violin he was mediocre.
This is why Beethoven took lessons from professional violin players, to understand what stringed instruments can do and what they can’t. He never wanted to master the instrument, but he needed to know how it worked.
It can be said that Schuppanzigh took the talented pianist and composer as a pupil not because he was good at violin, or because he had a chance of becoming good. The violinist virtuoso enjoyed developing a relationship with a talented composer, one that he knew could leave a mark on music history.
As the years passed and Schuppanzigh played most of the violin part in Beethoven’s music, the violinist complained that actually managing to play the desired notes was getting more and more difficult, almost impossible. Of course, Beethoven couldn’t demonstrate how to play the violin parts.
His talent was immense, but he was also known for his arrogance, so he told Schuppanzigh that he doesn’t care for his “miserable fiddle” when the muse strikes. Beethoven once showed his own music on violin and in doing so he was half a tone flat and clumsy.
His violin concerto
In 1806 Beethoven composed one of the best violin concertos that are still played today. It is thus surprising that a person that couldn’t really play the violin well managed to do this thing. What’s even more astonishing is that he composed his Violin Concerto in D major while his hearing was getting worse by the day.
At first, however, the concerto wasn’t a great success and when it was premiered it attracted little praise. The man who played it for the first time in an official event was Franz Clement, a great violinist of that day that had also given Beethoven some advice on the violin beforehand.
Showcasing his arrogance and great composing ability at the same time, Beethoven finished the solo part of the concerto right before the performance begun. It was so late that Clement had to play some parts of the concerto without having seen them before. Out of frustration, he interrupted the show with a composition of his own and started the concerto again afterward.
The violin concerto was far from a success but in 1844, long after Beethoven had died, the composition started to be appreciated. And it has since been one of the most important works by a classical composer. It is one of the most appreciated, performed, and recorded compositions today.
This serves to show that although the remarkable composer wasn’t great when playing the violin with his hands, he certainly was astonishing when he played it in his own head and wrote it on paper.