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Famous Beethoven songs, concertos, and symphonies

famous beethoven songs

Few composers in the history of western music can be said to have achieved the same level of fame and musical honors we’ve attributed to Beethoven. Beethoven’s music is so ubiquitous that he finds himself as a member of the “3 B’s of Classical Music”, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. 

Ludwig Van Beethoven composed for instruments such as the piano and violin, and extremely successfully wrote for groups of instruments, with some of Beethoven’s famous songs being written for symphony orchestra and string quartet. 

However, Beethoven did not need an orchestra to move his audience, as he was just as effective composing for the piano, whether it be the piano concerto, the piano sonata, or single pieces for the instrument. He was a true icon of the western classical world, and one of the undisputed figureheads of piano composition. 

Below, we help you explore how to play Beethoven on the piano as well as learning some of the basic information about the composer himself.

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Beethoven’s early career as a composer

Born to Johann Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich in the city of Bonn, Germany, Beethoven was early to start playing piano, and music was within his family. His first music teacher was his father, and eventually he moved onto more advanced teachers such as the court organist Gilles van den Eeden, Tobias Pfeiffer, and Franz Anton Ries, who taught him the Violin. 

Beethoven’s early composing career began in 1783 at 13 with a set of keyboard compositions, when he was working as an assistant organist of the court chapel. From 1785-1790 there is almost no record of his early composition career. 

Ludwig met the famous composer Joseph Haydn in late 1790, who would become his teacher for a brief, productive period, but they quickly grew apart due to Haydn’s composing workload and Beethoven even studied secretly behind Haydn’s back in an attempt not to offend the master composer of instrumental music. 

The most famous Beethoven songs

The most famous Beethoven compositions were not written during his early compositional period, but later on in his life. This is true for many composers as they mature and improve. However, Beethoven faced a challenge of ever-worsening hearing problems.

The famous works that we think of associated with Beethoven are Moonlight Sonata, The Emperor Piano Concerto, Eroica Symphony, Ode to Joy, Für Elise, Pathetique Sonata, Violin Concerto in D Major, Violin Sonata no. 9, The Fifth Symphony, and the Ninth Symphony. 

Of course, there are wonderful hidden works of his that some musicians love more than others, but the works mentioned above are among his most critically important. These are some of the best piano songs not only of Beethoven, but of any composer throughout history.

Für Elise

Für Elise is a piece written for solo piano, but it is not one of the piano sonatas. Legend has it, the song was initially intended as a love song for one person, but her name was not Elise, it was Therese, a lazy editor mistakenly wrote the name as “Elise” and it stuck. The song was not actually published until long after Beethoven’s death.

Skoove’s lesson for Für Elise is written in a 3/4 time signature, and the key signature is A minor. Our course on how to play piano includes a lesson explaining the tricky left-handed fingering, and the correct fingering for the arpeggios and melodies in both right and left hands. 

Für Elise also takes advantage of Skoove’s new Full Sheet View, allowing you to look at the entire piece from beginning to end on one page, so you can play and practice all at your own pace. 

Additionally, the piano sheet music is marked with dynamics, pedal markings for the damper pedal, and complete fingerings, which are where you should put your right and left hand in every position you play the piano.

Ode to Joy

Ode to Joy is not a specific song written in its own right, but a movement written inside of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, often subtitled The Choral Symphony. The lyrics to the ode were originally written by Friedrich Schiller, and the music by Beethoven, providing the final movement of his 9th symphony. 

The tune was adopted as the Anthem of Europe in 1972, and the subsequent adoption by the European Union. It is difficult to imagine a higher honor for a piece written by a composer in the 1820s, than its continued life in the 21st century. Beethoven’s writing is so powerful and beautiful that it can be adapted easily to many other instruments for any other occasion. 

Skoove’s lesson on Ode to Joy shows the song is in a 4/4 time signature, adapted in the key of C major (it was originally written in D major). It makes up part of the Beginners Piano Music Collection. The bass line contains long tones, which are commonly referred to as bell tones, imitating the noble and peaceful tolling of bells, with long durations. This helps to make it one of the simplest famous Beethoven songs.

Later in the song, while the melody continues to climb and increase in intensity and emotional depth, the bass line will begin to climb. Make sure that you play the correct sharp keys, as the music steps out of the previous key for just a moment, allowing the music to rise and finally resolve, before concluding with a melodic repetition. This evenness and melodic focus is what makes Beethoven’s music iconic and instantly recognizable even hundreds of years later. 

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Moonlight Sonata 

Moonlight Sonata is the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, written in 1801. It is synonymous with Beethoven’s beautiful and tragic-sounding piano compositions, which often flipped between being incredibly powerful to being sincere, quiet, and contemplative. 

Moonlight Sonata was originally written in C# minor but is played in our lesson in D minor, and counted in 12/8. This is one of the iconic Beethoven piano sonatas and the simple arpeggios are relatively simple in D minor. The right hand playing provides the majority of the challenge for new players. 

To play the piece in the somber mood intended, the sustain pedal can be held for longer, drawn out sections. For beginners, don’t get hung up on the pedals, an dtake care to learn the notes first. 

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Beethoven’s most famous symphonies

A symphony is an elaborate musical composition, typically written with four movements. Often a symphony will include different combinations of instruments depending on how the song was written, and the period it was written in. It can incorporate a combination of strings, horns, woodwinds, and percussion. This can also include a piano but it is not a prerequisite.

Symphony No. 5

This symphony was written between the years 1804 and 1808 and is perhaps the most well-known symphony or even piece of classical music that has ever been written. Beethoven takes a very simple refrain and transforms it into an iconic and serious piece of music, that is unmistakable to any musician as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. 

Skoove has taken Beethoven’s 5th symphony  and translated it from an entire symphonic work of dozens of instruments to a beautiful piece that is approachable by any beginner. Written in the time signature of 4/4 the piece at first sounds simple, but it does have some challenges. The piece is much more rhythmically complex than it seems at first because the melody does not start on the first beat of each measure. 

This rhythmic motif continues and spreads between the different hands, and eventually, the left hand develops and plays long tones, descending bass lines, and finally resolves back to the tonic. Be careful with the second development, and make sure you count all the rests between the sections. It is clear why this is one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music ever written and a great song to add to your repertoire. 

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Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”

Symphony No. 3 is one of the pieces that made Beethoven take his place among the “3 B’s of Classical Music”. A traditional-sounding melody, simply stated, spreads between multiple instruments and strings until finally builds to a form of crescendo. 

This piece has been used many times in films, advertisements, and theater. It is more of a cultural phenomenon than a lot of other classical music, because of the way that the music has been arranged by Beethoven and the dynamics of the piece. 

Beethoven’s piano concerto 3 is not as famous of a melody as “Fur Elise”, but the emotion and intensity are some of the signature attributes we’ve come to know Beethoven for. 

Symphony No. 9, “Choral”

The Symphony No. 9, “Choral” is the symphony where the Ode To Joy is found, and is known as a revolutionary piece, as it includes lyrics set to the music, something not common at the time. Ode To Joy does not actually occur until the final movement of this four movement symphony, which typically takes around an hour to play. The last movement is what makes this symphony most famous, but the whole symphony is stunning and intense. 

Originally written in the key of D minor, it was Beethoven’s Opus. 125, and is the final symphony completed by Ludwig van Beethoven, composed between 1822 and 1824. Beethoven’s 9th symphony piano is one of the most frequently performed symphonies in the world, and in 2011 the original hand-written manuscript of the score was added to the Memory of the World Programme Heritage List as part of the United Nations and is the first musical score to be added to the collection. This is one of Beethoven’s most famous pieces. 

Beethoven’s most famous piano concertos

Beethoven’s famous songs come in a lot of different types. A piano concerto is different from a piano sonata because a concerto is usually made up of three movements. The sonata is typically a single-instrument performance, or one played by a small ensemble.

Piano Concerto No. 5

Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto was written in the key of E-Flat Major and composed in 1809 Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto”, was dedicated to Archduke Rolf. It premiered on November 28, 1811, in a concert hall in Leipzig. The piece was meant to stylize the heroic aspects of the military and the music typical in a military-style band. 

The piece was a favorite of fellow pianist and composer Franz Liszt who frequently performed the concerto throughout his life and career as a performer. It was also described by famous and prolific musicologist Alfred Einstein as “the apotheosis of the military concept”, invoking the imagery of an emperor, or historic battle. This led to it taking on a sobriquet or nickname and becoming known simply as “Emperor”.

Piano Concerto No. 4

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 publicly premiered in 1808 having been played privately in 1807 at the home of Franz Joseph von Lobokowitz. Beethoven dedicated the concerto to his friend and student Archduke Rudolph. When it premiered Beethoven played piano, taking the stage as the soloist.

In the modern day, this piece is frequently recorded and is a favorite of the concert-goers. It is considered by many critics and listeners alike to be one of the pinnacles of the piano concerto repertoire, which is not surprising considering the emotional weight and complexity of the work. 

Piano Concerto No. 3

Generally thought to have been composed in the year 1800 in the key of C minor, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was first performed in April of 1803, with Beethoven himself performing the part of the solo pianist accompanied by the orchestra. His friend Ignaz von Seyfried turned the pages for him during the performance and famously spoke on the night of Beethoven’s incredible piano playing and skill:

“I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him; for he played nearly all the solo part from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to set it all down on paper.”

Quick facts about Beethoven

Here are some quick and interesting facts about Beethoven:

  • Beethoven is said to have been unlucky in love, and this was the inspiration for much of his writing
  • He is the third “Ludwig van Beethoven” in his family
  • Beethoven began to lose his hearing as young as 26
  • He was supporting his family by performing by the age of 13

beethoven songs on piano

 

Conclusion

With a catalog of incredible music it is clear why Beethoven is one of the greatest composers of Western classical music. 

His music is enjoyed even more now than it was while he was alive and pianists both advanced and beginners play his work. With the beginner classical course from Skoove, you can enjoy even more of his piano music and impress your friends with songs they know and love, written by the great Beethoven.

Yes! They met in Vienna, facilitated by mutual friend and teacher Joseph Haydn in 1787

Beethoven wrote 9 symphonies in total.

Beethoven composed five piano concertos.

Yes, the great unfinished symphony no. 10.

Though there is no way of knowing, many think that Beethoven’s deafness was caused by otosclerosis, a condition that shows abnormal bone growth inside the ear. 

Beethoven composed 32 piano sonatas in total.

The most famous are Symphonies No. 5, and  No. 9

Widely accepted, his Sonata. No 29, “Hammerklavier”, is the hardest piano piece written by Beethoven. It is also one of the best Beethoven piano sonata pieces.

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Author of this blog post:

 

Alvin Shipp is a Multi-Instrumentalist Composer, Performer, Producer, and Educator from Portland, Oregon currently based in Berlin, Germany. He’s worked extensively in the USA and Germany, has released Over 15 Albums. He has been teaching upper-level students for over 15 years, and currently lives as a Freelance Composer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer and Teacher.

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  • Enjoy interactive piano lessons - Learn with courses that help you master everything from music theory, chords, technique and more.
  • Get real-time feedback - Improve your practice with rich feedback as Skoove listens to your playing and highlights what went well and areas for improvement.
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